William Billyard Allison


Maltravers Street, Arundel

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Chemist, 28 High Street, Arundel. Allison was born at Retford in Nottinghamshire in 1857. His father, John Allison, a gardener, had been born at Dunham in the same county in about 1824. His mother, Mary Allison, came from Retford and was five years younger than his father.

When the 1881 census was held, Allison was training to be a chemist and druggist at the North Stafford Infirmary in Stoke upon Trent. Shortly afterwards he married and set up in business as a dispensing chemist. His wife was Ann (or Annie) Elizabeth Wakefield, who had been born in about 1862 at Woolsthorpe in Leicestershire. They were living at 43 West Street in Stoke on Trent in November 1882, when their daughter, May Billyard Allison, was born. Their first son, Harold W. Allison, followed about four years later. By 1891 the Allisons were living at 1 Princes Road in the Hartshill area of Stoke upon Trent, and in the following year their second son, Francis Dominic Allison, was born. At the time of the 1901 census the Allisons were living at 1 Liverpool Road in Stoke, where William had a chemist's shop. May Allison helped in the shop as an apprentice chemist.

It is not known why Allison decided to leave Stoke but in 1909 or 1910 he began working as a chemist in Arundel. After a period of training, Francis Allison set up in business by 1911 as an ophthalmic optician, sharing his father's High Street shop.

William Allison was a talented photographer, who took many pictures of Arundel before and after the First World War. Forty-one of his photographs were used to illustrate The booklet of Arundel Castle and Town (1922) written by Mervyn D. Francis and published by the Arundel Press in Bognor Regis. Others appeared in two booklets on the Fitzalan Chapel and in Francis D. Allison's The little town of Arundel (1947), which were also published by the Arundel Press.

By 1920 many of Allison's pictures of Arundel were on sale as collotype or halftone postcards, probably not just at his own shop but also at other retailers in the town. In the case of some cards, Allison may have been the actual publisher, but in other cases he may have been just a facilitator, who allowed existing postcard publishers to use his photographs.

Many of the collotype cards are sepia-toned and lacking in detail. Grey-toned collotypes are also found, which are of rather better quality. The captions are printed in at least four different styles, which may mean that several firms supplied the cards. Most cards are labelled on the back "Photo: Allison, Arundel", "Allison. Photo. Arundel" or "Published by W. B. Allison, Chemist, Arundel", but some are just initialled "W.B.A." in the corner of the pictures.

Other cards are halftones printed by Hood & Co. of Middlesbrough in Yorkshire, which carry the firm's distinctive Sanbride logo (a church spire). The titles are generally written in italics, and the cards are labelled on the back "Photo. Allison, Arundel". The best sellers appear to have been "Arundel. A Quaint Corner" (a charming view of Maltravers Street) and "Arundel Castle and Bridge". The West Sussex Gazette, which was based in Arundel, used some of the cards to advertise the newspaper's services. Several of the halftone cards are reproduced in Mervyn Francis's book.

In the 1930s the Arundel Art Publishing Company issued monochrome and hand coloured photogravure versions of the cards, and also new issues of the real photographics initialled "A. A. Co.". Based in the High Street, it may possibly have been set up by Allison himself.

Allison died in 1928 and a Mr Bowles took over the business, retaining the name "W. B. Allison", perhaps at the behest of Francis Allison, who continued to work as an optician until the mid 1930s or later. Kelly's 1938 Directory lists the business as Allison's (Opticians) Ltd, which may mean that Francis had taken on partners by this stage or perhaps even retired. Allison's negatives are preserved by the West Sussex Institute of Higher Education.

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