The man from Tunbridge Wells who specialised in Worthing

East Beach, Worthing
East Beach, Worthing
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There is conclusive evidence that it was in 1910 that the Tunbridge Wells photographer and publisher Harold Camburn started photographing Worthing and the villages around.

An early card in his Worthing sequence (it is numbered 31) is a view of East Beach on which two signs are just visible in the location where the front part of the Kursaal – known from 1915 onwards as the Dome – was being built during the spring and early summer of 1911.

The bandstand, with the pier pavilion visible at top left

The bandstand, with the pier pavilion visible at top left

There are two reasons why I have not included the card in question in this selection of Camburn cards of Worthing itself. (Camburn’s Lancing and Bramber cards were covered in Looking Back on February 26 and March 26.)

First, the postcard reproduced on this page is of an almost identical view – but is a more animated scene and also, as we shall see in a moment, of particular interest for another Kursaal-related reason.

Secondly, the sign-boards on Card 31 are barely visible to the naked eye – and I had to greatly magnify a scan of the card before I was able to decipher even a few of the words on the boards.

One of the boards, which is headed “Kursaal Garden”, is evidently advertising the open-air attractions that Carl Seebold, the Swiss-born impresario behind the Kursaal project, organised during the summer season of 1910.

A goat-drawn cart in front of Worthing pier

A goat-drawn cart in front of Worthing pier

These events were held on an open-air stage at the north end of the land on which the Kursaal was to be built.

The other sign just visible on Card 31 is headed “Kursaal” – preceded by a short word that is perhaps “the” or “new” – just below which it is possible, under strong magnification, to make out the name of Seebold’s builder, Alfred Crouch.

This second board was presumably advertising the fact that work on the Kursaal was soon to start.

The evidence from this card, which comes from the first group of postcards of Worthing that Camburn published, allows us to assert with confidence that his first photographs of the town were taken in 1910.

Looking west from Cambridge Terrace

Looking west from Cambridge Terrace

Some of the cards in this early sequence show trees not yet in full leaf, so Camburn’s first photographic visit to Worthing that year seems to have been in April; but he appears to have returned for a second visit in the summer.

The reason that the postcard reproduced above is of particular interest is that it is the only postcard I have ever seen – although others may exist – that shows the front of the Kursaal under construction.

The main hall of the Kursaal was opened on April 15, 1911, but the front part of the building was not completed for a further couple of months – so the photograph was probably taken one warm afternoon in May 1911.

Camburn and Worthing

Children at Splash Point, with the pier in the distance

Children at Splash Point, with the pier in the distance

Harold Camburn published more postcards of the Worthing area than any other publisher (with the possible exception of the local firm of Edwards & Son).

Camburn used a different number-sequence for each location he photographed, a helpful system that is, surprisingly, very rare among postcard publishers.

He was almost certainly imitating the only other firm of any size that used this “localised” numbering system – the great French firm of Lévy Sons & Co, whose sequence of postcards of Worthing, photographed between 1906 and about 1914, runs to 101 numbers.

In general, Camburn allocated a separate number-sequence even to each small village – and it is something of a mystery why he did not follow this principle with regard to Worthing.

Perhaps he was again following the Lévy firm, since the Lévy sequence includes not only, reasonably enough, Tarring, Broadwater and High Salvington; but also, less logically, Bramber.

Camburn, however, cast his net even wider than Lévy, for his Worthing sequence also include cards of Lancing, Findon, Angmering, East Preston, Sompting and Steyning – and also, astonishingly, of Arundel!

The Dome (formerly the Kursaal), photographed in 1917

The Dome (formerly the Kursaal), photographed in 1917

Percy Lankester

Why Worthing?

I have seen it suggested that Camburn specialised in Worthing because Percy Lankester, the Tunbridge Wells photographer and publisher for whom he worked until he set up his own business in 1906, had a connection with Worthing.

However, in six years of collecting and studying Worthing postcards, I have never seen a Lankester card of the town.

This does not, of course, prove that there were none – but it does suggest that any Lankester association with Worthing cannot have been extensive.

In addition, Camburn stopped working for Lankester in 1906 – and, as we have seen, he did not produce his first postcards of Worthing until 1910.

So it remains something of a mystery why Camburn focused so much attention on Worthing. Perhaps he had friends or relations there – or perhaps he just loved the town.

