Henry Alfred Avery


Saltdean, mid or late 1920s

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Photographer, Brighton. Harry Avery, as he was known to friends and relations, rose from humble beginnings to become one of the giants of Sussex postcard publishing. The son of Charles and Frances Avery, he was born in December 1884 at his parent's home at 1 Melbourne Street, off Lewes Road, Brighton. Frances Avery, née Upton, who registered the birth, was illiterate and could only mark the certificate. She had been born in late 1851 at Pyecombe, and described her husband as a builder's labourer. He seems to have been born at Brighton in 1854.

By 1891 the Averys had moved to 32 Crescent Cottages between St George's Road and Marine Parade. Charles was working as a general labourer. The census discloses that 6-year-old Harry had a younger brother, Charles Avery, who was a year old, and two sisters, Annie Avery aged 9 and Alice Avery aged 3. By 1901 the family had moved to 319 Queens Park Road in Brighton. Harry, now 16, was a grocer's porter and had a new younger sister, Edith Avery, who was 9. His father was once again described as a builder's labourer.

Not long afterwards, Harry may have established a "photographic trade works" at 60 George Street in Hove in partnership with a Mr Hutchinson. The firm, which traded as Hutchinson and Avery, seems only to have lasted for a few years. Confusingly, there was also a Brighton photographer called A. H. Avery and further research is needed to determine which of the pair partnered Hutchinson. For a few years just after the First World War a firm called "Avery & Marks" published portrait postcards of Brighton actors and entertainers, such as the cast of the 1922 Palace Pier Follies. Once again, there is uncertainty as to what involvement, if any, Harry had with this firm.

On October 8, 1910 Harry Avery married Mary Coombes at the Congregationalist Church in Belgrave Street in Brighton. Mary was three years his senior, and the daughter of Walter Coombes, a retired engineer. At the time Avery was living at 87 Elm Grove in Brighton and continuing to work as a photographer, although the partnership with Hutchinson had probably ended. He described his father on the marriage certificate as a farmer, which seems rather unlikely, given the latter's labouring background. Possibly he meant smallholder.

It is not known whether Avery saw active service in the war, but afterwards he established a series of shops providing photographic materials and services such as developing and enlarging. When advertising, he claimed to have received over 150 awards for artistic photography!

Avery opened his first and most successful shop, at 77 St James Street in Kemp Town, by 1921. From 1924 to about 1933 he also operated a "works" in Rock Place, just round the corner from the shop, where postcards could be made and customers' films developed. In the mid 1920s he offered customers same day developing and printing.

Avery established a second shop, at 6 George Street in Hove, by 1924, but closed it by 1927. By 1925 he set up a limited company, Averys (Brighton) Ltd., to run four new shops: at 6 Victoria Terrace (this was still trading in 1926, but closed by 1927), 79 West Street (this likewise was gone by 1927), 173 Western Road (still trading in 1926, but replaced by a firm of confectioners in 1927), and 19 High Street, Shoreham (again, closed by 1927). From 1928 onwards, Avery's (Brighton) Ltd. took over the running of the 77 St James Street shop.

In about 1931 Avery established yet another branch, this time at 38a Blatchington Road, but like so many of his ventures it closed its doors after only about two years. It is last listed in Pike's 1932-33 Brighton & Hove Directory; by 1934 it had been replaced by a firm of dry cleaners. Another branch, at 4 George Street, Hove, was equally ephemeral, opening in about 1931 (replacing a picture frame maker), but closing by 1934. Much more successful was a branch at the Broadway in Haywards Heath, established by 1930, which continued to trade until at least 1938.

Avery's original shop, at 77 St James Street, survived the difficult trading conditions of the Second World War. Afterwards, faced with falling demand for photographic materials, it very wisely diversified, putting increasing effort into selling radios and televisions. It was still in business in 1974.

Avery published an extensive series of sepia RPs with distinctly narrow white borders, covering an area of Sussex stretching from Rye in the east westwards to Arundel and Midhurst, and north to Crawley and Three Bridges. The cards are slightly smaller than usual - typically 3-4 mm shorter and about 1 mm narrower. The first appeared by 1923 and new cards may have continued to be added to the series until at least the mid or late 1930s. After a break during the Second World War production of the cards may have resumed in the late 1940s and early fifties. Avery cards are interesting because they often record unusual views. Few if any of the photographs are outstanding compositionally, and some are so heavily sepia tinted that dark areas of the picture show little detail. Most of the cards are numbered, but sometimes the numbers are so obscured by the sepia tinting that they are unreadable.

The lowest numbered cards (including some with a zero prefix, e.g. 0428) are probably the oldest, and appear to have been issued in about 1923. Avery seems to have expanded his range of cards rapidly over a period of just 3 years, numbering the cards sequentially, without any obvious gaps. The highest numbered Avery cards range from 3400 to just over 3500, apart from one maverick numbered 5506.

Card 3253 of Saltdean, is interesting because it shows the tearoom that opened at Whitsun 1925 and the foundations being prepared for the fake classical columns that were about to be erected along the cliff edge. The columns are thought to have been obtained from the 1924 Empire Exhibition. The photograph can be assumed, therefore, to have been taken in mid 1925 or perhaps a little later. Card 3454 of the Jointure at Ditchling has been seen with an August 1926 postmark. Card 3457 shows a policeman directing traffic at Ditchling cross roads. An undated newspaper clipping that has come to light claims that the man was "my late father, Owen Golds, on point duty in 1926". This fits well with the evidence of the Saltdean card. Avery died at Brighton in 1950, aged 65. His output of around 3500 different cards makes him one of the most prolific of Sussex publishers. Judging from the relatively small numbers of surviving examples, sales of individual cards may have been quite low. It has been suggested that Avery may have operated as a niche business, supplying cards to retailers with low turnover, who may have been ignored by rival publishers seeking retailers who could achieve better sales. The London firm of Thomas Illingworth supplied some of the photographic card that Avery used for printing.

In addition to producing his own cards, Avery printed cards of Ditchling for W. H. Berry, Brighton and the Cuckmere valley for A. M. Bliss & Co. and Withdean and Patcham for Sydney Butler. He also covered the occasional special event, for example, issuing black and white postcard views of the tented camps of the Boys Brigade at Glynde in 1933 and 1934.

Some of Avery's general view cards are collotypes (often labelled "Sepiatype") or photogravures, not real photographics. A minority of cards have captions written entirely in capitals, but most reserve capitals for the start of words. Some cards are marked "Averys", whereas others are marked "Averys (Brighton) Ltd". It would be interesting to know more about when these and other variants were issued.

In the early 1930s (or possibly at the end of the 1920s), Averys published a souvenir album of 12 of their postcard views of Peacehaven glued onto thin cardboard mounts. It would be interesting to know whether they produced similar souvenirs of other places in Sussex. Few examples of their Peacehaven album survive today, and it may have been a commercial failure.

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