Frederick Douglas Miller


The heath at Haywards Heath. A very early Miller card with the caption written on each individual card in red ink

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Photographer, Boltro Road, Haywards Heath, later at Worthing. F. Douglas Miller, as he usually signed himself, was an unusually gifted photographer, who set up a studio in Haywards Heath by 1899. In addition to making studio portraits, he published an extensive range of postcard views of Sussex, producing many memorable images not just of towns and villages but also the countryside, which many contemporary photographers ignored. His cards are now eagerly collected and command relatively high prices.

Miller was born on December 6, 1874, in the small village of Brede, north of Hastings. His parents moved to Hove, then Burgess Hill before finally settling in Haywards Heath in 1880. Nothing is known about which schools Miller attended, but by 1891 at the age of 16 he was already working as a "photographer's apprentice". Before the century ended, he had established "the Mid-Sussex Photographic Studio" at 16 Boltro Road in Haywards Heath, near the railway station. Advertising in the 1899 Kelly's Directory he offered to execute "photos in any size and newest styling" and to undertake "copying and enlarging". He also stated that he was available to photograph "garden parties" and perform "outdoor work generally". As will be discussed later, he started postcard publishing soon after the new century began, and quickly built up a thriving business.

Miller's parents, Matilda Goldsmith and Frederick Miller (or Fred Miller, as he was usually called), married at Eastbourne almost exactly nine months before (on March 4, 1874) he was born, so perhaps he was conceived on their wedding night! Matilda Goldsmith had been born at Newenden in Kent in May 1848, and Fred Miller at Hailsham in February 1850. Their marriage certificate records that Matilda's father was William Goldsmith, a farm labourer, and that Fred Miller was a professional photographer, as was his father, Edward Miller.

Edward Miller was born at Malling in Kent in about 1816. In 1843, while living at Maidstone, he married Susannah Doubell, who had been born at Hawkhurst in Kent in about 1819. The couple had a daughter, Julia Miller, in about 1845, before moving to Hailsham in Sussex by about 1847, where first Edward Ongley Miller, and then Clara Miller, Frederick Miller (1850), Louisa Elizabeth Miller and Flora Matilda Miller were born. The 1851 census records that Edward was working as a "chemist and druggist".

Edward Miller and his family moved to Lewes by about 1859, where their seventh and last child, Thomas Henry Miller, was born. They settled first in Southover High Street, but by the time the 1861 census was taken had moved to Lansdown Terrace. Edward, who was then 45, was working as a "photographer". By 1862 he and his family had removed to 25 North Street, but in 1866 they were living at 26 Friars Walk. Kelly's 1867 Directory describes him as a "landscape photographer", which is noteworthy as most photographers of the period specialised in portrait work. The Millers were still at Friars Walk when the 1871 census was taken, which described Edward as a "photographer - master". Clara was also a "photographer", presumably helping her father with his work.

After Susannah Miller died in 1877, Edward lodged with Joseph Tunks and his family in North Street. Joseph, a coal merchant's clerk, took up photography, and in 1893 became President of the Lewes Photographic Society. Edward died in 1891.

Edward Ongley Miller lived in Brighton and worked as a letter carrier (see the 1871 and 1881 censuses) and postal messenger (1891 census) before joining with his sister Julia and becoming a lodging house keeper in Sudeley Street (1901 census), near the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

In 1876, Clara Miller married Arthur Martin Lower, who was a brush and basket dealer. The couple lived in Church Street, Hove, and Flora Matilda Miller lodged with them for some years. They had a daughter, Clara A. Lower.

Louisa Elizabeth Miller became a lady's help at Bexley (1881 census), before moving to Berkhamstead (1891 census).

Fred Miller began his working life "in service". The 1871 census records that he was employed as a footman by a Mr and Mrs Brodie, who lived in Compton Street, Eastbourne. The Brodies' cook, Esther Goldsmith (born about 1839), was presumably a relative of Matilda Goldsmith, who was a parlour maid in a house "in the next street" (information from Andrea King). She may have met Fred while visiting Esther.

