Albert Edward Seaman (Seaman & Sons)


The Vanderbilt coach on Brighton seafront

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Photographer, 184 Western Road and then 75 Kings Road, Brighton. Albert Edward Seaman was born at Grimsby in Lincolnshire in 1865. He was the second of three sons of Alfred William Seaman (born at East Lexham in Norfolk in 1844) and Elizabeth Seaman, née Dennis (born in the same year at Foulsham in Norfolk). Alfred and Elizabeth's first son, George Alfred Seaman, was born at Fakenham in Norfolk in 1864, before they moved to Grimsby. They did not stay long in Lincolnshire before leaving for Yorkshire, where their third and fourth sons, Dennis Benjamin Seaman and Frederick Joseph Seaman, were born (Dennis at Wadsley or Worrall on the north-west edge of Sheffield in 1870 and Frederick at Attercliffe in 1874). When the 1871 census was held, Alfred was working as a bricklayer.

During the 1870s, the family moved yet again, this time to Whittington, just north of Chesterfield in Derbyshire. Alfred gave up bricklaying and established a photographic studio and shop in Brewery Street in Chesterfield, which soon prospered. When Albert left school, he joined his father's business, and over the following years, Dennis, Frederick and finally George (who had also been a bricklayer) joined in, enabling additional premises to be acquired in Chesterfield and Ilkeston. The expanded business was renamed Seaman & Sons. During the 1890s further studios and shops were opened in Alfreton, Sheffield, Leeds and Matlock. In addition, both Frederick and Dennis decided to set up studios of their own, Frederick at Hucknall near Nottingham and Dennis in Liverpool. During the 1900s Frederick opened further studios at York, Beverley and Scarborough.

Elizabeth Seaman died in 1874, aged only 30, not long after giving birth to her fourth son, Frederick. Alfred remarried in 1876, but his new wife, Mary Babbs, a widow, soon followed her predecessor to the grave. In 1882 he married Martha Ann Else (born in about 1851 at Hackenthorpe, Derbyshire) at Chesterfield, and went on to father at least five more children. His four sons from his first marriage set up home on their own at 49 Durrant Road in Chesterfield. At the time of the 1901 census Alfred Seaman was staying at a spa at Matlock, which seems to have been one of his passions in old age. He died in July 1910.

Albert Seaman married Florence Ellen Else at Chesterfield in 1892. Florence was presumably a relative of Martha. The couple had three children: Mary E. Seaman (born in 1894), Albert J. Seaman (born in 1896) and George A. L. Seaman (born in 1899). The 1901 census records that Albert and his family were living at 46 Newbold Road in Chesterfield. By the summer of 1905, however, they moved to Brighton, where Alfred set up a branch of Seaman & Sons at 184 Western Road, and soon afterwards also at 75 Kings Road. Albert, who was put in charge, seems initially to have had no difficulty attracting business at Brighton, but in the longer term encountered problems and perhaps secretly regretted leaving Derbyshire. At any rate, after his father died he soon returned to Chesterfield to work as a photographer, presumably taking charge of his father's old studio. His Brighton business, which is said to have gone into liquidation, was acquired by the photographic firm of E. Van Trolga, which had several London branches. The 1911 census records that Albert and his family were living at 69 Foljambe Road, off Matlock Road on the western side of Chesterfield. Both Florence and Mary were assisting him with his photographic work.

During his five years in Brighton, Albert Seaman concentrated on portrait work, but also issued both sepia and black and white real photographic cards of the town, particularly the sea front. The earliest known postmarks are July and August 1905. The photographs usually lack borders. Some cards have handwritten captions in small neat capitals, but many lack captions or are simply entitled "Brighton" in very solid capitals, using what seems to have been a rubber stamp. Most cards are embossed "Seaman & Sons, 75 Kings Rd., Brighton" in their lower right corners, but others are labelled on the back "Seaman & Sons, Brighton" or in a few instances "Seaman & Sons, Chesterfield and Brighton".

One especially fine card shows the West Pier at night, illuminated by two flashes of lightning. Another shows rough seas breaking over the Volk's railway. A series of cards, many called "Winterly Brighton", attempt to capture the "empty feel" of the seafront after the departure of the last of the summer holidaymakers. Particularly attractive are some views of seagulls circling over the surf in front of the beach. Seagulls appear in so many of Seaman's cards that it would seem that they held a special fascination for him. Another group of cards, which lack captions, show the seafront covered in snowdrifts, presumably after the great blizzard in December 1908. An especially interesting card shows Seaman's shop with passers-by inspecting the cards displayed in the window!

Seaman produced a number of portrait photographs of Masons wearing their regalia, which could suggest that he too was a Mason.

Starting in the summer of 1908, the American millionaire, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, ran horse-drawn coach services between London and Brighton, trying to recapture the spirit of bygone times. In 1909 Seaman & Son accompanied the coach and photographed it at various locations in Surrey and Sussex. Services were suspended on the outbreak of war in 1914 when the horses were requisitioned, and soon afterwards Vanderbilt himself perished in the Lusitania disaster.

The Rapid Photo Printing Company of London reprinted at least one Seaman card in a Brighton series of real photographic cards that first went on sale in 1907. The cards have serial numbers starting V-286. Whether Albert Seaman commissioned the series has not been established.

Seaman and Sons marketed some coloured halftone cards of Brighton sea front that an unidentified manufacturer printed, using negatives that they supplied. Postmarks suggest that this marketing venture was initiated not long before the firm closed. Also of interest is a promotional card of the Grand Hotel at Brighton that reproduces a vignetted picture by Seaman in halftone.

Acknowledgement: Many thanks are due to Alan Barwick of Henfield, who has provided much needed assistance and also to John Bradley. For more information about the Seaman family visit and also John Bradley's valuable site on Alfred and his links with stereoscopic photography at

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