Leonard Wiseman Horner


Newbridge Mill, Ashdown Forest

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Postcard publisher and photographic materials supplier, 59 High Street, Hastings. Horner is first listed in Hastings Directories in 1932, and presumably started his business during 1931. He shared the High Street premises with Potter's Photo Stores, who also sold photographic materials and had a branch at Bexhill. Possibly he was a partner in the firm. He lived at 1 The Mount in Hastings with his wife, Elizabeth.

Horner began publishing sepia-tinted real photographic postcards in 1931 or 1932, but gave up just before the Second World War. He was responsible for both the "Wiseman Horner" and "Romney" Series of cards, as an advertisement in an undated but mid 1930s guide to Littlehampton, Arundel and West Sussex (published by Lane, Gentry & Co., Margate) makes clear. He also published a few cards marked "W. H. Ltd.", for example of St Leonards-on-Sea.

Cards in the Wiseman Horner Series cover a wide scattering of places in East Sussex, for example, Fairlight Cove, Jarvis Brook, Crowhurst, East Grinstead, Alfriston, Bexhill, Lewes, Litlington, Beachy Head, Mayfield, Newbridge Mill (Ashdown Forest) and Winchelsea.

The sepia-tinted photographs on the cards are white bordered and many are signed "L. W. Horner", "Wiseman Horner" or "L. Wiseman Horner" in their lower right corners, but a few are unsigned. Some cards, which may be a late production, are not only signed at the front but also have a signature as a logo on the back identifying the cards as "The Wiseman Horner Series". On all the cards the captions are handwritten in plain capitals and there is usually a serial number. The highest number noted to date is 858.

The Romney Series of real photographic cards are also typically sepia-tinted and white bordered, but are labelled "The Romney Series" and "Postcard Photograph" on the back. The captions on the front are sometimes handwritten but more often are printed, sometimes in italics. Normally they are preceded by a serial number. The highest number so far recorded is 1420. A few Romney Series cards are actually signed "Wiseman Horner" on the front. Also included in the Romney Series were some sepia-tinted and coloured photogravure cards with titles in the white borders rather than in the picture space. Many Romney Series cards depict places on the East Sussex and Kent coast, for example Pett, Fairlight, Hastings and Eastbourne, but inland localities also feature on the cards (e.g. the Long Man of Wilmington). They appear to be separately numbered from the cards in the Wiseman Horner and W. H. Ltd. Series.

Horner was a skilled and talented photographer who produced many memorable pictures. His cards share many of the design features of the cards that Shoesmith and Etheridge published during the 1930s. There has long been a suspicion that one of the Hastings publishers copied the other, though which might have been the plagiarist and which the innovator is hard to decide. The Shoesmith and Etheridge cards from 1934 onwards generally have a logo of a Norman knight on the back, which makes them readily identifiable. Horner labelled most of his cards "Horner", "Romney" or "W. H. Ltd.", but also issued some cards anonymously, as did his rival, Shoesmith and Etheridge. Further research is needed to find ways of reliably distinguishing the two publisher's anonymous cards.

Horner's entry in Pike's 1939 Hastings Directory mentions only his postcard publishing, which may indicate that he had given up selling photographic materials. Perhaps he had sold this once important component of his business to Potter's Photo Stores, who were still trading alongside him at 59 High Street. Brian Lawes has discovered that Wiseman Horner Ltd., the company that Horner controlled, became insolvent in 1939; it seems likely that Horner himself escaped bankruptcy. By 1940, he was apparently working as a printer, and Shoesmith and Etheridge took over production of his cards, which resulted initially in hybrids. Thus "1127. Station Road. Jarvis Brook" has Horner's signature on the front, but Shoesmith and Etheridge's Norman badge on the back. Other cards (e.g. "Lewes from Miller's Walk") exist in separate Wiseman Horner and Shoesmith and Etheridge versions.

Leonard Wiseman Horner was born in 1891 at Bolton in Lancashire. The 1911 census lists him as a 21-year-old clerk to a cotton spinning firm, who was living with his parents at 1 Park Villas, Eagley Bank in Lancashire. His father, Leonard Horner, aged 62, was a wholesale tea and coffee merchant, who had been born at Aysgarth in Yorkshire and had once been a lead miner. His mother, Ellen Horner (formerly Wiseman - her brother was a cotton manufacturer), who was 58, came from Colne in Lancashire. Sharing the Park Villas home was his sister, Mary Cromley Horner, aged 31, who had also been born at Bolton. His father, Leonard Horner, died in 1913.

According to Imperial War Museum records, Wiseman Horner was a Quaker and during the First World War served in France in the Friends' Ambulance Unit. It appears that he may have been the subject of a Court Martial. On September 1, 1920 he married Elizabeth Hannah Nowell at the Methodist Chapel in Burnley. She was 22 and the daughter of Thomas Nowell, a solicitor. At the time of his marriage, Wiseman Horner was working as a secretary to a chocolate firm. How he came to take up photography and why he chose to move with his wife to Hastings is unclear. He seems to have left Hastings during the Second World War to return to the north of England. According to Brian Lawes, Horner died on 20 Feb 1955 at 126 Smithdown Road, Sefton Park in Liverpool.

An interesting puzzle is provided by Bryan Horner, who in the 1930s had a photographic business at Tunbridge Wells, called the Romney Studio. This had once belonged to the celebrated photographer, Percy Lankester. Was it just coincidence that Bryan operated his studio under the same name as Wiseman Horner gave to some of his cards? Born in about 1898, Bryan was the son of Anthony Horner, a photographer at Settle in Yorkshire, who had been born nearby at Giggleswick. Anthony had several sons who assisted him with his business, and it is conceivable Wiseman Horner knew Bryan and was trained by him. Once again, more research is needed.

Acknowledgement: Grateful thanks are due to Brian Lawes (Hastings) for sharing the results of his researches with this webste.

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