Portishead 1900-1920 / The photographs of E.H. Wright

Portishead 1900-1920 / The photographs of E.H. Wright

Auteur
:   Kenneth Crowhurst
Gemeente
:  
Provincie
:   Somerset
Land
:   United Kingdom
ISBN13
:   978-90-288-5629-5
Pagina's
:   80
Prijs
:   EUR 16.95 Incl BTW *

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Fragmenten uit het boek 'Portishead 1900-1920 / The photographs of E.H. Wright'

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INTRODUCfION

Portishead lies on the east coast of the Bristol Channel, some eight miles west of the City of Bristo!. It is situated at the northern end of a coastal ridge which runs in a southwesterly direction along the coast to Clevedon, four miles distant. Portishead Point, or Battery Point as it is known today, commands a spectacular panoramic view up and down the Channel, and was a natural choice as a lookout and point of defence for the sea approaches to Bristo!. The earliest local settlement appears to be in the form of an Iron Age camp set up over 2,000 years ago in Eastwood, not far from the Point, remains of which can still be traeed today. We also know th at other settlers continued to arrive during the period of the Roman occupation because of the evidence unearthed in the grounds of Gordano School in the course of construction work there in 1956-excavations revealed a group of three buildings constructed in local stone with a water supply and a cistern.

The first surviving written record of Portishead is in the Domesday survey carried out in 1086, and reveals that it was part of the Portbury Hundred, a small community of thirteen farmer-fishermen with a mill, probably powered by the Welhay stream running down the Combe into the slow-meving Yeo which drained the Gordano valley. The fishermen would doubtless have used the tidal creek or 'pill', sheltered by the hill of Eastwood, coping with a tidal range of over forty feet at spring tides, the second highest range in the world.

During the following seven centuries, Portishead remained a small community centred around the church and the High Street, or Mill Streete as it was then known, tilling the strips of land in the valley, tending flocks of sheep on the down land, fishing in the Channel and tra ding with visiting boats at the wharf. By 1801, the population had grown

to 387, but the nineteenth century was to bring three major new developments to Portishead, increasing the number of residents to 2,539 by 1901.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, most of the land in Portishead was owned by the Corporation of Bristol; they had been steadily buying up the land as an investment since their first major purchases in 1616 ofthe manors of North Weston and Portishead. As the practice of seaside visiting was then coming into fashion, the Corporation decided to develop Portishead as a seaside resort, and in 1825 created a road from the village through the Woodhill area for the purpose of offering building plots for the construction of Marine villas. To further enhance the attractions of Portishead, they also constructed the Royal Hotel on land overlooking the entrance to the pill, together with a small landing slipway toenable ship passengers to land at any state of the tide - by the mid-1830s a regular steampacket service was operating between Bristol and Portishead.

In 1862, the Bristol and Portishead Pier and Railway Company was formed, leading to the arrival of the railway in 1867. The Portishead branch of the Bristol and Exeter Railway was a single track line using Brunel's broad gauge of seven feet; the track crossed the pill and terminated on its west bank alongside a handsome two-storied brick station building. The pier was extended and completed in 1870 - the year that a Portishead doek scheme was announced, in competition with a new doek to be built at Avonmouth.

The doek was the third and last major development for Portishead in the nineteenth century, and was opened for business in 1879, two years after the completion of Avonmouth docks. Both of the docks were subsequently taken

over in 1884 by Bristol Corporation, but the City tended to favour further expansion and investment at Avonmouth, in preferenee to Portishead, because of its better communication links. This resulted in a lower rate of growth for Portishead docks which were very much under-utilised until the time of the First World War.

This, then, was the stage that Portishead's development had reached when the Wright family moved here in 1899. It was a village where life was lived at a gentle pace, its inhabitants enjoying the benefits of its nineteenth-century developments as a seaside resort, as a residential village for the businessmen of Bristol and as an industrial centre.

The developments described above were limited to a relatively small area, leaving Portishead's natural attractions still unspoilt. These were extolled thus in the following extract from the Council's 1910 Official Guide: The woods and trees are the essential feature of Portishead - woods and downs where the sight and seent of the sea is never very far away. You can wander amongst the wooded heights at the Point to the old camp which crowns them, or along the Nore Road avenue to copses that creep to the water' s edge. Climb the Down and you reach the West Wood, sloping to the beautiful Nightingale Valley. On the landward side, cross the Gordano meadows and you are amongst the wooded hills of Clapton and Portbury, stretching for many mi/es. You can explore the Down without interruption, either at the margin of the sea or high above it, with far-stretching views on either hand, through wood, over heath and rocky hili to Walton and so to Clevedon. You feel a great sense of freedom in these wanderings. Nature is still supreme in this downland by the sea. You may be alone, but never lonely. The woods are full of life. The sea is everchanging in its moods.

