Brighton View Company


Royal Pavilion. Caption with curly "bookends"

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The history of this important but somewhat secretive Brighton firm continues to intrigue investigators. Postmarks indicate that it began publishing real photographic cards of the Brighton area in 1907 (or possibly late in 1906), but until 1912 it did not normally include an address on its cards and it remained unlisted in Brighton and Sussex Directories. The cards are mostly but not always labelled "BVC" or "BVCo" on the front, and many are also labelled on the back "Brighton View Co. Series", but provide no further indication as to the publisher's identity. Prolonged searching, however, has uncovered ten different cards that are labelled on the back "F.G. Harwood & Co., Brighton". All ten were apparently issued in 1907, which was the BVC's first complete year of operation and a time of rapid expansion.

F. G. Harwood published coloured halftone cards of Brighton, and had a stationer's shop in Centurion Road (near Brighton railway station) in the early 1900s. The fact that his name is printed on some early BVC cards shows that he played a part in its development and may actually have founded the firm.

Kelly's Sussex Directory of 1911 lists "Deane & Harwood, photographers" at 3a Clarence Street in Brighton. They shared the premises with the Phoenix Ironmongery Co., which had a workshop, presumably on the ground floor. There is no mention of the BVC, but by 1912 cards started to appear that were labelled on the back "Published by the B. V. Co., 3a Clarence St., Brighton". One of the earliest shows the unveiling of the Brighton and Hove Memorial to King Edward VII on the seafront in October 1912.

The BVC published large numbers of cards and by 1911 Harwood may have decided that he could not continue to carry out all the printing work unaided, and so turned to Arthur Deane for help. Deane had been running a lodging house at 4 Clarence Street, and also had some experience as a photographer.

The partnership with Deane seems to have been short lived. During 1913 the BVC published a series of cards of a military camp (or possibly a succession of camps) on the Downs at Patcham, with the 3a Clarence Street address on the back. In what seems to have been the same year, however, other cards of military camps at Patcham and Shoreham appeared that were labelled on the back "Foster & Harwood, 3a Clarence Street, Brighton". Possibly dating from around 1913 are some Foster & Harwood cards of seafront entertainers, such as Fred Austen's "Merrie Middies and Maids", who performed at Brighton's West Pier. Striking a more sombre note is a Foster & Harwood card from 1914 (found by Russell Walker) that reproduces a black and white sketch of Lord Kitchener, apparently based on the famous recruitment poster. The artist, J. Darby, was described by the sender of the card as a local man, who was too ill to go to the Front where his two brothers were on active duty. During the Great War, Foster and Harwood published cards of injured soldiers convalescing at Brighton's Dyke Road hospital.

Foster and Harwood are listed at 3a Clarence Street in Kelly's 1915 Sussex Directory, but no mention is made of the BVC. Pike's 1914 Brighton Directory, by contrast, lists the BVC, but not Foster and Harwood. In Kelly's 1918 Directory, Foster and Harwood and the Brighton View Co. are listed together at 3a Clarence Street for the first time. Similar joint entries can be found in Directories for the early and mid 1920s.

The 1924 and 1926 registers of Brighton voters list Alfred Thomas Foster and Francis Gerald Harwood at 3a Clarence Street, while noting that their actual homes were elsewhere. Alfred Foster, the son of Thomas Foster, lived at his family's home at 7 Goldstone Road in Hove. Francis Harwood lived at 51 Buckingham Road in Brighton. Also listed at 3a Clarence Street is William Edward Wiggins (private address 14 Southdown Avenue, Brighton), who perhaps managed the BVC for Foster and Harwood.

In 1927 Harwood died, aged only 49. Subsequent Directories make no mention of the Brighton View Co., which suggests that, on the death of his partner, Foster decided to close the business down. It may not have been trading very profitably for some years.

In its heyday, the Brighton View Co. was a prolific publisher of real photographic cards of Brighton, and to a lesser extent Hove and Portslade. In eastern and central Brighton, in particular, even quite short and unimportant roads are often represented by a pair of cards showing the view in opposite directions. No other publisher managed to amass such a comprehensive "library" of Brighton views, probably numbering at least a thousand. A great many shops must have stocked BVC cards of their local area, but sales of individual cards would have been low and mainly limited to residents of the particular street shown. The number of cards surviving today is insufficient to meet the demand from collectors.

