Henry James William Bray


Peace Day celebrations at Hadlow Down Grange in July 1919

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Photographer, High Street, Heathfield, and later at Seaford. Bray was born at his parent's home in Dover Street, Folkestone on February 15, 1864. His father was Henry James Bray, a customs clerk, and his mother Elizabeth Mary Bray, formerly Iverson. When the 1871 census was taken, he and his younger sister, Charlotte Bray, were staying with their grandfather, James Iverson, a "master grocer" at his house in Dover Street.

The 1881 census records that the teenage Henry Bray was living with John and Honor Mynall at their home in Oxendon Street in Dover, while helping John with his grocery business. He then moved to the West Ham area of east London, where in 1886 he married Sarah Elizabeth Paine, who had been born at Holborn in about 1867. Sarah bore him three children: Daisy Maud Bray (born at Stratford, Essex in 1887), William H. C. Bray (born at Wanstead in about 1888) and Albert Edward J. Bray (born at Wanstead in 1890). In 1891 he was working as a commission agent, and living with his family at 27 Thorpe Road in Wanstead. By 1901 he had moved with his family to 279 Gypsy Lane in East Ham. The census records that he had become a shopkeeper, photographer and confectioner. Soon afterwards he settled in the West Ham area working as a photographer. Sarah Bray died in the summer of 1901, aged only 34, and in 1902 Henry Bray remarried. His new wife, Ellen Minnie Freud, had been born at Whitstable. In 1906 Ellen and Henry had a son: Henry Victor Bray. The 1911 census records that Henry Bray and his family were living at 61 Station Road in Forest Gate. At a later date Henry Bray is believed to have moved to Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire where he continued to work as a photographer.

Ellen Bray died of bronchitis and heart failure aged 54 at 383 Romford Road in Forest Gate on March 11, 1920. Her son, Henry Victor Bray, was living with her and was present when she died. On June 3, 1920, Henry Bray married Emily Harriss aged 34, the daughter of William Harriss, a retired railway storekeeper, at Watford Registry Office in Hertfordshire. Both Henry and Emily gave their address as 12 York Road in Watford. Before marrying Emily, Henry had opened a photographic business in Heathfield in East Sussex. Quite why he decided to move to Sussex is unclear. As a business location Heathfield was far from ideal. Archibald Hellier was already well established as a photographer and postcard publisher in the town, and Bray would have had difficulty attracting sufficient customers and achieving much market impact. Although Bray worked in Heathfield, he and Emily made their home at Cherry Tree Cottage in Hadlow Down.

Apart from a view of St. Mark's Church at Hadlow Down, all Bray's postcards seem to have been of special outdoor occasions, such as sporting events. In 1919 he published a small selection of sepia-tinted real photographic cards of the July 19 Peace Day celebrations in the grounds of Hadlow Down Grange. These have white borders, somewhat obtrusive handwritten captions, and single digit serial numbers in parentheses. They are hand-stamped on the back: "Bray, High Street, Heathfield" in small black capitals. Bray also produced some black and white captionless cards of the same event, which have his name and address handstamped on the front rather than the back.

In June 1921 Princess Marie Louise visited Hadlow Down to open the new community centre, which was a capacious wooden hut called the Red Triangle Club. Bray issued several postcards of the visit, including one of the Hadlow Down Guides and Brownies providing the Princess with a guard of honour (see Gallery). The building was demolished in 1965.

Also dating from June 1921 is a view of a charabanc outing arriving in Heathfield. Cards of the Heathfield Prize Band appeared in 1922 and 1924.

Bray combined part-time photography with providing entertainments at parties for adults and children. As "Professor" Bray he offered his audiences marionette shows, Punch and Judy dramas, conjuring and even ventriloquism performances. In 1924 he put up his Heathfield photographic business for sale.

In 1926 Bray moved with his family to Seaford and opened a studio at Clinton Place while continuing to work as an entertainer. Although he reportedly published some postcard views of Seaford, it is not known whether any survive. Bray closed his Clinton Place studio in the early 1930s and then worked from his home in Vale Road until his death in 1936 from heart failure.

A portrait photograph of Bray reproduced in Hadlow Down - an autobiography (1999, Hadlow Down Millennium Book Committee, p. 105) shows him to have had a kindly, broad face and twinkling eyes. Doubtless he was very good at getting his studio subjects to relax.

Acknowledgement: Grateful thanks are extended to David Almasi-Tucknott, Bray's grandson, for supplying some of the above information. David's mother was born at Cherry Tree Cottage in 1925 and was Bray's third child by his third wife, Emily Harriss.

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