William James Waller


Steam thrashing, Holmbush Manor Farm, Slinfold (damaged card, April 1907 postmark)

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Photographer, Slinfold, then North Street, Horsham. William Waller was born, apparently "out of wedlock", on January 6, 1877 at Morgans Green, Rudgwick to Eliza Waller, a domestic servant. By 1901 he was working as a postman at Slinfold, where he boarded with a Mr and Mrs Jenkins, whose son was also a postman. By December 1903 he started selling good quality real photographic cards of Slinfold and its surroundings. How long he continued to collect and deliver post after this is uncertain. He may have taken up photography to supplement his income as a postman, and may not have switched to becoming a full-time photographer for several years. In addition to landscape photography, Waller tried his hand at portraiture, producing cabinet prints of Slinfold residents.

Waller was 29 when he married Ethel Emma Holden on November 7, 1906 at Barningham Parish Church in Suffolk. Ethel, who was 25, was the daughter of Amos Holden, a local farmer. It is not known how Waller came to meet Ethel. On his marriage certificate, Waller stated that he was a photographer, and the son of John Hill Waller, a gardener, although his father is not named on his birth certificate. Kelly's 1907 Sussex Directory describes Waller as a "picture frame maker", so evidently photography was not his only source of income.

The first cards that Waller produced are black and white real photographic cards with white borders. They are anonymous, but can be recognised as his work because they show Slinfold and have small, neat captions at the base of the photographs, written in sans serif capitals, often with wide gaps between the words and in some cases between the letters of words such as "Slinfold" . The captions must have been created using a small hand-held printing device. After a year or two, Waller introduced sepia tinted cards without borders, and started initialling the photographs "W.J.W." or adding the words "Waller Series" after the captions. By 1906 he was labelling his cards on the back: "Photographed and Printed by W.J. Waller, Slinfold, Sussex".

1906 seems to have been a particularly busy year for Waller. A notable triumph was a card of "The Royal Train with their Majesties the King and Queen passing through West Horsham June 13th 1906". Photographing trains travelling at speed was difficult because fast films were not available, and most photographers chose to photograph locomotives at rest, but Waller managed to record the royal train at full speed with only minimal blurring. In July 1906 Waller visited Handcross Hill to record the scene of the motorbus crash which killed ten passengers and injured many more. He was much too late to photograph the actual wreckage, but was in time to catch a few passers-by surveying the scene of the tragedy.

Waller reproduced some of his best photographs as Christmas cards often with hand drawn fir trees and holly berry decorations, both singly and as multi-views.

Although Waller preferred to publish real photographic cards, a collotype of Slindon church has been found with a 1905 postmark. Printed in Saxony, it is labelled "W. J. Waller, Slinfold" on the back. Whether it represents a "one-off" experiment or was part of a series has not been determined.

Waller issued postcard views of many of the larger houses in and around Slinfold, doubtless to please their owners and occupiers. Scenes of rural life, especially farming subjects, seem to have held a special appeal for him. Titles of some of his best known cards include:
Roman Road. Slinfold (July 1907 postmark noted).
Flood at Slinfold, Jan 1906
Victim of the gale (a fallen tree), Slinfold Rectory, Jan 6, 1906.
Where the primroses grow. Slinfold (December 1904 postmark).
By the river. Slinfold (cattle and horses graze in a pasture beside the infant Arun).
Harvest fields. Slinfold.
Slinfold Flower Show, August 6th 1906.
Harvest time. Slinfold (December 1906 postmark).
Steam threshing, - Holmbush Farm, - Slinfold (April 1907 postmark noted).
Slinfold. From the top of "Hayes Hill".
View at "Hayes Hill", Slinfold.
Lyons Farm, Slinfold (August 1906 postmark noted).
Slinfold (sheep grazing in a pasture on the edge of the village).
Rinding. Slinfold, Sussex (October 1906 postmark seen).

By 1909 Waller and his wife were living at Rowfold Cottage in Slinfold. He had begun to prosper as a photographer and picture frame maker, and by the end of 1910 he acquired Herbert Solmon's photographic studio at 50 North Street in Horsham, close to the railway station. Around this time he began labelling his cards on the back: "'W. J. Waller, Photographer and Picture Frame Maker, North St. (6 doors from the station) Horsham". Later cards were labelled "W. J. Waller, Artist & Photographer, North Street, Horsham, 6 doors from Station" or "Waller's Studios, North St. (just outside the station) Horsham" or more simply 'Waller's Studios, North St. Horsham". A few cards (including studio portrait cards) have been found with his name and address impressed (blind stamped) on the front.

Waller was still active as a postcard publisher in the early years of the First World War. A card issued in April 1915 showed a "Roll of Honour. The names of men in Slinfold parish now serving King and Country". He himself joined in the war effort - the 1918 Electoral Register lists him as a voter absent on military duty.

Waller seems to have ceased publishing postcard views during or soon after the war, but he remained in business as a photographer at 50 North Street until after the Second World War. The shop is still listed under his name in Kelly's 1957 Horsham Directory, when he was 80, but whether he was still doing business at this advanced age is doubtful. He died at Horsham on August 2, 1961, aged 84. His estate was valued at probate at £228.

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