(Edwin) Arthur Harding


Fire at St Swithun's Vicarage, East Grinstead

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East Grinstead watchmaker and photographer. East Grinstead is fortunate in that its early photographers have been carefully researched and documented, particularly by David Gould and Michael Leppard. The following account draws heavily on Gould's 1998 article ("Edwin Arthur Harding", Bulletin of the East Grinstead Society, 64, 9) and his recent book, East Grinstead through a lens (2010, Arundel Publishing, Stroud). Also invaluable are Leppard's 1976 and 2007 reports ("Early photographers in East Grinstead", Bulletin of the East Grinstead Society, no. 18, January 1976 and "Photography in East Grinstead before the Second World War", East Grinstead Museum Compass, no. 24, Autumn 2007, with addenda in Compass 25, 2008).

The only son of William Harding, Edwin Arthur, or Arthur as he preferred to be known, was born at East Grinstead on July 24, 1869. Most of his early years were spent in Surrey, where his father worked as a journeyman painter. He returned with his parents to East Grinstead in the mid 1880s. After serving an apprenticeship with an East Grinstead watchmaker, he set up in business on his own by 1899 as a watchmaker and jeweller at 22 Glen Vue Road, next door to a shop that was later acquired by Edgar Kinsey. It seems to have been during 1899 that he took up photography, presumably with his father's help and encouragement.

On September 12, 1900 Harding married Gertrude Mary Jago (born 1876 at Wanstead in Essex) at Paddington in London. Her parents were Mary Ann and James Thomas Jago, an ironmonger. Arthur and Gertrude had two daughters (born in 1901 and 1903), but divorced in about 1905 following Arthur's "misconduct" with his father's teenage domestic servant, Amy Truckle, whom he is rumoured to have photographed in the nude and who later had his child. Arthur in addition was alleged to have hit Gertrude in the face.

He is last recorded at 22 Glen Vue Road in Sussex (and East Grinstead) Directories in 1903. According to Gould (2010), at about the time of the divorce the Hardings had settled briefly at 49 De Le Warr Road. It is unclear where Arthur lived for the next few years, but by 1911 he was lodging with his father at the Literary and Scientific Institute in London Road. Leppard suggests he set up a darkroom at the Institute.

Harding was a prolific publisher of real photographic postcards of East Grinstead and the surrounding area. Most are hand stamped in purple ink on the back "HARDING, photo, East Grinstead", but a few have the same words handwritten on the front. Other cards are anonymous.

Some of the most interesting cards reproduce photographs of East Grinstead in the 1860s that his father, William Harding, is generally believed to have taken. The photographs are not attributed and it is possible that some were actually the work of other pioneer photographers. In addition to the historic photographs, there is also a Harding postcard of a charming painting by Alfred Bowers (active 1875-93) of Brewhouse Lane in the snow, with St Swithun's Church tower behind (see M. J. Leppard, "'East Grinstead in winter' by A. Bowers", Bulletin of the East Grinstead Society, 2007-8, No. 93). The artist is unacknowledged.

There is continuing debate as to whether these historic cards of East Grinstead were published by William Harding or by Arthur Harding, either working on his own or in partnership with his father. On some of the historic cards the label "HARDING, Photo, East Grinstead" is almost unreadably small, whereas on many of the more modern cards the lettering is a more generous size. Some collectors have supposed that William Harding published all the cards with tiny lettering and Arthur all the cards with the larger lettering, but, if enough cards are inspected, it quickly becomes apparent that the historic views share both types of label, as do the cards with twentieth century photographs. In point of fact there is no firm evidence that William Harding ever published any postcards. Arthur Harding, by contrast, undoubtedly did, and it is not unreasonable to assume that he issued all the cards that are marked "HARDING, photo, East Grinstead". The same handwriting appears on the captions of nearly all the historic and modern cards (with the exception of a few produced in 1911), which helps to reinforce the notion that they are the work of one publisher, not two.

The first of the Harding cards of East Grinstead appeared in 1902. A night view shows A & C. Bridgland's shop covered in lights in celebration of the June 1902 Coronation (the lights spell out E.R.). The photograph has no caption, which is unusual, but the back of the card is stamped "HARDING, photo, East Grinstead" in the larger-sized lettering. Another 1902 card is a multi-view showing the successive cottage hospitals at East Grinstead.

In 1903 Harding issued two ambitious multi-view cards of the Consitutional Club in East Grinstead. Each card featured a modern photograph and a corresponding 1860s view garnished with sprays of foliage.

Over the next 20 years Harding issued at least a thousand real photographic cards of East Grinstead and neighbouring places, some anonymously. The photographs, which were sometimes black and white but more often sepia, have tended to fade and become yellowish with age, possibly because of insufficient fixative or careless washing. However, they can often be rephotographed or scanned and digitally enhanced with excellent results. The handwritten captions are always in capitals. EAST GRINSTEAD is characteristically abbreviated to ET GRINSTEAD. On a few cards the captions were evidently written on a transparent slip, but in most cases they appear to have been written mirror image directly on the negative. Reversed letters and digits are sometimes found. In 1911, as already mentioned, a number of cards appeared with captions obviously written by a different person.

