Albert George Barrett Shoesmith (Shoesmith & Etheridge)


Early Shoesmith card of King's Hill Road, south of Burwash

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Hastings. Albert George Barrett Shoesmith was born on July 22, 1876, at 21 Alexandra Street in St Leonards, and was the son of George Shoesmith, a grocer's assistant, and Matilda Shoesmith, née Day. Both parents had been born in about 1851, George at Bexhill and Matilda at Lechlade in Gloucestershire. They married in 1875 at Battle. The 1891 census records that George had become a church verger, and that he and his family were living at 14 Southwater Road in Hastings. Albert had left school and was working as a china merchant's apprentice. He had two younger sisters, Lillian, aged 10 and Ellen aged 3, both born at St Leonards.

On March 11, 1899, Albert married Rosina Osborne at the Register Office in Hastings. He was still living in St Leonards, but had become a jeweller's assistant. Rosina had been born on February 4, 1881, and was a domestic servant. Her late father, William Henry Osborne, had been a luggage porter.

The 1901 census records that Albert and Rosina were living at 43 Stonefield Road in central Hastings, and that he had become a jeweller's manager. Rosina was a shopkeeper (apparently a grocer, but the census entry is barely legible). When Kelly's 1905 Sussex Directory was compiled, Shoesmith was a "shopkeeper" working on his own account at 17 Stone Street, at the south end of Stonefield Road. What he sold in the shop is not mentioned, but perhaps it included both jewellery and postcards. He was still at the Stone Street address in 1908 when Pike's Hastings Directory reported that he was Manager of the Sussex Post Card Co. Parson's 1914 Directory lists Shoesmith as the proprietor of the Sussex Photographic Co.

By 1909 Albert Shoesmith moved with his family to a two-storey terraced house at 4 Earl Street, about a third of a mile to the west of Stone Street and conveniently close to the railway station. In Pike's 1910 Directory he is described as a "post card publisher" and no mention is made of jewellery, which he had presumably abandoned as his postcard business expanded.

Albert Shoesmith evidently enjoyed the challenge of starting new business ventures. In 1910, as reported by Ron Kemp, he became proprietor of the Pelham Hall Electric Theatre in Pelham Arcade, one of the first cinemas in Hastings. He was joined in this enterprise by George Etheridge, who was twelve years his junior and worked as a jeweller's assistant. Etheridge, who had been born in Croydon, was the son of a railway passenger guard, On January 8, 1912, Etheridge married Serena Kate Jenkins at the Registry Office in Hastings, giving his address as 18 Whitefriars Road. In 1914 Shoesmith sold his stake in the Pelham Hall Theatre to Edward Van Biene and George H. Child, who after rebuilding reopened it as the Pelham Palacette, featuring variety concerts.

The 1911 census records that Albert and Rosina Shoesmith had two daughters, Florence Lillian Shoesmith born in 1901 and Nora Shoesmith, born in about 1909, both at Hastings. Later a son, Leonard Shoesmith, was born on October 1, 1919. On Len's birth certificate his father is described as a "Master Stationer".

Albert Shoesmith and his family remained at 4 Earl Street until at least 1915. However, early 1920s Directories list him 154 Queens Road, which served for many years as his business headquarters as well as his home. Ron Kemp notes that he sold sweets, toys and stationery from his shop on the ground-floor, while he and his family lived on the second floor. His wife and daughters sometimes ran the shop while he took his half and full plate camera with him on journeys to photograph places that he intended to feature on picture postcards. At this time, he used a motorcycle and sidecar to transport his equipment and to get around.

Shoesmith became a prolific postcard publisher. By 1908 he was selling coloured halftone cards of Hastings labelled "A. Shoesmith, Postcard Publisher, Hastings" on the back. Modern collectors tend to ignore the cards because they are rather dark and the colouring is quite crude. Shoesmith's real photographic cards attract much more attention.

