Austin & Son


Sheep washing at Lavant

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Postcard publishers, Bognor. Austin & Son set up in business not long before the First World War at a time when tensions between Britain and Germany were steadily rising. In Sussex, military exercises were being conducted ever more frequently, as increasing numbers of men joined the Army. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that the earliest postcard that Austin & Son are known to have issued shows C Squadron of the Sussex Yeomanry at an unnamed training camp, presumably somewhere in Sussex. The card is dated June 1, 1913, and is labelled on the back "Printed and published by Austin & Son, Bognor". In the same month the firm began issuing black and white real photographic view cards of south-west Sussex. The list of places shown grew with time to include Bosham, Clymping, Pagham, North Bersted, Bognor, Felpham (at least 12 cards), Boxgrove, Walberton, Westergate, Halnaker, Fishbourne, Slindon Woods, Singleton, Goodwood, Oving and East Lavant.

About a third of the view cards are labelled on the back "Austin & Son, Photographic View Publishers, Bognor". The rest are anonymous, but most are easily recognisable because of their neat, often quite small, handwritten captions at the base of the photographs, usually in the left or right corners, more rarely in the middle (a few cards are captionless). The captions are generally written in an italic script on transparent slips. Memorable subjects include sheep washing at Lavant, the Birdless Grove at Goodwood (a fine study of a stand of mature beeches), race crowds at Goodwood, the old windmill at Clymping, and some highly ornate beach bungalows at Felpham. A flood scene at Eastergate is dated 1915. Austin & Son produced a few cards of Bognor sea front and similarly busy places, but for the most part they specialised in photographing picturesque though not overly familiar rural subjects, including quiet lanes and neglected old buildings. Their cards, which comprise both summer and winter views, are becoming increasingly collected because they provide a detailed photographic record of many of the villages on the West Sussex coastal plain and within the bordering Downs before motor cars became commonplace.

Sussex and Bognor Directories make no mention of Austin & Son, and it is a reasonable deduction that the firm operated from a private address. Almost certainly the postcards were the work of Charles Albert Austin, who in the 1911 census is listed as a law clerk, and his eldest son, Charles Herbert Douglas Austin, who is stated to be a photographer, though he does not appear to be recorded as such in any Directory.

Charles Albert Austin was born in 1869 at Sall (Salle) in Norfolk, near Reepham, north-west of Norwich. His father, Frederick Austin, ran Stinton Hall Farm at Sall, whose 212 acres provided employment for nine men and three boys. His mother, Mary Austin, had been born at Islington. By the time the 1881 census was held, Charles had been sent to a boarding school at Ramsgate in Kent. He married his wife, Florence, who came from Battersea, in about 1889 according to the 1911 census. The 1891 census records that the couple were living at 22 Albert Road in Southsea, Hants, and that Charles was a "general agent". He and Florence went on to have three children: Charles Herbert Douglas Austin was born at Southsea in the summer of 1891; John Leslie Austin was born at Hastings in the summer of 1892; and Marjorie Austin at Ramsgate early in 1894. When the 1901 census was held, the Austin family was living at The Willows in Bersted Street in Bognor. Charles Austin was working as a solicitor's clerk. By 1911 he and his family had moved to West View in Upper Bognor Road. John Leslie had enrolled as a boy clerk in the Civil Service.

It is uncertain how long Austin & Son went on publishing cards, but late 1920s postmarks are quite common and even mid 1930s postmarks can sometimes be found. Austin & Son contributed two photographs to the Official guide to Bognor, published in 1928, which suggests that they were still in business at this date. Charles Albert Austin died in 1952, aged 83.

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