Angus Norman Croyle


Police Constables Craske & Dann performing a double dive off St Leonards Pier

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Photographic materials dealer and postcard publisher, St Leonards. Croyle was born in 1871 at Ballarat in the gold-fields of Victoria, southern Australia. He was the fourth of six sons of James Croyle, a mining engineer (born in about 1838 at Beddington in Northumberland), and Marian Mcdonald (born in about 1843 in Midlothian). Although Ballarat was a boom-town, serving great numbers of gold prospectors, the Croyle family decided in about 1872 to leave for Britain, perhaps to secure a better education for their children. They settled briefly in Redhill before moving on to Sydenham in South London. The 1881 census describes James Croyle somewhat surprisingly as a "retired banker" and makes no mention of his mining background. After leaving school, Angus Croyle may have soon begun acquiring technical expertise in photography, perhaps serving as an apprentice in an existing studio. However, the 1891 census makes no mention of this, reporting rather strangely that he was "living on his own means".On March 9, 1898 Angus Croyle married Matilda Freeland at St Paul's Church in St Leonards. Matilda had been born in the town in about 1881, and was the daughter of Harry William Freeland, a labourer. The marriage certificate records that Croyle was working as a photographer, and gives his address as 56 Warrior Square. The 1901 census records that Croyle and his wife had set up home at 9 East Ascent in St Leonards. Croyle is once again listed as "living on his own means", even though he was doubtless continuing to work as a photographer. In June 1903 he registered his copyright of a photograph of lightning over the sea at St Leonards, which he had taken at the end of May.

On the night of June 6, 1904, there was a dramatic lightning storm at Hastings. Croyle and Fred Judge both managed to photograph bolts of lightning, and rushed to issue postcards. Within days the two publishers were engaged in an advertising war. In the June 11 issue of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer, Judges claimed to have sold more than 2000 copies of their card in just three days and warned members of the public that "pirate copies are on the market". Croyle countered in the same issue with an advertisement claiming that he was the "originator of the lightning cards", and a week later claimed to have sold 7,500 copies of his card. On July 16 he offered £100 reward to anyone who could prove his photograph was not genuine. On July 30, Judges claimed to have sold 13,000 copies of their card in seven weeks. Croyle then published another lightning card "the most wonderful ever produced", but kept silent about his sales figures, which presumably were failing to match those of his rival.

Croyle's cards are keenly collected today and have become frustratingly scarce. The photographs are sometimes black and white, sometimes sepia toned, and generally lack borders. The captions, where present, are handwritten, usually in rather irregular, plain capitals. The start letters of names and captions tend to be extra large, and the letter "O" is often noticeably smaller than other letters. Most cards have the words "Croyle. Photo." written alongside the caption, often with the warning "Copyright".

Croyle issued cards of many different subjects. For example, in 1906 he photographed a "Conservative Procession" at St Leonards on January 22, the SS Lugano on fire off St Leonards later in the year, soldiers on parade in Hastings, and the Britannia balloon carrying the Hon. C. S. Rolls over Hastings during a celebrated balloon race from Paris to England on October 1, 1906. Picture Postcard Monthly (July 2000, p. 30) reproduced a card by Croyle showing a Board of Trade inspection tram checking the track in London Road, Hastings, on July 27, 1906. The card was on sale the following day!

Croyle was an exceptionally advanced and up-to-date photographer, second in Sussex only to Fred Judge. One of his most successful photographs (reproduced as a halftone card) taken in a thousandth of a second showed "Professor Cyril" making a bicycle dive off Hastings Pier. Such a shutter speed, and corresponding film speed, was way outside the capability of all but a handful of Sussex photographers. Another remarkable picture shows Constables Craske and Dann of the Hastings Police in a "double dive" off St Leonards Pier (both men sail through the air, one just above the other).

Croyle's well-known card of the fire that engulfed the Pavilion on Hastings Pier on July 15, 1917 has a very different style of caption from his other cards. Capitals are used only at the start of words, and the handwriting is atypical. The story goes that Croyle was away from Hastings on the day of the fire, and his wife was on the promenade with one of their children when she spotted the blaze. She rushed home, grabbed a camera and took the photograph that appears on the card. Presumably, she also wrote the caption (the handwriting is different from that on other cards) and printed the cards ready for sale.

Croyle's advertisements in Hasting's Directories record that, in addition to selling photographic materials (and postcards), he provided a developing and printing service for amateur photographers, and was available for hire as a lanternist. Many of his cards have backs printed in green. Harry Scott, Jack Spree and Herbert Ford-Lindsay used the same backs, which may indicate that they bought them from Croyle.

Croyle and his wife had five sons and a daughter: Angus Norman M. Croyle (born 1899, died in infancy), Gilbert Harry Johann Croyle (1909-1985), Marion Alice May Croyle (1912-2003), Gerald Ludwig Croyle (1913-1987), Frederick Vernon Noel Croyle (1915-1970) and Eric Freeland Croyle (1916-1995).

Croyle and his wife moved from East Ascent to 11 Norman Road in St Leonards in late 1903, and remained there until 1914. The 1911 census records that Eva Freeland, Matilda's unmarried sister, was sharing the home and helping Croyle with his business. By 1915, Croyle and his wife moved to 3 Norman Road. He was still in business at this address in 1933, but by 1936 was living, presumably in retirement, at 87 Sedlescombe Road, which continued to be his home throughout the 1940s. He died on January 10, 1950, leaving effects of £5895. Matilda lived on at Sedlescombe Road until her own death, on 16 December 1955.

Acknowledgement: Grateful thanks to Susan Morgan for correcting an error in an earlier version of this account.

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