John Frank Chambers & Son


Group of bathers, Shoreham

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Father and son firm of photographers, Shoreham-by-Sea. John Frank Chambers was born in 1862 at Ramsey on the edge of the Fens in what is now Cambridgeshire. For much of his working life he was a house painter and decorator, but after the First World War he and his son, Albert Chambers, moved to Shoreham and became part-time commercial photographers.

John Chambers married Harriett Maria Pawley in 1883 at Marylebone. They had three sons and five daughters. Their sixth child, Albert Chambers, was born in 1895 at Ramsey. According to his will his full name was Albert James Roy Ebenezer Chambers, though his father listed him in the 1911 census as Albert Henry James Roy Chambers.

The Chambers family moved house a lot. In the late 1880s they were living in the Crouch Hill area of North London, but by 1891 they were at Great Whyte at Ramsey. In the late 1890s they are thought to have moved to Bedford, but by 1901 they were back in London, at 17 Aldershot Road in Willesden. The 1911 census lists them at 15 Hencroft Street in Slough. By this date Albert was working as an office boy for a firm of builders. His father played the organ at a local church, and it was Albert's duty to pump up the organ for his father.

In the First World War Albert served with the Royal Fusiliers and saw active service on the Western Front. He was gassed during the Battle of the Somme (1916) and later badly bayoneted in a hand-to-hand fight with a German soldier. He was sent to a camp at Shoreham to convalesce, and liked the area so much that on leaving the Army he decided to settle there, at the same time persuading his father (and some other family members) to join him. In about 1917, he set up the first Shoreham Scout group even though the war had not yet been won and the grim news from the battlefields served as a continual distraction. His interest in scouting was long standing; he had attended one of Baden Powell's pioneer scout camps on Brownsea Island and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Albert worked as a postman for many years in the 1920s and 30s, sometimes battling in winter through deep snow drifts to deliver the mail. Why he and his father took up photography is not recorded, but for some years he worked as a part-time photographer for the Shoreham Herald. A keen conjuror, Albert liked to perform at children's parties under the name Jamie Roy, and was a member of the Magic Circle. One of his more memorable tricks was to pretend to make a cake in a top hat, breaking eggs into it with gusto, then adding flour and other ingredients, before turning the hat over and tapping it while releasing a real cake. Another of his enthusiasms was paganism, and he became a local Druid.

Albert was 44 when he married Edith Ford (born October 22, 1900) at the magnificent Romanesque church of St Mary de Haura at Shoreham on June 14, 1939. He and Edith had known each other for many years. Some of his Druid friends attended the ceremony in full regalia. After the marriage Albert gave up his photography business and moved with Edith to 157 Nevill Avenue in Hove, where his father joined them. He and Edith had no children.

Albert became a member of the Home Guard during the Second World War, and in the 1950s ran the Good Companions Old Folk's Club at Shoreham, renting the same wooden hut in which he had lived many years before while recovering from his war injuries. He also played an active part in Royal British Legion ceremonies and somehow found the time and energy to keep an allotment, which had a greenhouse, glazed with some of his old photographic plates!

John Chambers died of a stroke at Albert and Edith's house in Nevill Avenue in 1946, aged 84. Albert himself died of a heart condition at Hove Hospital early in 1961.

Albert and his father became skilled portrait photographers. During the interwar period they also published both sepia and black and white real photographic postcards with white borders, stamped on the back in blue or purple ink "J. F. Chambers & Son, Photographers, Shoreham-by-Sea" in an oblong-elliptical frame. Many cards show groups of holidaymakers on Shoreham beach (perhaps Albert patrolled the beach looking for customers), but the firm also produced cards of the Grammar School in Pond Street (including the Great War Memorial Window) and the privately run Queen's School for Girls in Southdown Road. Shoreham Community Centre now occupies the Grammar School site.

Collectors have long puzzled over the identity of the publisher of a series of real photographic cards of Shoreham and Southwick that were issued, mostly anonymously, during the 1920s and 1930s. These have black and white photographs with white borders and captions written in plain capitals, followed by a serial number. The photographs, which are now often rather faded and yellowed with age, bear a monogram consisting of a capital "A" nested within the curve of a much larger capital "C", which almost certainly indicates that the photographs were taken by Albert Chambers. Mrs Rene Marriott recalls that the case in which Albert carried his magician's equipment was decorated with the same monogram. Cards noted include: Old Shoreham Church (No. 17), Old Shoreham Bridge (No. 23); the old Norfolk Bridge (No. 82 - the bridge was demolished in 1922); the Gardens, Southwick (No. 104); the canal and lock, Southwick (No. 107); the new Prince George Lock, Southwick (No. 108 - opened by Prince George, later Duke of Kent, on March 15, 1933), launching the lifeboat at Shoreham (No. 117 - almost certainly this was the new lifeboat's maiden voyage in 1933), Shoreham as seen from the ferry (No. 120) and King Charles Cottage & the Barn, Southwick (No. 140). Judging from the last number, at least 140 different cards were issued.

Two cards in the series have been found that are stamped "J. F. Chambers & Son" in the usual blue frame on the back, which suggests that the firm marketed them alongside the other cards that they produced.

According to Kelly's 1922 Sussex Directory, Chambers & Son had two Shoreham studios, one at 19 High Street (known as the Modern Studio) and the other at 10 Southdown Road, which was where Albert lived. The Directory may have been slightly out-of-date - certainly, by the middle of 1922 Chambers & Son had decided to downsize their operations and Miss G. Hausser had taken over the Modern Studio. Chambers & Son were still trading at 10 Southdown Road (the Norman Studio) in 1938, immediately prior to Albert's marriage.

Acknowledgement: Mrs Renee Marriott (Hove) has provided much useful information about Albert Chambers and his father, and it is a pleasure to thank her for her unstinting help.

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