William Pankhurst Marsh


Breaking waves, Bognor

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Photographer, from 1881 to about 1907 at Bognor, and from 1906 to 1918 at 39 Southgate, Chichester. Marsh was born at his parents' home in York Street in Dover on October 9, 1850. His father, William Marsh, was a victualler, but later became a tea merchant. His mother was Charlotte Marsh, née Sinclair.

On November 7, 1872, at the age of 22, Marsh married Margaret Jane Sinclair at Holy Trinity Church in Dover. He was already working as a photographer, and gave his address as 10 Ottenden Street in Dover. Margaret was the daughter of Thomas Sinclair, an engineer. She had been born in Ashford in Kent and was 21 years old; it is not known whether she was related to his mother, Charlotte.

Marsh and his wife moved to Chichester, where he is thought to have been employed by Russell & Sons, the town's leading firm of photographers. His daughter, Georgina Mary Marsh, was born on November 3, 1874 at the family home at Franklin Place. In 1875 Marsh moved to Bognor to set up in business on his account. David Simkin ( has established that Marsh initially had a studio in Somerset Terrace, but around 1878 he closed it and opened a new studio on the east side of Waterloo Square, next to the Beach Hotel and ideally located for attracting trade. The 1881 census records that he and his family were living at Norfolk Cottage on the Esplanade, near Waterloo Square. Margaret gave birth to a second daughter, Blanche Annie Marsh, in 1878, and a son, William Lindsley Marsh in 1884 or 1885. By 1891 Marsh and his family had moved to Beach House on the Esplanade.

In an advertisement in 1892, Marsh announced that he had won seven prize medals for excellence in photography and had been "patronized by Her Majesty the Queen and H.R.H. the Prince of Wales". In an advertisement in a 1906 Bognor Directory, he claimed to be the recipient of 10 prize medals and 6 diplomas for "superior photography". His "Royal Marine Studio" at 13 Waterloo Square (on the west side - Marsh had closed his studio next to the Beach Hotel) was "the finest on the South Coast". By 1895 he and his family were living at 13 Waterloo Square, presumably either over the studio or at the rear of the premises. His brother, Edward Henry Marsh (born about 1851 at Dover) helped with some of the photographic work, as did his elder daughter, Georgina, and son, William Lindsley.

Although Marsh took numerous portrait photographs (offering in 1892 cartes de visite from 8 shillings a dozen and cabinets from 18 shillings), he built his reputation on his views of Bognor and the local neighbourhood, especially seascapes. Perhaps because he had been born at Dover, Marsh had the sea in his blood. He loved to photograph heavy seas pounding the Esplanade, creating towering fountains of spray. Even during the most ferocious gales he would brave the elements and walk out onto the pier to try to secure yet another picture of breaking waves. An article in the Practical Photographer in 1897 noted that the wind was often so strong that Marsh could not use a tripod and had to keep his camera firmly pressed against the pier decking while releasing the shutter. Visitors to Bognor bought his "high seas" and "breaking wave" pictures in large numbers. It is said that, when he exhibited one of his photographs in the window of a gallery in Bond Street in London in the 1890s, it attracted so much attention that the police had to be called to disperse the crowd!

After leaving school, William Lindsley, began helping his father with his business, and by 1906 it was renamed Marsh & Son. It may have been William who persuaded Marsh to open a new branch at 39 Southgate in Chichester in 1906, and after a year or so to leave Bognor.

Marsh started publishing real photographic postcards in about 1906, before he closed his Bognor studio. The photographs on these early cards tend to be strongly sepia-tinted and are often embossed "W.P. Marsh, Bognor". As one would expect, Bognor views predominate, but Selsey, Bosham and Chichester are also well represented. "A souwester at Bognor" shows the sea overtopping the promenade and lapping against the houses (1906 postmark seen). A study of waves rolling in towards the shore is entitled" What are the wild waves saying" (1907 postmark reported). A card entitled "Strange bathers" shows circus camels bathing in the sea, presumably at Bognor.

