Sunbeam, Margate

Also : Cliftonville, Brighton, Broadstairs, Folkestone, Hove, Ramsgate, Westgate,

sunbeam photograph kiosk

John Milton Worssell began taking photographs of bathers and people on the beach around 1912. After WW1 he took over an existing business run by G E Houghton in 1919 and named it The Sunbeam Photograph Ltd. His wife ran the sales kiosk.
As the popularity of seaside souvenir photographs grew, Sunbeam expanded, with help from Frederick Lewis Pettman (Mayor of Margate 1932-1934) who owned trading rights along the coast here and offered to fund expansion and help pay for a new lab. Sunbeam then moved into other towns along this part of the East Kent coast including Westgate, Cliftonville, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. It’s possible they expanded by taking over smaller businesses. Certainly there were other operators in some of these towns, with W. P. Dobbs, Remington’s Fotosnaps, J. Easton Snaps and Walker’s Holiday Snaps operating in and around Margate in the 1920’s. Sunbeam also opened in Folkestone, with a photo office on the promenade ‘near the fish market’.
At their peak Sunbeam (often referred to by workers simply as The Beam) employed up to 300 people, many on a seasonal basis.

Sunbeam Photo Margate walking picture and wrapper

The company started using large format cameras and glass plate negatives, moving to single postcard size paper negatives around 1929. From 1934 or so they were using Thornton Pickard cameras (Type 36 and 37) which were fitted with new paper negative roll holders. These took rolls which could take up to 100 postcard size images. Anthony Lane has figures which suggest Sunbeam could take around 35,000 walking images on a busy Bank Holiday before the war with cameraman Dickie Tombs taking 3,000 on a single day at Ramsgate. The thinking was that the more images taken, the more sales were likely. Every hour the rolls would be collected by car and taken back to the labs for processing. The paper negatives would be developed, rephotographed using the same sort of paper negative, to produce a positive print.
The finished prints would be taken out to a Sunbeam kiosk (there appear to have been several, including one cut into the rock at Palm Bay in Cliftonville) where holiday-makers could view the results and find their own photo. In 1946 numbered tickets began to be handed out and by producing your paper slip with the reference number the following day, you could see and purchase your photograph. You could also order further copies by post later, though we have no details of how Sunbeam archived the originals or for how long.

Sunbeam Negatives.jpg

At first reference numbers were scratched into the glass plates, then done in ink on the card negatives, but in-camera negative numbering systems were later fitted with a letter which identified the photographer and his pitch (Above – part of a later walking picture strip). Sunbeam’s first office was in Dane Hill, before they moved to a shop with cellars round the corner at 156 Northdown Road. Their main office (and lab?) was later opened at 82 Sweyn Road in 1925 (thought to be the first purpose built film processing works in the country), At some stage (pre 1953) they had a big lab at Rosedale Road.

John’s two sons came into the business full time after WW2, and Jack took over a walkie business in Hove and later had a kiosk on Brighton pier, while Dick ran the Margate end. Sunbeam developed their own camera design, around fifty of these were made and they used these at least until 1959, although standard 35mm Leica cameras came in around 1948 for other types of work. By this time the walkies were a smaller size, and customers would be offered two prints on a sheet. Chris Fright became their head photographer. One of these special cameras can be seen on the following page.
In 1957 the firm was charging 2/- for a postcard print (or 2/9d for two half postcard prints – on a postcard). They offered enlargements up to 8″ by 6″, and even prints ‘finished in solid water colours’, which may mean hand coloured postcards. The company moved on to offer small colour walkies in 1964 at 5/-. The firm used half frame 35mm Olympus Pen cameras for this colour work, and most of their old black and white machinery was scrapped. Some female camera operators were also used from around 1959. During the off-season, Sunbeam concentrated on more traditional studio portrait work, as well as scenic photographs and material for newspapers. They offered wedding photography, and to cover conferences, parties, school sports days, etc.
For most of the firm’s life Sunbeam also had a changing collection of animal props including a life size felt donkey, large cats and dogs, and a real stuffed tiger, which were placed in suitable locations. Children (and often adults!) would sit on these to have their portrait taken.
The family decided to retire and the company was bought out in 1972 by LRC plc and then taken over by United Photographic Laboratories (based in Wiltshire) along with other labs owned by LRC in 1974, to streamline the amateur photographic processing trade. We do not know exactly when Sunbeam finished with the walkie trade but assume during the 1960s. UPL closed the firm in 1975.

Thanks to Max Warwick (former UPL director) and Margate Museum for additional information. Also to Paul Godfrey, and his scans of Bygone Kent magazine. The Margate Museum has a collection of Sunbeam images of the area (though few walkies) and one of their donkeys, albeit much restored! Closed for a time, the museum is now open again and run by Margate Museums Trust a Charitable Trust (Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays as well as Bank Holidays).
Dane Packaging took over the Rosedale building in the 1970s and Tony Ovenden, an ex-employee, recalls all the developing machinery and boxes of old prints lying around, and was instructed to burn them. He rescued 1500 or so and gave them to local collectors.

