A. M. Bliss & Co.


Demolition of brewery chimney, Southover, Lewes

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Lewes photographers. This firm, which published a great many postcards, had three proprietors, who all acted strangely but in different ways. Its eponymous founder was in effect a "Mr Fly-by-Night", who speedily handed over the business to another photographer who for some unexplained reason shunned publicity and seemed intent on keeping his name out of the public eye. This "Mr Invisible" was eventually succeeded by a "Mr What's his Name", who equivocated about what surname he should adopt!

The firm's founder, Alfred Marsh Bliss, was born on March 5, 1861 at his parent's home in Bute Street, Cardiff. He was the third of seven children of Henry Bliss, a tea dealer. The family remained in Cardiff for much of the 1860s, before moving to Deptford in Kent and then to Stoke Newington in London.

It is not known why Bliss decided to become a photographer, nor why he moved to Lewes, but by 1889 he had acquired an existing photographic studio at 34 Lansdown Place in Lewes from W. Hall and Son, a firm of Brighton photographers, and had begun trading under the name "A. M. Bliss & Co.". On June 3, 1890, Bliss married a 22-year-old Brighton woman, Ellen Eliza Attree, at Brighton Registry Office, and in the same year they had a son, Alfred Edwin Marsh Bliss. The 1891 census confirms that Alfred and his family were living at 34 Lansdown Place. They must have been rather cramped for space as most of the ground floor frontage was taken up by a shop where customers could be received, and elsewhere on the premises there was a studio (in later years called the "County Studio") where portrait photographs could be taken, and doubtless also a dark room and photographic store. Presumably, the family lived on the second and third floors.

Bliss soon tired of his fledgling business, leaving Lewes with his family to live in the Brighton area, which was where his second son, Montague Sidney Bliss, was born in 1892. Ellen Eliza Bliss (Attree) died of tuberculosis at 24 Port Hall Place in Brighton on January 5, 1905. Montague, who registered her death, had apparently been living with her at this address. Much later, in 1913, he married Emily M. Dowlen (1892-1969) and they had a son, Ernest M. A. Bliss, who was born in the same year. Montague, who died in 1955, outlived his older brother by just over a quarter of a century.

Soon after his sons were born and perhaps when Ellen first began to suffer from tuberculosis, Alfred Marsh Bliss forsook his family and emigrated to Canada. He died in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 22, 1928. In 1901 the census records that the two Bliss boys were living with their uncle, John Henry Attree, and his wife, Caroline, at 4 Hythe Road in the Preston area of Brighton. There is no mention of either of their parents. Their father was doubtless already settled in Canada.

After the departure of Bliss, the Lewes business was taken over by James Worthington, who had been born at Fleetwood in Lancashire in about 1842 and was therefore much older than Bliss. He was already living in Lewes (at 4 Nevill Road) and working as a photographer by 1891, so he may possibly have helped found Bliss & Co. With Bliss and his family gone, Worthington moved into Number 34 with his wife, Mary Worthington, who had been born at Greenwich in about 1844, and his son, Charles Worthington, who was also a photographer and doubtless helped run the studio. Also living in the house was a second Mary Worthington, a sister of James, born in about 1855, who had been blind from childhood.

An 1896 advertisement indicates the varied nature of the Bliss business:

A. M. BLISS & Co.,



Outdoor Groups, &c., taken by Appointment

A Large Selection of Local Views




Worthington worked hard to make a success of the business though he personally shunned the limelight. Directory after Directory lists A. M. Bliss & Co. at 34 Lansdown Place without mentioning that Worthington lived there and was the new proprietor. There can have been few other businessmen in Lewes so determined to remain concealed behind a trade name.

Worthington remained in charge of Bliss & Co. until about 1909. His successor was a more assertive, but equally idiosyncratic individual, who developed a dislike of his own surname and set about changing it. He was born John Lee Dadford at Preston in Lancashire in about 1878, and followed his father (who had the same name) into photography. On February 8, 1899, he married Hilda Hyde (from Hertford) at Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. It is not yet known why he came to Sussex, but, as will shortly be explained, handwriting evidence suggests that he began working for Bliss & Co. by 1905. Five years later, he had taken control of the firm. At this stage he still styled himself John Lee Dadford, but when the 1911 census was held he had reinvented himself as John Leedadford. He registered as a voter under the name Leedadford in 1913 and also in many subsequent years, though periodically he changed his mind and registered as John Lee-Dadford! The 1911 census records that he had two daughters: Lily, born in about 1901 at Southampton and Hilda, born in about 1904 at Worcester. The 1911 census gives the family address as Holleycombe, 9 Shelley Terrace in Lewes.

