Frederick Charles Cooper


"By Wilmington" (1910 postmark). The photographer appears to have been looking west along what is now Lewes Road

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Photographer, Eastbourne. Cooper was born at 126 Terminus Road in Eastbourne on May 21, 1878. He was the son of Julia Ann Cooper (formerly Jennings) and Alfred James Cooper, a ladies' and gentlemen's tailor. His parents had married in London in 1873. When the 1901 census was taken, he was aged 22, working as a tailor's cutter (probably for his father), and living with his parents, brother and sisters at 27 Upperton Road in Eastbourne, in a house called West Leigh. Alfred Cooper's tailoring business continued to be based at 126 Terminus Road. He was inventor and sole manufacturer of the "Cooper" cycling skirt, which was "entirely closed from waist to bottom" with "no vertical openings whatever" thus sparing lady cyclists the embarrassment of showing even a hint of leg. Tony Wales in his book, Eastbourne in old picture postcards (2000, European Library, Zaltbommel, The Netherlands) reproduces an 1899 advertisement for this "must-have" bicycle accessory of the period.

By 1905 Cooper took up photography as a career, but did not immediately leave home. The 1911 census records that he was living with his parents at 35 Ocklynge Road in Eastbourne. Pike's 1907-8 Eastbourne Directory lists Seymour, Cooper & Co. as photographers at 26 Pevensey Road in Eastbourne, so perhaps this was his workplace. Kelly's 1909 Sussex Directory records that he was living at 38 Victoria Drive and had a shop at 18 Elms Buildings in Seaside Road. It would be interesting to know whether he was a business associate or rival of Rudolph Vieler at Number 19. By 1911 Cooper had moved his business to 37 Grove Road where he opened a photographic store under the name Fred C. Cooper, and by 1916 he was also at Terminus Road, Eastbourne. He seems to have ceased trading by 1922, when he was living at 9a Sussex Gardens, off Terminus Road.

Cooper described himself in advertisements before the Great War as a "photographic dealer and specialist in outdoor photography", providing the "very finest work at the lowest prices". He emphasised that he did not undertake studio portraiture, although the discovery of postcard portraits of individual soldiers with Cooper's name blind stamped in the bottom right corner (or printed in a white border at the base of the pictures) shows that he changed his policy once war was under way.

Cooper was active as a postcard publisher from about 1905 until after the end of the First World War. He issued an "F.C.C. Series" of coloured collotype views of Eastbourne which had pictures impressed within wide white borders, but remains best known for his "F.C.C. Series" of sepia-tinted, rather "arty" real photographic cards showing harvesting and other scenes of rural life around Eastbourne, Wilmington and Alfriston. These real photographic cards often have fine skies, which are likely to have been added from other photographs. The pictures and captions are often slightly blurred, which suggests that Cooper prepared the cards from copy negatives that he made by re-photographing prints on which he had written the captions.

One noteworthy card in the series entitled "'To the rescue' E.K. A wreck at Beachy Head" (see Gallery) depicts a moonlit night and a brig or brigantine being washed onto rocks with a lifeboat in attendance. Spectators and would be rescuers line the shore. This website commented previously that "the picture is most probably a painting, but it could possibly be a photograph that has been so ruthlessly retouched that all sharpness has been lost." Thanks to the researches of Ben Franks of Seaford Museum we now know that the picture is indeed a photograph, and was taken by Ellis Kelsey, who lived in Upper Avenue at Eastbourne. Kelsey was a gifted amateur photographer, who specialised in low light photography. He exhibited his rescue scene at the Royal Photographic Society exhibition in London in 1906.

Cooper also produced a range of much sharper real photographic cards of Herstmonceux, Hampden Park, Eastbourne, Jevington, Filching Manor and the Wannock valley, initialled "F.C.C." or "F.C.C. Ser." on the front or marked on the back "F.C. Cooper, Eastbourne". Some are numbered; the highest number reported is 152. While many are ordinary view cards, others record special events. When the SS Eastfield became stranded on the rocks beneath Beachy Head in December 1909 he quickly issued several real photographic cards of the stricken vessel. Another card shows a monoplane (a mere speck) flying off Eastbourne pier. In May 1910 he produced cards showing the Proclamation of King George V at Eastbourne Town Hall. A card in December reproduced a flashlight photograph that he took of crowds waiting to hear the General Election results outside the Eastbourne Gazette offices. A May 1911 card showed the S.S. Charlton damaged in a collision off Eastbourne. Cooper seems to have taken a special interest in shipping accidents. Three cards dated June 4, 1911, show the S.S. Hercules anchored in Eastbourne Bay after a collision.

The captions on these real photographic cards are written in neat blocky capitals. "A"s, "K"s and "R"s are often embellished with short, right-hand descenders. Carter & Co. issued cards with captions written seemingly by the same person, and their cards cannot be reliably distinguished from those of Cooper where there is no publisher's label or initials. This is unfortunate as some particularly interesting cards of Eastbourne lacking any indication of the publisher show the town engulfed in snow during the very cold winter of 1908-09. Some cards are dated December 1908, others March 1909. The style of back offers no clue because it is a type used by both Carter and Cooper. For the moment, the authorship of these snow scenes must be regarded as problematic.

Included in the Gallery is a card of Bovill's Garage at 6a Seaside that shows the firm's taxicabs lined up with their drivers in attendance. Postmarked April 1914, it was presumably intended as a publicity card, but for some strange reason lacks a caption. Unusually for Cooper, he embossed his name in the bottom right corner of the card.

Cooper published a few real photographic cards of Pevensey Bay and Bexhill that were sepia-toned with white borders and a matt finish. Initialled "F.C.C.", these cards do not appear to have sold well, and are quite difficult to find today. A 1911 postmark has been seen.

In the early 1870s an enterprising photographer took eight panoramic pictures of Eastbourne from windows high up in the spire of the newly built St Saviour's Church in South Street. These historic pictures were later issued as coloured collotype cards and also as sepia-toned real photographic cards. The collotypes are labelled in green on the back: "Cooper's Old Eastbourne Series. (Copyright)", which has led many to assume that they were published by Frederick Charles Cooper. However, in 1906 when the collotypes first went on sale, copyright and authorship were registered with the Stationers' Company in London by Charles Ian Cooper of 31 Gildridge Road in Eastbourne. Charles had been born in the town in about 1848 and had worked variously as a wine salesman, tea dealer and commission agent. He married in 1887 and had five children. He may have been a relative of Frederick Cooper, but this has not been confirmed despite much searching of archival records. There remains a real possibility that Charles in fact published his cards entirely independently of Frederick.

The captions on the "Cooper's Old Eastbourne Series" collotypes are printed in red. The real photographic versions lack captions and were published anonymously, but have much better definition than the collotypes and are more keenly collected. Although the captions on the collotype cards proclaim that the original photographs were taken in the "sixties", modern commentators date the pictures to 1872 or 1873.

Acknowledgement: this website is greatly indebted to Ben Franks for sharing the results of his researches on Ellis Kelsey.

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