It is unclear why Fred and Matilda went to Brede after their marriage, but they did not stay long. When their second child, Florence Miller, was born, in July 1878, they were living at 25 Blatchington Road, Hove, and they remained there until at least 1880. They then settled briefly in Burgess Hill. By April 1881 they had moved to Vaudois Villa in South Road, Haywards Heath. Their daughter, Elsie Louise Miller, was born in this house in June, followed by their second son, William Ongley Miller, in October 1883. By 1887 they were living at Gordon Villa in the same road, and it was here that their third son, Malcolm Doubell Miller was born in February 1891. Shortly afterwards the couple moved yet again, to Laurel Villa in Sydney Road, where they remained for the rest of their married life. They did not have any more children.

The 1901 census provides an interesting "snapshot" of the family. Fred Miller is described as a "landscape painter" working on his own account from home. The other occupants of Laurel Villa were Matilda, Douglas (already working as a photographer), Elsie (described as a dressmaker), William, Malcolm and Flora Matilda Miller, Fred's sister. Flora, was 45 and a "photographic artist", presumably helping her nephew Douglas with his business.

Although Fred Miller described himself as a photographer on his marriage certificate, for most of his life he worked as an artist and art teacher. He specialised in marine painting, but also painted views of inland Sussex, particularly of the Cuckfield and Haywards Heath areas. He worked in both oils and watercolours. A few of his works are distinctly amateurish, which could suggest that he was self-taught, but others are very successful. He had a good eye for composition, but his figure work was less assured.

Fred Miller was active from the late 1870s to 1902 or later, exhibiting at the Royal Academy, Royal Society of British Artists and elsewhere. Brighton and Hove Museums have four of his watercolours as well as two ink drawings. Two excellent paintings by Miller hang in Cuckfield Museum, and many others are in private collections. Douglas Miller reproduced several of his father's paintings as picture postcards.

Fred Miller's artistic skill and enthusiasm was inherited by all his sons. His interest in photography was presumably an important influence in Douglas Miller's decision to become a professional photographer. William Ongley Miller became a landscape and figure painter, as well as an architect. He studied first at Brighton School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art, where he was awarded a diploma in 1911. He was design master at Sheffield School of Art (1911-20) and then took a post at the Manchester School of Art (1920-1930 or later) before moving to Kent to become Headmaster of Gravesend School of Art. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, Manchester City Art Gallery and the Walker Art Gallery. Malcolm Doubell Miller worked in Brighton as a pottery and porcelain restorer.

Fred Miller was an active Congregationalist and campaigned with others to get a Congregational Church built in South Street in Haywards Heath, which opened on July 21, 1915, despite many difficulties caused by the war. He was also a keen supporter of the London Missionary Society and was their local secretary for many years. He died of heart failure on June 26, 1917 in the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton after a bowel operation. His wife continued to live at Laurel Villa until 1927 or later. It is not known when and where she died.

By 1903 Douglas Miller moved his studio to the opposite side of Boltro Road, to Number 9, presumably because it offered him more space or better illumination. In February 1905, while still living with his parents at Laurel Villa, he married Kate Elizabeth Peerless, who was 29 years old and lived at 8 Gloucester Place, Brighton. She was the daughter of David John Peerless, a recently deceased Brighton timber merchant. The marriage took place at the Late Countess of Huntingdon's Church in North Street, Brighton.

Although running his photographic business must have kept Douglas Miller busy, he found time to give occasional illustrated talks. Thus, early in 1908 at a Congregational Church Social he lectured on "The Capabilities of the Camera" illustrating it with lantern slide studies of children, wild and domesticated animals, calm and rough seas, high diving, high jumping and steeple chasing. It is not recorded how many of these photographs he took himself.

