Walter James Drewett


Motor bus from Washington to Worthing ascending Washington Hill

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Postcard publisher, first at Steyning then at Storrington. Walter James Drewett was born at Steyning on February 13, 1869. His parents were Ellen Drewett (née Duke), born at Littlehampton in 1841, and Walter Drewett, born at Steyning in 1837 or 1838. The couple married early in 1868 and Walter James was their first child. At the time of his son's birth, Walter Drewett senior was a pork butcher in Steyning High Street; later he became a cattle dealer and, according to Alan Barwick, curator of Henfield Museum, also the manager of Steyning Market. He died in 1898, aged 61.

Ellen and Walter Drewett had two more sons: Ernest Drewett, who was born in late 1870 or early 1871, and Edwin Percy Drewett, who was born in 1873. After leaving school both Edwin and Ernest worked as auctioneer's clerks. The 1911 census records that Ernest was still a clerk and had married. Edwin remained single, and had become a commercial traveller. He had previously been a merchant's manager.

The 1881 census locates the Drewett family at 56 Elm Grove in Steyning, but when the next census was held, they were living at 7 Southdown Terrace in Steyning, and Walter had left home. He was working as an assistant to a Bognor draper, Frederick Parson, with whom he boarded. By 1901, however, he was back in Steyning, working as a photographer. He was unmarried, and, as far as is known, never did marry. Indeed, he seems to have been something of a loner.

Walter Drewett specialised in photographing landscapes and outdoor events, such as garden parties and parades. Sometimes he took pictures of individuals outside their homes or in the street, but there is no record of his undertaking studio portraiture.

Drewett seems to have begun postcard publishing in 1903. Alan Barwick, who has made a special study of Drewett cards, reports that the earliest postmark that he has found is March or May 1903 on a card with an undivided back showing The Square at Storrington. The captions on the very earliest cards are written in plain blocky capitals of fairly uniform size on transparent slips. However, Drewett soon abandoned using slips and changed to writing the captions in reverse lettering directly on his glass plate negatives. At about the same time he switched to a less regular style of lettering and started adding dots, dashes, squiggles or short curving lines (often with a characteristic forked end) for decorative emphasis. Often he arranged the words in wave-like curves. Some of his captions now appear tired and clichéd, for example "In an old fashioned street in an old fashioned town" (Steyning), "Homeward the ploughman plods his weary way" (a view of Jacobs Hill, Thakeham), "Where Cupid lurks" (a glimpse of a secluded lane), "Afar from the city's din" (a view of a cottage at Amberley) and "Where the world slumbers" (another view of an ancient cottage, possibly at Storrington).

Drewett may have taken up photography in the 1890s or late 1880s, long before he began publishing cards. At least three of the cards that he issued show Bramber toll gates in use, which were taken down late in the nineteenth century. Another card claims to show Steyning High Street. When Drewett published the card is not precisely known, and perhaps his memory played him up and he somewhat exaggerated the picture's age. If he took the photograph himself, he must have been still in his teens. An alternative and perhaps more plausible explanation is that he acquired the negative from a nineteenth century photographer who worked in Steyning.

Early in 1904 Drewett issued some real photographic cards of a tub race from Bramber to Beeding in a flood. One of the competitors in a tub called Evangeline is listed as E. Drewett, and is likely to have been his younger brother, Edwin. Unfortunately, on none of the cards are the individual competitors identified.

Although Drewett began his postcard publishing career in Steyning, he soon opened a newsagent's shop in Storrington, on the east side of Church Street, next to a little lane or twitten. Alan Barwick has found evidence to suggest that Drewett took over this shop by February 1904. However, it seems that he may have commuted daily to Storrington by bicycle from Steyning where he centinued to lodge or live with members of the family. When the 1911 census was held, he was recorded at 7 Southdown Terrace in Steyning, staying with his widowed mother and brothers Ernest and Edwin.

Drewett always had a selection of his latest cards on display in the windows of his Storrington shop. One well-known Drewett card shows his shop with newspaper billboards outside and a telegram boy posing by the doorway. Another card (reproduced by Florence Greenfield, More about Old Storrington, 1977, Castle Press, Arundel) shows the shop at the time of a Parliamentary Election with the billboards announcing the early results, and a noticeboard next to the shop window proclaiming "Tory or Liberal you will be Liberal in voting us top of the Poll for Pic Toryal postcards". Evidently, Drewett had a weakness for ghastly puns!