Further developments were to come during the years between 1900 and 1920 - the ending of shipboard training on B.T.S. 'Formidable' and the move to land-based training at the new National Nautical School, the coming of electricity and the Light Railway, the laying out of the golf links, the construction of Mustad's Nail factory and the excavation of the Marine Lake. During this period, E.H. Wright, with the aid of his artistic gift and his camera, managed to capture the essence ofthe way of life here, and has left us with a unique record.

Key to contributors of EHW postcards and photographs:

Mrs. S. Archer

Mr. B. Barraclough Mrs. J. Beynon

Dr. P. Conway

Mr. N. Coombes Gordano Society Mrs. E. Haigh

Mrs. J. Hyne

Mr. R.C. Hopkins Mrs. M. Ponting Mr. K.W. Saunders Mr. K. Selvey

Mr. M.J. Tozer

Col. K.L.C. Wright MBE, TD

(SA) (BB) (JB) (PC) (NC) (GS) (EH) (JH)

(RCH) (MP) (KWS) (KS) (MJT) (KW)

Uncredited postcards are from the author's own collection.

E.H. WRIGHT

ERIC H. WRIGHT, j?holograpqic flrlisl.

Eric Henry Wright was bom on 14th September 1879 in Chorlton-uponMedlock in the County of Lancaster,

the second of four children bom to

Reverend Henry and Lucy Wright. Eric's father was bom at Tiverton, Devon, and trained for the Baptist ministry at Regent's Park College, taking up his first appointment at Leamington in 1877. Two years later he became minister of Grosvenor Street Church, Manchester, and it was while he was there th at Eric was bom. He moved to Buckingham Church in Clifton, Bristol, in 1884 and stayed eight years befare taking up an invitati on to Queen's Park, Glasgow, which was to be his final post befare retirement on the grounds of ill-health in 1897. The Wright family subsequently

moved to Portishead in 1899.

Eric's mother Lucy Hardick came from

Warminster, Wiltshire, from a Wesleyan Methodist family. When the Wright family lived in Portishead, she worshipped at the local Wesleyan chapel and was organist there for many years.

Eric had two sisters and a brather , and all four Wright children had artistic talents. Eric studied at the art school in Clifton known as Bristol Municipal School of Art, but he must have found it difficult to make a living out of painting and turned his artistic talents to photography. In his advertisernents, he described himself as a photographic artist. The earliest dateable EHW photograph in the collection

All kinds of Portrait work executed in best styles and high-class finish.

Artistic Child Portraiture a speciality. ?? At Home" Portraiture.

Interier and Animal Studies undertaken with great care in best materials and finish.

Enlargements of all sizes in Sepia or plain Bromide.

All Grouping receives special attention.

WEST MILL, PORTISMEl1D.

was taken around 1900, soon after the family's arrival in Portishead, but it seems that a few years elapsed before he started to produce picture postcards for sale on a commercial basis, because the earliest postmarked EHW card seen is dated July 1905. In addition to taking new views, he almost certainly made use of negatives in his collection that he had taken prior to that. Most of the EHW postcards in the collection which have been sent through the post were sent between 1905 and 1915; there are comparatively few in the years after that.

His early portrait and family photographs were all taken

outdoors, and it was some time before he acquired his own premises specifically for photography. It was not until June 1910 that the Clevedon Mercury recorded that he had submitted plans to the Council for a 'studio proposed to be erected in Miss Gregory's yard in High Streel'. This was a corrugated iron structure where he kept his indoor studio equipment - drapes, props, furniture and cameras - heavy ones on castors. By all reports, this 'studio' was stiflingly hot during the summer months and an icebox during the winter! A year later, he took over the premises known as 'Bon Marché' at 2, High Street. He used this shop for his darkroom work, for print finishing and for displaying photographs on easels. Prior to having his own premises, he probably had a makeshift darkroom at the family home at 'Kenfield' in Springfield Road. His advertisement in the Portishead 1910 Guide, which was illustrated with his photographs, gives his address as West Hill.

Eric attended the Wesleyan chapel, where he sang bass in the choir, and it was probably there that he met Annie Beacham from Paulton, who was in service with Mr. and Mrs. Hedley Stevens of 'Woodspring' , WoodhilI. Annie was a Sunday School teacher at the chapel, and when she and Eric were married on 7th June 1912 at Paulton Wesleyan Chapel, she was attended by two of her Sunday School pupiIs -Winifred Tripp and Doris SmalI. Doris recalls their travelling to Paulton by train and that Eric gave each of them an enamelled pendant as a gift. There were not many at the wedding - it was a quiet affair with no great excitement, and because no photographs were taken at the chapel, Annie and her bridesmaids dressed up again the following day to have their photographs taken by Eric in his studio.