It must have been a wrench for Marsh to move inland to Chichester, but presumably he was convinced that he would have improved business opportunities. The production of real photographic cards was stepped up to include places such as Lavant and Bosham. Although on most cards the photographs continued to be strongly sepia tinted, some black and white cards were also produced. As on the earlier cards, the captions were handwritten in characteristically small, neat capitals, often followed by a serial number in parentheses. Judging from the numbering at least 900 different cards were issued. Some of the cards produced at Chichester were labelled on the back "Published by W. P. Marsh & Son, Southgate, Chichester". Others were anonymous, but are usually easy to identify as Marsh cards because of the neat lettering of the captions and the typically rich sepia colour of the photographs. By 1913, however, the firm was beginning to move away from sepia back to conventional black and white, and towards the end of the war much of its output consisted of black and white real photographics.

Like other Chichester publishers, Marsh & Son produced many real photographic cards of the Coronation Celebrations at Chichester in 1911 when the town was bedecked in flags and bunting, and temporary gates or arches were built to mark the former entrances to the town. Bernard Price in his Bygone Chichester (1975, Phillimore, Chichester) reproduces a selection of these cards. Other local event cards include Sir Hugo de Bathe and C.S. Roll's 1907 balloon ascent at Chichester, the aftermath of a fire at Chichester on June 10, 1910, the Chichester and District motor cycle opening meet on Easter Monday 1913, "H.M. The King inspects the W.S. National Reserve at Chichester, July 1913", the "Re-opening of Royal W. Sussex Hospital, Chichester, August 2, 1913" (a particularly fine card with backwards sloping handwriting) and an "Army biplane at Chichester, April 1, 1914".

The real photographic cards of West Sussex that Marsh & Son published are generally well composed and artistic, although the deep sepia tinting that was once so fashionable is not to modern taste. Particularly notable are several cards of the fishermen and their picturesque huts on the shore at Selsey. Another interesting card portrays Mary Wheatland (1835-1923), "Bognor's celebrated bathing woman". She helped to operate the town's bathing machines for over 60 years and gave many swimming displays, diving off the pier and plunging into the breakers in her thick blue dress. She thought nothing of swimming half a mile through quite heavy seas, and saved over 30 people from drowning, including a man who had a heart attack and a family of five children who all got into difficulty simultaneously. In the photograph she is seen wearing the two medals that she was awarded (one by the Royal Humane Society) in recognition of her work as a voluntary lifeguard. Another Marsh card reproduces a newspaper article about Mary.

Marsh seems to have commissioned relatively few printed cards. Perhaps the loss of definition irked him. A fine collotype entitled "Giant breakers, Bognor" is marked "W. P. Marsh, Photo, Bognor", as are two collotypes of bathers and bathing machines (1905 and 1908 postmarks have been seen). Another collotype entitled "The bathing tents and walk, and Aldwick, Bognor" with a vignetted (faded edge) picture and a September 1904 postmark is embossed "W. P. Marsh, Bognor". Similarly embossed is a collotype of "A Wild Wave, Bognor", which also exists as a real potographic card. An unremarkable halftone card of the Worthing Belle Paddle Steamer with fake clouds is labelled "Copyright. W. P. Marsh. Photo. Bognor". Another halftone posted in 1914 shows an actor posing as a disgruntled policeman standing outside a pub called the Angel, which advertised Constables' ales. The caption reads "They call it Constables'; and; we aint allowed to have any (With apologies to the West Sussex Force)." The policeman has a bottle marked "red ink" attached to his waist! The card is number 13 in a series issued by Hood & Co. of Middlesbrough in Yorkshire under their Sanbride label. Whether companion cards in the series used photographs provided by Marsh & Son or by other photographers is not known.

William Lindsley Marsh died of lung disease, probably TB, at the end of 1915, aged only 31. His father attempted to carry on the business without his help, but died on March 18, 1918, leaving effects of £202. His widow, Margaret, then sold the business to W. Kelf & Son, who carried on until the late 1920s. She died in 1947, having survived her husband by almost 30 years. Both Marsh's daughters married: Georgina tying the knot with Lionel Price Evans and Blanche with Herbert Patrick Despard.

For further information see David Simkin's website at and Ron Iden's article: W. P. Marsh -Artist with a camera, July 1984, Bognor Regis Local History Society Newsletter, Number 11. Both sources have proved invaluable when compiling the present account.

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