In 1917 Dadford opened a branch shop of Bliss & Co in the Terminus Buildings at Clinton Place in Seaford, but had to close it within about a year. He was most ill-advised to try to expand his business in the midst of war when most photographers were struggling to make a living, and his choice of Seaford was unfortunate as the town was already quite well supplied with photographers. Kelly's 1918 Sussex Directory records that Dadford reopened the shop as the "Terminus Tea Rooms", but he again failed to attract sufficient customers and was soon forced to sell up.

Dadford closed the main Lewes shop and studio in 1924 or 1925, perhaps because he was having difficulty making the business pay. The shop soon found new use as tea rooms. He and Hilda moved to Brighton where they lived for a year or two at 87 Round Hill Crescent off the Upper Lewes Road, before settling in late 1926 or early 1927 at 14 St. George's Terrace in Kemptown, which Hilda ran as a boarding house ("Hertford House") until after the start of the Second World War. He died on November 30, 1955 at 5 Eaton Place in Brighton, reverting on his death certificate (and very recently composed will) to his original name of John Lee Dadford. His wife had evidently predeceased him and he left the bulk of his estate of £3490 to his daughter, Lilian Briggs (presumably the former Lily Leedadford), of 8 Arundel Terrace in Brighton.

The postcard history of Bliss & Co. reflects the idiosyncrasies of its last two proprietors. Alfred Bliss left Lewes long before the modern picture postcard was invented. It fell to his successor, James Worthington, to start postcard production, and true to character he marketed nearly all the cards anonymously. Not until John Leedadford arrived did Bliss & Co. become more publicity conscious.

Much the best known of the early Bliss cards (see above) records the demolition of the chimney of the former Southover Brewery in Lewes on September 16, 1905. The site was being cleared for housing, and a Mr Forrest from Rochdale was hired to bring the 65-foot high chimney down safely. He replaced the brickwork at its base with timber, which he then set alight in such a way as to control the direction of fall. A large crowd gathered to watch the proceedings. The Bliss photographer managed to capture the moment when the chimney had begun tilting over and was about to crash to the ground. The card was put on sale very quickly, perhaps within hours of the demolition. Although some examples have the words 'BLISS LEWES' written in large, clumsy capitals at the base of the photograph, others are anonymous.

The Southover chimney card appears to have been a "one-off", intended as a souvenir of a special event that was briefly the talk of the town, and perhaps also issued as a demonstration of the firm's photographic skills. No other card from the Worthington era has been found that labels itself as a Bliss product. A great many real photographic cards were produced in a very different style, however, making no mention of their publisher. The black and white photographs have no border or just a single border under the pictures or on the right side of the cards. The captions are hand stamped on the photographs, usually in the sky, in tiny sans-serif capitals in black (Indian) ink. The captions are sometimes slightly smeared, and often they are noticeably incised into the surface of the photographs, no doubt because pressure had to be applied to create a good imprint. The cards have no series name, but it seems appropriate to call them the 'Blacks' because of their distinctive jet-black captions. In addition to numerous cards of Lewes, the series includes cards of Offham, Plumpton, Chailey, Telscombe, Firle, Glynde, Laughton, Ripe and Friston. The first cards were on sale in 1906. A card entitled "Empire Day at Lewes, 1909" proves that the series was still being extended three years later.

Few postcard enthusiasts today are aware who published the Blacks, even though the cards can be easily recognised and are well produced and thus very collectible. That they were published by A. M. Bliss & Co. cannot be doubted. Many of the photographs on the cards appear in two Edwardian guidebooks to Lewes (The Borough Guide of c. 1906 and Lewes - the official publication of the Borough of c. 1909) where they are individually credited to Bliss & Co. And a solitary example of one of the Black cards (doubtless a late reprint) has been found with a label on the back recording that it was "Published by A.M. Bliss & Co, County Studio, Lewes".

More problematic is a second type of anonymous real photographic card of Lewes and district that went on sale in 1904. The black and white photographs, which are of exceptionally good quality, have a wide white border at the base (or more rarely the right hand side) containing an individually handwritten caption followed in some cases by the words "(Addison Lewes)". Because Douglas Miller of Haywards Heath issued cards with similarly wide basal borders and handwritten captions, they are referred to here as the 'Milleresques'. Examples include views of a military camp at Houndean Bottom near Lewes dated 1904; the Ouse valley from Hamsey Church; the Pells, Keere Street and Priory Crescent in Lewes; Firle Park and Newhaven Harbour.

