Eastbourne- Vidler

Professional Photographers in Eastbourne : Albert Vidler

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Albert Vidler (1828 -1894)

Active as a photographer in Eastbourne from around 1857 to 1862

Albert Vidler was probably the first person to establish a permanent photographic studio in Eastbourne. Albert Vidler advertised himself as a Photographic Artist with a studio on the Corner of South Street, Eastbourne as early as 1858 and he may have been taking photographic portraits during the previous year.


Family Origins

Albert Vidler was born in Hastings in 1828. Albert was baptised at St Clement's Church in Hastings on 29th August 1828, the third child of Mr Major Vidler and his wife Anne. At the time of Albert's birth, Major Vidler was working as a stone mason in Hastings with his twin brother Alfred ( It was then fairly common to give the name "Major" to the eldest of twin boys ).

Major and Alfred Vidler had been born in the town of Battle in 1798 and were the twin sons of Elizabeth and Thomas Vidler, a bricklayer and stonemason. As a young man, Major Vidler settled in Hastings and on 9th July 1823, he married Anne Beaney at St. Peter's Church, Bexhill. The union produced at least six children, but Albert was the only son. All six Vidler children were born in Hastings. In the early 1830s, Major Vidler was working as a stone mason with his twin brother Alfred at Green Walk, Hastings. Major Vidler is recorded in local histories of Eastbourne as supervising building work on The Wish Tower, the Martello fortress at Eastbourne originally built to defend the coast during the Napoleonic Wars. Major Vidler ran his own stone mason's yard in Hastings when his twin brother Alfred left to set up a business as a ' Plumber and Painter'. As a young man, Albert Vidler worked alongside his father as a stone mason and was trained by him in the art of stone carving.

[RIGHT] Carved stone head at the entrance to The Gables, Albert Vidler's family home. Could this be a self portrait by Albert Vidler ? Albert Vidler was trained in stone carving by his father Major Vidler and it is thought that Albert carried out the stone carvings that decorate the outside walls of the house he built near Pevensey Castle.


Major Vidler's work as Surveyor of Levels

By 1840, Major Vidler was an established stone mason at 40A High Street, Hastings, but in 1841 he moved with his family to Pevensey to take up the position of "Expenditor to the Commissioners of Pevensey Levels". The Pevensey Levels are an area of reclaimed coastal wetland lying between Eastbourne and Bexhill-on-Sea and it was the duty of the Expenditor to make sure that funds were spent on the repair and maintenance of banks and drainage ditches to prevent flooding. By 1851, Major Vidler had been appointed to the post of Surveyor of the Levels and his son Albert, recorded as a 22 year old " Surveyor" in the 1851 Census, was probably working as an assistant to his father. In his book "Pevensey and Its Neighbourhood" (1897), Robert Sutton junior recalled the life of Albert Vidler and remarked that "he and his father before him were the officers appointed by the Commissioners of Levels.... to supervise the drainage of the marshes and prevent the inroads of the sea."

The actions taken by Major Vidler and his son to protect the low lying flatlands were not always popular with the inhabitants of Eastbourne. For instance, in 1848 a sea wall had to be constructed on the town's seafront, as a direct result of Major Vidler's changes to Eastbourne's sea defences. According to George Chambers, author of "East Bourne Memories" (1910), to direct shingle from Eastbourne beach in the direction of Langney Point and thereby create a natural protective barrier for the marshland around Pevensey, Major Vidler removed the planking from the groynes on Eastbourne's foreshore. In the words of George Chambers, " It was this action of Vidler's which inspired the erection of the sea wall as a substitute for the groyne's tampered with by him." Major Vidler later wrote an account of his work entitled "On Shingle Beach and Artificial Coast Defence as used on the South Coast of England" for the Institution of Civil Engineers.

[RIGHT] A photograph of the Groynes on Eastbourne Beach taken by the firm of G & R Lavis around 1868. Major Vidler in his role as Surveyor of the Levels ordered the removal of the planking from the groynes to allow the shingle to be driven towards Langney Point and thereby form a defensive barrier,  protecting  the Pevensey Levels from the sea.


Albert Vidler - Eastbourne's First Photographic Artist


[Above] Albert Vidler's Photographic Portrait Gallery on the Corner of South Street, Eastbourne ( c1860 ). Vidler's Portrait Gallery was situated at the western end of South Street opposite The New Inn. The inset picture shows an advertisement  for Albert Vidler, Photographic Artist and Stationer, of South Street, Eastbourne, which appeared in Melville's Directory of Sussex, published in 1858.