Thanks to Jane Audas for the ‘boy on a dog’ image. V332 shows Cyril, Joy, Gertie and Edgar Copley, about 1925, taken by Sunbeam at the same spot as the group of five on V7024 above. The kiosk image at the top appeared in Picture Post in 1948 and shows people waiting for it to open.

Two more 1930s walkies, one by Sunbeam, on the site here.

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41 responses

  1. Martin Davis

    The Northumberland Hotel was situated in a prime position above Palm Bay. For many years my father, a professional vocalist, fronted the house band throughout the summer season and during other holiday periods. Together with my mother and sister I spent many happy times in and around Margate and Cliftonville. The family had many photos taken by Sunbeam and we still have some of them including those shot in the Hotel where a Sunbeam photographer was often on hand to capture special moments.

    July 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    • simon robinson

      Thanks for this Martin; if you have any walkies we might be able to use do let me know. Simon

      July 6, 2011 at 8:08 am

    • Martin, on behalf of Northumberland Court residents, I’d be very interested to hear more and indeed see more of ANY pictures of The Northumberland Hotel, as well as Palm Bay. We now live in the former hotel and most of the records have been destroyed or dispersed as well as the pictures of how it was, the general layout, the exterior, especially the ballroom. It would seem the frontage probably is similar to how it was, perhaps also the front foyer. Do have a look at our website where I’ve captured as much information as I can. It would be great to hear from you and anyone else who has memories. We’d eventually like to create a little exhibition, one day.

      August 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm

  2. Jacky Goddard

    I have a picture that we found in our late aunts album. It was taken by Sunbeam Photos. Is there any way we can find out who it is. I’m putting together our family history. Would be so grateful if anyone could help me.
    Thank you. Jacky

    August 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm

  3. Alice Maskell

    I am Jack Worsell’s grandaughter. Jack Worsell was John Milton Worsell’s Son. Jack also helped run the business. Can anyone help me find some Sunbeam Photo’s or Memorabilia? Or any information on how to do so. Please email me through the site.

    August 31, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    • Jean Gale

      I have two photos taken I believe in Margate, one of my mum with her family walking up promenade I assume one way, and my dad with his family walking the other way, this is way before they met. My mum is probably about 13 (1935). I would love to be able to find out the actual year these were taken, references on the photos are Z5364 and Z9751. Any help would be appreciated if you can. Jean Gale

      October 29, 2011 at 7:16 pm

      • simon robinson

        As yet we have found no way to link the reference numbers on the cards to a specific year. I kind of assume they ran uoto a certain number (perhaps 9999) and then started again at zero! If you are able to loan me the images please let me know. Simon

        November 16, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    • Pauline B Mitchell

      I’m writing from Yorkshire where, upon looking at some old photographs (and I’m 70!) I found two on the rear of which it clearly says Sunbeam Photo Ltd., 82, Sweyn Road, Margate. On the front of one of the ‘walking’ pictures, it has a number
      Z7925 and is of my father’s sister, Dorothy Eleanor and her husband Jimmy with their daughter, Lesley. The other photograph shows Jimmy with Lesley on reins (now what happened to those to keep children from wandering off!). I don’t know if these are what you are looking for.
      Pauline B Mitchell (Mrs)

      November 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      • simon robinson

        Thanks Pauline. If you felt able to lend me the images it would be great. Simon

        November 16, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    • Pauline Taylor

      Hi I am the grand-daughter of William Ground Wallis, he was a leading photographer for Sunbeam somewhere between 1919 through to the 1930s. He took many local photographs. I was informed by a local guy called Chris Fright, who also worked for Sunbeam as an apprentice, (that) many ended up in the Margate museum archive. However until recently before he passed away my father had many (I still have a few) but my father told me that to help raise some funds he sold or gave many to Frank Thorley, a local business man. I recognised quite a few of the prints on the walls in Thorley pubs.
      Pauline Taylor

      February 28, 2012 at 9:27 pm

      • simon robinson

        Hi Pauline. I did hear that some Sunbeam images were saved. However the local authority have closed the museum at Margate (even though it was largely set up and staffed by volunteers) and the Leisure Department responsible cannot be bothered to answer any of my emails, so from this far away it’s not possible to find out any more. These pictures will not be walkies, but the more regular images of the area and events which Sunbeam took.

        February 29, 2012 at 10:28 am

    • irene

      I may be one of your distant cousins, I used to stay in my summer holidays as a child with Dorothy and John Milton Worssell. I also spent a lot of time with Suzanne and I think her sister’s name was Jane. I may have some old photo of Suzanne and myself. My father Jack had a brother called Richard, I think his wife was called Joan but am not sure. They had a baby called Richard. If I can help please send me email. Regards Irene.

