George Chapman


Damage to the Marine Parade at Hastings, Easter 1913

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Hastings and Bexhill photographer. George Chapman was born at St Leonards in 1880, the son of a milkman, Walter Chapman, who had born in the town in about 1857. His mother, Catherine Chapman, came from Rye. The family lived in Gensing Road, off Norman Road. George had two elder brothers, Walter Ernest Chapman and William Chapman, and by 1891 three younger brothers: Frank, Albert and James Chapman.

When the 1901 census was held, George was 23 and working as a railway porter in Deptford. In about 1909 he married, and he and his wife, Edith, who came from the Hastings area, went to live at Northiam, where their daughter, Georgina May Chapman, was born in about 1910. They then moved to Hastings. The 1911 census gives their address as Portland Cottage, Portland Place in Hastings. George is described as a journeyman photographer. Later in 1911 Edith gave birth to a son, Victor George Chapman.

Kelly's 1913 Sussex Directory locates George at 63 Station Road in Bexhill, where he was to remain until the end of the 1920s. The evidence suggests that his business life during this period was anything but smooth. In 1916 he brought a court case against Arthur Nash, a former employee to whom he allegedly owed money, claiming that Nash had called at his house with two other men and during an altercation had struck him in the face with a stick. Nash for his part claimed that he had been assaulted by Chapman! The Bexhill magistrates considered the evidence to be very contradictory and dismissed the case, ordering all parties to pay their own costs. Four years later, in the summer of 1919, George Chapman was declared bankrupt. This does not seem to have actually stopped him working as a photographer, but to protect himself from creditors it appears that he may have handed over nominal control of his business to Edith. It is presumably for this reason that Kelly's 1922 Sussex Directory lists her as a photographer at 63 Station Road and omits any reference to George!

Pike's 1927 Bexhill Directory describes Edith Chapman as a furniture dealer. Kelly's 1930 Sussex Directory records that she was still dealing in furniture, but at 143 Station Road. By 1931 she and her husband had moved to 95 London Road in Bexhill, where she continued to sell furniture while ostensibly partnering George as a photographer. The Chapmans were still living at this address when war broke out. The 1938 Electoral Register records that Victor Chapman was living with his parents at London Road. George Chapman died at Bexhill in 1953 at the age of 74.

George Chapman seems to have begun publishing real photographic cards during 1909. A card of floods at Brede Bridge initialled G. C. is dated 27 October 1909. Two cards similarly initialled and dated May 9, 1910 show the proclamation of King George V in an unspecified (and as yet unidentified) place with trees and a memorial.

The captions on Chapman's early cards are handwritten in quite large, generally backwards-sloping letters, usually capitals, and most of the cards are labelled "Photo Chapman" or initialled "G.C." in the lower right corner of the photographs (the G often looks like a C). The handwriting is distinctive: capital "H"s, for example, often have the crossbar extended leftwards and upwards, the tops of "T"s are similarly inclined, and "R"s have the inclined "leg" extended downwards to the right.

Chapman recorded many local events during his career as a postcard publisher. In May 1911 he produced several cards of the Bexhill horse parade and in June crowds "watching the salute" from the castle at Hastings, while in October he recorded towering waves lashing the seafront at Hastings. A particularly fine card shows the partly submerged wreck of the P. & O. liner Oceania after its collision with a windjammer off Eastbourne in 1912. Though initialled "G.C." it has a "Sussex Photographic Co." label on the back, which suggests that he collaborated with this Hastings firm. Another card, presumably of later date, shows the lightship marking the position of the then hidden wreck. It is labelled on the back "Sussex Post Card Co., Earl Street, Hastings", which like the Photographic Co. was controlled by Albert Shoesmith.

During 1913 Chapman recorded several "happenings" at Hastings and St Leonards, such as the visit of the Duchess of Albany on April 1, the extensive damage to the Marine Parade and flooding caused by gales at Easter (at least 20 cards; his card of the flooded Cricket Ground is particularly memorable), the horse parade on May 12 (at least 21 cards) and crowds enjoying Empire Sunday on May 24.

A fire at Mr. Birchett's shop in Devonshire Road in Bexhill on March 1, 1914 kept Chapman busy, photographing the "Scene at night during the fire", the "Scene at daybreak" and "After the fire", showing the charred remains. The next day he was on hand to photograph a Bleriot-type plane that landed at Bexhill. As war loomed, he issued cards of military camps at Cooden, soldiers on parade and route marches at Pevensey and St Leonards (all undated). Two rare Chapman cards show Army huts at Cooden Camp damaged by a gale in late December 1914. Paul Green has found a card of a group of soldiers that Chapman issued probably in late summer or early autumn in 1914, with a "Shoesmith's Real Photo Series" label on the back, which suggests continuing co-operation between the two publishers.

In addition to covering local events, Chapman also published "view" cards of residential roads in Hastings, such as Emmanuel Road (1910 postmark seen) and All Saints Street, together with local beauty spots such as Ecclesbourne Glen.

A series of black and white real photographic cards of Northiam, Beckley, Brede and Ticehurst are initialled "G. C." at the base of the photographs, and, although they do not name their publisher, the handwriting and initials leave no doubt it was Chapman. A 1910 postmark has been seen.

It appears that Chapman was in the habit, wherever possible, of getting other publishers to print his cards for him. He was in fact the postcard publishing equivalent of a cuckoo! A real photographic of the font at Brede Church is marked "Chapman" on the photo, but like the Oceania card has a "Sussex Photographic Co." label on the back. Another card, which shows the celebrated church in the woods at Hollington near Hastings, is initialled "G.C." and has a caption with the usual Chapmanesque flourishes, but has the label of another Hastings publisher, W. J. Willmett, on the back.

Some cards of Hastings, Beckley, Bodiam etc. have captions seemingly written by Chapman and display all his stylistic quirks, but are not marked "Photo Chapman" or "G.C." A few may be genuine Chapman cards, but others, labelled on the back "Palacette Studio", may be reprints of former Chapman cards issued by Albert Shoesmith. No postmarks have been reported.

During the First World War Chapman photographed groups of soldiers posing at their barracks and attending parade. The cards have a wide white border at their base, often with "Days of The Great War" neatly printed on the left and Chapman's name and Bexhill address on the right. In July 1919 Chapman issued at least 4 different cards showing the Peace Pageant at Bexhill. It is unclear how long he continued postcard publication after this date. Cards are regularly found with interwar postmarks, but these may be pre-war stock.

Acknowledgement: the writer is deeply grateful to David Simkin for providing details of Chapman's altercation with Arthur Nash and to Paul Green for uncovering evidence of Chapman's later bankruptcy.

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