According to the postcard captions, the historic photographs of East Grinstead mostly date from 1864, but a few were taken in 1862 and several more in the 1870s. As Leppard has pointed out, the dates on the cards are unreliable. An "1876" picture of the Girls School shows a building not constructed until 1882, and several "1864" pictures of the High Street show trees planted in 1874! Ron Michell and David Gould in their book, East Grinstead then and now (1985, Middleton Press, Midhurst) reproduce Harding's memorable view of Lewes Road with its toll-gate on the eastern edge of East Grinstead. The postcard caption gives the date as 1864, but Michell and Gould suggest the photograph was actually taken the next year. The inaccuracy of the dates on the cards reinforces the impression that Arthur Harding and not his father was the publisher. His father would surely have had a better idea of the correct dates.

In addition to publishing historic and contemporary views of streets and buildings in East Grinstead, Harding was also concerned to record special events. A Church Parade on July 9, 1905 was the subject of at least half a dozen cards. One of his best-known cards shows the poll result being declared at East Grinstead on January 26, 1906. In June of the same year he photographed the Ardingly Band at Horsham and in August a training camp for soldiers from the 4th Battalion of the Sussex Regiment at an unstated location, probably Crowborough. In 1907 he photographed another Church Parade and in June re-visited some of the 4th Battalion at a camp in Arundel Park.

On February 27, 1908 Harding attended the disastrous fire that gutted St Swithun's Vicarage at East Grinstead. Not content with photographing the fire just from the ground, he climbed up the adjoining church tower and photographed the scene from aloft. The result was a memorable postcard showing the fire burning its way through the building with staff and family watching helplessly from the lawn. Owing to problems with the town water supply the firemen could not get enough pressure to douse the flames. The elderly vicar lost many valuable possessions and was so heart broken that later in the year he resigned the living (see David Gould, East Grinstead, 1995, Sutton, Stroud).

In 1908, Harding published cards of the Empire Day (May 24) celebrations at East Grinstead and in July he again visited a military camp, this time at Worthing. Empire Day in 1909 was the subject of still more cards, and in 1910 he issued another card showing the declaration of a poll result. Also in 1910 he recorded the Church Parade at Turners Hill. In June 1911 he published a series of cards of the processions celebrating the Coronation of King George V, and also cards commemorating Hospital Saturday.

In addition to real photographics, Harding published a series of halftone cards of East Grinstead, showing for example the High Street and the Literary and Scientific Institute. No postmarks have been reported. Some of his photographs also appear on halftone cards sold by F. & E. Tooth, who were stationers in the High Street. Though the pictures are labelled "F. & E. Tooth" in their lower right corners, some are also labelled "Harding", and it quite possible that Harding published the cards on behalf of the Tooths. He certainly supplied real photographic cards to H. Daniels, a stationer at 18 London Road. These cards are stamped "HARDING, photo, East Grinstead" in the usual way, but also "H.Daniels, Stationer, East Grinstead". Both the Tooth and Daniels cards have been found with 1904 postmarks. The London publisher, Wrench, also supplied Daniels with cards bearing Harding photographs.

Harding published real photographic cards of numerous places in Surrey and Sussex within about 5 miles of East Grinstead, including Felbridge, Forest Row (Brambletye), Ashurst Wood (1905 postmark seen), Forest Row, Newbridge (1911 and 1914 postmarks), Hartfield, Withyham, Rowfant (cards of the demolition of the local brickworks date from May 5, 1913), West Hoathly, Broadstone Warren, "Ashdown Forest from Gill's Lap" (1917 postmark) and "Shepherd's Hill" at Coleman's Hatch (1915 postmark). Gould reports that during the First World War Harding served in the 4th Rifle Brigade of the Royal Sussex Regiment and fought at Gallipoli in 1915. A photograph survives showing him with a Royal Flying Corps flash on his uniform, so perhaps he transferred to the Corps in the latter part of the war. He returned to Sussex in time to record Armistice Sunday crowds at West Hoathly on 12 November 1918 and the Peace Day Parade at East Grinstead on July 19, 1919. In 1920 he photographed the Handcross School football team.

Around the time his father died (in 1922) Harding gave up postcard publishing and concentrated on watch and clock repairing. According to Gould (1998), he also "spent some time in Sydney, Australia". After returning to Britain, he settled in Brighton, apparently in 1930 (there is no mention of him in Directories compiled in the late 1920s). On January 24, 1931, at the age of 61, he married Alice Maud Sippetts of 101 Ditchling Road, Brighton. She was 37 years old, while he claimed to be only 55! At the time he was living at 65 Hollingbury Road and still working as a watchmaker. In 1934, he and his wife moved to Newbury in Berkshire. Gould has established that he continued his work as a watchmaker, and during the Second World War served as an ARP Warden. He died at Newbury on January 4, 1947.

East Grinstead Museum possesses over 700 of Harding's glass negatives, which were rescued from a local pottery works, where unfortunately many had already been ground up. The Museum also has several small photographic prints that show Harding, which range in date from around 1910 to 1940. He was quite a slim man, of average height, with a neat, black moustache.

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