Edwin Henry Whiteman


General view of Rye from the Rother

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Photographer, briefly at Hastings then at Rye. Edwin Henry Whiteman was born in Cambridge in 1857. He was the son of Edwin Whiteman, a bookseller born at Udimore in Sussex in 1834, and Jane Fanny (Frances) Whiteman, born in about 1835 at Cambridge. The couple had a second son, Edwin D. Whiteman, in 1859 at Cambridge, and then moved to Hastings. The 1861 census records that they were living at 2 Carlton Terrace, near Old London Road in the Halton area of Hastings. Edwin Senior was continuing to work as a bookseller. Later that year he and Jane had a third son, William Whiteman. Several more children followed.

By the mid 1860s Edwin Senior moved with his family to 52 High Street, Hastings, where he opened a bookshop and lending library. The premises were sufficiently spacious to allow Godbold & Co., a Hastings photographic firm, to open a branch studio, which Edwin Senior then purchased from them in around 1868 (see David Simkin's website at for further details). He employed John T. Lane, a photographer from London, to operate the studio, but Lane left after only about a year to set up his own business, and so Edward Bex was taken on as an assistant.

Edwin Whiteman Senior died of heart disease and dropsy on October 15, 1876, when he was only 42. The flowers would have just started to wilt on his grave, when on the first of November his son, Edwin Henry Whiteman, hurried to St Clements Parish Church to marry Ann Wilkinson. Ann (Annie) had been born in 1857 at Woodchurch in Kent, and was the daughter of a fly proprietor. There was good reason for the haste. Only a week later, on November 8, they were able to celebrate the birth of their daughter, Grace Annie Whiteman.

For some years Edwin Henry helped his widowed mother run the studio at 52 High Street, assisted by two of his brothers. By 1887, however, he took over from his mother as proprietor of the studio. During the 1870s and 1880s he and Ann had three more daughters: Lily Whiteman (born 1879), Gladys May Whiteman (born 1884) and Edith Whiteman (born 1887).

At the end of the 1880s Edwin Henry sold the Hastings studio and moved to Rye, where he set up a studio at Landgate. The 1891 census reveals that he and his family were living at 15 Ferry Road. By 1895 they moved to Cinque Ports Street where there was space for Edwin Henry to convert part of their new home into a studio. By the time the 1901 census was taken, four more children had been born: Edwin Henry Whiteman Junior (early in 1890), Philly or Phillie Whiteman (1892), Ernest Edward Whiteman (1895) and Ethel Whiteman (1896). The 1911 census records that Edwin Henry Junior became a fitter and turner, Philly a jeweller's engraver, and Ernest a solicitor's clerk.

Edwin Henry Whiteman was the official photographer of the Herald of Rye, a short-lived monthly magazine that was launched in 1898, but ceased publication after only four months. Despite this setback, Whiteman went on to become Rye's most illustrious photographer of the Edwardian age. He published an impressively varied range of real photographic postcards of the town including all the most important historic buildings. He recorded not only picturesque frontages but also building interiors, quirky architectural details and historic furnishings. His cards of St Mary's Church at Rye featured for example a 17th century carved oak chair, the 15th century wooden screen, the ancient font, an elaborately carved altar table and the cherubic Quarter Boys that since 1760 have adorned the great clock on the church tower, striking the quarters but not the hours. Whiteman also ventured away from Rye to photograph the ancient alms box and carved oak chest in Brede Church and the magnificent old font in Brookland Church. The Rye waterfront evidently held a special fascination for him and he spent much time with his camera recording the fishermen's boats, both in sail on the Rother and tied up at the quayside.

Judging from the number of cards, Whiteman was a frequent visitor to Camber. One well known card records the official opening of the Rye and Camber Tramway extension to Camber beach in July 1908. Also memorable is a card of a biplane flying over Camber dunes, silhouetted against a darkling sky. The pilot was a Mr Ogilvie, who kept his plane at Camber, and in December 1910 undertook an epic long distance flight of 147 miles. Sea holly growing amongst marram at Camber featured on another Whiteman card, which to modern eyes appears perhaps unremarkable, but for its time was a considerable novelty. Very few British publishers issued real photographic postcards of wildflowers until after the First World War. Whiteman's main interest at Camber was to record the mackerel fishing that took place using so-called keddle nets. Netted enclosures were set up on the beach at low tide to try to trap shoals of mackerel that swam past when the nets became submerged at high water. The fishermen retrieved their catch from the nets at the next low tide. Whiteman produced at least 15 different cards of the fishing operations, including a sketch plan of two keddle nets. He also photographed Camber Castle on the other side of the Rother estuary, but for some reason largely ignored nearby Winchelsea. Two girls, who posed for Whiteman at Camber Castle and in some of his pictures at other locations are believed to have been his daughters, most probably Philly and Ethel.

Whiteman began publishing picture postcards very soon after the start of the Edwardian era. Amongst his earliest creations are some divided-back cards of the Coronation festivities at Rye in 1902, including an ambitious multi-view. An undated card, entitled "Battle of Flowers", records a summertime festival and treat for the children of Rye arranged by Henry Gasson, the 1903 and 1904 town Mayor. Whiteman also published a card of a "Ceramic Store" at Rye that was gutted by fire on 12 November 1904. In March 1905 he issued a series of cards of a spectacular car crash on Rye Hill and also the well attended funeral of the victim, a nineteen-year-old errand boy called William Oak. Postmarks reveal that Whiteman began publishing cards of the keddle net fishermen at Camber by 1905. In December 1906 he produced a Christmas card for sale showing Rye town at night blanketed in snow.

That Whiteman was not averse to re-using archival photographs is demonstrated by a card that he published showing the sorry remains of a car lying submerged in the Rother (or a side-branch of the river) on August 24, 1896. As the card has a divided back it must have been issued at least five and a half years after the photograph was taken.

The photographs on Whiteman's real photographic cards are mostly black and white, sometimes with a touch of sepia. Many have white borders, but some are borderless. The cards are usually impressed (blind stamped) "E. Whiteman Rye" and "copyright" in their bottom right or left corners, but a few are anonymous. The captions on many cards are written in lively, sometimes awkwardly spiky, capitals; on other cards they are small and neat (perhaps the work of his wife or one of his children) or entirely absent.

Whiteman was a talented and innovative photographer, and his high quality cards are keenly collected today. He was undoubtedly in the top rank of Sussex postcard publishers, and some would argue that he was the leading light. Like Douglas Miller and Fred Judge, he had a keen eye for artistic and atmospheric compositions. His work included dramatic snow scenes (most, if not all, recording the heavy snowfall of the winter of 1906-7), as well as sunsets and landscapes with fine cloud effects. How he achieved his sometimes Turnerian skies is an open question. Most photographers of the period could not expose for both sky and land using the same glass plate negative. Correct exposure for land resulted in uniformly washed out chalky skies as the negatives of the time were relatively insensitive to blue. Perhaps Whiteman took separate photos of land and sky, possibly at different times and even different locations, and then cleverly merged them.

Whiteman continued to live in Cinque Ports Street until about 1915 when he moved to Winchelsea Road, Rye, where he died of cirrhosis of the liver on February 6, 1917, aged only 59. It was a sadly premature end to a distinguished career. His reputation as a photographer has grown steadily over the years, and his postcards are now keenly collected by a growing band of enthusiasts. It is very much to be hoped that someone will make a start with cataloguing all his different cards of Rye and neighbourhood, which are estimated to number at least 300, possibly as many as 500 in total.

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