Albert Edward Willett


Man carrying dead rabbits in Malthouse Road, Crawley

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Printer and stationer, 9 High Street, Crawley (just north of the railway crossing). Albert Willett was born at Cuckfield on November 9, 1862. He was the son of Samuel Willett, a baker, and Sarah Hannah Willett, formerly Griffeths (sic). By 1891 he was working as a printer in Crawley. On August 30, 1892 at St Luke's Church in Bromley in Kent he married Eliza Nightingale, who had been born at Horley in about 1867, and was the daughter of Moses Nightingale, a retired brickmaker and wealthy corn, coal and seed merchant. Eliza bore him two children: a daughter, Grace Beatrice Willett, in 1893 and a son, Albert Edward Willett, in the following year. The Nightingale family was aptly named. They and the Willetts were very musical, and members of both families played in the local "Hazeldene Orchestra", which met at the house Moses built for himself on the Brighton Road in Crawley (see Michael Goldsmith, "Postcard publishers in Crawley and district - an introduction", 1986, Wealden Postcard Club Factsheet 6).

The 1901 and 1911 censuses describe Willett as a self-employed letterpress printer. Goldsmith notes that for many years he printed the Crawley Observer as well as an Almanac and Diary for the Crawley area. He began publishing halftone cards (for example a black and white view of Crawley Fair) by 1904, which he may have printed himself. These cards have white borders around the pictures and captions printed in the lower border on the left with "A.E. Willett, Crawley" on the right. In a few cases two pictures share the front of the cards. The picture definition is often rather poor, and it is pity that (as far as is known) no real photographic versions were issued.

The R. A. Publishing. Co. of East London printed a later series of black and white cards for Willett, which are labelled on the back "Published by A.E. Willett, stationer, 9 High Street, Crawley". The cards have white borders and quite bold captions compared to their predecessors.

By 1905 Willett was selling some exceptionally fine coloured and also black and white collotype cards of Crawley with 6-digit serial numbers. In one picture a man strolls along a street carrying dead rabbits, which at the time were much valued both for their meat and fur. Although Willett probably took the photographs, the quality of the printing suggests that he commissioned the cards from a specialist manufacturer.

In 1908 Willett started selling good quality sepia real photographic cards of Crawley (for example of the High Street), which lacked borders, and had neatly handwritten captions. Although the cards are labelled "A.E. Willett, Crawley" on the front, they were almost certainly manufactured by Bender and Co. of London Road in Croydon or one of its associates. Whether Willett took the photographs is unknown.

Much rarer than the Bender & Co. cards are some black and white real photographic cards that Willett almost certainly prepared himself. The pictures have handwritten captions in slightly backwards-sloping capitals on the bottom left. There is a white border all round each picture and Willett's name and address is rubber stamped within the border on the bottom right. These interesting cards were in circulation by July 1909, if not earlier.

Willett was still trading, though not necessarily publishing cards, in 1924. On reaching retirement age he is believed to have handed over his business to his son. He died in a Crawley nursing home on 19 December 1942, leaving effects of £3899.

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