Samuel Henry Soper (Soper's Bazaar)


King's Road, Brighton, with the Metropole Hotel and the entrance to the West Pier

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North Street, Brighton. Samuel Henry Soper (1861-1914) was a linen draper at 77-83 North Street at the junction with Western Road (just west of the Clock Tower). From 1903 he sold good quality collotype cards of Brighton with backs printed in red (or brownish red), and white borders beneath the pictures (and in some cases also round the sides and on top). The captions are printed on the left side of the borders and on the right side (or up the right margin) in smaller print is a label "Soper's Bazaar, Top of North Street". The cards were available in standard black and white or delicately hand coloured, presumably at a premium price. Both winter and summer views are represented. One card shows the Old Chain Pier, which was washed away in a storm in December 1896, some six years before the cards were first issued. It would be interesting to know whether any of Soper's other cards reproduced old photographs.

Whether Soper should be included in this directory as a postcard publisher is questionable. He may simply have bought in the cards from an anonymous supplier, and played no part in their production. Another possibility, however, is that he selected the photographs from the stock of a local firm of photographers (established by 1896), and perhaps even arranged for the cards to be printed. A firm called Soper & Wheeler were printers, stationers and paper bag merchants at 2 North Road in the 1890s and early 1900s, and could conceivably have carried out the printing on Soper's behalf. He may even have been a part owner of Soper & Wheeler.

Samuel Henry Soper was born in Brighton in 1861. His father, who was also called Samuel Henry Soper, had been born in the same town in 1837. His mother was Mary Ann Phillis Soper (née Ames), another Brightonian, who had been born in about 1840. She and his father, who was the son of Prudence and John Soper, a Western Road ironmonger, had married in March 1860. In 1851, when Samuel Henry Soper Senior was 14, he was living with his parents at 5 Windsor Terrace in Brighton. He had left school and found a job as a telegraph clerk, the first ever to be employed at Brighton Railway Station. He then worked at the celebrated Brighton drapery store of Hanningtons, before returning to London. In 1860 he started his own drapery business in Brighton in a small shop at 80 North Street. The 1861 census describes Samuel Henry Soper Senior as a "linen draper employing one man and two children. He and Mary were living over or at the back of the shop with their three-month-old son, Samuel Henry Soper Jnr.

Soper Senior was a tireless and successful businessman, and over the years he set about acquiring the adjacent properties on North Street, which he pulled down and rebuilt, eventually creating an immense store known as Soper's Emporium, which included Soper's Bazaar. Until about 1870 he and Mary continued to make their home in Brighton, where they had two daughters and a further two sons. The 1871 census, however, records that they had moved to Lindfield, to a house called Holly Bank. Soper Senior is described in the census as a draper employing 64 hands. Presumably he was commuting to Brighton by train from Haywards Heath. In 1876 Mary died, and two years later Samuel Henry Soper Senior remarried. His new wife, Louisa Jenner (née Hart), had been born in Brighton. Two more children followed, both born at Haywards Heath. The 1881 census return lists the Soper family at Southerland House in Church Road, Haywards Heath. He later returned with his family to Brighton, where in 1886 he was elected as an Alderman.

In 1891 the Soper family was living at 32 Vernon Terrace in Brighton, between Clifton Hill and Dyke Road. Samuel Henry Soper Senior was that year's Brighton's Mayor. At least two of his children were helping him run the drapery business.

On August 4, 1892 Samuel Henry Soper Jnr. married Katharine Elizabeth Bertha Polack at St Peter's Church, Brighton. Katherine was the daughter of Edmund Polack, a deceased merchant, and had been born in Germany but was a British citizen. It was a sumptious wedding. The Argus reported that the bride was attired in a beautiful costume of ivory Duchesse satin, with Court train, trimmed with real Brussels lace; the bridesmaids were dressed alike in cream crepon trimmed with pale heliotrope silk, and each wore a white "flop" hat trimmed with ostrich feathers. After the wedding was over, the couple left to honeymoon on the Rhine. But then fate struck. On August 15, Samuel Henry Soper Senior died unexpectedly at Fisher's Hotel at Pitlochry in Perthshire. He was only 55, and had gone to Pitlochry with Louisa for a rest and "in search of health" - he had for some time "been suffering from the effect of overwork".

By 1895 Samuel Henry Soper Jnr. and his family were living at 19 Alexandra Villas, off the Dyke Road, and by 1899 they had moved to a villa called The Highlands in Hamilton Road in the Preston area. Kelly's 1905 Sussex Directory gives his address as The Highlands, Stanford (not Hamilton) Road.

In 1911 the widowed Louisa Soper was living with her daughter Emma and husband, William Fortt Booth, at their home in D'Avigdor Road in Hove. Her son Samuel Henry Soper Jnr. died in late 1914.

In 1918 Soper's advertised itself as the "Great Drapery Emporium, for value in household linens, furnishing drapery, smart millinery costumes, ladies' and children's outfitting". Eventually, it passed out of the hands of the Soper family and was acquired by the rival firm of Leeson and Vokins.

Acknowledgement: Grateful thanks to Jamie Yates (Glasgow), a great great grandson of Samuel Henry Soper Jnr., for suppling some key information and helping to identify serious errors in an earlier draft.

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