Drewett issued most of his real photographic cards anonymously, but occasionally added his name on the back with a hand stamp. While he was at Steyning he sometimes used a Z-shaped banner-type logo on the back, inscribed "Drewett photographer Steyning". When he moved to Storrington he shortened the banner, removing the reference to Steyning. The banner remained in occasional use until 1924 or later. A somewhat greater number of cards are hand stamped on the back along their left edges: "W.J. Drewett, photographer, Storrington, Sussex". Barwick has established that there are two variants: cards stamped in purple ink, which he believes were issued in 1910 and 1911, and cards with the same wording but in black ink and a different font, which appeared between 1912 and 1914.

Nearly all the cards that Drewett issued are real photographics that he printed himself, but for some reason he had a few collotypes made, including at least two views of a military camp at Sullington, which probably date from 1905, and a view of Storrington High Street.

As a photographer, Drewett operated mostly within a ten mile radius of Storrington. His cards cover an area at the foot of the Downs from Hurstpierpoint, Poynings and Clayton westwards past Steyning, Pulborough, Storrington, Coolham, Thakeham, West Chiltington and Nutbourne to Bury, Houghton and Coldwaltham in the Arun valley, and even Fittleworth and Bignor. He also ventured southwards to Patching and Angmering and northwards into the Weald, to Ashurst, Thakeham (where several Drewetts lived, perhaps relatives) and still further north to Henfield, Cowfold and Nuthurst. He was concerned to photograph not only village streets and buildings, but also sheep and shepherds on the Downs, country lanes, and even heathland, which many photographers of the period chose to ignore. He was out and about with his camera even in winter, and recorded some fine snow scenes. Drewett photographed men digging out badgers at Thakeham (a now illegal activity) and meets of the Crawley and Horsham Hunt at Storrington, Washington and various other locations. In addition, he produced many cards of village cricket and football teams. Dated "special events" cards include:

It is interesting that Walter Drewett found the time to attend so many local events; presumably he had a friend that he could call upon to mind the shop in his absence. According to Barwick, he even took photographs of people walking to church "no doubt to sell the postcards to the same people the following Sunday".

Joan Ham in her book, Storrington through the twentieth century (2001, privately published, p. 166) provides some interesting memories of Drewett. He "had the usual heavy wooden camera of the time and wooden tripod, which he used to transport over a wide area of West Sussex in a bicycle basket, taking photographs of pretty views and village streets on glass plates, which he developed and printed as postcards to sell in his newsagent's shop. His darkroom was a shed behind his premises reached through a pair of double gates, which closed off the twitten at that time. He is remembered as always having heavily stained fingers from handling the developing chemicals; when he finally retired, he hawked his glass plates around various shops but found it difficult to dispose of them at a mere 11/2d per dozen! Fortunately, some local plates were bought by Miss F. M. Greenfield and are now preserved in the West Sussex Record Office."

After about 1925 Drewett seems to have been less active attending local events (probably because of competition from Albert Hall) and his postcard business may have started to decline. However, a card of the main square in Storrington shows mid-thirties cars, which proves that he continued to issue new cards until he was at least 65. In 1938 he is recorded as living in Tanyard Lane, Steyning, where he continued to work as a photographer. He gave up postcard publishing a few years later. He died of a thrombosis aged 81 on April 22, 1950, at Budgenor Lodge, Easebourne, near Midhurst. In 1963 the site where he had his Storrington shop was redeveloped and some offices were built with flats above (Stockbury House).

It is not known precisely how many cards Drewett published (his method of numbering the cards was strangely haphazard), but Barwick reports that he produced over 180 cards of Storrington and over 230 of Bramber and Steyning. If one adds in all the other villages, his total output was well in excess of 1100 cards and may have been as high as 2000 cards.

Acknowledgement: It is a pleasure to record the invaluable and continuing help provided by Alan Barwick, who has kindly made available the results of his extensive investigations of Drewett's cards. Additional information has been provided by Adrian Vieler and Mary Thomas (Steyning).

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