Henry John Bartlett


Train from London approaching Lewes through floods, 19 November 1911

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Anonymous publisher of 200 or more real photographic cards of the Lewes area. The pale yellowish-sepia coloured photographs have rounded off corners within white borders. Some cards lack captions, but most have handwritten captions, some all in capitals, others mainly in lower case with capitals reserved for the start of words. The captions were evidently written on small transparent slips that were placed over the bottom left or right corners of the negatives during printing. The character of the handwriting and the rounded corners of the photographs make the cards very distinctive. All too often the photographs are badly faded, suggesting poor processing. The least affected cards, however, are eminently collectable because they provide interesting glimpses of Lewes life that the bigger publishers tended to miss.

Although Bartlett never put his name or initials on his cards, the photographs match those of some photographic prints that he is known to have made (now in the care of the Sussex Archaeological Society) and there can be no doubt that he was the cards' publisher. One card shows the smouldering remains of Malling Windmill, which burnt down in September 1908, so evidently the series was in production by this date. Other "special event" cards record a military funeral at Ringmer on January 27, 1909 (the deceased was J.K. Kingsborough), laying the foundation stone of the Victoria Hospital in June 1909, Church Parade 1909, fire damage at Thompsons Drapers in Cliffe High Street in February 1911, Coronation Day in Lewes High Street and the Cliffe in June 1911, floods at Lewes in November 1911, fire damage in Soap Factory Lane in September 1912, and the Cliffe Bonfire celebrations in 1912 and 1913. Postmark evidence suggests that publication of the cards was suspended in the Great War and never resumed. Sales must have been quite modest judging from the rarity of surviving cards. Quite possibly only one or two shops in Lewes stocked the cards.

Bartlett was a member of an old and much respected Lewes family. He was born at 4 Lansdown Terrace on March 6, 1878. His father, Walter John Bartlett, was Inspector of Weights and Measures, and also Inspector of Petroleum, for Lewes District, which then comprised 70 parishes. By 1895 Walter became deputy registrar of births, deaths and marriages. He and his wife, Anna Maria, moved to Lansdown Terrace from Station Street shortly before Henry was born. By 1887 the family had moved to 20 Lansdown Place, and by 1895 to Cliffe House at 33 Cliffe High Street. Walter died on April 11, 1903, aged only 56. Anna Maria lived to be 76 and died on March 27, 1924.

Harry Bartlett is believed to have taken up landscape photography in the 1890s when he was still living with his parents at Cliffe House, but he seems never to have tried to make a full living from it. When the census was held in 1901, he was working as a solicitor's clerk and had set up home at 20 Chapel Hill. He married Beatrice Helena Osbon in Brighton on June 3 in the same year. She was the daughter of Thomas John Osbon, a deceased Police Superintendent. At the time of their marriage, the Bartletts acquired a new home at 14 Morris Road in Lewes. Elizabeth Bennett in her book, My memories of Lewes over many years (1997, Book Guild, Lewes), records that the house was called "Primrose", apparently at Beatrice's instigation - she was a keen supporter of the Primrose League, a Conservative organisation. Her husband converted the back bedroom into a photographer's darkroom.

The Bartletts appear not to have had children. They were often to be seen riding around Lewes on a tandem much to the amusement of locals. After Beatrice died in February 1941, Harry lived on alone at Morris Road, sometimes taking rides on the tandem by himself. Fellow Masons may have helped ease the burden of solitude. As the years passed, he became increasingly troubled by arthritis, and eventually had to use a wheelchair. He died on December 20, 1965, aged 88.

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