Albert Vidler the Artist

At the time of the 1851 Census, Albert Vidler was living with his parents and three sisters at Wallsend Cottage, Wall's End ( now known as Pevensey Bay ) a small fishing village two miles to the east of Eastbourne. Alfred was unmarried and working as a surveyor alongside his father in 1851. Alfred's skill at drawing was obviously useful in his work as a surveyor, but it seems he was looking for a new way to employ his artistic talent. Robert Sutton junior, when discussing Major and Albert Vidler, noted that "both father and son were gifted with no ordinary talents, especially for painting, carving and sculpture." Another contemporary of Alfred Vidler wrote : "Mr Vidler was in every respect a remarkable man, and his talents were of a most diversified character.... He could work in metals and carve in wood and stone. He painted well in oils and water colors." When Albert Vidler married in July 1857, he gave his occupation as "Artist".

Albert Vidler - Eastbourne's First Photographic Artist

Albert Vidler set up Eastbourne's first permanent photographic portrait studio around 1857. Vidler had acquired a corner shop at the western end of South Street, where he constructed a "Glass Room" for the purpose of taking photographic portraits. Albert Vidler commenced business in South Street around the time of his marriage to Charlotte Amoore Henley in July 1857. When his first child was baptised on 17th October 1858, Vidler gave his occupation as "Photographer" and when F. R. Melville's Directory & Gazetteer of Sussex was published in 1858 it featured an advertisement for "Albert Vidler, Photographic Artist, Stationer &c" at the "Corner of South Street, Eastbourne".

Albert Vidler's advertisement of 1858 offered "Portraits, in Case, from 2s 6d, taken in a Glass Room constructed expressly for the purpose". By 1858, daguerreotype portraits ( photographic images on silvered copper ) were obsolete and therefore the cased portraits mentioned by Vidler were probably collodion positives, in other words, photographic portraits on glass ( known in America as ambrotypes ). In the early days of photography, it was necessary to ensure that a studio received as much light as possible and therefore it was not uncommon for a studio to be situated at the very top of a building and be provided with a glass roof, or, as in Vidler's case, for a studio to be specially constructed out of glass.

Albert Vidler probably continued to produce collodion positives or 'portraits on glass' for the next two or three years. Compared to other Sussex photographers of the time, Vidler's photographic portraits were not cheap. While Vidler's prices started from 2s 6d for a photographic portrait in a case, Robert Farmer was offering a similar portrait in an "Elegant French Case" for only a shilling at his photographic gallery in Brighton. At the Royal Pelham Arcade Photographic Portrait Gallery in Hastings, a customer in 1858 could obtain a "First Class, imperishable portrait" for the sum of 1s 0d. In 1860, Charles Ayling of Walberton Green, residing in a small isolated village a couple of miles from Arundel, would produce a collodion positive portrait, "plain or coloured", for only a shilling. Vidler could keep his prices relatively high, as he had a virtual monopoly in the production of photographic portraits in Eastbourne. In the 1861 Census, Alfred Vidler was the only person residing in Eastbourne to give his profession or occupation as "Photographer".


[ABOVE] A collodion positive portrait of a young man, believed to have been taken at Albert Vidler's Photographic Portrait Gallery in South Street, Eastbourne around 1860. A collodion positive or ambrotype was, in fact, a thin, bleached glass negative, which, when backed with black lacquer, dark brown varnish or black velvet, took on the appearance of a positive image. The collodion positive picture is on glass ( note the cracks in the glass to the right of the sitter's head ) and so,  for both protection and presentation,  it has been  placed under a gilt mat and fixed inside a pinchbeck metal frame. The sitter was a member of the Coppard /Hart family who spent his whole life in Eastbourne. At the time this portrait was made, Albert Vidler was the only photographer in Eastbourne. [ Image, courtesy of Ted Hide of Eastbourne]

Rival Photographers Arrive in Eastbourne

Vidler's monopoly in the taking of photographic portraits in Eastbourne only lasted a few years. By 1862, at least three rival photographers were active in Eastbourne and all three were offering to take carte-de-visite portraits, the new, popular format for portrait photography. Cartes-de-visite were small photographic paper prints on card mounts the same size as conventional visiting cards (roughly 21/2 inches by 41/4 inches or 6.3 cm by 10.5 cm). This photograph format originated in France and so a small portrait mounted on card came to be known as a 'carte-de-visite', the French term for visiting card. George Robinson, Photographic Artist, "Late of San Francisco, California", had established a photographic studio in Eastbourne at Cornfield Road, and when, in April 1862, he advertised the removal of his Gallery to 6, Terminus Road, Eastbourne, he was offering ten carte-de-visite portraits for the sum of 10 shillings. George Hale was the proprietor of a ' Photographic Studio' at St Leonard's Villa, opposite Trinity Church in Eastbourne and in August 1862 he announced that had "completed his arrangements for taking the CARTE-DE-VISITE and the new VIGNETTE PORTRAITS." Mr Bennett did not have a permanent studio in Eastbourne, but made seasonal visits to the seaside resort with a mobile studio. During August and September 1862, Bennett's Photographic Carriage was stationed in Cornfield Road, Eastbourne, where a customer could purchase ten "Album Portraits" ( carte-de-visite size ) for 10s 6d. The sudden arrival of these three rivals must have been a blow for Vidler. The carte-de-visite format was becoming popular and fashionable in the early 1860s and it is possible that Vidler was ill-equipped to respond to the new market. Successful portrait studios employed specially designed multi-lens cameras which could capture between four and twelve small portraits on a single glass negative. New studio settings, which included furniture, drapes, fake classical columns, plinths and balustrades and painted backdrops, were also required by studios specialising in carte-de-visite portraits. Even though he was in business in 1862 when "cartomania" broke out, no carte-de-visite portrait by Albert Vidler has yet been discovered.

