Edward Lionel Merrett


Jolly Brewers outing to the George Hotel at Henfield, July 2, 1910

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Chemist, druggist and postmaster at Henfield from c. 1897 to 1914. Edward was born on May 13, 1869, at Romsey in Hampshire, one of seven children of Samuel Merritt and Emily Merritt, née Tolley, who ran the Boys National School in Station Road. Samuel had been born in about 1830 at North Bradley in Wiltshire, and was four years younger than Emily, who came from Exeter. When he was old enough Edward doubtless attended the National School, where he would have had to listen to fellow pupils commenting, perhaps sometimes critically, on the work of his teacher parents!

By the time the 1891 census was held, Edward had left Romsey and moved to Windsor to work as a chemist's assistant. On October 6, 1896, at the age of 28, he married Mary Caroline Cross at Wellow Parish Church in Southampton. Caroline, as she was generally known, had been born in Addiscombe in Surrey in about 1868. Shortly after their marriage, Edward and his wife moved to Henfield, where he took over the chemist's shop and post office in the High Street, which had been previously owned by Eli Marshall.

On his marriage certificate, Edward's surname is spelt "Merrett". The change of spelling is evidently deliberate and not a clerical error, but the reason for it is not known. Perhaps he had grown weary of people making jokes about his "merit" or lack of it. Although the 1901 census reverted to the original spelling of his name, Kelly's 1899 and later Sussex Directories used the new version, as did Edward himself throughout his professional career at Henfield.

Merrett became a skilled photographer and in addition to producing a few cabinet portraits published many interesting postcards of Henfield and neighbouring villages such as Cowfold, Partridge Green and West Grinstead. What some believe to have been his earliest real photographic cards have captions written in tiny block capitals, apparently with the aid of a stencil or hand held printing device. They went on sale, anonymously, in about 1906, but may actually have been the work of John Fenner, who was initially based at nearby Littleworth (Partridge Green). However, there are cards of the Cowfold Lodge fire of 1908 and other fires, which, as a Henfield fireman, Merrett would have attended and could more easily have photographed than Fenner. To complicate matters Merrett and Fenner seem to have collaborated closely, sharing negatives (see the entry for John Fenner).

Dating from about 1910-1914 are some real photographic cards, such as the one shown above, with "free-style" handwritten captions that are labelled "Merrett, Photo, Henfield" on the front. These contrast greatly with the cards that have miniature captions.

In addition to producing real photographic cards, Merrett also marketed a range of six or more collotype cards of Henfield marked "Published by E.L. Merrett" on the front. The black and white pictures have large white borders, and the captions are printed in either dark red or rich scarlet underneath the pictures. The earliest postmark so far reported is 1903 but some unused cards have undivided backs, which would suggest that they first went on sale no later than 1902. The firm that Merrett engaged to print these collotypes has not been identified; it does not appear to have been Mezzotint, though the cards bear a passing resemblance and some were later reprinted by Mezzotint without acknowledging the identity of the photographer. Merrett also supplied Mezzotint with the photographs for a set of 9 collotype cards of Henfield, which they issued from 1903 until 1910 or perhaps slightly later. Subjects include the Henfield Fire Brigade (2 cards), the meeting of the Warnham Stag Hounds in Henfield High Street (another 2 cards), Broadmere Common, floods at Henfield, and Barrow Hill. Each of the cards is labelled "Photo. Merrett. Henfield" on the front - not "Published by E.L. Merrett".

Merrett and his wife had no children. In October 1914 they moved from Henfield to 8 Marine Parade in Worthing. Merrett was suffering from tuberculosis and perhaps hoped that the sea air would bring him some relief. He soon after moved to Seaford where he worked briefly as a pharmaceutical assistant for a chemist in Broad Street. He died of tuberculosis at his lodgings at 22 Sutton Road in Seaford on February 13, 1915, aged only 45, and was buried in Henfield cemetery. His brother, Percy, from Romsey, was present at his death. His wife lived on for another 39 years, but never remarried, and died at Bournemouth in 1954, aged 86.

After Merrett moved from Henfield and abandoned photography, it seems likely that John Fenner acquired his negatives. Even before this date the two postcard publishers seem to have had a close business relationship.

Acknowledgement: the above account draws heavily on research by Alan Barwick, the Henfield historian, and Alan Cross (great nephew of Caroline Merrett) to whom special thanks are due. Alan Barwick has also kindly made available some of Merrett's cards for scanning.

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