Postmarks indicate that Shoesmith was publishing real photographic cards under his own name by 1909. By the start of the First World War his output of real photographics had grown to cover not just Hastings but a wide scattering of places, for example Eastbourne and Burwash. The photographs, usually printed in black and white, have handwritten capitalised captions and in most cases white borders. The lettering tends to slope backwards and is often a little ragged. Some cards are labelled on the reverse "Shoesmith's Real Photo Series". Several of the Hastings real photographic cards featured photographs that had already been reproduced as coloured halftones.

In addition to issuing his "own label" cards, Shoesmith also sold cards published by the Sussex Post Card Co. and the Sussex Photographic Co. Both firms had begun producing cards from an undisclosed Hastings address in 1905. By 1907 cards published by the Post Card Co. named 17 Stone Street as the company's address, which was Shoesmith's shop. Likewise, by 1909 the cards of the Sussex Photographic Co. gave 4 Earl Street as their address. Who set up the two firms is an unsolved problem, but it may have been Shoesmith himself, perhaps as a joint venture with an unrecorded partner. Whatever their origins, both companies were clearly operating under his control after only a few years. By about 1910, real photographic cards of Hastings began appearing in two versions, both claiming the Earl Street address: one labelled Shoesmith and the other the Sussex Photographic Co.

Around 1912 Shoesmith issued some real photographic cards of Hastings that were labelled on the reverse "Sussex Seaside Series", though they were mere clones of Sussex Post Card Co. real photograhic cards. Even the serial numbers were retained.

By 1915 real photographic cards of places such as Burwash, Beckley and Hastings went on sale that were labelled on the reverse "Palacette Studio, Hastings". Some of the photographs had previously appeared on cards that Shoesmith issued, and it is possible that he was the publisher of the Palacette Studio cards. However, some Palacette cards have captions written by George Chapman in his characteristic, backwards-sloping script, which may indicate that he supplied the photographs in question. Thomas Alfred Duly of Herstmonceux sold collotype cards that were labelled Palacette Studio, so perhaps he also contributed photographs. Yet other cards issued by the Palacette Studio have captions written by an unknown hand, which may mean that an unknown publisher issued the Palacette Studio cards, "buying in" the pictures from a variety of photographers.

During the Great War sales of postcards in Britain became seriously depressed. Possibly to reduce his capital exposure Shoesmith decided to enter into a partnership with George Etheridge in March 1915 to sell cards jointly under the name Shoesmith and Etheridge. After this, Shoesmith seems to have ceased publishing cards on his own. From 1917 until after the war ended he served in the Royal Flying Corps as a photographer, being based in Hythe in Kent.

Where Etheridge lived in the early years of his partnership with Albert Shoesmith is difficult to discover from Directories, but in 1913 he was living at 25 Milward Road, moving on during the 1920s. The 1939 Electoral Register states that his home was at 57 St Helen's Road. However, Pike's Directories for 1938-1940 list a John Wynne at this address! In 1956 Etheridge was living at 22 Fairlight Avenue in Ore. According to Ron Kemp, Etheridge at one time owned a sideshow in Eastbourne, possibly on the pier or sea front.

By 1916, Shoesmith and Etheridge were located at 154 (later also at 153) Queens Road, Hastings, which was of course Shoesmith's existing address and also the address of the Sussex Photographic Co. It is quite common to find cards of Hastings labelled "Shoesmith & Etheridge, Publishers (or "Photo Printers"), Hastings", "S. and E. Super Series" or "Published by the Sussex Photographic Co., 154 Queen's Road, Hastings" that share the same pictures and design of backs. No obvious explanation comes to mind as to why it was thought necessary to market different versions of each card.

While some of the photographs on the early interwar cards are black and white, others are sepia toned. Many cards have white borders. The captions printed in plain capitals are centrally positioned in the border under the photographs, usually with a serial number to the left. Other cards have no borders, and captions usually at the bottom left of the photographs. The cards closely resemble some of the pre-war cards issued by Shoesmith and the Sussex Photographic Co., and may have been printed by the Rotary Photographic Co. of London. One interesting card of the Lifeboat House and Fishing Quarter in Hastings has been found that is labelled Rotary Photo on the front, but has a "Shoesmith & Etheridge, Photo Printers" label on the back. It was postally used in September 1917.