Douglas and Kate Miller did not have any children. Kate's unmarried sister, Lilian Peerless, who was a year younger than Kate, shared the house. Both sisters helped Douglas with his photographic work, and busied themselves with social activities in Haywards Heath, particularly to further the good causes that they espoused. They were keen supporters of the Women's Total Abstinence Union, and often sang songs, including duets, at Union "Socials". They also sang at Congregational Church social functions.

Kate Miller was a leading member of the Haywards Heath committee of women suffragists. During the national marching campaign of July 1913 she walked with about 100 members of the Brighton and Hove Women's Franchise Society and well-wishers from Brighton over the Downs to Burgess Hill. At Clayton her husband was on hand to photograph the march.

After a rally at Burgess Hill where the Brightonians were joined by contingents from Haywards Heath and Eastbourne, the marchers pressed on to Cuckfield where they spent the night. The next morning (July 22) they set off in the rain for Crawley, with Douglas Miller photographing their departure under massed umbrellas. In Cuckfield in old picture postcards (1984, European Library, Zaltbommel, Netherlands, page 63) M. Wright reproduces one of his pictures. Over the next few days the suffragists pressed on to London to meet up with other groups from all over the country. A huge rally was held in Hyde Park on Saturday the 26th of July, followed by a service the next day in St Paul's Cathedral.

Frances Stenlake provides a fuller account of the London march and the work of Edith Bevan and other women's rights campaigners in her invaluable book Mid Sussex Suffragists (2009, privately published). Both Douglas and Kate Miller were active local supporters of the suffragist cause.

Douglas Miller ran the Boltro Road studio until February 1916, when he sold out to Ebenezer (William) Pannell, who already (by 1913) had a photographer's business in Perrymount Road in Haywards Heath. By 1930 Ebenezer had been succeeded by his daughter, Eva Pannell.

It is not known for certain why Douglas Miller decided to sell his studio in Haywards Heath. He may have had health problems or perhaps his wife inherited money, allowing him to lead a more leisurely life. One suspects, however, that he sold up because of business worries. The Great War had a most damaging effect on the photographic trade throughout the country. Orders for photographs slumped, and by 1916 the national mood was one of deep pessimism as the news from the battlefront became ever bleaker and the death toll rose steadily. The reduced trade almost certainly meant that Haywards Heath was oversupplied with studio photographers, as, besides Miller, there was Harry Tullett, Ebenezer Pannell and Bertram Tugwell (and perhaps others), all competing for business. Miller probably "saw the writing on the wall" and decided that it would be prudent to sell the studio, taking his postcard business elsewhere. What Pannell offered him may never be known, but Miller may have had to sell for quite a modest price.

Having given up the studio, Douglas Miller and his wife moved to Worthing, where they remained for the rest of their lives. Their first house, called Wilmington, was at 4 Westbourne Terrace off Christchurch Road in central Worthing. In about 1922 they moved to 16 Christchurch Road, which they shared with Lilian Peerless. The trio continued to live there until 1947 or 1948, when they moved to 10 Beaumont Road in Broadwater, north Worthing, where they stayed for over ten years.

While living at Worthing, Douglas Miller does not seem to have carried out any trade or profession other than postcard publishing, which he appears to have abandoned after only a few years. There is no evidence that he set up a new studio or worked for any of the established photographers in the town. Directories always list him as a 'private resident', which suggests that he was at least semi-retired, living off investments. He seems not to have played any major role in town affairs. It is odd that a man who was so busy during his Haywards Heath years should have led such a quiet and seemingly uneventful life during his time at Worthing.

Kate Miller, who had been suffering from bronchitis, died of a heart attack in a Hove nursing home on March 19, 1959, aged 83. A niece registered the death, perhaps because Douglas Miller was too frail to take charge. The Beaumont Street home was disposed of, and Miller was admitted to Southlands Hospital in Shoreham-by-Sea, where he died of "myocardial degeneration" on June 7, 1961. Neither the Worthing Gazette nor the Worthing Herald published an obituary. It was a strangely muted end for a man who had done so much to record the Sussex scene in the "Golden Age of Postcards".