With the exception of his home town of Tunbridge Wells, Worthing is the only town of any size of which Camburn produced more than a small number of local-view cards – since small villages were his stock-in-trade.

The seaside resorts of Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings are all closer to Tunbridge Wells than Worthing is, but – with the exception of a few cards of Brighton Camburn produced in 1907 for a man called John Stafford, who owned two shops in the town – Camburn seems never to have published any postcard views of these three locations.

Co-operative Ventures

In the early days of his association with Worthing, Camburn entered into special relationships with three shops in the town.

These shops were F. Pickford (sometimes “Mrs Pickford”) of Railway Approach; J. R. Keeley, a stationer whose shop was at 67 Chapel Road; and the famous Worthing firm of Walter Bros in South Street.

In each case, the shop was credited on the back of the card, which also carried Camburn’s name or, later, the Wells Series trade-name.

In a few very early cases, just the shop is credited – the card being identifiable as Camburn’s by the familiar caption-style and numbering.

These co-operative arrangements with shops in Worthing lasted for only a year or two.

As Camburn’s cards grew more popular, he clearly decided that – in a large town like Worthing, where there were dozens of shops that sold postcards – this kind of “favouritism” was not good for business.

Leaving Worthing

Although it has been possible to pinpoint with accuracy when Camburn “arrived” in Worthing, it is much less easy to be sure when he abandoned his postcard relationship with the town.

It is clear, however, that Camburn produced relatively few new views of the Worthing area after the Great War.

Postmarks are at best only an uncertain guide to the date a postcard was first produced, and in Camburn’s case we are further handicapped by the fact that many people bought these crisp high-quality images to keep in their own collections, with the result that there are often no postmarks on the backs of surviving copies of his cards.

The date 1920 is therefore only an estimate of the date when Camburn stopped photographing Worthing; but I doubt if it is more than a year or two out.

I have several cards with postmarks from the early 1920s, but Worthing’s shops probably continued to be replenished with Camburn’s cards for a few years after he stopped taking new photographs of the town.

The postcard at top left is an attractive example of a post-war Camburn card of Worthing – and the motorcycle in the centre is Camburn’s own, which he sometimes included in his photographs as a kind of signature.

The Numbers Game

We do not know exactly how many cards of the Worthing area Camburn published, but a “catalogue” of Camburn’s Worthing cards that I have been compiling for several years allows me to make an informed estimate.

The sequence numbered 1 to 199 is complete.

On reaching 200, however, Camburn appears simultaneously to have started three new sequences.

The 200 series was mainly for cards of Steyning, Beeding and Bramber (although there are anomalies); the cards in the 300 series were almost all of Rustington, East Preston and Angmering-on-Sea; and the cards in the 400 sequence were mainly of Worthing itself (although again there are anomalies).

It is clear that none of these sequences was ever completed, the highest numbers I have seen being 241, 323, and 420 respectively.

It is, of course, possible that some higher numbers exist; but I doubt if there are many that are much higher.

Camburn also produced a handful of cards of Worthing that had no catalogue number.

Finally, after Camburn abandoned Worthing itself around 1920, he produced two short series of postcards of “independent” locations.

One series was of cards of Bramber and Beeding (in association with A. Vinall of Beeding Post Office); the other was of views Angmering (for G. W. Stubbs, who had a draper’s shop in the village).

The highest numbers I have seen or heard of in these series are, respectively, 25 and 33. (My thanks to Neil Rogers-Davis for useful information about Camburn’s Angmering cards.)

That adds another 60 or so to our total. The total number of views of the Worthing area that Camburn published therefore appears to be between 350 and 365.

This is a staggering total, when we reflect that he was not a local man, and indeed that he only produced about 225 cards of his home town of Tunbridge Wells – admittedly a location with less scenic variety.

As already indicated, we do not know why Harold Camburn took such a special interest in Worthing – but we are very grateful that he did!

South Street and the Town Hall

South Street and the Town Hall

Ambrose Place and Christ Church

Ambrose Place and Christ Church

Children playing in Steyne Gardens in 1910

Children playing in Steyne Gardens in 1910

Looking west along the Broadway ' the trees were cut down in 1928

Looking west along the Broadway ' the trees were cut down in 1928

A game of bowls in Homefield Park

A game of bowls in Homefield Park