One of the earliest real photographic cards published by the Brighton View Co. shows the Palace Pier Terminus of the Volk's Railway. One postally used example sports a December 1906 postmark (the earliest yet found), but also bafflingly a second postmark from 1908. Another early card, unfortunately undated, shows the self-styled "Professor" Reddish riding his brakeless stunt bicycle over the end of the Palace Pier into the sea. The caption asserts that the photograph was taken at Worthing, but the BVC did not publish any other Worthing cards, and Reddish, as far as is known, only performed his stunt at Brighton.

The photographs on most early BVC photographic cards seem to have been originally a chestnut sepia colour, but they have tended to fade badly and are now often a pale straw yellow. A few cards, however, have black and white photographs, and showing little fading. Most early BVC cards have white borders around the photographs, and, as already mentioned, are initialled "BVC" or "BVCo". The captions are written in ornate, flowery handwriting with capitals at the start of words but the rest in lower case. The capital "B"s and "S"s are particularly distinctive. Often, the captions have decorative flourishes ("squiggles") fore and aft like bookends. On the earliest cards these "bookends" consist of three curving or circular loops, but on some slightly later cards the loops are combined into a single fluid bird-like shape. Cards with "bookends" continued to be issued until 1907.

In 1908 the cards mostly still had captions written in rather decorative (though less flowery) handwriting with capitals reserved for the start of words. A card of Mr Vanderbilt's coach Venture dated May 4, 1908 heralds a change, however, in having a caption written entirely in capitals. From 1909 onwards, capitals become the norm. Sometimes the capitals are upright, but often they slope backwards. Plain capitals preponderate, but the letters R and K are frequently given descenders on their right sides. Many of the photographs are without borders, and an increasing proportion are black and white. These later cards seem to have sold in greater numbers than their predecessors. Perhaps the best known is "H.M. The King at Hove", which shows Edward VII walking on the seafront. A February 1910 postmark has been seen. After the King's sudden death on May 6, 1910, the card was re-issued with a black border as a sign of mourning. The civic authorities decided to rename Shoreham Road King's Road in Brighton and Kingsway in Hove in Edward's honour. The BVC issued a particularly fine card of the cavalcade of cars that drove along the road on July 27, 1910 to mark its change of name.

The BVC were on hand to record the Band of Hope fete at Hove Park in August 1908, and the Proclamation of King George V at Brighton on May 9, 1910, which was also photographed by the Press Photo Co. and other publishers. An undated card shows Mr Vanderbilt's coach "Meteor" at Patcham. In August 1910 the BVC published several cards of the village sports at Cross in Hand and in 1911 at least two cards of Oscar Morison's damaged aeroplane languishing in a Brighton garage following his flight from Brooklands to Brighton on February 15, when he landed on the shingle beach believing it to be composed of sand, and in the process damaged his plane's undercarriage and propeller. Another BVC card shows the aviator with his repaired plane on Hove Lawns on March 7, about to fly off to Shoreham. In 1912 the BVC recorded the camp of the 5th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment at Wadhurst, and in the following year it produced cards of a Yeomanry camp at Lewes. More military cards followed in 1914 and 1915 (see the entry for William George Foster).

Although the BVC mainly focused on Brighton, it also published real photographic cards of Patcham and the surrounding Downs, Portslade (e.g. New Church Road), Steyning, Burgess Hill, Ringmer, Arundel (a 1908 postmark has been reported), Heathfield (a card of the High Street has been found with a 1911 postmark and another of the Star Inn with a 1910 postmark) and Uckfield. Mike Pettigrew (Winchester) writes that the BVC did not even confine their publishing activities to Sussex. He has come across three BVC cards of Winchester, two posted in 1911.

In 1913 the BVC began publishing cards with captions written in much smaller capitals than previously. The handwriting is similar to that on some of the Foster and Harwood cards of military camps mentioned earlier, and there can be little doubt that the same person wrote the captions for both sets of cards. It is unclear whether the BVC continued to produce cards after the First World War, although as already explained they were still in business as photographers. It is perhaps significant that no BVC cards have been found showing the Indian Chattri or other War Memorials, but some real photographic cards of the newly opened Chattri and Hove War Memorial after its unveiling are labelled "F. + H", which may indicate that they were issued by Foster and Harwood. Deane & Martin also issued cards of the Chattri. During 1915 Foster and Harwood produced cards showing wounded soldiers recuperating in the wards of the Second Eastern General Hospital in Dyke Road.

Acknowledgement: Special thanks are due to Russell Walker for supplying details of the Kitchener card and to Mike Pettigrew for helping with information about the Winchester cards.

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