Allen Hastings Fry


Indian soldiers in hospital at Brighton's Dome. A carefully staged photograph

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Photographer, 68 East Street, Brighton. Allen Hastings Fry was born in 1847 in Plymouth. His father, Edmund Fry (1811-1866) was a lecturer and Quaker pacifist, who had been born in Bristol. His mother, Caroline Mary Clarence (1809-1879), was a schoolmistress and a Londoner by birth. Allen Hastings Fry had three brothers and one sister, all older than himself. After spending much of the 1840s in Plymouth, the Fry family moved first to Croydon (by 1851) and then to 25 Gloucester Place in Brighton (by 1861).

On September 4, 1869, at the age of 22, Allen Hastings Fry married Leonie Angeline Louise Mercier at Brighton. Born in Paris in about 1839, Leonie became increasingly sensitive about her age as time passed, and on census returns liked to pretend that she was actually younger than her spouse! By 1874 she and her husband were living in Hanover Crescent in Brighton, where they remained for over thirty years (the 1874 Post Office Directory gives their address as number 3, but this may be an error as later sources all agree the number was 13). They did not have any children.

About a year before his marriage (see Mathiesons' 1868 Brighton & Suburban Directory) Allen Hastings Fry went into partnership in Brighton with his brother, Walter Henry Fry, who had been born at Plymouth in 1841. Trading under the name W. & A. H. Fry, the pair quickly built up a reputation as "art photographers and miniature painters", specialising in the production of high quality cartes de visite and cabinet portraits. In addition to the studio at 68 East Street, they operated a printing and finishing works at 60 Southover Street.

Walter seems to have played the lead role in the partnership. The 1881 census records that he employed 7 men and 6 women. He lived in Brighton until the mid 1870s, but then moved to Haywards Heath, to a house called Ellensleigh in Boltro Road, which was near the railway station. He presumably commuted to Brighton by train. The 1881 and 1891 censuses record that he and his wife, Elizabeth, had at least four children, one of whom (Edmund) trained as a photographer.

Walter Fry retired in 1867, leaving his brother in sole control of the business. Allen Hastings Fry continued to concentrate on high class studio portraiture, but also sold cartes de visite of Brighton landmarks such as the Pavilion and the Chain Pier. As reported in an illustrated article "A. H. Fry - Brighton" in The Professional Photographer in June 1916, Allen had many interests besides photography. Rejecting his father's pacifism, he became an avowed militarist, serving with the Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers until they were disbanded in 1892. He regularly attended National Rifle Association meetings at Wimbledon and Bisley. For twenty years he was a Captain of the Brighton Volunteer Fire Brigade. In the late 1890s he served as Honorary Secretary of the Brighton Branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and frequently helped man the local lifeboat.

Most of the postcards that Allen Hastings Fry published were individual or group portraits, which it seems likely were produced mainly to special order. His cards of the Diocesan Training College for schoolmistresses in Ditchling Road at Brighton (also known as Rose Hill College) were presumably sold on the premises. One card shows the women students painting at their easels, another sharing a meal. Members of the clerical staff also posed individually for the camera. No postmarks have been recorded and it is not known when the cards were issued. A souvenir book of Rose Hill College (undated) was illustrated exclusively by Fry. He also published cards of Roedean School in about 1905, which may have been ordered by the school. Other cards are known of Brighton College, which suggests that Fry made a point of offering his services to educational establishments. Judging from the numbers of surviving cards, Fry also spent much time photographing the interiors and exteriors of churches, including some of the most ancient in Sussex as well as some of the most modern.

Fry often failed to give his picture postcards captions, although he was generally careful to assert his authorship by labelling the backs "Copyright Photograph by A. H. Fry, Brighton". Perhaps he assumed that recipients of the captionless cards would have no difficulty recognising the subjects of the photographs or that the senders would supply their own explanation of the cards. Unfortunately, many of the cards that survive today have not been postally used and the locations shown can be challenging to identify. Consider, for example, the captionless card of the large house, smothered in Virginia Creeper, reproduced in the Gallery. Few would know just from seeing the picture that it shows Boxgrove Vicarage, near Chichester. Very conveniently, however, a sender of the card (Katherine Wells from Boxgrove) reveals that "this is a photo of our house" and that she and her family are sitting on the lawn. Other evidence establishes that the photograph was taken in the summer of 1911, very shortly after Katherine's husband (the Rev. Richard Wells) had been appointed as vicar. The card demonstrates Fry's willingness to travel far from Brighton to obtain quite modest amounts of business.

During the First World War, Indian soldiers wounded on the Western Front were treated at the Royal Pavilion and the Dome, which were converted into a military hospital (see Tony McKendrick-Warden's article, "An Indian Hospital", in Picture Postcard Monthly, July 1992, pp. 18-20). The first casualties arrived in December 1914. Brighton Corporation commissioned Fry to take official photographs of the hospital, which were then issued as real photographic cards, all carefully captioned in contrast to Fry's earlier work. At least 28 different cards are known, which show soldiers posing for the camera in the wards or in the grounds of the Pavilion. Postmarks reveal that the cards were on sale by March 1915. In late 1915 the Indian Army was withdrawn from the Western Front and redeployed to the eastern Mediterranean. The Pavilion Hospital ceased to receive Indian wounded and closed in January 1916, only to re-open three months later as a specialist hospital for the rehabilitation of British soldiers who had lost arms or legs.

Allen Hastings Fry and his wife moved from Hanover Crescent to 8 Addison Road in Hove by 1911 and were still there in 1915 when Leonie died at the age of 76. Allen Hastings finally put away his camera and sold his East Street business in about 1923 (it is still listed in Kelly's 1922 Sussex Directory but not in the 1924 edition). He died in 1931 at the age of 84.

For further information about Allen Fry see David Simkin's illustrated account at ( and also Kate Greenwood's note posted on the website (under "Allen Hastings Fry - view media"). Both sources include self-portrait photographs of Fry.

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