Cecil Vivian Gray Conway Travers


Carting at Bignor (anonymous card, but with Travers' distinctive handwriting)

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Postcard publisher, Brighton and Hove. Travers was born on October 11, 1874 at the North Barracks in Walmer, Kent. His father, James Conway Travers, a Major in the Royal Marines, had been born at Hedenham, Norfolk in 1830 or 1831. His mother was Lucy Sanford Travers, née Bicknell, born in 1838 at Lambeth.

Cecil was James and Lucy's third and last child. Their daughter, Irene Madeline Travers, had been born in 1862, and their first son, Gordon Dermer Travers, followed in 1863. Both children were born in the Hanover Square area of London.

Major Travers' posting in Walmer was only temporary. When the 1881 census was held the family were living at the Melville Hospital in Chatham. At the next census, in 1891, Lucy, Irene and Cecil were living in Marylebone. Cecil was a student. The whereabouts of James Travers has not been determined. Gordon was away in Africa. He had served in the 3rd Battalion of the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment and had reached the rank of Lieutenant before becoming an inspector of the Gold Coast Constabulary. A brass plate on the south wall of Halifax Parish Church records that he died, aged 28, on June 27, 1891 while on board the SS Niger off Grand Bassam on the west coast of Africa and was buried at sea.

The 1901 census records that the Travers family were lodging with an Emma Blythe at 21 Conduit Road in Bedford. James Travers was a "retired colonel", his son Cecil had "no occupation". Irene was 39 and unmarried. She still lived with her parents.

It is not known when Cecil Travers first came to live in Sussex, or what attracted him to the area, but in 1906 he is recorded as renting a front room on the third floor at 5 St Margaret's Place, Brighton, near the present Metropole Hotel. The rent was 15 shillings a week to include board and lodging. Also renting a room in the same house was a Percy Travers Cox. The presence of these two men appears to have been just a coincidence, though the name Travers is quite unusual.

A postcard labelled "C.V. Travers, 5 St Margaret's Place, Brighton" has been found with a May 1907 postmark, which proves that Travers had begun issuing cards by this date. On June 29, 1907 he married Caroline Frances Watson at Steyning Registry Office. He gave his address as 16 Rutland Road in the Aldrington area of Hove, which was a house called Oakleigh where he presumably rented rooms. He declared that he was "of independent means" and made no mention of postcard publication, which presumably provided him with only a modest supplementary income. Caroline stated that she was 25 years old, and that her deceased father, Louis Watson, had also enjoyed "independent means". She gave her address as 65 Stanford Road in the Preston area of Brighton. One of the witnesses of the marriage ceremony was Archibald Baker.

After the marriage Caroline joined her husband at Oakleigh. During 1907 Travers issued increasing numbers of postcards with his Rutland Road address printed on the back, but by March 1908 cards started to appear with a new address: 210 Church Road, Hove. The new premises, which Travers shared with Archibald and Frederick Baker, would have provided him with much needed extra space for postcard production. It is also possible that Caroline found the smell of chemicals too unpleasant to tolerate at home and insisted that her husband find a separate place to develop and print his photographs.

Travers was still living in Rutland Road when Pike's 1908 Directory of Brighton & Hove was compiled (presumably late in 1907), but seems to have left shortly afterwards. The 1910 Pike's Directory is silent as to his whereabouts, but by 1912 he and Caroline had settled at 208 Church Road, next door to 210 where Cecil prepared his cards. The 1914 Electoral Register records that the couple occupied three furnished rooms on the second floor, paying rent to Arthur Benton, a fruiterer, who also lived in the building and kept a shop on the ground floor. Alfred Parks had a butcher's shop on the ground floor of 210, which had a number of occupants, including an Arthur Evershed, to whom the others paid rent and who apparently owned the building. Presumably it was the basement of 210 that Cecil rented as a darkroom and workshop.

Travers is still listed at 208 and 210 Church Road in Pike's 1918 Directory, but the only mention of him in the 1920 Directory is at 210. It is unclear where he and his wife were living at this date, but in about 1922 they settled at 29 Carlisle Road in western Hove (they were definitely not at this address in 1920).

