William J. Knowles


Warwick Road, Worthing, looking south

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Photographer, 23 Warwick Street, Worthing. Knowles was born in Brighton on March 6, 1879. He was the youngest child of Joseph William Knowles, a boot salesman who had been born in Cheshire in about 1846, and Martha Brown Knowles, formerly Cager, who had been born in Brighton in 1850. The family lived at 40 Caledonian Road off Lewes Road. They were still at this address when the 1881 census was held. Joseph had become a grocer's shopman and Martha was working as a dressmaker. Joseph died before the year was out, and later Martha moved with her children to Worthing, where she joined up with her mother, Sarah Cager. The 1891 census locates the family at 127 Clifton Road. Martha was still a dressmaker, William was at school, while her 16-year-old daughter, Florence, helped run the house. Next door at 125 Clifton Road was Joseph Cager, a butcher, and his family. Born in Ferring, he was presumably either a brother or a cousin.

In 1893 Martha married the Bognor photographer, Donald Massey, who was many years her junior. It was doubtless with Massey's encouragement that William took up photography on leaving school. The 1901 census records that he was boarding at Kingston upon Hull and working as a photographer, presumably at an established studio. He opened his own studio in Worthing in 1909 or early 1910. During the next few years he published real photographic cards of Worthing residential streets and he also recorded local events, for example a children's fete at Worthing on August Bank Holiday in 1910 (see Geoffrey Godden, Collecting picture postcards, 1996, Phillimore, Chichester) and a memorial service procession through the town, again in 1910. In addition, Knowles published at least 16 cards of the June 1911 Coronation Day Parade at Worthing. In Edwardian Worthing (1991, privately published, page 137) Rob Blann reproduces a particularly interesting Knowles card of the Parade showing lifeboatmen and post boys making their way along the sea front. At least three cards record the launching of the Worthing lifeboat, the Richard Coleman in 1912.

At the time of the 1911 census Knowles was 32, unmarried and boarding with his widowed aunt, Sarah Field, at 135 Tarring Road in Worthing.

Knowles blind stamped many of his real photographic cards in the bottom right or left corners with a facsimile signature, often adding his Warwick Street address. The photographs have white borders and many have faded over the years to a yellow sepia colour. Generally, the handwritten captions use capitals only for the start of words, but some are written entirely in capitals. Many of the cards of street parades and processions in Worthing that Knowles produced lack captions to the frustration of local historians.

In about 1913 Knowles took charge of the Worthing Portrait Co. He left the firm by about 1922, and appears to have set up in business as a photographer on his own account. He is not listed as a Sussex photographer in Kelly's 1924 and later Directories, but an undated postcard portrait of a mother and baby has been discovered with a printed label on the back "W. J. Knowles, (Late) Worthing Portrait Co.". Knowles was still living in Worthing in 1924, at a house called Shanklin in St Thomas's Road. A search of the Electoral Registers would show whether he had married.

Knowles died in 1954, aged 75.

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