James Oakey Forster


The Alexandra Bridge at the top of Queen's Road, Hastings

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Newsagent and stationer at 55 Queen's Road, Hastings. Forster was in business by 1895, if not earlier, and was still trading in 1914. The war, however, seems to have put an end to his business.

By 1904 Forster began publishing some good quality black and white real photographic cards of the Hastings area that he labelled on the back "The 'J.O. Forster' Series, Queen's Road, Hastings". Some cards have borders around the photographs, but others lack borders. The captions are written entirely in capitals that tend to be backwards sloping and rather irregularly shaped.

The J.O. Forster Series is a curious mix of the mundane and the exceptional. It includes event cards, such as a real photographic of Mastin's seven-storied drapery shop at 7-10 Breeds Place after it was gutted by fire on December 9, 1904, the laying of tramlines in Hastings during 1905, a school gathering in August 1905, several views of the S.S. Lugano on fire off Hastings in 1906 and of flooding in the town, and the Roman Catholic pilgrimage at Hastings in August 1907. There are also cards of individual terraced houses (for example in Emmanuel Road) as well as local views of more general interest. Shown above is a beautifully animated card of the Alexandra Bridge at the top of Queen's Road, with two fine carthorses, a cyclist carefully avoiding trapping his tyres in the tramlines, and a passing horse bus. A 1906 postmark has been seen. Another interesting card shows the cramped St Andrew's Arch (or tunnel under the railway), which the Alexandra Bridge replaced in 1898. Does this mean that Forster had already taken up photography by 1898 or did he buy the negative from another photographer?

Forster was mainly concerned to photograph the Hastings scene, but he also issued at least one card of the village of Sedlescombe, near Battle.

Although his output consisted mainly of real photographic cards, he issued a halftone card of the Hastings and St Leonards Football Club team with their president, the local MP. This card carried the message on the back "Play up, United! And don't forget J. O. Forster's, 55 Queen's Road, Hastings, for postcards". A January 1907 postmark has been seen.

Forster could be very quick to seize a business opportunity. After attending, for example, the inaugural tram service from Silverhill, Hastings, at about 12.30 on 15 July 1905, he offered cards for sale recording the event later the same day!

Forster was born at Landgate, Cheriton, near Sandgate in Kent in 1862, and was the son of James Forster, a lodging-house keeper, and Mary Forster, formerly Oakey, who came from Naunton in Gloucestershire. His sister, Mary, was born at Cheriton about four years later.

The 1881 census records that Forster had become a printer. He lived with his now widowed mother at Valentine Villa at Cheriton, which she ran as a lodging house. By 1901 he was living at 55 Queens Road with his mother (recorded as May Forster) and wife, Emma Forster, formerly Major, whom he had married in 1887. Emma had been born in about 1866 at Hove.

Forster is believed to have died in the Windsor area in 1946 at the age of 83.

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