James Booker was born at Houghton north of Arundel in 1883. In 1911 the census records that he was working as a grocer's assistant at Southwater near Horsham. The grocery seems to have been an adjunct of the local post office. Later, James Booker took over as sub-postmaster at Southwater. In 1918 his wife Margaret bore him a daughter, Betty. According to Wendy Harvey, Betty's daughter, James Booker was appointed sub-postmaster at Hurstpierpoint in 1923. Ian Nelson, however, states that he took charge of the Post Office at Hurstpierpoint in November 1924 (see Ian Nelson, ed., Hurstpierpoint - kind and charitable, 2001, Ditchling Press, Burgess Hill). Booker remained in post at Hurst until his retirement in 1947.
In the 1930s Booker sold real photographic cards of Hurstpierpoint with neatly handwritten captions in capitals and the identification "J Booker Series" on the lower right side of the photograph. He is usually assumed to have been the publisher, but several cards in the series have been found that are labelled on the back "E.A. Sweetman, Tunbridge Wells". Evidently, Sweetman printed some of the cards, but it seems unlikely that he originated the series. The Sweetman cards have a much better tonal contrast than the rest, and tend to have later postmarks, which suggests that Booker tired of printing the cards himself and arranged with Sweetman to take over their production.
Vivienne Manchester in her entertaining Memories of Hurst (1975, privately published) notes that Booker was a popular postmaster, and on his retirement Sir William Campion of Danny House presented him with a cheque for over £100 on behalf of Hurst residents and with a framed address thanking him for his valuable and friendly services to the community over 24 years.
James Booker served on Hurstpierpoint Parish Council for over twenty years and was also a long serving member of Cuckfield Rural District Council. He died early in 1957 at the age of 73.
Booker's cards of Hurstpierpoint are now quite keenly collected and are becoming correspondingly elusive. Much more plentiful are some rather indifferent photogravure cards of Crowborough, which are labelled on the back "Published by J. Booker, Crowborough". Postmarks ranging from 1917 to 1926 have been recorded. Possibly, the cards were issued by Booker and Filtness, who were grocers and drapers at Crowborough Cross from around 1903 to 1918 or later. This particular Booker's initials are not known. Alternatively, the cards may have been sold by John (not James) Booker, a draper and grocer who ran Post Offices in Station Road and Western Road, Crowborough just after the First World War, and then became a shopkeeper in Queens Road. More research is needed, but so far there is no reason to believe that the publisher of the Crowborough cards was the same Booker who is remembered today for his long years of service as postmaster at Hurstpierpoint.
Acknowledgement: This website is greatly indebted to Wendy Harvey for checking and adding to an earlier draft of this website entry.To directory of publishers
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