John Fenner


Multiview card of Henfield (1907 postmark) with two views thought to be by Merrett

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Photographer, Partridge Green (Littleworth), then Henfield, and later Shoreham-by-Sea. John Fenner was born at Boxford in Suffolk in 1872, the son of Charles Fenner, a bricklayer (journeyman). The 1901 census lists him as a free-lance photographer in Littleworth boarding with Edward Stringer and his family at Monastery Lodge, which Adrian Vieler has identified as the lodge house to the rear of Cowfold Monastery, near Partridge Green. It is now called South Lodge. Early in 1909 Fenner married Edward's daughter, Margaret Mary Stringer, who later in the year bore him a son, Francis John Fenner, at Littleworth. Sadly, Margaret died shortly after Francis was born, presumably as a result of complications arising from his birth. The 1911 census records that John Fenner and his infant son were still living at Littleworth. James Stuck, a domestic servant, helped to run the home. Later in the year (on October 11), John remarried at St Mary Magdalene Church, Upper North Street, Brighton. His new wife was Mary Anne O'Keeffe, who was five years his junior and a nursery governess. She lived at 17 Dyke Road in Brighton and was the daughter of a deceased farmer, Joseph O' Keeffe.

Partridge Green in the early 1900s was a small, somewhat sleepy village that would have provided only limited trade for an aspiring photographer. Littleworth was a tiny, peripheral hamlet. It was perhaps because he hoped to attract more customers that Fenner decided to move to Henfield, where Edward Merrett had worked as a photographer but had contracted tuberculosis and decided to retire. Both Kelly's 1915 and 1918 Sussex Directories list Fenner as a photographer in Henfield High Street. It is possible that Merrett sold his photographic business (including his stock of negatives, though not his pharmacy) to Fenner.

At about the end of the First World War, after about five years at Henfield, Fenner moved with his family from Henfield to Shoreham-by-Sea. Pike's Brighton, Hove and District Directories from 1921 to the early 1930s list him as a photographer at Brunswick Road, Shoreham.

Early in his career as a photographer, while still based at Partridge Green (Littleworth) Fenner published two multi-view real photographic cards of Henfield and another three of Cowfold, one showing views of the village and the other two the Carthusian Monastery. Late 1906 and January 1907 postmarks have been seen. The five cards are elaborately decorated and are labelled "Fenner, Partridge Green" in tiny print in the bottom left or right corners. Alan Barwick, the Henfield historian, considers that Edward Merrett supplied at least two of the photographs included by Fenner in his multi-view card that is shown above. If so, this would suggest that Fenner and Merrett were collaborating long before Fenner moved to Henfield.

Many, if not all, the cards that Fenner reproduced in miniature in his multi-views could be purchased as full-size real photographic cards from about 1906 onwards, together with other cards of Henfield, Cowfold, Partridge Green and district that share the same general design. The cards invariably have white borders and captions written in white in tiny block capitals, apparently using either a stencil or a hand-held printing device. Sometimes it is possible to detect the faint outline of a rectangle surrounding a particular caption, indicating that the captions were written on transparent slips that were then superimposed either on the negatives or on prints that were then re-photographed. To the confusion and despair of postcard historians the great majority of the cards were issued anonymously. However, the fact that Fenner reproduced some of the cards as multiviews may well indicate that he was the photographer. In addition, versions of a few cards are known that are explicitly labelled "Photo by Fenner, Henfield" in even more microscopic lettering than the captions, apparently again using transparent slips. These versions must have been issued during the First World War when Fenner lived at Henfield. Despite the evidence pointing to Fenner, Alan Barwick considers that many of the anonymous real photographic cards with their miniature captions were originally the work of Merrett, who may have remained their publisher until his enforced retirement. Clearly, more research is needed.

In addition to publishing his own real photographic cards, Fenner supplied other publishers with photographs of Mid Sussex for use on their own cards. Mezzotint, for example, published views of Parkminster and Bolney, which are labelled "Fenner Photo: Partridge Green". 1908 and 1909 postmarks have been seen. The credit "Photo by Fenner, Partridge Green" also appears on collotype cards of this village with 1904 and later postmarks, which were issued anonymously, in some cases almost certainly by Mezzotint, but in others by a seemingly different publisher. A delicately coloured halftone of Knepp Castle, restored in 1905 after the disastrous fire of 1904, is labelled "Fenner, Partridge Green" on the reverse. A 1907 postmark has been seen. A monochrome view of monks from the monastery of St Hugh's Charterhouse at Cowfold taking their weekly walk was issued by several different publishers and seems to have sold particularly well judging from the number of surviving examples.

An anonymous publisher with whom Fenner collaborated produced black and white collotype cards of West Grinstead (including the Burrell Arms, Tabby Cat Hotel, Rectory, Park House, Cyclists' Rest and Railway Station), the monastery of St Hugh's (including an artist-drawn bird's eye view of the buildings watched over by guardian angels as well as the ever popular view of the monks on their weekly walk), the Old Toll House at Crouch Hill, Henfield, and Chestham Park near Henfield. On all these cards the captions are printed in red as on the Mezzotint cards, but in rather larger letters of distinctly spiky appearance. Each card is marked "J. Fenner, Partridge Green". A May 1905 postmark has been reported. The publisher, who has not been identified, operated over a very wide area of southern England, at least as far west as Bristol, in most cases crediting the cards to local retailers or photographers.

After moving from Henfield, Fenner published many good quality black and white real photographic cards of Shoreham, Southwick, Kingston and Lancing with white borders and handwritten captions. The photographs are generally marked "Fenner, Shoreham". Many cards have serial numbers; the highest number seen to date is 262 (Kings Road, Lancing). The majority of the cards are street scenes; Fenner seems to have been very little concerned with the harbour and the shipping. Several cards show the newly built War Memorial on Southwick Green.

One of Fenner's most interesting cards is an early aerial view of Shoreham showing the footbridge built across the harbour in 1921 and the old Norfolk Bridge, which was demolished in 1922. The photograph must have been taken between these two dates.

At Shoreham Fenner had to compete for business with Joseph Ripley and seems to have sold far fewer cards than his rival even though they were of comparable quality and attractiveness. He was still in business as a photographer at Brunswick Road in Shoreham in the early 1930s, but had probably given up producing postcards. He and Mary moved house from Victoria Road to 3 Hebe Terrace in Hebe Road, where Mary died of bowel cancer on November 22, 1934, aged 60. By this date he had retired as a photographer. On July 25 in the following year he married for a third time, at the Roman Catholic Priory at Storrington. His new wife was Louisa Ada Hughes, a 42-year-old widow and daughter of Edwin Millward, a deceased licensed victualler. Both bride and groom were living at a house in Hyde Lane, Upper Beeding. John Fenner died aged 89 at Southlands Hospital at Shoreham on December 18, 1961. According to his death certificate, he and Louisa, who survived him, had been living at 150 Old Shoreham Road, Southwick.

John's son, Francis (Frank) Fenner, who married in 1935 in the Portsmouth area, served for many years as an officer in the RAF. He died in 1992 at Worcester, and is survived by a son, John Fenner (who has 2 sons and three granddaughters) and a daughter, Patricia Fenner.

Acknowledgement: Special thanks are due to Adrian Vieler for helping to research the Fenner family, and to John Fenner (Leamington Spa) for supplying additional information and the wedding photograph (see gallery).

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