S. P. P. Agency (S. P. P. A. Series)


Rottingdean Pier (photographed before its demolition in 1910, 1911 postmark)

To home page
To directory of publishers
To gallery

12 Richmond Terrace, Brighton. Both the name and address printed on the cards are perplexing. No Brighton or Sussex directory lists the S. P. P. Agency. The S presumably stood for Sussex or Southern, and the two Ps for Press, Publicity or Photographic. Pike's Brighton Directories list John Olliver & Sons, builders and decorators, at 12 Richmond Terrace in the early years of the last century. From about 1909 onwards Mrs. Mary Helen Olliver is shown as in charge of the property, even though her husband, John Olliver, continued to live there. Possibly, he had transferred his business to a new address. The 1911 census records that he was 51 years old and had been born in Brighton, unlike Mary who came from Northamptonshire. The couple had a 21-year-old daughter, Dorothy Olliver, who had been born in Hove. A Captain Moore in the Army Veterinary Corps boarded with the family.

The S. P. P. Agency published sepia tinted and black and white real photographic cards of Sussex from 1910 to 1912, listing 12 Richmond Terrace as its address. The possibility that Mrs Olliver ran the Agency seems most unlikely, but cannot be ruled out. Nobody called Olliver is listed in any Brighton Directory as a commercial photographer. To add to the mystery, postcards published in 1913 and 1914 are labelled on the back "A. Scrase & Co., 12 Richmond Terrace" using an identical typography to that on the earlier SPPA cards. Scrase & Co. are not listed in Directories, but the 1911 census records that an Arthur Augustus Scrase worked as a photographer and lived with his parents at 26 Camelford Street in Brighton (between Marine Parade and St James's Street). It is very likely that he was the publisher of the Scrase & Co. postcards, and possibly also their SPPA predecessors. Maybe he had struck an arrangement with the Ollivers to use their address as a mail drop. According to the 1911 census, he was 26 years old, born in Brighton and single. His father, William Scrase, a tailor, and mother, Catherine Mary Scrase, were 68-year-old Brightonians. He had an older brother, James Scrase, who was a journeyman tailor.

Many of the photographs on the SPPA cards have yellowed and faded with age. They usually have white borders, and sometimes also rounded corners within the borders. The captions are handwritten in capitals; most letters are plain but some, especially "A", "H", R" and "Y" often have decorative descenders. Some captions, but not others, are written in backward sloping capitals. Most cards are labelled on the back "S. P. P. A., Richmond Terrace, Brighton", but some are anonymous. One card has been seen, published in 1910, with the letters S.P.P.A. written in a corner of the photograph in the form of a cross with the two "P"s in the middle, "S" above and "A" below (see Gallery).

The SPPA produced many cards of local events, for example, the burnt out remains of the Priory at Withdean, which was struck by lightning in June 1910 (several cards), the National Airship passing over Brighton on October 26, 1910 (several cards), "Princess Henry of Battenburg at Brighton, November 8, 1910", the Brighton Air Race of 1911, the "Funeral of Mr. John Matthews, Railway Police Inspector" on March 22, 1911 and the "Good Friday Procession, Brighton, 1912".

View card subjects are equally varied. Examples include Rottingdean pier and beach (1911 postmark noted), Ovingdean (a series of views), Roedean School viewed from the sea (with 1911 postmark), Preston Park and the Steine in Brighton after snow (early in 1911), the Royal Pavilion at night, Grafton Street in Brighton, The Ladies Training College in Ditchling Road in Brighton (November 1910 postmark), St Leonard's Terrace at Hove, West Blatchington Church and Mill, the Men's Ward at the Victoria Hospital in Lewes, St Anne's Hill at Lewes, Oldland Pond near Ditchling, Ditchling Post Office (no caption, 1911 postmark noted), Clayton pond (1911 postmark seen), Keymer High Street (1911 postmark), Shoreham Lighthouse (1917 postmark), a railway bridge over a road at Kingston-by-Sea, the three masted S.S. Korevel in Southwick Harbour (September 1910) postmark), Medina Esplanade in Hove, and the Richmond Motor Garage, which is believed to have been located in the North Street area of Brighton. Individual cards are rare, and it is hard to understand how such a diverse, but specialised output was ever really profitable. The SPPA photograph of Rottingdean pier cannot have been taken any later than 1910 when the pier was demolished.

A card entitled "Mixed Bathing" shows a boy and girl standing at the entrance to a bathing machine, presumably on Brighton or Hove beach. They may well have been relatives of the photographer since they look very relaxed. A baby boy seen on another card bathing in the sea at Brighton may also have been a relative.