Whether it was the challenge of mastering new skills and techniques, the investment required to convert his Glass Room into a fully equipped carte-de-visite studio or some other, as yet unknown, reason, Albert Vidler decided to sell his photographic business. On 9th August 1862, Vidler placed the following advertisement in the Sussex Express :

" TO PHOTOGRAPHERS. TO BE DISPOSED OF, an old-established PHOTOGRAPHIC BUSINESS, with Glass Room and Apparatus complete. - For particulars apply to A. VIDLER, south street, Eastbourne."

There is no evidence that any photographer took over Albert Vidler's photographic studio in South Street. It is reported that Vidler's photographic glass negatives were discovered after his death at his home in Pevensey. The glass negatives were found to have deteriorated and were subsequently destroyed.



Albert Vidler's First Marriage and Children

Albert Vidler married 27 year old Charlotte Amoore Henley, the daughter of William Henley, a retired farmer of Udimore, at St Mary's Church, Eastbourne on 8th July 1857. They moved into a house at 86 South Street, Eastbourne and Albert set up business as a Photographic Artist and Stationer in premises on the corner of South Street. The couple's first child,  Frederick William Vidler , was born in 1858. ( The register of St Mary's Church, Eastbourne recorded Frederick's baptism on 17th October 1858 and gives his father's occupation as "Photographer" ). Charlotte became pregnant with their second child at the beginning of 1860. It proved to be a difficult delivery and on 13th September 1860, soon after giving birth, Charlotte Vidler died at the early age of thirty. Alfred's second child, a daughter, survived and on 7th October 1860 she was baptised with the name of Florence at Pevensey's parish church. In the 1861 Census for Eastbourne, Albert Vidler, now a thirty-two year old widower, is shown living in South Street with his two year old son Frederick and Albert's unmarried sister Ellen ( born 1830, Hastings ). Albert, who gives his occupation as "Photographer" in the census return, needed the help and assistance of his younger sister Ellen if he was to continue his business in South Street. Albert's daughter Florence, who was not much over six months of age, was in the care of Albert's parents in Pevensey at the time of the 1861 Census. Albert remained a widower for over 12 years and it was only with the help of his parents and sisters that he was able to bring up his two motherless children.  

Albert Vidler in Pevensey

In the latter half of 1863, Albert Vidler left Eastbourne and returned to Pevensey. In the 1866 Post Office Directory, Albert Vidler is listed as an Architect living at Walls End, Pevensey. When the 1871 Census was taken, Albert was residing with his elderly parents at their cottage on the coast near Pevensey Bay. Also living in Major Vidler's house are three unmarried daughters, Ellen, Rosa ( born 1834, Hastings ),and Margaret, who had been mentally handicapped for all 44 years of her life ( the census enumerator uses the unfeeling words of the time - "imbecile from birth" ). Both Albert's children, Frederick, aged 12, and Florence, aged 11, are also listed as living in the Major Vidler household. Albert Vidler is recorded as an "Assistant Surveyor", presumably working under his father Major Vidler, who gives his profession as "Civil Engineer and Surveyor of Levels".

Living in Pevensey Village at this time was 41 year old Mary Anne Grace Holland, a retired school teacher. On 1st January 1873, Alfred Vidler married Miss Holland - the groom was 44 years of age, and the bride, who was known as "Grace", was a year younger. After his marriage to Grace, Albert Vidler left his father's home and his employment. In the 1878 Directory for Sussex, Albert Vidler is shown living in Pevensey and working as an architect. At this time, Albert was building a home to his own design, not far from Pevensey Castle. An expert stone carver, Albert decorated the outside of his home with carvings of faces and floral designs. Albert named this fine house "The Gables" and lived there for the rest of his life.