The authorship of the Milleresques needs to be further researched, but there are definite links with Bliss & Co. One of the Milleresques also appeared as a Black card, and another was later re-issued as a card labelled "Bliss". Perhaps Addison, who was a Lewes stationer, first published the cards, and then handed over production to Bliss & Co. Alternatively, it may have been Bliss & Co. who produced the Milleresques, perhaps initially as an exclusive series for Addison, and then later for general sale.

Worthington supplied many other postcard publishers with Bliss & Co. negatives to use to create their own cards. A good example is a panoramic view of Lewes taken from the Coombe between 1889 and 1891, soon after Bliss & Co. were founded. This was published as a coloured postcard by Wrench (before the firm's liquidation in 1906) and as a halftone by the Pictorial Postcard Company of London (in existence 1903-1908), Boot's Cash Chemists and others. Bliss & Co. themselves seem not to have used the photograph to create a card of their own until 1910 or later.

After Leedadford became proprietor, he discontinued production of the Blacks. In 1910 he launched a "J.L.D. Series" of black and white real photographic cards of Barcombe and Lewes with photographs enclosed in facsimile oval frames and decorative corner pieces. Increasingly, however, his thoughts turned to producing sepia-toned real photographics. Among the first to appear were some cards with borderless photographs labelled 'Bliss Series' or 'J.L.D. Series'. The captions, though handwritten, are neat and professional. Each word begins with a capital, but continues in lower case. Lower case letter 't's are obliquely crossed: the right side slopes jauntily upwards, like a raised arm. Some of the cards are numbered (e.g. Malling Street, Lewes. Bliss Series. No. 7) while others are unnumbered (e.g. Victoria Hospital, Lewes. Bliss Series). The various military camps that were set up around Lewes in 1910 feature on many of the cards (e.g. the 25th Middlesex Cyclists Camp at Lewes. 1910. Bliss Series. No. 7).

All these sepia-toned cards, and not just the views of the camps, seem to have been issued in 1910, and no new cards of similar type appear to have been added to the range in later years. Many Sussex, Kent and Surrey cards that were published around 1910 have captions with the same distinctive lettering and the same printed backs. Almost certainly they were all produced by the same firm, which on present evidence seems to have been Bender and Co. of London Road in Croydon. The firm may have made Leedadford a tempting offer to gain his business, but after a year's trial, he may have decided to revert to producing cards "in house".

During 1910, Bliss & Co. sold not only the "quality" Bliss Series and J.L.D. Series cards but also others of inferior design with ragged, untidy captions or in some cases no captions at all. In later years these "inferior" cards replaced the "quality" cards, a strange case of the bad driving out the good. Exceptions exist, but short captions (e.g. 'LEWES') tend to be written entirely in capitals, while longer captions generally use lower case with capitals reserved for the start of words. The punctuation tends to be oddly staccato with an excess of stops and no commas. On some 1910 and perhaps later cards the place names are written in capitals and enclosed in parentheses e.g. (GLYNDE) 805 or 5 (SELMESTON).

The photographs on the "inferior" cards are sometimes given white borders, but many lack borders. The photographs are either black and white or sepia. Some cards are anonymous; others are labelled "BLISS" or initialled "J.L.D." on the front, e.g.

Beating The Bounds At Barcombe 1914 2
Home Counties Field Ambulance at Lewes, July 28, 1912 Bliss.
Bridge. Bungalow. Barcombe. Sussex. J.L.D. No 125
Or state on the back that they were published by A.M. Bliss & Co. at Lewes.

Cards issued towards the end of the First World War are marked:
'Published by A. M. BLISS & Co, Lewes and Seaford
(JOHN LEEDADFORD. Proprietor)'

In addition to real photographics, Leedadford is known to have issued a limited selection of halftone views of Lewes as well as some collotypes, which could easily be mistaken for real photographics. One collotype with a caption written in neat blocky capitals shows the new Victoria Hospital, and was probably published soon after the hospital opened in 1910. A collotype card of the old clergy house in Lewes High Street with an italicised caption was printed in Saxony, possibly at a somewhat earlier date.

A. M. Bliss & Co. produced real photographic postcards of the funerals of prominent local dignitaries such as the burial service for William Langham Christie at Ringmer Church in December 1913. Christie had twice served as a Conservative MP and was the father of John Christie, who later founded Glyndebourne Opera House.

Some of the last real photographic cards that Leedadford produced at Lansdown Place date from the end of the Great War and show the Lewes Peace Celebrations (these have captions printed in large capitals) and the unveiling of Glynde War Memorial.

