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George Henry Allen

postcard

Staff outside J. E. Barker's general stores, East Wittering (near the windmill)

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Photographer, 20 Southgate, Chichester. Allen was born in Southgate in 1876. His father, Charles Allen, a bootmaker, had been born in about 1833 in Chichester, and his mother, Augusta Allen, who was about four years younger, came from Fernhurst in Surrey. His elder brothers, William (born about 1870) and Edward (born about 1874), followed their father's example and became bootmakers, but George was attracted to a career in photography. By 1891 he had become an assistant to Thomas Russell (1841-1903), who owned a photographic studio at 20 Southgate, next door to the Allen family home at 21 Southgate. The 1901 census reveals that Allen had left home and was boarding with Thomas Russell and his family at their house at 227 Oving Road. At the time, Russell was employing two of his daughters, Alice (aged 37, born 1863) and Martha (17, born 1883), as well as Allen, to help him run the studio.

Russell died at the age of 62 on November 13, 1903 leaving effects of £529. In his will he asked his wife, Mary Harriett Russell, to carry on his photographic business, and she employed Allen to manage the studio for her. Presumably, Alice and Martha continued to assist. When Mary died in 1911, Alice inherited the business, but in about 1918 she sold it to Allen. He seems to have held his former employers in high regard as he retained the name "Russells" even after he became owner.

An early card of Fishbourne Church has been found, unfortunately in ruinous condition, that is labelled on the back "Photographed by Russells, The Studio, 20 Southgate Chichester". The caption is written in large block capitals. The card may possibly have been issued by Thomas Russell himself, although it has a divided back. Much more common are black and white and sepia-toned RPs of Chichester, the neighbouring Downs (including West Dean, West Marden and Compton) and the Selsey peninsula (Sidlesham, West Wittering, Itchenor etc.) that Allen published from about 1905 onwards. The photographs mostly have white borders, and the lettering of the handwritten captions is markedly backwards sloping. Many of the cards are labelled "G.H. Allen, Photo, Chichester" on the bottom right of the photo; others are labelled "Photo by George Allen (Russells), Chichester" or simply "Russells, Chichester". On some cards the label is written diagonally across the corner of the pictures. The better cards of Wittering were reproduced in miniature in groups of four or nine as multi-views.

For the Coronation Celebrations in 1911 four decorative gates or arches were temporarily erected in Chichester to mark the former positions of the town gates. Allen produced cards of each gate, as well as a multi-view showing all four gates on one card.

In addition to publishing RPs, Allen also published coloured collotype cards that were printed abroad. The colouring on some of the cards was unusually fine, for example on his card showing West Dean House from the south in early spring (1906 postmark recorded). Sadly blurred is a black and white collotype of the wreck of a schooner at West Wittering in March 1913.

Allen was still working as a photographer at 20 Southgate and publishing RP cards in the late 1930s. He died in late 1958, aged 82.

For a full account and examples of Thomas Russell's work as a portrait photographer you are recommended to visit David Simkin's website at (www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk).

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