The walking picture photographers in the Margate area were some of the busiest in the country, but also took some of the best portraits. This happy looking young couple are walking, albeit very slowly, seemingly transfixed by the camera. What really makes the image for me however is the woman to the right, not intended to be part of the portrait but captured looking back as she carries on, checking to see what has caught the eye of the photographer.
The card is not identified but a quite look through Margate cards in the archive showed a match for the round headed windows in the building behind them. This was on Palm Bay, in the Cliftonville area of Margate, one of the most popular with tourists in the pre-war years. Remarkably the building survives and is now a cafe. The old postcard shows it in relation to the rest of the area at the time.
Again looking at other examples, a date of around 1930 can be pinned on the card. Note the reference number scratched into the negative bottom left. There is no firm identified on the card back but it is likely to be one of the Sunbeam affiliates.
An unidentified walking picture [WP867], it looks like the gent is out for a brisk constitutional on his own. It could be mid-1940s, but his outfit is pretty timeless! Pipe clamped firmly in mouth he’s not really looking at the camera but must surely have been aware of what was going on. The auto card number matches some from Margate walkie firms which might be a clue, again the H identifies the photographer to the darkroom staff back at base.
Dated walking pictures often prove useful in helping to determine when a Walking Picture business was operating, and also in putting a date to unmarked cards. This walkie is by the firm of Sunbeam, based in Margate. It shows “Auntie Annie and Uncle Harry” and was taken on the seafront on a breezy day (judging from his flapping coat and her tightly held furs) in Easter 1931, as they have written this in ink on the back.
As the reference number bottom left is still scratched into the negative we can reasonably assume that any cards which have the numbers on the negative done in pen or by machine post-date this. The E prefix refers to a particular photographer’s pitch, so he could be credited with the sale.
I do like the accidental composition on this photograph; Harry just a step or two ahead of his wife, the cameraman has caught them in mid-stride, no chance to collect themselves and pose. He only had a moment for them to be just in focus.
Sunbeam was an important firm and probably the largest Walking Picture business in the UK at one point. It was established around 1919 and was still taking walkies into the 1960s. Their history is covered on the site.
Photo : courtesy Easy On The Eye.
This walkie is clearly a more organised affair than most. Probably the group of firends were approached on the walkway near-by in the usual way by the cameraman but arranged to have a full group shot all in a line, so needed space to sort themselves out before walking toward the camera. The location is easily recognisable by the ornate lattice cupola, which crops up in many walkies taken by Sunbeam in Margate. This was in the grounds of The Bungalow Tea Rooms in the Cliftonville area, above Palm Bay. Sunbeam seem to have had a kiosk in part of the building for a time too. The grounds also had a small open air dance area just to the right of the photo. This rather nice postcard view below shows the complex in it’s heyday, and the walkie people were more or less exactly where the three children are playing in the postcard. The only unanswered question of course is why “Bungalow”? I’m guessing, but there does seem to be an older single storey building on the right which may have been the original bungalow prior to all the extensions. It was needless to say all demolished in the 1970s. There is more about Sunbeam on the site, and if you put Sunbeam into the search box on the right, several other cards will be shown.
The card was loaned to me by Ellen Ryan in America, along with others taken by the firm. Some will appear in the Going Home On A Postcard book. Thanks to Ellen for her help on this project.
I should have mentioned this on the site before but a recent email from them has prompted me to do so. The South East Archive of Seaside Photography (at Canterbury Christ Church University) is working to preserve and scan the remaining Sunbeam photo archive of some 7,000 images. These mostly seem to be commercial publicity images of local events in and around the Margate area, celebrities and news worthy happenings. (Indeed it does look very like a local newspaper archive. I’m a real sucker for this sort of stuff and they have some great images but it’s a little outside the remit of this site.) Walkies however were a part of the Sunbeam business (it would be interesting to know what proportion of their turnover), but few examples were ever kept (something they shared with most other walkie firms from what I can learn.) However by organising local exhibitions SEAS has managed to borrow and scan a lot from visitors. They are mounting another exhibition – BEYOND THE VIEW – REFRAMING THE SUNBEAM PHOTOGRAPHIC COLLECTION – in July / August 2014 which promises to show off lots from the archive including walkies. This will be at the Sidney Cooper Gallery in Canterbury University. No opening times given (they do have an email contact address) but sadly rather a long drive for me. Anyhow check out the SEAS website for lots more photos and details (I’ve also added SEAS to the link list on this site below right.) Thanks to Karen Shepherdson.
Perhaps Sunbeam’s real legacy will be the memorable and often surreal images which include the great props they used to tempt people into having their photo taken – at the top is just such a shot from their collection showing one of the seven or eight felt donkeys they had made!
Short history of Sunbeam on the site here and lots more examples if you hit the search button.
Although Sunbeam were the premier walkie company in Margate, other firms did take photographs in the town and surrounding area. “Holiday Snaps” were one such business, based in Charlotte Place in Margate before WW2. They were certainly taking walking pictures in the early 1930s but like other firms, they did static portraits in the street as well. I found this example recently, taken on one of the bridges across the beach access routes.
It seems to be Mum and Dad, with their three sons, plus perhaps the children’s Gran and a family friend. It looks as if the photographer was based on the bridge, that’s probably the Holiday Snaps board just peeping into the left of the shot. What made the portrait for me though was the mongrel, which has strayed into shot, turned it’s back to the camera and raised it’s tail!
Given the current heatwave, I thought it would be appropriate to post these two walkies from the thirties which show us what every well dressed man and woman was wearing in the high summer back then.
Our two women, Doris and Betty Petch, looked like sisters at first glance but I suspect they’re actually a hip mother and her daughter, both in halter-neck outfits of the thirties. Mum has what looks like a hand-knitted cardigan over her arm and the more sensible shoes. Both seem to have some sort of clutch bag.
The photograph (ref: WP200) was taken in 1937 “on holiday” in Margate. It looks like they were on some sort of bridge but searching around old photos of the area this turns out to be Margate Jetty which ran out at the side of the harbour wall. You can also see a steam ship chimney on the right and pleasure boats left from the pier head.
I’m not sure if it’s a Sunbeam photograph, as the reference number is done by hand. My thanks to Valerie Gibson for the loan.
The two unknown gentleman, photographed strolling along Margate seafront (WP141), look like they’re off for a game of beach ball. Loose belted trousers with turn-ups and open necked shirts are the order of the day, along with white sports shoes. This one is a Sunbeam card, taken in Margate, and has the automatic numbering common to many of their negatives. It’s a really good example of how shallow the depth of field was which suggests a wide aperture. The cameraman has got the focus pin-sharp.
Note too the very lopsided way the print has been cut out, not a 90degree angle anywhere!
You can read more about Sunbeam on the site.