Mrs Elizabeth Gardner


High Street, Selsey, with Mrs Gardner's shop in mid distance (on right)

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Proprietor of the Selsey Drapery Stores, High Street, Selsey, established in 1895 and still in business in the late 1920s. In addition to selling drapery, the industrious Mrs Gardner was a stationer, newsagent, fancy goods dealer, and proprietor of a lending library! She retired in the 1930s.

An anonymous publisher, perhaps Gardner herself, issued a collotype card of Selsey High Street with her corner shop in the foreground. Postcards are prominently displayed in the windows. In a 1912 advertisement, reproduced by Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith in their book Branch line to Selsey (1983, Middleton Press, Midhurst), she claimed to offer "the largest assortment of local view post cards in the district" and promised "any view taken at the shortest notice".

Gardner's name first appears on a set of black and white collotype cards of Selsey with wide white borders. The backs are mostly printed in green, more rarely red. Postmarks suggest that the cards first appeared in 1903 and by the following year had achieved good sales. W. H. Barrett of Chichester issued a set of Selsey cards of very similar design. He was a wholesale stationer, and it is possible that he placed two orders for cards with the same supplier, one for himself and another to send on to Mrs Gardner. Over the following years, Mrs Gardner sold many other sets of cards of Selsey seemingly independently of Barrett. Some were black and white collotypes with red captions at the base of the pictures (these were on sale by 1905), others were coloured cards, such as "E.Gardner's Copyright Series", produced by a combination of collotype and half tone printing. Mrs Gardner's name also appears on some Valentines cards and even on some aerial views of Selsey published by Aerofilms in about 1929.

The variety of cards that Mrs Gardner sold with her name printed on the back and the fact that she was able to take views to order implies that she was no ordinary retailer. It is likely that she actively commissioned cards from some of her suppliers, and was the source of at least some of the photographs. There is thus good reason for regarding her as a genuine publisher.

Elizabeth Gardner was the wife of Edward Picton Gardner, who described himself (on his son's birth certificate) as a seamen's merchant. Her maiden name was Mullen, and she was born in Bristol in about 1860. A possible entry for her has been found in the 1861 census (as the daughter of Richard and Ann Mullen), but the next three decades are a mystery. It is not known where she and her husband married, or where he was born. They were both living at Selsey, however, when their son, Edward Rupert Gardner, was born on April 14, 1894. The next year Elizabeth Gardner opened her shop in the High Street, quite possibly because her husband had died or fallen ill and she needed additional income. His death certificate has not been traced, but the 1901 census confirms that she was already a widow. As far as is known, she never remarried. By 1911 her son had left school and had become a "farmer's pupil".

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