Building work uncovers a trove

Kate and Richard Foster's house in Southdown Road, Southwick, where the papers were found during a loft conversion
Kate and Richard Foster's house in Southdown Road, Southwick, where the papers were found during a loft conversion

WORK on a Southwick house began a history trail that uncovered royal connections.

Carpenter Andy Ramus was converting the loft in Southdown Road when he discovered a pamphlet, proving the previous owner had played a huge part in saving Shoreham Harbour.

Mr Ramus said: “Converting people’s loft spaces occasionally throws up stuff of interest, usually in the form of old newspapers, but recently at a job in Southwick we stumbled upon a pamphlet dated July 20, 1875, in almost perfect condition.

“”The customers had told me they believed the original owner, who had commissioned the place to be built, may have been involved in the moving pictures industry in its infancy, but they knew no more.

“In the early stages of setting out for steels and joisting, I had found an old, and barely discernable business postcard with the name JJE Mayall, and four addresses from London, Paris, Dublin and Brighton in each corner, stating his business as ‘photographic artist’. I had something to go on.”

He set about tracing the history of John Jabez Edwin Mayall, a well-known photographer of London and Brighton who, he later found out, had been commissioned by Queen Victoria to take family portraits.

Mayall was born Jabez Meal in Oldham in September 1813, the son of John, a manufacturing chemist, and Elizabeth Meal.

He married Eliza Parkin in 1834, had three sons, Edwin, Joe Parkin and John. They emigrated to America, where he studied and perfected the photographic process known as daguerreotype, becoming the first photographer to use it to illustrate a story.

Returning to England in 1846, now under the name John Jabez Edwin Mayall, he set up business as a ‘photographic artist’ in London at 433 West Strand.

At the Great Exhibition of 1851, in what was effectively the first photography competition, Mayall had 72 daguerreotypes exhibiting, which helped secure his name.

He had already had the interest and encouragement of Prince Albert, who, with Queen Victoria, later commissioned him to take a series of photographs of the royal family, the first to do so.

His pictures of Prince Albert sold more than 60,000 copies after untimely death of the Queen’s consort. He also photographed many of the most eminent people in the country.

The speech Mr Ramus discovered was delivered at a meeting of the Shoreham Harbour trustees on July 20, 1875, at the Dolphin Chambers, Shoreham.

Now referred to as Mr Admerman Mayall, he laid out his plan to get a new bill passed through government to allow the port greater borrowing powers in order to make the most of Shoreham Harbour’s potential.

“We must look to the interests of the public, who are pre-eminently concerned; and we must look well to the trading and shipping interests of the port,” he said, before the resoltion was carried.

As cheers rang out, he continued: “I shall always be found to the fore in anything that concerns the prosperity of the port of Shoreham, with a view to making its harbour one of the first on the south coast.”

JJE Mayall went on to serve as mayor of Brighton in 1877/78.

Mayall had opened his premises in Kings Road, Brighton, by 1864, leaving Edwin to run his London establishments. His other sons, Joe Parkin and John, were also photographic artists located around Brighton at the time. John married Eliza Dabbs, whose parents ran Lancing’s Farmers Hotel, in Worthing 1865.

After his wife died in 1870, Mayall went on to meet and marry Celia Hooper, a widow with two children. They moved to Storks Nest, Lancing, a property south of the railway station, and had three children of their own, two of them born in Lancing.

By the 1891 census, JJE Mayall was living in Southdown Road, Southwick, where the pamphlet was discovered 122 years later. He stayed there until he died, aged 88, in March 1901. He is buried next to his first wife, Eliza, in Lancing.

Celia and their daughters remained at the Southwick house.

Mr Ramus said: “I consider myself lucky to have found that pamphlet of a meeting held 138 years ago, and to have retrieved a little piece of Shoreham Harbour history, but more importantly, to have discovered about the life of this remarkable man involved in the birth of photography.”

During his research, Andy Ramus even uncovered a connection to his own family history.

“You could say this has kismet written all over it,” he said.

Joe Parkin Mayall, JJE Mayall’s son, was also a renowned photographic artist in his time.

He produced a series of photographs of eminent painters of the time in their own homes, including Sir Edward J Poynter, Sir Frederick Leighton and Sir John Everett Millais.

These were sold as ‘carte de visite’, a type of small photograph that his father had done so much to promote.

Joe Parkin also photographed William Ewart Gladstone, the prime minister.

Mr Ramus said: “This in itself is all the more remarkable for me, as I have been studying these painters as a result of my great grandfather Henry Ramus’ business partner, William Walker Sampson, a leading art dealer of the time.”

“I had a suspicion when I first picked up that dusty postcard-sized business card with ‘JE Mayall - Photographic Artist’ on it that I might find a connection to my own family past, and so it has transpired, albeit tenuously.”

Fate brought Kate and Richard Foster to the house three years ago, after they spotted it was on the market for the first time in 35 years.

Kate has known the property in her childhood and had always referred to it as her ‘dream house’.

She explained she lived at the bottom of Southwick Green and went to Deepdene School in Hove. The headmistress’s son lived in the Southdown Road house and his wife was a teacher at the school.

Sometimes, Kate was given a lift to school, but she said she never got past the front door.

“I remember sitting in the drive opposite, drawing the house and writing ‘my dream house’ on the picture,” she said.

“It was absolutely my dream house. It is gorgeous. We are trying to put the original features back, like the skirting boards and ceiling roses.”

She and Richard had been living in Bramber for 13 years with their two children, when Richard happened to spot it on the market online.

Kate said when they went round to have a look, her old teacher remembered her and agreed to take the house off the market until they had sold theirs.

“The more I hear, the more interesting it gets,” she added.

“I am going to have a wall dedicated to JJE Mayall’s work and I wonder if a blue plaque would be appropriate. He was quite eminent in his field and had royal connections.

“There is a rumour Charlie Chaplin stayed here for one night but we have nothing to substantiate that. It was around the right time and he was in the right circle.”

JJE Mayall built the house for himself, as well as another one on the corner and two others that have since been knocked down.

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