Travers and his wife remained at Carlisle Road until 1927 or early 1928, and then moved to a house called Kingsway in College Lane, Hurstpierpoint. Cecil was still living at Kingsway in 1947 when he was admitted to hospital where he died of pneumonia on the 21st of December. The death certificate makes no mention of his photographic work and repeats the declaration on his marriage certificate that he was "of independent means".

In his will, drawn up in 1918, Cecil left all his effects to his wife; there is no mention of any children and it seems likely that the couple were childless. They do not appear to have had any relatives living in Sussex.

John Robards has made a detailed survey of the cards that Travers and the Baker brothers published ("Postcards from Cecil and the Baker brothers", 2002, Picture Postcard Monthly, 274, 12-14) and believes that the Bakers started their postcard business before Travers, "in the second half of 1906" and that "Travers joined them a few months later". "For at least 18 months the Baker brothers did all the technical work of developing and printing as well as writing the card captions. Travers, living in lodgings, had to ask the brothers to do the same for him". Only when the trio had acquired the 210 Church Road premises was Travers able to play a more substantial role in the production of the cards.

Robards has established that from the outset Travers and the Bakers used a common numbering system for their cards. While the Bakers concentrated on producing cards of West Sussex, Travers set about covering East Sussex, though there were interesting exceptions. Card 565, for example, shows Clapham Rectory near Worthing. Although well outside his normal area, the card carries Travers' name and Rutland Road address on the back.

All the early cards were printed in warm sepia tones, which unfortunately tended to fade quite rapidly to a uniform straw yellow. The Baker brothers wrote the captions both for their own cards and for Travers in small, plain upright capitals, generally on the bottom left of the photographs, with a serial number on the far right. According to Robards, cards with numbers of 900 or less predate the acquisition of the Church Road premises.

After the move to Church Road, Travers played an increasing role in postcard production. He began to write the captions on many of his own cards as well as on Baker cards. Robards suggests that Travers and the Bakers shared the work of preparing the cards on a "duty roster" system, with only partial regard to whose cards they actually were. Captions written by Travers tended to be backwards sloping with somewhat more decorative capitals, followed by a comma and then the serial number. The initial capitals of names and words tended to be larger and less plain than the others.

In early 1910 production of the light sepia cards was abandoned in favour of a contrasty black and white finish, which proved much more durable. Robards believes that Travers "pushed through the change" and that the Baker brothers gave up postcard production "either then or during the following 18 months", in other words by summer 1911. It is, however, entirely possible that the decision to move to black and white was dictated by a growing realisation by all three photographers that the sepia cards had too short a shelf life. Robards cites Archibald Baker's failure to declare his postcard publishing activities on his marriage certificate in 1913 as evidence that he was no longer producing cards, but Travers had been equally silent when he married. The truth is that at no stage did any of the trio depend on postcard publication for more than part of their income. The only certain fact is that the Bakers enlisted when war came and from this time onwards Travers was in sole charge of the postcard business. The Bakers can be assumed to have passed on all their negatives to him.

Travers reprinted many cards several times, and did a lot of renumbering so that cards of a particular location were all grouped together. The highest numbered card was just over 8000, but only numbers up to about 5000 appear to have been fully allocated. Some of the Baker cards were withdrawn, and new views substituted, in some cases re-using the old number. As the years went by, the captions that Travers wrote became larger and the lettering less plain and more flamboyant. Capital "H"s and "A"s, for example, acquired more and more prominent decorative descenders on their right sides, while "N"s had descenders on their left sides.

Robards estimates that by 1911 cards of about 111 towns and villages had been published, and by 1914 the number had risen to 143, but then it declined. At one time or another over 200 places were covered. The north of Sussex was less well served than the south, but nevertheless the Travers "empire" extended to a few villages just inside Kent and Surrey, for example, Horne to the north-east of Gatwick. In East Sussex villages as far to the east as Northiam were included, while in West Sussex the sales area reached Northchapel and Plaistow.

Travers was still continuing to issue new cards around 1920, recording for instance war memorials. He seems to have given up the business around 1922 at about the time that he moved to Carlisle Road. It is feared that the 6000 or so negatives that he and the Baker brothers amassed have been destroyed.

Acknowledgement: The considerable debt owed to John Robards will be apparent to all readers. Grateful thanks are also due to Mike Travers of Calgary for sending in the information about the untimely death of Gordon Travers (no relation).

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