Ambrose Henry Bensley Stickells


Jarvis Brook Flower Brigade Procession on Crowborough Hill

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Photographer, stationer and picture frame maker, Croft Road, Crowborough. Stickells was born on April 11, 1864 at Hythe in Kent (not Cranbrook as sometimes stated). His parents were David Stickells, born at Ruckinge in Kent in about 1828 and Frances Stickells, née Bensley, born in about 1834 at Gorleston in Suffolk. They married on April 14, 1857 at Canterbury Registry Office, giving their address as the Three Compasses Inn. David was already working as a photographer.

David and Frances lived for many years at Ashford in Kent, and had five other children besides Ambrose: Laura Rosetta Stickells in 1857, Louisa Stickells in about 1858, Flora Agnes Stickells on 10 February 1862, Arthur Edward Stickells in 1869, and Ada Stickells in about 1872. All five were born at Ashford. Flora's birth certificate reveals that the family lived in New Street and that David, her father, had temporarily given up photography to become a beer retailer. His father, William Stickells, had been a publican so David would have been familiar with many aspects of the trade.

Ambrose Stickells was the only child not born at Ashford. The birth certificate records that his father was still a beer retailer, but does not say where he was living. Very probably he was still at Ashford. Frances Stickells may have been visiting friends or relatives in Hythe when she gave birth to Ambrose.

When the 1871 census was held, David had given up beer retailing and reverted to being a photographer. He and his family were still at Ashford. The 1881 census records that he had moved to Marden in Kent to run a photographic studio in Fowle Yard off the High Street. Ambrose lived with him and doubtless helped with the photography. Frances and some of the other children were far away at Hastings, at 124 St. Andrews Road, which she kept as a lodging house. Perhaps the family were in the process of moving from Hastings to Marden or vice versa. By 1891 they were reunited, this time at Cranbrook, where David ran a studio in the High Street.

After Ambrose had learnt his trade at Marden, his father gave him a little money, some photographic equipment and a horse drawn caravan fitted up with a bed, a miniature studio and a dark room. He wandered from place to place in Kent and Sussex, making carte-de-visite and cabinet portraits for customers, but for many years apparently finding insufficient business to consider settling. On February 20, 1889, while still on his travels, he married Mary Ann Lade at the Parish Church at Mayfield. She was the daughter of Henry Lade, a saddler, and had been born in the village in about 1883.

At the time of the 1891 census Ambrose and Mary were lodging at a house in Maidstone Road in Paddock Wood with their infant daughter, Mary Frances Stickells, who had been born in 1890 at Leigh in Kent. In about 1896, they were at Robertsbridge, where their son, Ambrose Henry Stickells was born. By July 1897, when Percy Rufus Stickells was born, they had reached Crowborough. Stickells had made enough money to acquire a cottage and open a small shop. In 1902 he and his family moved into a purpose built house and studio in Croft Road. A fourth child, Lilian Irene Stickells, was born at Crowborough in 1904. Both sons after leaving school followed their father's example and became photographers.

Even after settling in Crowborough, Stickells sought additional trade in Tunbridge Wells, even though the town was well stocked wiith photographers. A divided back postcard of a little girl that has come to light is blind stamped "A. H. Stickells, Tun. Wells", which hints that he may have maintained a branch studio in the town or else paid regular visits with his horse and caravan.

Malcolm Payne and Luther Batchelor in their book, Bygone Crowborough (1987, Phillimore, Chichester), reproduce a portrait photograph of Stickells and photographs of his caravan and shop. They write: "Over the years Stickells produced some of Crowborough's best picture postcards, now highly sought after by collectors. He also photographed almost every person and event of note in the town and has left an invaluable record of the development of streets, shops and houses, many of which have now disappeared".

Many of the postcards that Stickells published from about 1904 onwards were black and white collotypes that were printed for him by an as yet unidentified firm. They are labelled "Stickells - Crowborough" along their left or right margins and have captions usually at the base of the pictures. Stickells also sold halftone view cards and coloured collotypes with red captions that state proudly on the back "printed in Great Britain".

In addition, Stickells produced small numbers of real photograhics, particularly of special events, which are of variable design. The photographs are black and white or sepia, and sometimes have borders though others have no borders at all. Captions, where present, are handwritten in somewhat uneven blocky capitals, but often Stickells did not bother with captions. Almost invariably, however, the cards have a printed label on the back: "A.H. Stickells, Photographer, Crowborough". One of the best known of his real photographic cards shows the town War Memorial after its dedication.

When, if ever, did Stickels retire? Even as late as 1938, Kelly's Directory still listed A. H. Stickells as a Crowborough photographer, but it is unclear whether the compilers were referring to Stickells himself or his elder son, who not only shared the same name but also was a professional photographer. Had Stickells Senior retired and handed over the business to his son or was he still at work, despite his advancing years, up to his death on 13 July 1940 at Crowborough War Memorial Hospital, at the age of 76? The probate register records that he left an estate of £2724 for his two sons to administer.

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