Stephen J. & Constance M. Nunn (Nunns)


Piddinghoe Wharfe

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Husband and wife team of Brighton photographers. Stephen Nunn was born at his parent's home at 75 Alexandra Cottages in Beckenham on April 13, 1878. His father, Thomas Nunn, a compositor (printer), had been born at Colchester in Essex and was in his mid thirties. His mother was Charlotte Nunn, formerly Turner, who was in her mid twenties and hailed originally from Buckinghamshire. Stephen's elder brother, Thomas H. Nunn, was born in 1875.

At the time of the 1901 census, the Nunn family was still living at 75 Alexandra Cottages. Stephen was working as an architect's assistant. When the 1911 census was held, Stephen had become an architect in his own right, and had moved with his father to 75 Edward Road in Penge.

Stephen married Constance Mary Thompson at St Mark's Church in Clerkenwell in London on March 11, 1915. He was living at Amwell Street, Islington, at this time. Constance had been born at 25 Ulysses Road in Fortune Green, west Hampstead on September 22, 1891, and was therefore much younger than Stephen. Her father was William Thompson, a master builder, born in about 1863, and her mother was Mary A. Thompson, born in about 1862 in Camden Town. She had at least two younger sisters and a brother. According to Raymond Guy (Constance's grandson), her father "had a working relationship with Stephen. William introduced Stephen to his daughter, and the rest is history"! The couple chose Barmouth in North Wales for their honeymoon.

Stephen and Constance moved to Brighton, most probably just after the War. From 1922 to 1930 they are listed in Brighton Directories as photographers or photographic artists at 23 Ship Street. Eventually they needed more space for their growing family and business and decided to move. From 1933 to 1938 their address is given as 77 Preston Drove, Brighton.

Raymond Guy has found a postcard of the Gilbert & Sullivan character, Nanki-Poo, which was mailed in 1908. The photograph is credited to Stephen J. Nunn, which indicates that he had already taken up photography, presumably initially as a hobby. Raymond has also acquired a much later portrait postcard of Miss Catherine Ferguson, an actress with the Doyly Carte Opera Co., which was published by Parkslee Pictures and is labelled "Nunn. Brighton" in the corner. It seems probable that with the passage of years Stephen's hobby began to take up more and more of his time, evolving into a regular business that grew eventually to supplant architecture. Constance was also a talented photographer. Raymond's mother, Sylvia M. Guy (formerly Nunn), remembers being told that her mother and father were both members of a photographic club in 1915-20, which had an outing to London Zoo. Constance's inspired photograph of a peacock at the zoo fanning his tail won first prize in a competition.

In 1926 Stephen published a real photographic postcard of the Centenary Procession at Holy Trinity Church in Ship Street, Brighton. The black and white photograph lacks a border. The caption, handwritten in capitals within a rectangular frame at the base of the photograph, ends with the words: "Nunn Photographer, Copyright". A sepia-tinted card of Rottingdean, labelled on the back "Nunn. Photographer, 23 Ship Street, Brighton. Close to G.P.O.", is also likely to date from the mid or late 1920s, as is an undated view of the cast of the Dorothy Kennard Operatic Society taking a bow on stage at the end of a performance of "The Quaker Girl" at Brighton.

During the 1930s, Stephen and Constance issued some high quality and attractive real photographic cards of churches and villages around Brighton. A card of Pyecombe Church found by Peter Booth is particularly atmospheric, perfectly capturing the bleakness of a cold wintry day. Other cards of the same vintage feature the lower Ouse valley, including Piddinghoe (at least 7 cards), Iford (a fine harvest scene), Southease (at least 3 cards), Kingston Church, and Southover Church at Lewes. The photographs, which are borderless, have good tonal contrast. They often show clouds, which suggests that they were taken well into the 1930s after film sensitivity greatly improved. Both black and white and sepia versions of the cards are known. They are labelled on the back: "Nunn's the photographers; 77 Preston Drove, Brighton", which helps confirm a 1930s date. The earliest postmark seen dates from January 1935.

Several of the Piddinghoe cards show the Alert, a picturesque three masted schooner, tied up at Every's Wharf, unloading what is likely to have been pig iron (Peter Bailey, Newhaven in old picture postcards, Vol. 2, 1984, European Library, Zaltbommel, The Netherlands, page 75). The Alert was built at Runcorn in 1885 and converted into a motor yacht in 1938, only to be broken up during the Second World War (Michael Langley, Sussex shipping - sail, steam & motor, 2004, Middleton Press, Midhurst). It has been suggested that the photographs of the Alert may date from around 1932.

From about 1933 until about 1938 Constance's unmarried sister, Kate Thompson, ran a sweetshop with her father at 22 Cliffe High Street in Lewes. It is tempting to imagine that the Nunn Ouse valley cards were sold in the Thompson shop. Hikers used to stay in Lewes, and would have been enthusiastic customers for artistic views of the valley between Lewes and Newhaven. Also the Nunns might have visited the Thompsons at weekends and then gone walking along the Ouse, armed with a camera, catching a train back from Southease (or Newhaven, if they covered enough distance). Sylvia Guy remembers that they had no car and enjoyed walking. Judging from the variety of Piddinghoe cards, it is likely that they were sold not only in Lewes but also in the shop in the village.

Stephen and Constance Nunn retired in 1939. Constance had developed severe arthritis of the hands, which prevented her from continuing her work of re-touching and hand colouring the photographs that Stephen took. He died in Brighton in 1949, followed by Constance in 1957. They are survived by the youngest of their three children, Sylvia Guy, who lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Acknowledgement: It is a pleasure to thank Sylvia Guy and her son, Raymond Guy, for supplying much useful information and three of the accompanying photographs.

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