The first picture postcards of Sussex that Douglas Miller produced have undivided backs, which may indicate that they date from before January 1902, when Post Office regulations were relaxed to allow correspondence to share the reverse side of cards with the address. The earliest known postmarks, however, date from the summer of 1903. By the end of 1904 postmarks establish that Miller was selling cards over a wide area of Sussex, for example at Ardingly, Billingshurst, Clayton, Lewes and Rottingdean. Judging from a big increase in the number of postmarks, he greatly stepped up his output of cards during 1905, and enlarged his sales area very considerably.

Miller chose a highly distinctive format for his cards. Until 1917 almost all the cards had a wide, some would say overgenerous, white border below the picture, and no border on the other three sides of the card. Some cards were left untitled, but most had titles that were individually handwritten in ink in copperplate script on the left (less commonly the right) side of the border. At first Miller used scarlet ink, but he soon switched to writing the titles in Indian ink. The earliest cards were anonymous, but by April 1904 he began embossing his cards in the lower right corner: "F. DOUGLAS MILLER, HAYWARDS HEATH". Few of the other leading postcard publishers in Sussex took the trouble to emboss their cards. Miller or an assistant would have had to emboss each card separately, then write the title, leaving enough time for the ink to dry. He persisted with this expensive and time-consuming procedure for many years. His competitors were doubtless able to produce their cards more cheaply.

In the summer of 1916 Miller started to emboss his cards 'F. DOUGLAS MILLER, THE SUSSEX SERIES', leaving out all reference to Haywards Heath. This change in labelling coincided with his selling his studio and moving to Worthing. The new series continued with the broad border and handwritten captions for about a year, and then the cards were redesigned with a narrower border and the captions repositioned within the picture space. The elegant copper-plate script was abandoned, and instead the captions were written directly on the negatives in small, blocky capitals. The captions often looked untidy and ragged, spoiling the appearance of the cards. Often the captions included a serial number, e.g. 'KINGSTON 10'. Some Sussex Series views were new, but most were simply reissues of earlier cards.

From 1921 onwards the cards appeared in unembossed form, without any indication of the publisher. Perhaps Miller decided that it was no longer worth the extra effort to put his name on the cards. Perhaps he was no longer publishing them, having sold the negatives on to someone else. Many of the unembossed cards of Mid Sussex are stamped on the back in red ink:
Combridge is known to have acquired Homewood's postcard publishing business in 1919, and it would have been a logical step for him to take over the work of distributing Miller's cards as well. No Amberley or other Arun valley cards marked Combridge have been found, which suggests that someone other than Combridge supplied this area, possibly Miller himself.

Postmark evidence suggests that sales of the unembossed cards petered out by about 1925. However, starting in about 1927, some of Miller's cards of the Lewes area, Danehill, Storrington, Amberley and other places were reissued in sepia with three-digit serial numbers and neat printed titles, whose wording often differed from that on the earlier cards. It seems unlikely that Miller issued these revamped cards, although of course he was still alive. Examples exist that are stamped by Combridge, who could have been the publisher. It is more probable, however, that the publisher was Charles Edward Bex of Worthing. Bex published many cards of his own in the 1920s and 1930s, some of very similar design to the Miller re-issues. In addition, two different multi-view cards of Ditchling have been found that combine known Miller and Bex photographs.

Miller's postcards cover a large area of Sussex from the Arun valley in the west to the Cuckmere valley in the east, and from Rottingdean on the coast northwards to Danehill, Horsted Keynes, Crawley and Billingshurst. Miller also produced a range of cards of Ecclesbourne Glen and Fairlight Glen, on the coast near Hastings, which were sold at a kiosk on the coast path at Fairlight Glen, and very probably also at the café at the top of the Glen. Perhaps the kiosk owner was a friend or relative. In addition, Miller issued a few cards of Hastings itself; whether these were sold at the kiosk or elsewhere has not been established.

