Hampden Park Lake, Eastbourne. Saxonian series (March 1904 postmark)
Stationer and postcard publisher at Eastbourne. John Robards has prepared a check list of Brooker's cards and researched his postcard publishing career in some detail ("W. Brooker of Eastbourne, postcard publisher, 1904-1924", privately published, 1994 - copy available in Eastbourne Reference Library). The following notes draw heavily on Robards' work.
Brooker was born at Horley in Surrey in about 1861 (not Seaford in 1856 as has been suggested). By 1891 he was working as a bookseller and stationer in Eastbourne. He had a shop at 56 Terminus Road, but must have been short of space as he also sold toys and fancy goods and shared the premises with three other businesses, including a photographer. In 1892 he married Louisa Jane Bew, who came from Hinxworth in Hertfordshire and was born in 1866 or 1867. From 1894 to 1898 the couple lived at 9 Lismore Road, not far from the shop, but in 1899 they moved to "Kimble Cottage" at 7 Upper Avenue, north of the station. By 1901 they moved across the road to Number 8 ("Bayhorne") where they lived for seven years. Living nearby was another postcard publisher, J. W. Pulsford, who set up a shop in Terminus Road before Brooker.
One of Brooker's first cards (a collotype, printed in Hessen) shows the "King's visit to Eastbourne, July 11, 1903". As his business grew, he had to search for larger premises, and in 1905 he began trading at 6 Sussex Gardens, off Terminus Road. The site is now the Arndale Centre.
In 1908 Brooker changed house again, moving to Bedfordwell Road where he remained for only three years. In 1911 he acquired a larger house at 11 Enys Road in a select residential area about half a mile from the station. By this time he had established himself as a major wholesale stationer as well as a postcard publisher. He was still at Enys Road when he retired in 1924, but by 1930 he moved yet again to what became his last home, "Bryn Garth" in Baldwin Avenue, in an area of new housing between the Old Town and Ocklynge.
William Brooker was twice married. Louisa, his first wife, died at Sevenoaks in Kent on March 13, 1930, leaving effects of £2286. There seem to have been no children. Brooker's second wife was Ann Roberts, a widow, whom he married on July 15, 1931, at Eastbourne Registry Office. According to the marriage certificate, Ann was living at 13 Kings Avenue in Eastbourne; Brooker gave his place of residence as St Leonards, but perhaps this was only a temporary address. Ann was six years his junior, and the daughter of Thomas Harrison, a deceased stone merchant. Brooker died in 1934, after only three years with Ann, who continued to live at Bryn Garth until at least 1939.
Before Brooker began publishing his own cards, he acted as a retailer for another publisher, who produced some finely coloured collotypes of Eastbourne that are labelled on the back "Saxonian" and "Published for W. Brooker, Stationer, Eastbourne". These cards seem to have sold quite well, and perhaps this encouraged Brooker to go a step further and start publishing on his own account.
Brooker was a competent but not gifted photographer, and his pictures, although often interesting as a historical record, lack the beauty and charm of some of those of his rivals. As far as is known, he never printed any cards himself, preferring to rely on a succession of suppliers. German firms printed nearly all the cards up to World War 1, but not surprisingly he then turned to British suppliers, including, John Robards suggests, Marshall, Keene & Co., which may not be correct because, if Directories are to be believed, the firm was founded only after Brooker retired.
Brooker's early and late cards often have his name on the front or back or else are marked "W.B. Series", but many cards, especially those produced around the time of the war, are anonymous and not easily identifiable as his work. His numbering system is another source of difficulty. It is likely that he published over 900 cards with different views, but there is a lot of duplication of numbers. Moreover, the same view could be issued as a coloured card with one number, as a black and white collotype with another number and as a variety of real photographics with yet more numbers.
The first coloured cards were issued in 1905, and two more series appeared in 1907, one very closely resembling a coloured series issued at around the same time by Arthur Homewood, which probably indicates that both publishers engaged the same German printer. The coloured cards look somewhat crude to modern eyes, but contemporaries doubtless regarded them as splendidly progressive and innovative. Many of the photographs were taken in winter, but by adding green washes to the skeletal silhouettes of trees the German colourists could convey the illusion of high summer.
Brooker issued a selection of his views as good quality sepia real photographic cards, but his "W.B. Series of Semi Matt Phototone Cards", which appeared just before the First World War, is deeply disappointing because many of the pictures are so strongly sepia tinted that valuable detail is obscured and some are also very coarsely textured as if imitating an Impressionist painting. In the 1920s he re-issued many of his old cards under the title "South Downs Series". The sepia-tinted pictures tend to be muddy and mid-tones are poorly differentiated compared with earlier versions of the same cards. All in all, Brooker's cards are a very mixed bag.
Brooker's sales territory was centered on Eastbourne, but he ranged widely, supplying cards to local shops eastwards to Pevensey, Heathfield and Herstmonceux and west to Alfriston, Seaford, Maresfield and Lewes. By about 1912 he seems to have stopped selling in some of the smaller villages, concentrating his efforts in the larger villages and towns. During the First World War he produced an extensive series of cards of Summerdown Camp at Eastbourne where wounded soldiers convalesced. He seems to have stopped selling cards on or shortly before his retirement in 1924.
In the early 1900s an anonymous postcard publisher marketed coloured facsimiles of some water colour paintings by an artist called Owen depicting Eastbourne as it may have looked in the distant past. Labelled the Ye Olde Eastbourne Series, they are believed to have been the work of Brooker, who purchased many of the original paintings from the artist.To directory of publishers
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