Frank Webber


View at Itchingfield (Webber's name and address is printed on the back of the card)

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Stationer and photographer, 1 Queen Street, Horsham. Webber was born in 1867 at Paddington in London. In 1901 he married Jessie Donald, who had been born at Clunie in Aberdeenshire in 1860. The marriage was registered at Richmond.

Nothing else has been discovered about Frank's early life. He has not yet been located in the 1901 census, despite much searching. Between 1903 and 1905 he acquired the shop called the Bon Marché at 1 Queen Street, Horsham. H. R. H. Harmer (in his book, A picture of Horsham, 1976, West Sussex County Council Library and Archives Service, Chichester) reproduces an 1890s photograph of Queen Street, with the shop in the foreground. At this date the proprietor was Arthur Goldsmith, who sold fancy goods. Goldsmith was still in charge when Kelly's Sussex Directory for 1903 was compiled, but Webber is listed as the proprietor in the 1905, 1907 and 1909 Directories. The 1911 census records that he was then retired (despite the fact that he was only 44) and was living with Jessie and a niece at 34 Brighton Road in Horsham. It describes him as a former accountant, stationer and photographer. Neither he nor Jessie is reported as having children. In his final years he lived at a house called Hardings in London Lane in Cuckfield. He died aged 73 on 8 August 1935, leaving an estate of £1729.

In 1899 or the early 1900s Arthur Goldsmith published an album of photographs of Horsham with his name and that of his Bon Marché shop prominently displayed on the stiff board cover. Copies exist that are also stamped with Webber's name on the end paper, so evidently not all the stock had been sold when Webber took over the shop. As far as can be established, the firm of Francis Frith took all the photographs (between 1891 and 1899) and arranged for the album to be printed. Goldsmith was in effect merely a proxy publisher.

During his years in charge of the Bon Marché shop, Webber sold small numbers of sepia-tinted real photographic postcards of Horsham and neighbouring places. These usually have a printed label on the back "F. Webber, Bon Marche, Horsham", but some lack this label. The captions on the front were handwritten, seemingly directly on the negatives, and were usually followed by the words "Bon Marche Series", more rarely just by the initials "F. W.". Often the writing slopes backwards, but a few cards have upright captions. Capitals are used throughout.

The first "Bon Marche Series" real photographic cards appeared in 1905 or 1906. One early card with an August 1906 postmark has been found showing Christ's Hospital railway station. Another card with a smudged August 1905 or 1906 postmark shows the village of Barns Green, and is labelled on the back: "Currie & Cliffe, Teignmouth, Devon". Could this be where Webber got some of his cards made? As yet, no other Bon Marche card with a Devonian label has been reported.

In late 1909 or 1910 Webber sold his Queen Street business to Frank Cecil Lewis, who greatly stepped up the production of cards while continuing to market them under the Bon Marche label. Lewis re-issued some former Webber cards in his own name, substituting his own handwritten titles. The obvious deduction is that Webber had sold Lewis the negatives when he sold the shop. The possibility that Lewis had made all Webber's cards for him and owned the negatives from the beginning seems less likely. There is a marked difference in the handwriting of the captions of the original Webber cards and the later versions that were produced by Lewis. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that in his 1911 census return Webber described himself as a photographer.

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