Harry Sammes


Winter scene (Rowfant Woods)

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Cycle agent, tobacconist and photographer, Crawley Down. Sammes published a series of coloured and black and white collotype cards of Crawley Down, Turner's Hill and Copthorne that judging from postmarks first went on sale in 1905. The pictures on the cards are labelled "Photo. By H. Sammes, Crawley Down". Many cards have asymmetrical backs with a much wider address space than correspondence space. Like many Sussex postcard publishers, Sammes took his own photographs but lacked the facilities to manufacture his own cards and therefore handed over the work to an anonymous printing firm. Directories establish that he was in business as a cycle agent between about 1909 and 1915.

Sammes seems to have been quite a talented photographer with an eye for a good picture. His cards are unusual because of their contrasting subject matter and the varied seasons that they portray. Particularly memorable is a view of Rowfant Woods under snow, a sensitively coloured street scene in Crawley Down (1908 postmark observed), and a view of the old windmill and water tower on Selsfield Common (April 1906 postmark). All the pictures show places within easy cycling distance of Crawley Down.

Harry Sammes was born at Shelley near Ongar in Essex on November 25, 1877. His father, another Harry Sammes, who had been born at High Ongar, was working at the time as a journeyman painter. His mother, Eliza Sammes, née Speller, had been born at Navestock in Essex. The 1881 census records that the family lived at Moreton Road in Shelley and that Harry had three elder sisters (Edith, aged 8; Minnie, aged 6 and Kate aged 5) and a younger brother (Bertie, later called Herbert, who had not yet had his first birthday). When the 1891 census was held, the family were living at Rodricks Cottage in Shelley, and four more children had been born (Daisy, then aged 8; Ethel, aged 5; Lily, aged 3 and 3-month-old Maud). The children's father is described as a painter and plumber, and their mother as a dressmaker. 13-year-old Harry was a grocer's assistant. By 1901 Harry had moved to Forest Row and become a gardener. He lived in a cottage near Blacklands Farm with an under-gardener. What happened to him over the next few years is unclear. Perhaps he briefly became an assistant to one of the photographers in East Grinstead, and learnt some of the skills of the trade before moving to Crawley Down to set up in business on his own. He was already living at Crawley Down and working as a photographer in 1906, and late in the year issued a card of snow covered spruce trees labelled "Christmas 1906 at Crawley Down".

Sammes married Lillian Mary Storkey on September 17, 1907, at All Saints Church in Lydd in Kent. She was the daughter of Alfred Ernest Storkey, a local coastguard, but had been born in Portsmouth. The marriage certificate confirms that Harry was a photographer and records that his father, who had been a plumber, was deceased (he had died in 1894). After his marriage, Harry returned with Lillian to Crawley Down, where she gave birth to their son, Harry Alfred Sammes, on July 23, 1908. It is not known whether other children followed; only Harry Alfred is listed in the 1911 census.

Sammes seems to have soon found that he could not get enough business at Crawley Down to work full-time as a photographer. It was, after all, only a small place, with a population of less than a thousand. To make ends meet, he became a cycle agent (and also a tobacconist), relying on picture taking and postcard publication to provide subsidiary income. Kelly's Sussex Directories list him solely as a cycle agent, not as photographer.

Electoral Registers record that Harry and Lillian moved from Crawley Down to 18 Dunraven Avenue in Reigate by 1918, and were still living at this address in 1921. It is not known whether Harry was continuing to work as a cycle agent or as a photographer and whether he produced any postcards of the Reigate area. He is believed to have died at Folkestone in 1942, aged 64.

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