The SPPA photographed several military camps on the Downs, for example the camps of the Sussex Imperial Yeomanry in June 1911 and the Royal Sussex Regiment in summer 1912 at Arundel Park, and Scrase & Co continued this work. Scrase cards of the Surrey Brigade Camp at Patcham in July 1913 have backwards-sloping captions of similar style to some of the later SPPA cards. Scrase also photographed a Sussex Yeomanry Camp at Chichester in the same year, but these cards have captions written by a different hand. In addition, Scrase attended a military camp at Arundel in August 1913. One remarkable real photographic card, which lacks a caption, shows a soldier lying on the grass patting an equally recumbent and strangely docile fallow deer! In June 1914 Scrase issued cards of a Yeomanry Camp in Lewes, and in the following July or August more cards of a London Yeomanry Camp at Brighton. Scrase & Co. also published a few general view cards. For example a black and white real photographic with slight sepia overtones shows Preston Road in Brighton. Numbered 80, it has a June 1913 postmark. Scrase also recorded the London to Brighton walking race in May 1914.

The SPPA competed with other firms such as the Press Photo Co. for what must have been quite limited business, and probably had difficulty making a profit. It seems to have disappeared and been replaced by Scrase & Co. late in 1912 or early in 1913. Scrase & Co. in turn seem to have ceased trading at Richmond Terrace soon after the start of the First World War. Some cards of convalescing soldiers were issued from 7 Herbert Road, Brighton, where Scrase was living at the time.

Details of Arthur Scrace's life remain scanty. According to his birth certificate, he was born at 26 Camelford Street on February 4, 1894. On November 11, 1912, he married Ethel Fielding, who was three years his junior, at St Peters Church in Brighton. By this date he was already living at 7 Herbert Road in Preston; Ethel gave her address as 41 Argyle Road. Arthur described himself on his marriage certificate as a "Press Photographer". Whether he fought in the First World War has yet to be firmly established. An Arthur Scrase (not necessarily from Brighton) is recorded as serving with the Royal Engineers in France from August 1915 onwards; another man with the same name (and again not necessarily a Brightonian) enlisted with the East Surrey Regiment in December 1916. Confusingly, a third namesake of uncertain origin served with the Queens Regiment. As if this was not enough, in 1946 a Brighton firm of solicitors took out a newspaper advertisement seeking to make contact with "Arthur Scrase, formerly of Brighton and who in 1920 (sic) served in the Royal Flying Corps".

After the war, Arthur Scrase moved to Midhurst, to a house called The Nook in Bepton Road. He was the Chairman of the Company that ran the town Cinema, which occupied a handsome building, now demolished, in North Street. Following the liquidation of the Company in 1922 Arthur took charge of running the cinema. His wife, Ethel, died of tuberculosis at 60 Approach Road in Margate on February 18, 1925. Perhaps, Arthur, who was present at her death, had taken her to Margate in the vain hope that the sea air would do her good. Her death certificate confirms that he was a cinema proprietor, but makes no mention of Midhurst. On September 12, 1927, at the age of 42, Arthur remarried at Easebourne Parish Church near Midhurst. His new wife was Isabell Rose Etherington, who was 23 years old.

At the age of 70 on June 14, 1954, Arthur died of cancer at the Cottage Hospital at Easebourne. Isabell, who registered the death, gave her address as The Nook and described Arthur as a retired cinema proprietor.

A puzzling twist to the story of the SPPA and Arthur Scrase is provided by a card of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) seated outside a house, flanked by a group of middle-aged men, two in military uniform. A few women crowd into the picture at the back. There is no caption, but the photograph was probably taken during the Prince's visit to Brighton on February 1, 1921, when he unveiled the Chattri. The card is labelled on the reverse "Photo by Messrs. B. of Brighton, 12 Richmond Terrace and 2 Madeira Drive. (late R.A.F.)". Bearing the same label is another card showing the Prince standing in front of the camera. One version is dated February 1, 1921 and is marked "Copyright H. C. Brabazon, Brighton". Another was issued by "Brabazon Sons & Co., Brighton". H. C. Brabazon was at one time a leading London photographer, and presumably "Messrs. B." were Brabazon Sons & Co. It would be interesting to know what connection, if any, Messrs. B. had with Arthur Scrase. Did they buy his postcard business or enter into some form of partnership with him, perhaps when (and if) he went off to fight in the First World War? Or was it pure coincidence that they too came to be based at 12 Richmond Terrace?

To directory of publishers
To gallery

Design: Lucid Design