John Thomas Belchamber & Son


Three Bridges Road, Crawley

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Photographers, Rembrand Studio, 22 Brighton Road, Crawley (later at Horsham). Surprisingly few Edwardian postcard publishers attempted to record snow scenes. No doubt some photographers were wary about venturing out in snow with their heavy and vulnerable equipment. Others, like the artist Renoir, may have regarded snow as "a blight on the face of nature". Commercial considerations doubtless also played a part. Cards depicting landscapes in the snow were normally saleable only at Christmas or after snowfalls, whereas sunny summer scenes could be sold at almost any time of the year.

Perhaps it was a desire to be different that prompted the London View Company of Long Lane, E.C. to issue about six collotypes showing Crawley after a heavy snowstorm in February 1907. The roads are blanketed in snow, the trees (in many cases long-lost elms) have heavily encrusted branches, and few people are about. The mood is one of cold silence, stillness, even loneliness.

The London View Co. was a short-lived firm. It started trading in 1905 (at Aldersgate Street), and ceased operations in 1908. The Crawley cards, which were printed in Saxony, are marked "Photo by Belchamber" in the stamp space, and were probably sold at the Belchamber shop. It is not known whether the Crawley firm commissioned the London View Co. to produce the cards using their photographs, or whether they took the photographs on the instructions of the London View Co. The cards evidently sold well as many examples survive, but puzzlingly they are the only cards known with photographs credited to Belchambers (apart from a portrait card of a soldier on a horse, labelled "Rembrandt Studio"). Perhaps Belchambers supplied photographs to other postcard publishers who neglected to acknowledge them as the source of the photographs.

John Thomas Belchamber was born at Brockham Green in Surrey in about 1875, and established his photographic business in Crawley soon after 1900. In about 1911 he and his son, also called John, opened a branch at 4 North Street in Horsham, and soon afterwards they transferred their entire business to Horsham. The 1911 census records that he and his wife, Annie Louise Belchamber, from Loxwood had been married for five years, which suggests that she was a second wife.

Michael Goldsmith in his "Postcard publishers in Crawley and district - an introduction" (1986, Wealden Postcard Club Factsheet 6) suggests that J. T. Belchamber and his son moved to the Chichester area after about 1920. They are not listed at Chichester or Horsham in Kelly's 1922 and 1924 Sussex Directories. The Chichester registrar, however, recorded the death of J. T. Belchamber in late 1951 at the age of 76. His son, John, died a year earlier, also in the Chichester district.

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