Rudolph Janeck


The trawler Game Cock aground on Newhaven beach

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Photographer, Crescent Road, Brighton. David Simkin has expended much time and effort piecing together the life story of Rudolph Janeck from the archival records. The following notes make extensive use of David's much fuller account that he has set out on his website (, which you are strongly recommended to visit.

Born Rudolph Albert Wessel in Wolverhampton on April 3, 1885, Janeck was the son of William Wessels (or Wessel), who had been born in New York in about 1856, and his wife Mary or Minnie Wessels. William's mother, Mary Ann Hinton, from Gloucestershire, had married a Mr Wessells and settled in New York City, where she had first a daughter (Marie) and then William. Widowed in the late 1850s, she decided to return to Britain with her two young children. When the 1861 census was taken, she was living with the children at her mother's home, Laurel Cottage, at Lower Swainswick near Bath in Gloucestershire. A German musician and piano teacher called Clements Rudolph Ferdinand Albert Janeck was staying at the cottage. Born in Prussia in about 1832, he was the son of another Clements Rudolphe Janeck, a "collegiate professor". Mary Ann took a liking to him and they married on July 12, 1864 at the Countess of Huntingdon's church in Bath. Following her remarriage she went on to have several more children. She and Ferdinand seem to have lived for some time in Germany although the 1871 census locates them at Walcot near Bath. By 1891 they had settled at Yardley in Worcestershire, which was where Mary Ann died in 1899. By 1910 Ferdinand had moved to Hollingbury Road in Brighton, where he continued to work as a musician.

In the 1880s William Wessels (or Wessel as he began to style himself) went to live in the Midlands, becoming a carpenter as well as a professional photographer, trading (probably part-time) under the name of William Janeck. He married and had a child, who died in infancy, followed by three sons who survived: first Rudolphe (Rudolph) Wessel, then Claude Ernest Gustave Wessel (in 1886) and Charles Bertram Wessel (in 1888).

David Simkin has discovered that by 1901 William Wessel had moved south and was living with his family at Drayton Green at Ealing where he worked as a master carpenter at a local theatre (he appears on the census page as William H. Janecko). The 1911 census lists him as a stage manager and carpenter at Lambeth in south London. He died at Lambeth in 1929.

In 1901 Rudolph Wessel was employed as a theatre call-boy, presumably at the same Ealing theatre as his father. Later, he took up photography, under the name Rudolph Janeck. On April 12, 1909 he married Florence May Gorringe Long at the Jesus Chapel in the parish of St Mary Extra near Southampton. Florence had been born at Hurstpierpoint in about 1882, but lived in Itchen. Her father, Francis Joseph Long, was a mariner. Rudolph (whose name is given as Rudolphe on the marriage certificate) described himself as a photographer, living at Crescent Road, Preston (Brighton). Brighton Directories for 1909 and 1910 locate him at 2 Crescent Road, but by the time the 1911 census was held he and Florence had moved to Number 38. Florence's first child (Albert William Wessel) died in infancy. Grace D. Wessel was born in 1911. Not long afterwards Rudolph and his family moved from Brighton to Lambeth, where two more girls were born: Irene M. Wessel in 1913, followed on June 9, 1916 by Doris Irene Wessel. When Doris was born, the Wessel family was living at 52 Trigon Road in Kennington. Her birth certificate reveals that Rudolph was serving as a rifleman with the Kings Royal Rifles and had also become an electrician wireman. Presumably he had abandoned his photography. He died at Colchester in Essex in 1975, having celebrated his ninetieth birthday earlier in the year.

Janeck seems to have issued only limited numbers of cards during his brief sojourn in Brighton. Surviving examples are often annoyingly faded and yellowish. Though mostly lacking captions they are prominently embossed "R. Janeck, Brighton" or more commonly "Janeck, Photographer, Brighton" set in an elliptical frame. According to Alan Barwick ("Postcards of Henfield", undated, Henfield History Group website), Janeck published real photographic cards of Henfield that featured the May Day Celebrations in 1908 and 1910, "and a number of uncaptioned cards of properties and people dating from the same period". He also appears to have operated in the Plumpton area.

A sepia real photographic card without borders, embossed "Janeck, Photographer, Brighton" in the usual elliptical frame, shows the Hull steam trawler Game Cock grounded on a beach. Once again there is no caption, but the records show that the beach in question was close to the old Tide Mills in Seaford Bay. The unfortunate trawler ran short of coal during a violent gale on September 1, 1908, and was driven ashore before it could reach the safety of Newhaven Harbour (see W. R. Wynter, Old Seaford, 1922, Farncombe, Lewes). The crew were rescued by breeches buoy, and the trawler was eventually towed off and repaired at Newhaven. Curiously, it had had another lucky escape in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War, when it was the leader of a group of trawlers fishing at night on the Dogger Bank (see Peter Bailey, Newhaven in old picture postcards, 1983, European Library, Zaltbommel, Netherlands). Russian naval vessels opened fire on the group, in the curious belief that they were Japanese torpedo boats. Two fishermen were killed, many trawlers were damaged and one went to the bottom. The Game Cock itself was apparently unscathed (it seems not to have been part of the group attacked by the Russians). The Russian Government had to apologise and pay compensation.

Acknowledgement: Grateful thanks are due to David Simkin for kindly making the results of his researches available.

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