One important innovation made by Shoesmith & Etheridge was the introduction in 1919 of air view cards of St Leonards and Hastings, Winchelsea and Rye. These cards complemented a series of aerial of views of Worthing, Brighton and Eastbourne that Wardell issued during the same year, and clear evidence has been found that it was Wardell who supplied Shoesmith and Etheridge with their St Leonards and Hastings views.

In addition to real photographics, sepia-tinted halftone cards marked "Shoesmith & Etheridge. Publishers. Hastings." were on sale by 1920.

According to Ron Kemp, Florence Shoesmith, Albert and Rosina's elder daughter, who was known in the family as "Colonel", worked in the Queens Road shop and in some respects was the "brains" of the business. She later became a nurse, and then married an Irish doctor and moved to Athlone. On their retirement Florence and her husband went to the Canary Isles, but moved back to the UK. Both are now dead. Nora Shoesmith, Albert and Rosina's second daughter, was a dress designer and during the Great War drove ambulances and cars for officers. Len Shoesmith served in the RAF as an electronics engineer during the Second World War.

As Ron Kemp has noted (Levy News, Issue 5, January 2003), Albert Shoesmith stepped down from the day-to-day running of Shoesmith & Etheridge in 1927, although he remained a director. He then moved with his family to 133 Stonefield Road, renaming the house "Rosina" after his wife. The 1937 Electoral Register records that Florence Shoesmith was living at this address with her parents. Albert and Rosina moved again in 1940 to 65 Downs Road. With his partner playing a decreasing role, George Etheridge felt free to begin reshaping their joint business while retaining its original name. Thanks to his efforts, sales of the cards seem to have greatly increased during the 1930s. Directories of the period list the firm as wholesale stationers, which may account for the improved card sales.

The Second World War brought difficult trading conditions, but unlike many other postcard publishers Etheridge managed to keep production going. With the return of peace, Etheridge, helped by his son-in-law, David Albert, further modernised the cards. In 1956 the firm was still located at 153 and 154 Queens Road. At about this date six "Norman Series" cards of Winchelsea with facsimile pencil sketches in place of photographs were put on sale for 1/6 a set, but they seem not to have been very popular. The early 1960s saw the introduction of a colour range of photographic cards. Unfortunately, all the modernising efforts proved in vain because the market for postcards continued to contract, and in about 1966 the painful decision was made to end postcard production. The firm of D. V. Bennett of Maidstone purchased the negatives and the remaining stock of postcards (Levy News, January 2003). For some years they continued to issue cards with the Norman logo but under the Bennett name.

Although no longer publishing cards, Shoesmith and Etheridge are still in business, based in Uckfield, producing stationery, wrapping paper and other items. In 1992 the firm was acquired by Johnston Press plc, an Edinburgh firm, which publishes over 200 local newspapers.

In their heyday as postcard publishers, Shoesmith and Etheridge served a large area of coastal Kent, Sussex, Hampshire (though not the Isle of Wight) and Dorset, to varying distances inland (for example, to Maidstone, Canterbury and Lewes). All in all, they may have issued over 2000 cards of Sussex. Few of the photographs are really inspiring, and too many are of rather mundane subjects, such as the unlovely bungalow sprawls at Camber and Peacehaven. Nevertheless, the cards provide many useful glimpses of the past.

During the 1930s Etheridge sought to modernise the cards, and in some cases he cut corners. For example, an early Shoesmith view of the Wish Tower at Eastbourne shows a wall of bathing machines along the shore, as well as many holidaymakers. Etheridge's 1930s version of the card was printed using the same picture but only after it had been flagrantly doctored. All the bathing machines were removed and no people were left at the water's edge.

Another Shoesmith and Etheridge fake (spotted by Geoffrey Godden, Collecting picture postcards, 1996, Phillimore, Chichester) purports to show the "Pier Music Pavilion by night, Worthing". The pavilion roof is garlanded with little lights, the windows are illuminated and the sea is bathed in moonlight, but the card is in fact a heavily doctored daytime view. The daytime shadows have mostly been skilfully removed, but the forger has left a few in, presumably by mistake! Nowadays the fake would be easy to create in Photoshop, but back in the 1930s it must have taken hours of toil.

