Walter John Kevis


Market Square, Petworth, with the Town Hall on the right

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Photographer and tobacconist, Lombard Street, Petworth. Kevis was born in 1854 in Holborn, London. His parents were James Kevis, a licensed victualler from Margate in Kent (born in about 1816), and Harriet Kevis, from Maidstone (born in about 1815). He had an older sister, Harriet M. Kevis (born in about 1847) and brother, James H. Kevis (born in about 1849).

Walter Kevis married Emma Earle in London in 1877. She had been born at Seend in Wiltshire in 1850, and was one of nine children of Mary and Maurice Earle, a carpenter and Wesleyan lay-preacher. After leaving school Emma became a servant in London. Following their marriage, Emma and Walter settled in Petworth. From the outset, Kevis specialised in portrait photography, but also undertook much outdoor photography. His shop in Lombard Street had a studio built out of wood and glass on the second floor and, while Kevis laboured over his photographs, his wife ran the shop downstairs and sold "all kinds of tobacco at London prices" as well as numerous "sundries", ranging from the inevitable postcards to silver-mounted walking sticks!

Peter Jerrome and Jonathan Newdick in their book, Petworth, time out of mind (1982, Window Press, Petworth), reproduce photographs of Kevis, his nephew Herbert Earle, the Lombard Street studio, and a fine selection of his portraits and outdoor photographs.

Kevis and his wife had no children. In 1908 he retired to Surrey; the 1911 census gives his address as Browside, Cliffe Estate in Purley. His death was registered at Croydon in 1924 - he was 71.

At Petworth Herbert Earle took over from Kevis as tobacconist, but did not continue the portrait photography. Most of the vast hoard of negatives that Kevis had accumulated simply gathered dust. George Garland offered to lease the studio, but Earle would not agree. When Earle died in 1950, the surviving negatives passed into Garland's care and are now held by the West Sussex Record Office.

Only small numbers of the real photographic cards that Kevis published survive, and it is unclear just how many he published. The examples that have been seen are mostly black and white, but some are sepia toned. Some cards have borders, but most lack borders. The captions where present are in plain capitals. The cards are generally stamped on the back "Kevis, Photo. Petworth". The earliest postmarks seen are from 1905. One of the most delightful of the real photographic cards shows a woodman carrying coppice cuttings in Hungers Lane. It appears on the cover of Peter Jerrome's book (1987 Tales of Old Petworth and was reprinted by Earle (a 1915 postmark has been seen). A real photographic card of Duncton village demonstrates that Kevis did not restrict his attention to Petworth and its immediate surroundings (1907 postmark).

In addition to the real photographics, Kevis published a range of high quality printed cards of Petworth, Tillington and Fittleworth. These are labelled "Published by Kevis, Petworth" in small, red (or, more rarely, greenish-brown) lettering on the reverse. The first cards appeared by 1905 and Earle may well have been left with surplus stock to sell when he took over the business. Most of the cards are black and white collotypes, but delicately hand tinted collotypes are known, as well as more boldly coloured cards that are combined collotypes and photogravures. Cards with red or greenish-brown captions were printed in Saxony; other cards have black captions and it is not known where they were printed. It can be assumed that Kevis took the photographs himself, but to reduce costs and save his labour arranged for the cards to be supplied by one or more specialist printing firms.

Although Peter Jerrome emphasises that Herbert Earle did not bother himself with photography and allowed the glass negatives left behind by Kevis to remain "undisturbed through two world wars" (see Tread Lightly Here, Window Press, Petworth, 1990), these comments should be seen as applying mainly to portraiture. After Kevis retired, Earle carried on selling real photographic postcards of Petworth and district for many years. It so happens that cards carrying Earle's name are much easier to find at present than those marked "Kevis", but this may be only because his predecessor stayed in business for a much shorter period.

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