      July 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      • Alice Maskell

        Hi Irene, Thank you for your reply. I think we probably are related, but I’m not exactly sure how as I don’t know the full family tree. My mum is called Jane and my aunt Suzanne. I will probably pass this onto my aunt and she will take it from there, as she is actually doing the family history atm. I’m not sure how to send you a proper email and I don’t want to post my email address on here publicly. Maybe if the administrator of this site is watching they could contact me on how to email you privately. Regards Alice Maskell

        September 26, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      • Suzanne Funnell

        Hi Irene,I am Alice’s Aunt Suzanne ,my Father was Jack & my Uncle was Dick.I would be very interested to hear from you to find out if we are related. Suzanne Funnell

        March 25, 2014 at 8:56 am

  4. dave cameron

    sunbeam

    February 5, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    • simon robinson

      Dave – thanks for your comments. I have tried twice to email you via the hotmail account you gave but it has bounced back on both occasions. Have you another contact email? Simon

      February 6, 2012 at 8:52 pm

  5. dave cameron

    Try dave_a_cameron@hotmail.com, many thanks.

    February 7, 2012 at 8:32 pm

  6. dave cameron

    Hi, I keep buying sunny snaps walking cards that have no location? also just found three, speedy snaps! skegness “under the pier” – they look late 40’s is there any info on these. its a shame so many cards are unnamed

    February 14, 2012 at 11:46 am

    • simon robinson

      Dave – I have put together a page about Sunny Snaps today, which might help. Speedy Snaps at Skegness are new to me, are they proper walkies or portraits? Simon

      March 4, 2012 at 10:36 am

      • Nick Carter

        I have come across a dozen or so of these Sunbeam Photo Ltd. ‘walking’ photos in a number of photographs left by my late mother. I guess they are dated around 1920/1930. Each bears a reference, I am keen, if at all possible, to identify who is featured in these photos – at least one in each has to be a relative. Is it possible to link references to names of those in the photos?
        Look forward to your early advice. Many thanks, Nick Carter

        September 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      • simon robinson

        Nick, the photographers did not take the names of their subjects. The reference numbers were just to help link the negative and print to the customer’s ticket. So there is no way to identify the people on the card from these sadly. If you are able to loan the images for the archive that would be great.

        September 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm

  7. dave cameron

    very nice page on sunny snaps! as i keep buying them at postcard fairs mostly of london, speedy snaps are walkies so new to us both! ive just got a fantastic sunbeam of a giant felix toy standing on a childs model plane! hope your book comes out soon!

    March 13, 2012 at 10:56 pm

  8. Andy Chadwick

    I have a Margate postcard of my Dad’s cousin sitting on the prom. with the beach in the background, taken around 1928 and numbered 51092 in the bottom left hand corner.

    April 13, 2012 at 10:29 am

  9. sandra

    I have just found several family photographs taken in Margate by Sunbeam around about 1935, including one of my late mother standing on a toy donkey as well as one on a live donkey. Each photo has a clear number on it. They are really a piece of history.

    August 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm

  10. Derek

    I have a Sunbeam Postcard in fairly good condition. It’s a photograph of my parents visiting the seaside from London and almost certainly taken between 1935 and 39. They are walking briskly, both looking at the camera. The obverse is blank except for the Sunbeam name and address, etc.

    January 1, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    • simon robinson

      Yes, be great to see this Derek.

      February 8, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      • Derek

        Simon,
        Would you like to send me an e-mail address and I’ll send you JPEGs?
        (I cannot see how I can upload images here).

        Derek

        February 9, 2014 at 12:02 am

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  12. Tracy Dane

    I have a photo of what I believe to be my great great grandfather and his four children taken by Sunbeam. My great grandfather died in 1931, and his father must have died before him, as there is no mention of his father in his obituary (which is quite long). I’d be very interested if you could help me date the photo.

    September 14, 2014 at 7:52 am

    • simon robinson

      I’ll need to see it Tracy!

      March 1, 2015 at 6:17 pm

  13. eileen webb

    I have a Sunbeam photograph (Margate) of a lion tamer looking like a young Marlon Brando in a circus cage sitting with six lions. I’d like to hear from anyone who can throw some light on the photo. Possibly a travelling circus or a retired lion tamer? I hope he got to see his retirement!

    November 17, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    • simon robinson

      I would need to see the image before I could comment!

      March 29, 2015 at 11:33 am

      • louiseatragdog

        Simon I have a Sunbeam image of a man I believe is a relative. I think it must have been taken between between 1925 – 1930ish. Happy to share and be interested in anything else you could tell me able it.

        August 11, 2019 at 1:07 pm

  14. irene

    hello Suzanne I dont know if you are still doing your familey tree . I still am trying to think of a way to contact you . It would be so interesting to have a chat i live in east sussex . but i dont really want to give my details on the web site. if you think of anything please send a message . best regards to you and your sister jane . irene

    March 28, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    • suzanne funnell

      please contact me, there is so much to catch up on sunbeam days

      June 19, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      • suzanne funnell

        Irene, what is your surname, I could try contacting you other than e. mail

        August 16, 2015 at 1:23 pm

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  18. Audrey Fleming

    I recently found an old (1960s) photo of my grandmother and some other ladies at the seaside. Sunbeam Photos could just be seen in the background of the photo so I Googled to see if I could find out where the photo was taken. The photo was almost certainly Kent or south coast but could have been Southend-on-Sea. I was delighted to find some information on this site to help with dating – and just so interesting.

    November 10, 2018 at 5:49 pm

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