Miller published only limited numbers of cards of Brighton and other big towns, concentrating instead on recording smaller towns and villages, as well as the countryside. Many of his street scenes are remarkably devoid of people, and look as if they may have been taken early in the morning, perhaps on Sundays. Possibly he used long exposures and feared that moving people would blur the negatives.

Miller was evidently fond of trees and took many pictures of tree-lined roads and forest paths. Water also held a special fascination for him, as shown by numerous cards of lakes and rivers, and even small ponds. He also seems to have liked open country, especially heathland and downland. Windmills and watermills were other enthusiasms. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he published a variety of winter views, including snow scenes. He was visibly more in tune with nature than many of his rivals.

A high proportion of the towns and villages that Miller depicted on his cards had their own railway stations, which suggests that his usual practice was to travel by train wherever possible. His Haywards Heath home was close to the station so the train would have been a convenient form of transport for him. Miller often took his bicycle with him on the train so that he could travel onwards having arrived at a suitable station. The bicycle in question can be seen in a number of the postcard views, propped up against a fence, wall or tree. Other locations that Miller visited, such as Mount Caburn and Mount Harry near Lewes, would not have been accessible on a bicycle and could only have been reached on foot. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Miller took evident delight in exploring the more remote parts of the Sussex countryside, which makes his decision to move to central Worthing all the more surprising.

Miller's photographs are often exasperatingly difficult to date, especially the countryside views. The town photographs provide rather more clues, but await detailed research. It is already clear, however, that the photographs span a period of at least 30 years, in contrast to the postcards, which were issued over a period of only about 20 years

For example, several of Miller's cards of Lewes show Juggs Lane leading to Kingston, flanked by the two windmills, known as Old Duck and Southern (Payne's) Mill. Old Duck fell, or was pushed over, in 1891, and Southern Mill was demolished in 1912-13 (see Martin Brunnarius, The windmills of Sussex, 1979, Phillimore, Chichester). Detailed comparison of the townscape suggests that Miller's photographs are likely to be at least two years older than two pictures taken by Edward Reeves, the Lewes photographer (and father of Benjamin Reeves) that also show Old Duck. In other words, it appears that the Miller photographs cannot have been taken later than about 1888 or 1889. Miller was only about 14 years old at the time, and, though he may have been the photographer, it is more likely that his father or grandfather was responsible.

One of Miller's most pleasing cards of Haywards Heath is entitled "The old farm, Sydney Rd.". It shows the former Southlands Farm with a duck pond in the foreground. Lilian Rogers, who reproduces the photograph in her book, Haywards Heath, past and present (2002, S.B. Publications, Seaford) comments that by 1890 the farm "had been broken up, and its pond filled in". If Miller took the photograph himself, he would (as with the Lewes cards) have been a teenager, and still learning his trade. Once again, there is a real possibility that his father took the picture.

Although some of Miller's views of streets in towns and villages show pedestrians, cyclists and horse-drawn carts, very few show motorcars. Many of the postcard pioneers went to some trouble to make their views look modern by photographing cars. Either the Miller photographs were taken a few years earlier than those of many of his contemporaries or he had a rooted dislike of cars. It is perhaps significant that he was not averse to recording road accidents. Like several other Sussex photographers he was on hand to photograph the wreckage of the Vanguard coach at Handcross in July 1906. He also issued two postcard views of a motorcar accident at Slough Green near Cuckfield in January 1908.

In 1904 or 1905 Miller published a postcard view looking up Church Lane in Lewes, with Malling Mill in the distance. After the Mill burnt down on September 8, 1908, he re-photographed Church Lane, and issued a replacement card, but without the Mill the view lost much of its charm, and the card sold fewer copies than its predecessor.

