Cecil Francis Watkins


Tollgate Cottage on the eastern edge of Etchingham village

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Photographer, Etchingham. Watkins was born in Birmingham in 1888 and was the eldest son of Lillian Emma Watkins (née Poynter) and Frank Watkins, who was a painter in oils and also worked locally as a "photographic artist". Lillian had been born at Greenwich in about 1866 and Frank in Walsworth, London, in about 1862. According to family tradition, Lilian was related to the celebrated artist, Sir Edward Poynter. She and Frank married in the Birmingham area in 1886. In 1890 they had a second son, Edgar Graham Watkins, who also became a photographer. In 1891 they were living at 109 Brunswick Road in Balsall Heath. By 1895, when their third son, Malcolm Poynter Watkins, was born, they were in Nottingham. They then moved south to Ealing, where Frank continued to find employment as a photographic artist. The 1901 census gives their address as 25 Clovelly Street and the 1911 census as 65 Westfield Road.

In 1911 Cecil was 23 but had not yet left home. He was working as a photographic assistant, perhaps for the same employer as his father. His brother, Malcolm, who was also still living with his parents, was apprenticed to a gentleman's outfitter. In October 1919 Frank and Lillian Watkins were living at 4 Althorne Avenue in Hanwell.

Malcolm Watkins was killed in a submarine accident in 1918, just before the end of the First World War. It is not known whether Cecil also fought in the war. By October 1919 he was living at Moss Bank, Etchingham, and already producing postcards, though possibly only on an experimental basis. Amongst the cards that he sold for profit were some collotypes of Etchingham, including a poorly printed but ambitious multi-view with hand-drawn floral and other decorations. He also published some generally good quality black and white real photographics, with his name stamped on the back in a circular surround, often close to the stamp space. Subjects include the village of Broad Oak at Heathfield, Jack Cade's memorial stone at Heathfield, unidentified houses in the Etchingham area, and the War Memorial at Burwash following its unveiling on October 24, 1920. A card of the War Memorial at Ticehurst is dated February 27, 1921.

Kelly's 1924 Sussex Directory lists a Thomas W. Watkins, farmer, at Court Lodge Farm, Etchingham, but no evidence has been found to suggest Cecil was related to him. It is not known why Cecil chose to settle in Etchingham, where his business prospects would not have been good because of the rural setting and low population numbers. It is likely that he left the village after only a few years.

Cecil Watkins died of heart failure and influenzal pneumonia at Tiverton and District Hospital in Devon on December 28, 1957. His brother, Edgar, from Australind House, Cuckoo Farm, West Clandon in Surrey registered his death. On the death certificate he is described as a retired photographic assistant, living at 21 Newport Street in Tiverton. It would be interesting to know when and why he moved to Devon.

Acknowledgement: Grateful thanks are due to Mrs Julie Cusworth, Edgar's granddaughter, for supplying some of the above information about the Watkins family.

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