Denis Walter Baker


North Gate, Chichester

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Photographer, 8 Cleveland Road, Chichester. Baker published small numbers of good quality, mainly sepia-toned real photographic cards of Chichester and district, and also Midhurst. Normally, the photographs lack borders and have captions that are handwritten, directly on the negatives. Each word usually starts with a capital with the rest in lower case. Baker's name and address is often hand stamped on the backs of the cards in purple ink. A few cards have no captions, including wedding and other portraits.

In 1907 Baker published a charming card of a group of garlanded girls celebrating Empire Day (May 24) at West Wittering. In July of the same year he issued cards of a fete at Bosham where for some reason everyone had been encouraged to dress up in Dutch costume. He was also on hand to record a tannery fire at Chichester on February 2, 1910, and the Carnival celebrations later in the year. Baker also issued cards of the opening ceremony at the Boy's School in Orchard Street on 20 August 1910. A particularly fine card, sharp as a pin and dated June 22, 1911, shows the battlemented arch that was erected for the duration of the Coronation Celebrations to mark the site of the historic North Gate entrance to Chichester. Another card shows the city's International Stores, but even more striking is a card of the Chichester branch of the World's Tea Company at 14 East Street with the male staff standing on the pavement outside, under the shop's huge sign: "Worlds Stores"! Such is the quality of the printing that many of the notices in the shop window can be read. Baker was still publishing cards in 1914. One real photographic records the funeral of a Mr J. C. Carter at Chichester in April and another the Congregational Guilds' visit to Bracklesham Bay in July.

The first thirty years of Baker's life are somewhat mysterious. According to the 1901 and 1911 censuses, he was born in Brighton in about 1867, but there is no entry in the index of births for anyone with his name at around this date. Equally puzzlingly, he is not to be found in any census before 1901. His archival record (as Denis Walter Baker) begins very belatedly with his marriage to Ada Beatrice Underwood on May 22, 1898, at Rumboldswhyke Parish Church at Chichester. The marriage certificate describes him as an "artist", living at Hatfield Lodge in Whyke Lane. His father is stated to be Richard James Baker, a photographer. In the 1881 census, Richard James Baker is listed as a photographer at 39 Kemp Street in Brighton. Born in Brighton in 1839, he married Eliza Davey, another Brightonian, in 1865. While living in Brighton, he and Eliza had three children: William James Baker born in late 1866, Mary Ann Baker, born in early summer 1868, and Edith L. Baker, born early in 1874. By 1891 Richard James Baker, his wife and two daughters, had moved to 5 Sydenham Road in Bath in Somerset, where he continued to work as a photographer. William James Baker had left home and was boarding with a family in Lower Cathedral Road, Cardiff. He was employed, no doubt somewhere in the city, as a "photo artist". His father died at Brighton in 1897, and the suspicion must be that William James chose this moment to change his name to Denis Walter Baker, though what might have been his motive is unclear.

Ada Underwood was born in 1872 on the Isle of Wight. When she married, she stated that her father was George William Underwood, a tailor. Her childhood seems to have been spent in terrible poverty. If correctly identified in the 1881 census, she was a child inmate, seemingly without family, at the Union Workhouse at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. When the 1891 census was held, she had become a housemaid at Shoeburyness in Essex. At the time of her marriage, she was living in Caledonian Road, quite close to Whyke Lane. Afterwards, she and Denis set up home at 83 Whyke Lane, and it was here, on May 18, 1899, that she gave birth to a son, Reginald Denis Baker. The birth certificate records that her husband was a "photographic artist", but there is no mention of the name of his employer so perhaps he was already operating free lance. In about 1903 the Bakers had a daughter, Doris Baker, and then, about three years later, a second daughter Eunice Baker, followed by a second son, Eustace Baker, in about 1908.

By the time Jacobs & Sons compiled their 1905 Chichester Directory, the Bakers had moved to 8 Cleveland Road in Chichester. Denis Baker is listed as a photographer at this address, though not for some reason in Kelly's 1907 Sussex Directory. It is probable that he used the house purely as a family home and dispensed with keeping a studio as he is not known to have taken any studio portraits. He was still living at 8 Cleveland Road with his family when the 1911 census was held. Mary Ada Baker died at Chichester in 1914, and after this misfortune Denis Baker decided to leave the city. Perhaps it held all too painful memories for him. David Simkin has discovered that Denis remarried at Winchester in 1917. His bride, Augusta Chapman Kerley, was a local woman, born in 1878. She and Denis then moved to 21 Green Road in Portsmouth, where Denis continued to work as a photographer until at least 1927. Augusta bore him a son, Guy Baker, in 1918. Denis died at Portsmouth in 1931.

Acknowledgement: Grateful thanks are due to David Simkin for information on Denis Baker's Hampshire career. For further details of his life and work you are recommended to visit David's website at (

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