Frank Cecil Lewis (Bon Marché Series)


Business more than usual

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Stationer and bookseller, 1 Queen Street, Horsham; by 1914 trading as Frank C. Lewis & Co. at the same address. Lewis was born in 1879 in Worcester, the third of five or more children of Joseph Richard Lewis, a draper's assistant (born at Madeley in Shropshire in 1847), and Tryphena Lewis, née Wells (born in London in about 1850). The couple married in 1869 in the Cheltenham area.

Lewis began his working life in Worcester, having spent his entire childhood there. When the 1901 census was held, he was a stationer's assistant, living with his mother. His father had just died, aged 53. He moved to Horsham in about 1904 and acquired his shop, known as the Bon Marché, from Frank Webber in late 1909 or 1910. The 1911 census records that he lived at the Bon Marché, together with his younger brother, Archibald Stewart Lewis, who assisted him as stationer and bookseller.

On August 26, 1912, Lewis married Marion Alice Crisp at Horsham Parish Church. He was 33; she was 28 and the daughter of the delightfully named Mayflower Crisp, an electrician, born in Lambeth in 1857.

The earliest cards that Lewis is thought to have sold are some attractive black and white collotype cards of Horsham labelled "Lewis Copyright Series", which were manufactured in Germany and on sale by November 1904. The captions are printed in black in a white border under the pictures. Somewhat later are some pale, sepia-tinted, white-bordered collotypes of Crawley labelled "F. C. Lewis, Bon Marche 'Secollo' Series". These are neatly printed and have white captions. A card of "The Old Oak, Crawley" actually shows Crawley's celebrated ancient elm tree, which is thought to have been about 300 years old!

During the four or five years leading up to the First World War Lewis established himself as Horsham's leading postcard publisher, issuing numerous good quality real photographics of not only Horsham but also Balcombe, Barns Green, Bramber, Burgess Hill, Crawley, Christs Hospital, Cuckfield, Faygate, Kirdford, Handcross, Haywards Heath, Lower Beeding, Pulborough, Rudgwick and St Leonard's Forest. Many real photographic cards are marked "Bon Marche" on the photograph or are labelled on the back "Bon Marche Series", "F.C. Lewis" or "F.C. Lewis & Co.", but others have no series name or indication of their publisher. On most cards Bon Marché is anglicised to Bon Marche, but a few adopt the incorrect spelling Bon Marchè!

Although some of the real photographic cards are borderless, most have white borders. The captions are written in neat, fairly plain capitals, with no descenders unlike those on Travers cards. On some Lewis cards all the captions lean to the left but on the majority of cards the capitals are uniformly upright. As on Travers cards the leading capitals of key words tend to be noticeably larger than those making up the rest of the captions. In many cases the captions are followed by a serial number. The highest number noted is 3309 (on a card of Horsham in the snow), which suggests that Lewis was exceptionally active as a postcard producer. Judging from postmarks, sales peaked around 1911 or 1912.

Lewis photographed many social events and accidents, particularly in 1911. A real photographic of Horsham Horse Parade in East Street is dated June 1911, and another showing the "Sussex Agricultural Show, Horsham" was taken in the following month. "Ruins of the fire, Bucks Green, nr Horsham" is undated but a September 1911 postmark has been found. Lewis also issued a card of the Coronation Parade at Billingshurst on June 28, 1911. A very fine card shows skating on Warnham Pond in February 1912. At least eight cards record a Church Lads Brigade camp in August 1913. Yet others show Horsham blanketed in snow in January 1915.

Lewis seems to have been particularly fascinated by aeroplanes. One unusually badly finished card shows Mr Valentine's monoplane after landing near Horsham on 4 August 1911; of superior quality is another card showing a second monoplane in the grounds of Christs Hospital on 9 September 1912, and much sought after are a series of other cards of a biplane preparing to take off from the golf course at Broadbridge Heath in April 1914. A card of a Mr Barber about to fly his biplane from a field at Horsham is dated August 1, 1911.

Two real photographic cards portray well-known local personalities. Henry Burstow, a Horsham bell ringer, who could sing 420 songs from memory, was probably photographed in about 1911, five years or so before his death in 1916 at the age of 89, while a fine photograph of William Law, Horsham's last Town Crier, is likely to have been taken in 1912, shortly after Law became Champion Town Crier of Great Britain.

Lewis published at least two multi-view cards of Horsham, and a card reproducing a print of Petworth Park originally published in about 1850. He also re-issued former Webber cards, rewriting the captions in his own hand.

Lewis produced a range of real photographic cards for W. H. Martyn at Balcombe Post Office. Some of these declare themselves to have been "Published by the Bon Marchè, 1 Queen Street, Horsham", while others carry only Martyn's name.

In the early hours of 13 June 1914 the Bon Marché shop was gutted by fire and all its stocks of books and stationery were destroyed. Lewis and his wife managed to escape from an upstairs window by means of a ladder hurriedly fetched by their rescuers. Fortunately the shop and contents were insured and Lewis was able to restart his business without too much delay. Undaunted by the debacle, he began issuing a series of real photographic cards of troops training at Roffley Camp and assembling en masse on September 10 in Horsham High Street on their way to the front. Like most members of the public, Lewis reacted to the onset of war with wholehearted patriotism. His multi-view card of the troops entitled "Motto for Patriotic Britons" includes the message "Bravo! Territorials" and a poem:

The card is subtitled "Business as usual" with the "as" crossed out and "more than" inserted, which was doubtless a reference both to the war and the loss of the Bon Marche shop.

Since his shop no longer existed, Lewis presumably had to print the "war cards" elsewhere. Some of his last cards show troops passing through Horsham on June 19, 1915. After this he gave up postcard production and enlisted, evidently determined to prove himself to be a "Briton staunch and true" despite the grim news from the Front and ever-rising number of casualties. In the Spring 1919 Electoral Register he is listed as a naval or military voter, and was presumably still serving in the Forces. His wife lived at 89 Clarence Road in Horsham. By the Autumn of 1920, when a new Register was issued, he had returned to Horsham.

Kelly's 1918 Sussex Directory makes no mention of the Bon Marche shop, which may still have been empty following the fire. By 1922, however, it had been rebuilt and was being used as a greengrocery. It is not known what trade Lewis pursued in the 1920s - there is no evidence that he resumed postcard production or opened a new shop. He is believed to have died in the Brighton area in 1934, aged 55

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