John White & Son


Maltrevers Street, Arundel, December 30, 1908

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Photographers, Littlehampton. John White was born at Lyminster (Leominster) in Sussex in 1850, one of seven children of Thomas and Betsey White (née Cheal). Thomas had been born at Lyminster in about 1815, and Betsy, who was illiterate, in the same village in about 1819. They married on August 8, 1841, in Lyminster Church. Thomas was a labourer.

By 1871 John White had left home and was lodging with a family at Tortington while working as a railway porter. The job must not have been to his taste because he soon moved to Littlehampton and set up in business as a picture frame maker. In 1874 he began working as a photographer to supplement his income. H. J. F. Thompson in his book, The Littlehampton Story No. 3 - the picturemakers (1981, Littlehampton Printers, Littlehampton, page 2), records that White was able to finance his new venture from a reward that was paid to him "for his part in providing information which led to the apprehension of a smuggler". At first White was based at 11 River Road in Littlehampton, but in June 1876 he moved to 32 High Street where he set up a new studio. On July 20, he married Alice Arnott at St John's Parish Church in Greenwich, London. Alice, who came from Shepherds Bush, was six years his junior and the daughter of Frederick James Arnott, a coachman.

When the 1881 census was held, the Whites already had two children: Arthur Harold White, born on March 25, 1877, and Lillie Alice White, born in 1878. Their third and last child, John Percival White, was born in 1895 or 1896. The Whites were still living at 32 High Street in the early 1890s, but in about 1895 they moved to Gresham House at 7 Beach Road in Littlehampton, where Thompson records that White was able to have a studio and darkroom built to his own design. For a few years he also kept a shop at Number 12 in the same street, where he sold picture frames. Later he acquired shops at 8 Beach Road and at 6 High Street. By the turn of the century he was firmly established as the leading portrait photographer in the Littlehampton and Arundel area. It was probably around this date that he published "White's Album of Views of Littlehampton and Neighbourhood" with 24 halftone reproductions of his photographs. No mention was made of the printer's name or the year of publication.

The 1901 census records that Arthur White, who was then 24, had become an assistant photographer to his father. The business, renamed John White & Son, greatly expanded over the next few years, taking on perhaps as many as twelve workers, including Frank Spry. Thompson reproduces an interesting photograph of John White and his staff taken in 1904. The 1911 census records that Arthur White, Florence Ethel White (his wife of four years, who had been born at Basford in Staffordshire in about 1879) and 2-year-old son, Ronald White were living at 7 Beach Road.

An advertisement for J. White & Son in 1910-1911 described the firm as "Photographers and photographic dealers. Developing, printing and enlarging for amateurs". What it failed to mention was that the firm had become much the largest publisher of picture postcards of Littlehampton, Arundel and district. It covered all the villages of the lower Arun valley, such as Bury, Burpham, Amberley and Houghton, and also produced cards of Slindon, Angmering, East Preston, Yapton and Findon.

Most of the firm's output took the form of real photographics, but customers in the early years especially were also offered a range of collotype and halftone cards, some printed in colour in Saxony. A black and white collotype of Amberley postally used in August 1903 has a dark red caption and a back printed in the same colour. Even earlier is a coloured halftone of the Parade at Littlehampton with a June 1903 postmark. Another coloured card with a September 1905 postmark shows Rustington. "Threshing corn, Sussex" is a charming, softly coloured view of an unidentified farm that dates from the same era. Not all the cards printed in Germany were coloured; there were also black and white photogravures, such as a view of the High Street in Arundel (a 1906 postmark has been seen).

The earliest real photographic cards that have been found date from mid to late 1903. An uncaptioned view of the centre of Angmering village, stamped in purple ink "White & Son, Littlehampton", is postmarked June 1903. Another card similarly stamped and captioned "Coclesden Manor" was sent from Angmering in September 1903. Of more archaic appearance is a card posted in October 1903, which shows the keep at Arundel Castle. The photograph, which has a caption, occupies only part of the front of the card, leaving space for correspondence, although the back is divided in the modern manner. The card is impressed (blind stamped) "J. White & Son, Littlehampton" in the bottom right corner. Very similar in age is yet another real photographic, also blind stamped, showing Littlehampton Fire Brigade, which was posted in November 1903.

Dating from March 1904 are some real photographic cards that show Arundel honouring the Duke and the new Duchess of Norfolk on their return from their wedding (it was Henry, the 15th Duke's second marriage - his first wife died in 1887). The cards have no borders or captions, but as before are blind stamped with their publisher's name at the base of the pictures. They were sold by A. W. Lapworth, who had a stationer's shop and fancy goods store in the High Street in Arundel. Lapworth was to act as an agent for White's cards for many years. Another early real photographic card, again blind stamped and with no caption, shows Littlehampton Church. A July 1904 postmark has been noted.

Very different in style is a card of the village wheelwright and his shop at Burpham, with an October 1904 postmark. The sepia tinted photograph has a white border and the terse caption "Burpham" written in tiny capitals concealed amongst the timbers of a dismembered wagon. Equally hidden amongst the detail of the picture is the number "4". Stamped on the back of the card in purple ink is the label "J. White & Son, Littlehampton".