No photographs of EHW hirnself have turned up so far-

not even a wedding photograph. He always seems to have been behind the camera and never in front of it, but he has been described as shortish and balding, with a thin, pale face. Eric dressed in an old-fashioned way with a high collar, and of ten wore a frock coat or a tail coat. He suffered poor health, and was anaemic, having to eat special foods such as raw liver and nut butters. He always seemed to be lacking in energy and could never hurry - he found it quite a struggle to carry the heavy photographic equipment of that time for any distance, which probably explains why so few photographs taken outside Portishead have come to light.

The marriage did not last long, and by 1920 they appear to have separated. Annie moved away from Portishead, leaving Eric to run his studio business with the help of his sister Constance. He moved out of the shop accommodation and went back to his parents, who were by then living in Grove Lodge, WoodhilI Avenue, and continued to live there until he died on 14th May 1929 of pernicious anaemia at the age of49.

The latest dateable EHW postcard photograph in the colIection was taken at the opening ceremony of the Flower Show in 1920, and he appears to have taken only studio portraits after that date. This may have been for health reasons, but is more likely to have been the result of the Governrnent's doubling of the cost of sending a postcard in June 1918 from Vld to 1d, which killed offthe 'Golden Age' of picture postcards almost overnight. Whatever the reason, Eric Wright has left us a superb photographic legacy of life at Portishead during the years between 1900 and 1920.

LOCALVIEWS

1. The Drinking Fountain. This cast iron drinking fountain was erected in Battery Road, alongside the Union chapel, in February 1907; the unveiling ceremony was performed by Dr. Charles Wigan, Chairman of the Urban District CounciI. The funds for it were raised by a Fountain Committee, and were largely provided by entertainments given by Messrs. Chipperfield and HilI, and concerts arranged by the St. Agnes Dramatic Society (Bristol). It was coloured gold and green and was hung about with cups of cobalt blue. Letters were written to the Clevedon Mercury complaining about both its appearance and location, and it was the subject of vandalism by the local youth. Within a few weeks of its unveiling, it suffered the indignities of being bound with sackcloth, having ashes scattered around it, and having carbide of calcium thrown into the water. It survived only a short time at that location, and was removed to a new site close to the Police Station!

2.13. Panoramic View of Portishead, overlooking the Bristol Channel (GS). In September 1909, the Homeland Association wrote to the Council with a proposal to publish a booklet on Portishead in their series of Handy Guides; it would be self-funding, from advertising revenue and sales. The Council agreed to co-operate and to adopt it as the official Guide to Portishead. The local views depicted in it

were provided by E.H. Wright, and this double page panorama appears to have been taken early in 1910 when work on the Marine Lake had just eommeneed. A number of men ean be seen in the right-hand view working in the area which was to become the sportsfield - the level in this area was raised using the soil excavated during the digging of the Marine Lake.

4. High Street (looking north) (GS). Taken around 1906, this view along the High Street shows Thomas Coles outside his premises with his horse-drawn carrier's cart. He started operating his carrier service to Bristol in 1896, and kept his carts in the yard behind the house. In 1899, he enlarged his operations by buying the long-established carriage and fly business run by the late Mr. Stephen Tuck. The lamp over his gateway advertises his daily carrier service, and the board in the front garden states: 'Tea parties accommodated, Hot water supplied and Horses & Cydes taken in.' He later bought a Model 'T' Ford and a motor van and had Portishead's first petrol pump installed in the front garden.

5. High Street (looking south) (MIT). A view that has changed relatively Iittle sinee E.H. Wright took this photograph around 1909. The builders' merehants on the left, in Bradley House, was then being run by Mr. and Mrs. S. Colbourne; in May 1891 the 'Clevedon Mercury' recorded th at Portishead's public telephone call office had been permanently instalied there. The charge for communicating with Bristol or any plaee within about the same radius was 6d. It was reported that this would be especially useful in the case offire, because the Clevedon Fire Brigade could be contacted within minutes. The High Street trees, planted by Dr. Charles Wigan in 1887 in commemoration of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, are in fulI summer leaf.

6. High Streef (MJT). This is an early EHW postcard view, probably taken in 1905, and shows the High Street by the White Lion. Two cabs are at one of the village stands, waiting for customers, while their cab drivers pass the time of day in the shade of the trees.

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