Charles Clifford Towner


Isfield Place - a C.C.T. card

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Publisher of real photographic cards of Isfield, Uckfield and neighbourhood. The cards are difficult to find today, which probably indicates that they had very short print runs. Most are black and white, but a few are sepia-tinted. Some have white borders; others do not. The captions are written mainly in small evenly-sized blocky capitals, but on some cards the first capital of each word is extra large. On the right of many of the photographs is a small, easily overlooked logo consisting of the letters C. C. T. arranged both vertically and horizontally in the form of a cross, with the middle C in the centre. Some variants have T. C. C. on the horizontal instead of C. C. T., which is likely to be a mistake caused by trying to write mirror fashion directly on the negative. Others cards are simply labelled C. C. T. with no logo.

The serial numbers of the Isfield cards suggest that at least 15 different views of the village were offered for sale. Two 1913 postmarks have been seen.

Most C. C. T. cards seem to have been published in the years 1913-1915. One or more cards, for example, show crowds attending an open-air Drumhead Service at Uckfield in June 1913 and at least three record the marriage of Miss G. M. Tatham and Mr C. R. Waterer at Framfield in the following August. Another card, discovered by Peter Booth (Withdean), shows Army officers relaxing in the Sergeant's Mess at Patcham Camp in 1913, well outside the photographer's usual haunts. Striking a particularly sombre note is a card marked RIP showing the flower strewn grave in Isfield churchyard of a fifteen year old boy (Albert John Winter), who died on April 21, 1914. Dating from 10 June 1915 is a card of an open-air whist drive in the gardens of the Scarlett family home at Uckfield.

It is likely that production of the C. C. T. cards was much reduced if not suspended during the final years of the Great War. Mounting military casualties plunged the nation ever deeper into gloom, and the public appetite for sending picture postcards fell sharply. Conscription, introduced early in 1916, forced many men into military service, who had not previously volunteered. The civilian population that was left had little time to devote to producing and selling picture postcards. With the return of peace, however, production of new C. C. T. cards evidently continued at least for a few years, as is shown by a card of a Drumhead Service procession in Uckfield in September 1920 (see Gallery) and a card recently found by Paul Green (Polegate) showing soldiers participating in an Uckfield church parade on 12 November 1922.

Until recently, the identity of the publisher of the C. C. T. cards remained a baffling mystery. There was clearly a strong probability he or she lived in Isfield or Uckfield, which at the time were only a short railway journey apart. However, none of the pioneer Uckfield photographers discussed by Mick Harker in his detailed 2008 survey ("Seen through the lens - early photography in Uckfield", Hindsight, Uckfield and District Preservation Society, volume 14, pp. 27-32) possessed the initials C. C. T., and no Isfield or Uckfield resident with these initials appeared to be listed in relevant Sussex Directories or in indexes for the 1911 census. The identity of the mysterious postcard publisher has only become known as a result of researches by Paul Green into the pictorial history of the Royal Sussex Regiment. He has discovered a postcard labelled "Photo. C. C. Towner", portraying a soldier stationed with the 5th Battalion of the Regiment at Dover Castle in August 1914. He has also uncovered an article in the Hastings and St. Leonards Pictorial Advertiser for May 1915 with pictures credited to "Sergeant Towner" showing the D Company of the Royal Sussex Regiment in training locally. A postcard of Bostall Heath Camp, where members of the 5th Battalion of the Royal Sussex were stationed in 1916, carries the same label as the 1915 card: "Photo. C. C. Towner". According to Paul, Lance Corporal Towner, aged 36 served with the F (Uckfield) Company of the Royal Sussex Regiment. Because of his proficiency with a camera, the Army may well have encouraged Towner to take photographs of his unit training for battle.

Charles Clifford Towner was born in 1878 at Ridgeway on the southern outskirts of Uckfield. He was an elder brother of George Bingham Towner, who built up a successful photographic business in Uckfield, quite possibly with help from Charles. When the 1901 census was held, Charles was working as a shoemaker and still living at Ridgeway with his parents. In July 1903 he married Alice Adams, daughter of James Adams, an Uckfield grocer. On his marriage certificate he is described as a bootmaker and his name is recorded incorrectly as Clifford Charles Towner. Alice is stated to have been four years older than Charles. No entries for Charles or Alice have been found in the 1911 census, which is puzzling, and it is unclear when Charles first took up photography. Perhaps like his brother, George Bingham, he became a pupil of John Frisby, who was the leading Uckfield photographer of the period. A striking postcard of some Isfield schoolchildren clutching portions of currant bread distributed after a Harvest Festival church service in October 1912, which is labelled "Photo. C. C. Towner, Ridgewood", sets a last possible date for his debut as a postcard publisher. Another early card showing Cross in Hand village has been found with an October 1912 postmark.

Charles died in the Royal Sussex County Hospital at Brighton on June 23, 1935, aged 57, following an unsuccessful operation. A sister from Lewes, who registered his death, gave his address as 6 Grafton Villas, Isfield, and described him as a former boot and shoe repairer. The death certificate makes no mention of his photographic work, which he had doubtless long abandoned.

Grateful thanks are due to Paul Green for sharing the results of his researches with this website.

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