On July 3, 1909, the Hon. C. S. Rolls (of Rolls Royce fame) made a balloon ascent from the Hospital Field at Haywards Heath in connection with a meeting of the Sussex County Automobile Club. The Club members then pursued the balloon by car as it was carried by the breeze 25 miles across country to Paddock Wood, where Rolls made a bumpy landing in a farmer's field. The first three competitors to reach Rolls in their cars were awarded prizes. Miller photographed the start of the ascent, the first ever at Haywards Heath, and also many of the cars of Club members parked in Queens Road, issuing a total of at least seven different postcards commemorating the Club meeting.

Miller published several cards of Jack and Jill Windmills on Clayton Hill. One card, first issued in 1904, shows Jack with a full set of sweeps. However, at least three other cards are known that show the mill devoid of sweeps. The Mill still had its sweeps when E.A. Martin went to live in it in summer 1908; two fell off in winter 1909, and the remaining sweeps were removed in 1910-11 when Martin left and the Anson family took up residence (see Life in a Sussex windmill by E. A. Martin, 1921, Allen & Donaldson, London; also Martin Brunnarius, 1979). The Miller photographs of the mill without any sweeps cannot therefore be earlier than 1910.

One of Miller's cards records a memorial procession in Henfield marking the death of King Edward VII in May 1910. His coverage of the suffragists march to London in 1913 has already been mentioned. One of his many cards of Billinghurst shows a car that was probably made in 1915. Miller produced at least 90 cards of the Storrington area, some of which may date from the early 1900s, but others were issued after his move to Worthing. A card of Peterson's shop, for example, shows a newspaper billboard that refers to the Verdun campaign of 1916.

Miller seems to have done very little photography after the First World War. He did, however, publish a card of the War Memorial at Bolney, which is likely to have been erected in 1920 or 1921. He also photographed the Lych Gate at Cowfold, which is said to have been erected as a war memorial. It appears, therefore, that he was still adding to his range of cards even at the start of the 1920s.

A perplexing number of Miller's cards exist as "doubles" or "deadringers", which at first glance appear to share the same photograph but on close inspection are found to differ in some trivial detail. A man, for example, may or may not be standing on a distant street corner, or a cart may be present or absent. No satisfactory explanation of these look-alike cards has been found. In some cases the photographs were evidently taken only a few minutes apart, and the second picture may have been originally intended as a security copy. The majority of the deadringers, however, must have been taken on separate photographic expeditions because they record, for example, different seasons of the year or different crops. Some at least were sold at the same time as the cards that they mimic, so evidently they were not replacements. Was Miller playing a little joke on his customers, testing them to see if they could "spot the difference"? Or did he enjoy re-visiting old haunts and re-photographing favourite views whenever he had the opportunity? We shall perhaps never know.

Miller issued well over 1500 different cards, possibly as many as 2000 or 2500. A few cards achieved very healthy sales, judging from the number of surviving examples, but most sold in quite small numbers, and as a result are now all too scarce. Indeed, some cards have become so elusive that they turn up for sale less than once in a decade.

No other Sussex postcard publisher seems to have had such a peculiarly skewed sales distribution as Miller, and no satisfactory explanation has been found. His few cards that were big sellers were not exceptionally attractive, and did not show places where visitors thronged. Some of the rarer cards are much more aesthetically pleasing to modern eyes. Perhaps significantly, all the cards of some places are rare, for example the cards of Falmer, Ringmer, Berwick, Alfriston and Uckfield. Possibly, Miller expanded his sales area to serve these places, then had second thoughts and withdrew before many cards had been sold. There are other places, however, where only some cards are rare. For example, several of Miller's Ditchling cards are common (for instance his "General View" of the village and his view of Ditchling Beacon), but many are decidedly rare. Perhaps some of the rarities were sold as one-off "special editions" or were sold only at the Haywards Heath Studio, not in village shops. It is all rather puzzling, and is further evidence of Miller's idiosyncrasies as a photographer and publisher.

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