Edwin Allen


Rustington, looking east (real photographic card)

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Photographer, Ash Villa, Church Road, Rustington. According to Bev and Mary Taylor, Allen and his wife, Sophia Ann, settled in Rustington in 1902. Kelly's Sussex Directory records that he was still working as a photographer in the village in 1924, but by the following year the Taylors report that he had retired, handing over his business to another photographer, called Sturgess.

Allen started selling black and white real photographic cards of Rustington by the autumn of 1903. Cards of East Preston and Angmering soon followed. All these early cards have white borders, lack captions and have "Edwin Allen, Rustington" impressed (blind stamped) in their bottom left or right corners. Few survive today, which suggests that sales were very poor. Allen had much greater success with a series of sepia-toned collotype views of Rustington, which went on sale by 1910, if not earlier. These collotypes have two types of caption. The majority of cards have scarlet captions that have been added using a printing device. Other cards have captions that were originally handwritten, and are reproduced in sepia or in black. Also to be found but much rarer are Allen's real photographic versions of the collotypes with black and white, borderless photographs. Unlike the collotypes these do not have his name and address on the back, but many of them can be recognised because they reproduce the same views as known collotypes or have captions in the same neat handwriting.

Although mainly concerned to record Rustington, Allen also issued sepia-toned real photographic cards of Angmering village. The earliest postmark seen is 1908. Some cards have captions that were handwritten on small transparent slips inserted at the base of the photographs; others lack captions. The backs are printed in either black or blue and are labelled in blue "Allen, Photo, Rustington, Worthing". By 1908 Allen was also producing a a few collotypes of Angmering.

Dating from 1907 is a real photographic card showing a silver cup, which was won by members of the Clapham and Patching "reading room" in the "card matches for the year". This card too is labelled on the back in blue "Allen, Photo, Rustington, Worthing". Another card, similarly labelled, shows a meeting of the Ancient Order of Foresters in white gowns and conical hats, and appears to date from the same period.

Allen did not restrict himself to recording his local area of Sussex. Some collotype cards have recently come to light showing the Wiltshire vilage of Wilton, near Salisbury, which are labelled on the back "E. Allen, Photo, Rustington, Sussex". They were evidently manufactured by the same firm that produced Allen's Rustington collotypes and have the same design of back. A 1931 postmark has been noted. Presumably, Allen had a relative at Wilton or an old friend who was able to sell the cards locally. It would be interesting to know whether he published other cards of non-Sussex locations.

Allen continued to work as a photographer long past the normal retirement age of 65. Perhaps he enjoyed exceptionally good health, and saw no reason to stop work. He has left a valuable pictorial record of Rustington and Angmering in the early years of the last century, but strangely little has been written about him as a person and he deserves greater recognition. He was born in Lambeth in about 1846 and married Sophia in about 1873. She came from Weymouth in Dorset and was three years older than her husband. The 1901 census records that the Allens were living in Ashmore Road in Paddington, and had no children. He was already working as a photographer. Why the couple decided to move to Rustington is not recorded, but perhaps they chanced upon the village while on holiday and fell in love with it.

After leaving Rustington, the Allens settled at 61 East Street in Littlehampton, where Edwin died on April 14, 1925, aged 79 years. The burial service was held at Rustington Parish Church, but no gravestone has been traced. Sophia died on January 26, 1927 at North View, East Preston, aged 83. She too was buried at Rustington, and again there is no record of a gravestone.

Acknowledgement: Many thanks are due to Bev and Mary Taylor, the Rustington historians, for providing invaluable information about Allen's final years in Sussex.

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