Shoesmith and Etheridge collaborated with Wardell in producing fake nightime views of Brighton, based on daytime prototypes. Although moonlight and electric lighting supposedly provide the only illumination, the cards are quite strongly coloured and nobody seems aware that darkness is supposed to have fallen! Some of the cards are marked "Copyright Wardell's" on the front, others "S & E Hastings" on the back, but the same faker evidently produced both sets of cards. The captions are neatly handwritten in capitals in a very similar size on all the cards.

During the 1930s, map cards were issued for some of the main South Coast resorts (Hastings, Worthing, etc.) depicting places within a 20 miles radius. Etheridge also experimented with "Pencil Sketch Postcards", for example of Bosham, some of which were coloured.

By May 1934 Shoesmith & Etheridge real photographic cards acquired a distinctive trademark comprising the helmeted head of a Norman knight, with the word "Norman" added in a scroll underneath. As many as nine variants are known. Several have the words "This is a real photo" dividing the back, while one has "This is a real photograph" as the divider. Others have no divider or simply a vertical line. Postmarks indicate that all nine varieties were first issued in 1934.

By May 1937, the words "S. & E. Hastings" were added below the helmeted head and scroll, and on some cards the words "Real Photograph" took the place of a dividing line. By August 1939 the words "Real Photo British Production" were used as a divider in place of "This is a real photo". July 1939 saw the words "Printed in England" used as a divider.

During 1939 the helmeted badge was discontinued on some cards in favour of a circular badge with "Norman" forming the top half of the circle and "S & E Hastings" the lower half. The words "De Luxe" occupy the centre. Several of these cards have italicised captions.

In the late 1930s a number of other designs were briefly introduced and then quickly dropped.

As the Second World War loomed, Wiseman Horner decided to abandon postcard production. Etheridge acquired the negatives and started reissuing at least some of the cards under the Shoesmith & Etheridge label. Possibly, he also took over production of some sepia-toned, white-bordered cards of Storrington and other places in Sussex that Nigh of Ventnor in the Isle of Wight had been publishing.

During the War Shoesmith & Etheridge cards underwent another redesign. The Norman badge and scroll reappeared; this time flanked by the words "POST" and "CARD" written in tapered hollowed-out lettering. Some cards carried the slogan: "'We shall continue steadfast in faith and duty until our task is done' - The Prime Minister" or were labelled "Produced under Licence issued by the Ministry of Supply". Early postwar versions lacked these reminders of the war effort. Some with "POST CARD" written in normal lettering had a Shakespeare quotation reflecting the mood of the moment:
             "This happy breed of men, this little world,
             This precious stone set in a silver sea".

To reduce costs many cards were issued as photogravures, but the print quality was low. 1947 saw the introduction of a redesigned logo with a simplified, modernised Norman knight and scroll. Numerous variants with this new logo are known - Ron Kemp has identified 58 and is still counting!

The final design of back, which was introduced in July 1953 used a redrawn Norman head enclosed in a circle. Five variants have been reported by Ron Kemp. In the mid 1950s cards began appearing with backs printed in blue instead of familiar black.

By 1962 Etheridge and his son-in-law tried re-issuing some of the black and white cards as coloured halftones. The colours were quite crudely applied, garish and unconvincing. Later, the firm switched to using genuine colour photographs, which were much more attractive. Some were printed by the German firm of Kreuger, but later production was switched to firms in Canada and the USA.

Albert Shoesmith, who had been living at 65 Downs Road in Hastings, died at St Leonards on November 16, 1957, aged 81. He left effects of £4014. Serena Etheridge passed away in June 1975, but her husband George lived on in retirement at Sussex House, 110 Marina Street, St Leonards until April 12, 1980, when he suffered a fatal cerebral thrombosis.

Acknowledgement: special thanks are due to Ron Kemp for sharing the results of his researches on Shoesmith and Etheridge. His unstinting help with the preparation and updating of these notes is gratefully acknowledged. Ron, who is based near Maidstone, has compiled a spreadsheet which lists about 5,000 Shoesmith & Etheridge cards, and estimates that over 20,000 were actually published. His list is downloadable at

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