George William Stokes


Floods at Iden (one a series of views of the village). November 1909 postmark reported

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Hastings photographer and postcard publisher. Stokes was born late in 1884 at Whitstable in Kent. His father, George Stokes, who had been born and raised in Canterbury, ran the Queens Head Inn in Whitstable High Street. His mother, Sarah J. Stokes, came from upper Deal. He had two elder sisters: Harriett Mercy Stokes and Emma Elizabeth Stokes, who had been born in Canterbury (in 1878 and 1880 respectively). He also had a younger brother, Herbert John Stokes, born in 1886 at Whitstable. The 1901 census records that George Stokes Senior was still working as a publican at Whitstable; Harriett had become a school teacher and Emma a confectioner.

George Stokes Senior retired as a publican in about 1902 and moved with his wife and children from Whitstable to Hastings. From 1903 until 1907 the Stokes family lived at 31 Plynlimmon Road in the West Hill area, where George ran a shop selling confectionary, cigarettes and tobacco. By 1908 he and his family moved a few streets north to 115 Mount Pleasant Road, near Ore Railway Station. The 1911 census records that none of the children had married. Harriett was an assistant teacher, Emma a piano teacher, Herbert an upholsterer and George William a photographer. George Senior is described as a "licensed victualler, retired", not as a confectioner or tobacconist, though he may still have been in business as the 1912 Hastings Directory lists a George Stokes, confectioner, at 258A Old London Road.

George William Stokes seems to have carried out very little, if any, portrait photography. Although not listed in any Directory as a photographer, he became a prolific publisher of real photographic view cards of Hastings, as well as villages in the "back-country" to the north of Hastings, such as Sedlescombe, Mountfield, Brede, Guestling Green, Peasemarsh and Iden. He also produced cards of Pett Level and the Sidley area of Bexhill. The photographs are usually black and white, more rarely sepia tinted. They generally have borders, though these have sometimes suffered in the trimming. The captions are handwritten in small, plain capitals.

As a general rule Stokes published his real photographic cards anonymously. Only very rarely did he print his name and address on the back of the cards or write "Stokes Photo" or "GWS" on the front. The many anonymous cards tend to be easy to identify, however, because of the peculiar punctuation of the captions. Stokes had a strange habit of inserting gratuitous full stops after every word except the last where a stop might have been expected! For example:
       "CLIFF. END. PETT"

Another quirk was that he sometimes varied the size of his capitals from one word to the next.

Stokes was publishing cards by 1907, if not earlier. Two early cards show Plynlimmon Road, looking past his father's shop in opposite directions. Two small girls, possibly relatives, pose in mid distance in both pictures, and must have run past the photographer to take up their positions for the second picture. A display of postcards can be seen in the shop window. Other cards show nearby streets, such as Vicarage Road, Priory Road and St Georges Road.

Judging from the serial numbers, Stokes issued at least 125 cards of Pett, Cliff End and Pett Level, almost all anonymously. One Pett card has been found labelled "G. W. Stokes, West Hill, Hastings", which suggests that he issued it while he was living at Plynlimmon Road. A card of "Dean. Swifts. Cradle. Brede. Church" has the same label and a 1908 postmark.

A collotype card of Pelham Crescent in Hastings has been found labelled "Stokes Series" on the back, which was probably printed by Mezzotint using a photograph supplied by Stokes. Doubtless other cards in the series will come to light, but Stokes clearly preferred to issue real photographics rather than printed cards.

Pike's 1930 Directory of Hastings makes no mention of Stokes. His former home at 115 Mount Pleasant Road is listed as the residence of the "Misses Stokes", doubtless his two sisters, who quite possibly had inherited the property from their father. Further research is needed to establish whether Stokes had moved away from Mount Pleasant Road by this date or or was continuing to share the family home with his sisters. The probate register records that he had been living at 10 Castle Gardens in Hastings when he died at St Helens Hospital in Hastings on 26 February 1960, aged 75. His sister Emma Elizabeth Stokes took charge of executing his will and distributing his effects of £976.

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