After moving to Brighton, Leedadford continued to publish cards until at least the late 1920s and possibly well into the 1930s, adding real photographics of Brighton and Rottingdean to the range, but discontinuing many old cards. Improvements were made to the lettering of some of the captions as well as to the general quality of the cards. Often the words "Bliss" or "Bliss Bton" appear after the caption; a few cards are instead labelled on the back 'A.M. Bliss & Co., 14 St George's Terrace, Brighton'. It is not know why Leedadford retained the Bliss name after settling in Brighton - perhaps he had a sentimental attachment to it.

By 1930 Harry Steley opened a tobacconist's shop at 14 Hollingbury Place off Ditchling Road in Brighton. Steley sold about two dozen sepia real photographic cards of Hollingbury Place and neighbouring streets, such as Dudley Road, Barnett Road and Hollingdean Terrace, that have his name written untidily on the front, and equally clumsily lettered captions. A few cards lack captions. One card has been found labelled on the reverse "A.M. Bliss & Co., 14 St George's Terrace, Brighton", which together with the generally awkward lettering of the captions indicates that it was John Leedadford who supplied Steley with the cards. A 1930 postmark has been seen. Steley was still in business in 1938.

The untidy lettering on the Steley cards must surely have been the work of Leedadford himself, or else his wife Hilda, since at this stage he was operating the Bliss business at a greatly reduced scale, most probably working alone. The lettering is very similar to that seen on many earlier Lewes cards, including the 1905 card of the collapsing chimney. The implication, therefore, is that Leedadford or his wife did all the writing on these untidily captioned cards, and that he joined A. M. Bliss & Co. by 1905.

The last Bliss cards of Brighton and Rottingdean, though labelled "Bliss Bton", were evidently printed by Averys. The style of lettering of the captions is the same as on Avery cards, and the neat, narrow borders and strong sepia toning of the pictures is also diagnostic.

Very different in character is a card of the Post Office at Telscombe Cliffs. The caption is neatly written in plain blocky capitals and the sepia toning is less intense. The name "Bliss" appears on the photograph, but the back of the card is labelled "Published by G. Digweed, photographer, Esplanade, Ventnor". No other Sussex cards by Digweed are known.

Bliss & Co. often printed the names and addresses of major stockists of their cards on the card backs. Many cards of Newick, for example, are credited to A. F. Bannister of Newick Post Office, who was doubtless responsible for their sale. Cards of Hankham are likewise often labelled "Published for C. George, Tea Gardens, Hankham, Sussex" where the cards were presumably sold . When manufacturing their cards Bliss & Co. sometimes made mistakes and identified the wrong stockists on the card backs, to the confusion of modern collectors. A card of a house at Hankham, for example, has been found claiming to have been "Published for A. F. Bannister, Post Office, Newick" where sales of specialised Hankham cards would have been non-existent. Similarly, a card of the Long Man of Wilmington has come to light that was purportedly issued by "Parks, Post Office, Fletching", far removed the Downs. The conclusion must be that Bliss & Co. staff were prone to bungling, quite posibly because of sheer overwork.

Bliss & Co. published cards of a wide area of southern Sussex, mostly just north of the Downs. At one time or another during their 25 years or so of selling cards they served over 30 towns and villages: Alfriston (106), Arlington (13), Barcombe and Barcombe Mills (125), Beddingham, Berwick (23), Brighton (13), Chailey (10), Sheffield Park (10), Falmer (102), Fletching (305), Glynde (805), Hampden Park at Eastbourne, Hankham and Pevensey Castle (58), Hellingly, Iford, Isfield (2121), Laughton (8), Lewes (22011), Maresfield (22), Masham Down Post Office, Newick (305), Newtimber (7), Nutley (54), Plumpton, Pyecombe (11), Ringmer (33), Ripe (34), Rottingdean (444), Seaford, Selmeston (917 on card of the School), Steyning, Telscombe Cliffs Post Office, Upper Dicker (10), Whitesmith and Stonebridge (8), Willingdon, Wilmington (116) and Wivelsfield Green (3). The highest number seen on a card of each place (where recorded) is shown in parentheses. It will be obvious from the list that individual places were numbered separately and that the numbers were applied very arbitrarily. There is no possibility, for example, that 22011 cards of Lewes were ever issued, or 305 of Fletching! Because the numbering is so haphazard, it difficult to make even a rough estimate of Bliss & Co.'s total output, but it may have been as many as 1500-2000 cards.

To reach some of the isolated villages that they served, it is likely that the Bliss photographers took a train from Lewes to the nearest station and then continued on a bicycle. A bicycle can be seen in a card of Hankham and also one of Millbrook Hill (Nutley).

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