The Worthing lifeboat braves a stormy sea in 1915 in an abortive bid to rescue a disabled schooner
David Simkin (http://photohistory-sussex.co.uk) gives a detailed account of Edward Bex's life and photographic career. Geoffrey Godden's informative book, Collecting picture postcards (1996, Phillimore, Chichester) also provides much useful information. Only a brief description of Bex's work as a photographer will be attempted here.
Bex was born at Limpsfield in Surrey on February 4, 1847, one of seven children of Henry Bex, a carpenter, and Mary Ann Bex (née Hart). On December 25, 1869, at Broadwater Parish Church in Worthing he married Eliza Churcher, who had been born in 1846 and was the daughter of James Churcher, a local bricklayer. Bex was already working as a photographer, apparently in Worthing, but for some reason he and Eliza decided not to settle in the town, and instead they moved to St Leonards, where their first three children were born: Georgina Bex in 1870 (married 1895), Maud Evelyn Bex in 1872 (married 1891), and Charles Edward Bex in 1875. The 1871 census gives their address as 1 Stainsby Street in St Leonards. Edward worked for Edwin Whiteman, managing a studio at Whiteman's bookshop at 52 High Street in Hastings. By 1874, however, he had left to set up his own studio at 5 Clarence Terrace in the Silver Hill area of Hastings, which may not have been a commercial success, because in the late 1870s he moved to London, to work for a well established firm of photographers. The 1881 census locates the Bex family at 32 Miles Street in Lambeth, and describes Edward as a photographer's assistant. In 1882 Eliza gave birth to her second son, Percy William Bex, but in 1884 she died, aged only 37. By this stage, Edward Bex had once again set up in business on his own, with a studio at 182 Brixton Road.
In 1887 the widowed Bex moved with his children to Worthing, no doubt to be near his late wife's relatives. He set up a studio at 94 Belle Vue (which soon afterwards was renamed Chapel Street) under the name of Edward Edwards, though why he dropped the name Bex continues to baffle researchers. By the time the 1891 census was held, he and his family had settled at 20 New Street, near the sea front, in what Godden notes had once been a fisherman's cottage. Fanny Churcher (Eliza's unmarried elder sister) kept house for him and helped care for the children. By about 1895, Edward had disposed of his Belle View studio and concentrated all his business activities at New Street, where he created a new studio for himself, which he called rather loftily the Excelsior Studio, ignoring its small size. His son, Charles Edward Bex, helped him run the studio and by about 1904 the business was renamed "Edwards & Son" or "Edward Edwards & Son".
During his career as a photographer Edward Bex produced large numbers of studio portraits, some of which survive as cabinet photographs and cartes de visites. By 1905 he and his son started publishing real photographic cards of Worthing and the Downs. In addition, they began recording many local events such as shop fires, the freezing of the sea at Worthing in 1907, the 1908 motor cycle carnival at Worthing, hunt meets (e.g. the "Crawley & Horsham Hunt, Coneyhurst Common, April 16, 1909"), the camp of the Sussex Imperial Yeomanry in June 1911 at Arundel Park, and the wreckage of Worthing pier left by the storm of March 22, 1913. One of their most memorable cards shows a horse spreadeagled across the bonnet of an early car on August 21, 1908, the victim of a collision in a Worthing street. Another interesting card shows Findon sheep fair in September 1908.
The captions on Edwards & Son cards, when present, are handwritten, usually in strongly backwards-sloping capitals, but sometimes in upright capitals or in a freestyle with capitals only at the start of words, suggesting that at least three persons wrote the captions. Early cards are anonymous or declare on the front, next to the captions, that they are "Copyright by Edwards & Son" or "Edward's Copyright". Cards issued in the late summer of 1906 (for example a pair of Muntham Court at Findon, now long demolished) are hand stamped on the back "Edwards & Son, Photo's Worthing" in purple ink. The 1907 cards of the frozen sea at Worthing, the visit of General Booth in August 1907, and the motorcycle carnival in the town in September 1908 are similarly stamped. By 1910, however, the studio's usual practice was to stamp the cards on the back in blue or greenish ink "Edwards & Son. 20 New Street. Worthing", set out over three lines and enclosed in a rectangle with concavely indented corners. The same stamp was still being used on cards issued in July and August 1911, but during August the rubber stamp appears to have been abandoned and for the next year or so many cards were blind stamped (impressed) "Edwards & Son, Excelsior Studio, Worthing". A blind stamped (and captionless) card had appeared during 1910, showing members of the Victoria Lodge of the Oddfellows attending a Centenary celebration in Worthing, but only after August 1911 were Edwards & Son cards generally blind stamped. In 1913 and 1914 a lot of cards were issued anonymously, but could be identified by the strongly backward sloping captions. A card of Arundel posted in 1913 was labelled "Copyright Edwards Series". By the summer of 1914 some cards were being produced with a printed label on the back: "Photo. by Edwards & Son, New St. Worthing".
One particularly poignant card that Edwards & Son issued (shown above) records the Worthing lifeboat, the Richard Coleman, being launched from the beach just east of the pier into a cold and stormy sea on February 17, 1915. The gallant lifeboatmen were answering a distress signal from the Kings Hill, a disabled schooner that had run into trouble out in the Channel. However, a mile or so from shore the Richard Coleman, hit by giant waves, twice capsized and one hapless lifeboatman lost his life. The rescue attempt had to be abandoned. Left unassisted the stricken schooner eventually washed up on Goring beach and its exhausted captain and crew managed to get ashore. The Edwards & Son card of the lifeboat launch is labelled "Edwards Photo" on the front, as is a view of the beached schooner, but it is not blind stamped and has no printed or hand-stamped label on the back, perhaps because it was produced in a hurry.
Edwards & Son mainly published real photographics, but coloured halftones with 1907 postmarks have been found entitled "Worthing Lifeboat to the rescue" and "Worthing Lifeboat's return from rescue work". A particularly crudely coloured halftone depicts the frozen sea at Worthing in January 1907. A halftone with a black and white vignetted picture shows Sam Clark, a Sussex cycling champion, posing with his many trophies won during the years 1902 to 1905. A halftone view of a military camp at Sullington near Storrington has been found with a 1905 postmark.
Although it was far outside his usual sales area, Edward Bex published a real photographic of the declaration of the 1906 election results at Lewes. The caption is not written in the usual backwards sloping handwriting, but the card is stamped on the back "Edwards & Son, Worthing" in blue ink. It would be interesting to know how this card came to be issued. Other puzzling geographical "strays" are some views of the Royal Sussex Regiment at camp at Newhaven in July 1910.
Edward Bex sold the Excelsior Studio and retired in 1919 or 1920. He died on March 8, 1928.To directory of publishers
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