One of the few multi-view cards that White & Son produced records the opening of Littlehampton Bridge on May 27, 1908. Before the bridge opened, road traffic had to use a chain ferry. A very fine early card published by White shows a coachman with horse and landau driving off the ferry.

Almost from the beginning, White & Son issued some real photographic cards in sepia, others in black and white. The photographs on most cards have narrow, white borders. From 1903 to around 1912 the cards generally had tiny handwritten captions in plain capitals. Sometimes "White. Photo" is written in capitals across the bottom right corner of the photograph; other cards have the name and address of the publisher hand stamped in ink or printed on the back, or else are entirely anonymous.

Particularly charming is a card of Maltravers Street in Arundel after heavy snow on December 30, 1908. An advertising card from this period shows the "Lady Mary", a charabanc, whose booking office was a 5 Beach Road. Another card, labelled "Crossbush, Sussex", shows a boot repairer at work, seated outside on a chair. A notice on the door behind him announces: "Mr. H. Spooner lives here. Repairs boot, shoes and is not dear. His leather is good, his work is quick. His profits small, but he gives no TICK."

Around 1909 some cards were issued with the caption in quotes, for example "Burpham". By summer 1912, cards were being produced with larger, handwritten captions preceded and followed by a tilde (for example ∼BURPHAM∼). This style continued to be used until 1935 or later.

In the years before the First World War, White & Son issued some cards of Victorian Littlehampton. The earliest shows the High Street in 1863, before John White founded his business. There is no record of who was the photographer. Another very early view, unfortunately undated but pre-1880 is simply labelled "Old Littlehampton High Street". Another card, "Old Littlehampton", shows two cottages that were demolished in 1889.

In addition to numerous "view" cards, White & Son produced many cards of local events, such as the freezing of the edge of the sea early in 1907 and again in February 1929. The Duke of Norfolk's 21st Birthday Celebrations was greeted with a flurry of cards in 1929. The Duchess of Norfolk and her children featured on another real photographic card in 1912. In the summer of 1905 a White photographer travelled to Lewes to photograph the Army camp in Houndean Bottom, presumably because it housed a contingent of Littlehampton recruits. The March 1913 floods at Littlehampton were the subject of yet more cards. A number of cards (embossed J. White) were issued of the railway accident at Littlehampton on August 4, 1920, when an engine broke through the buffers and fell into the road. White & Son also published a card of the football stand at Littlehampton destroyed by fire in December 1920, the unveiling of Arundel War Memorial by Lord Leconfield on July 24, 1921, another of the unveiling of Littlehampton Memorial on September 28, 1921, cards of Littlehampton Carnival in the following August, a hunt meet at Angmering in April 1927, celebrations at Arundel on June 7, 1928, the fire ravaged remains of the dance pavilion at Littlehampton in the following month, floods at Littlehampton on June 4, 1929, and crowds on Armistice Day in Littlehampton in 1930. A close-up showing Princess Mary's two children playing with buckets and spades on the sands at Littlehampton supposedly dates from July 1928 and must have been taken with the agreement of the Princess. In 1933 White & Son produced a card of the steam ship Mungret, which ran aground in the River Arun, and in 1935 a set of cards of Jubilee Day in Arundel. Another set showed flying at Ford airfield in August 1935. In February 1937 White & Son recorded the Welcome Home Celebrations for the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk and in May of the same year they produced a further set showing the Corpus Christi Procession at Arundel (also photographed in 1930 and 1933). Other cards show the building of the big dipper at Butlin's Amusement Park in Littlehampton in 1936, storm damage to the sea front in 1938, and the Arundel Carnival in 1939. Some cards of Littlehampton Carnival in 1950 (anonymous but with the distinctive tilde decorated captions) and a Corpus Christi procession at Arundel in May 1951 (blank backed but labelled "White Photo" on the front) demonstrate that the firm continued to cover important local events for some years after the Second World War.

It is likely that John White retired soon after the First World War, handing over full control of the firm to Arthur, his elder son, but the postcards provide no evidence of new management, showing only minor changes in style right through to the 1950s. Directories after 1930 give the address of White & Son as 20 (later 22) Beach Road, Littlehampton. Whether the firm actually moved or whether the properties were re-numbered is unclear. John White himself retired to live at 64 South Terrace in Littlehampton, and it was here that he died on December 1, 1932, leaving effects of £10,172. In his will he left the photographic business and shop at 7 Beach Road to Arthur, and the shop at 8 Beach Road to his son John. His daughter, who had married and become Lillie Leggett, inherited the High Street shop.

According to Thompson, Arthur's son, who eventually acquired the family business, left it "in the hands of a manager, and devoted himself to other interests". The firm closed down early in 1968.

White & Son cards are not usually numbered, and it is very uncertain how many different cards were produced, but 2-3000 would be a fairly conservative estimate. Cards of the village of Bury alone are believed to number between 30 and 40.

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