On 1st February 1874, exactly a year after his marriage, Albert's mother died. Albert's father, Major Vidler, although well into his seventies, was still active in his post as Surveyor of the Pevensey Levels and was writing articles for the Institution of Civil Engineers and delivering lectures in Hastings on his views regarding the protection of the foreshore. On 5th June 1880, at the age of 82, Major Vidler died. Major Vidler had worked for the Commissioners of the Pevensey Levels for nearly forty years and had occupied the post of Surveyor of the Levels for twenty-nine of those years. After his father's death, Albert Vidler, who was still making a living as an architect, was appointed to succeed him as Surveyor to the Commissioners of the Pevensey Levels.

When the 1881 Census was taken, Albert Vidler and his wife Grace were living at their recently built house "The Gables" in Pevensey with a single, 14 year old servant girl. Both Albert's children had left the family home. At the time of the 1881 Census, Albert Vidler's daughter Florence was living with two of his unmarried sisters, Rosa and Ellen Vidler, at their Lodging House in Pevensey. Albert's son Frederick William Vidler  married music teacher Catherine Hannah Stubberfield ( born 1858 Herstmonceux ) in Plymouth, Devon on 5th November 1881. Frederick remained in Devon and trained as a dentist. Two of Frederick and Catherine Vidler's children were born in Devon - Marion Violet ( born 1887 at Crown Hill, near Plymouth) and Winifred Grace ( born 1889 in Topsham ). Albert Vidler's youngest child, Florence, never married. Florence Vidler died on 14th September 1888, just after her 28th birthday.

[ABOVE] The Gables, Albert Vidler's house in Pevensey. Albert Vidler, an accomplished architect, designed and built this house around 1880. Albert lived at The Gables for the last 15 years of his life.

 Albert Vidler - Surveyor of the Levels at Pevensey

The Pevensey Levels

The Pevensey Levels are an area of reclaimed wetlands lying between Eastbourne and Bexhill-on-Sea. The marshland was reclaimed for agricultural use from the 13th Century onwards. A major flood in 1287 which drowned a flock of  600 sheep, led to the appointment of the Commissioners of Sewers, a body which became responsible for building defences against the sea and preventing flooding  through a system of embankments and drainage ditches. In the second half of the 19th century, the Commissioners of the Pevensey Levels appointed Major Vidler and, later, his son Albert Vidler as Surveyors. In their capacity as Surveyors of the Levels, the Vidlers supervised the repair and maintenance of banks and drainage ditches to prevent future flooding.


[LEFT] A view of a section the Pevensey Levels which is now part of a National Nature Reserve ( Photograph taken in 1991 by Peter Wakely for English Nature - PHOTOGRAPH COPYRIGHT - ENGLISH NATURE ).

The reclaimed land of the  Pevensey Levels provides grazing for sheep and cattle. The old drainage ditches act as barriers and prevent the grazing animals from wandering from one field to another. When he was Surveyor of the Pevensey Levels, Albert Vidler was responsible for maintaining the dykes and drainage ditches in the reclaimed wetlands. It was during such operations that Albert Vidler made a number of archaeological finds. While digging a deep trench, Vidler's workmen discovered the entire skeleton of a man and his horse.



[LEFT] A view of  Thomas's Dyke in  the Pevensey Levels which today is a site of Special Scientific Interest and part of a National Nature Reserve. (Photograph taken in 1993 by Peter Wakely for English Nature - PHOTOGRAPH COPYRIGHT - ENGLISH NATURE ).

 Albert Vidler - a man of many talents

A contemporary account testified that Albert Vidler's "engineering skill" was of "a high order" and he proved to be an industrious and efficient Surveyor of Levels. However, Albert was able to devote time to his other interests and employ his considerable artistic and creative skills. For instance, around 1890, Albert carved a retractable canopy for the stone Norman font and at other times made renovations to the stone memorials in Pevensey's parish church of St. Nicolas. Albert was also, in the words of the Eastbourne Gazette, an "enthusiastic archaeologist" and he later confided that he had "spent many pleasant hours here (on the Levels) looking for odd bits of curios." It appears that when Vidler and his workmen made discoveries while digging trenches and clearing drainage systems, he would make a detailed note of his finds. In a letter to Henry Griffith of Brighton, a member of the Sussex Archaeological Society, dated 7th March 1892, Albert Vidler gave an account of the archaeological discoveries he had made. The items Vidler had discovered included a number of bronze celts ( chisel-edged, prehistoric tools ), pieces of ancient pottery, the fossil bones of an Iguanodon, the bones and skulls of prehistoric mammals, the remains of an ancient canoe and "the entire skeleton of a man and horse", both of which he assumed had been "smothered in a bog."

Albert Vidler held the position of Surveyor of Pevensey Levels for about ten years, but in November 1891 at the age of sixty-three, he was compelled to resign because of heart trouble. The Commissioners accepted his resignation, but having a high regard for his skills and experience, retained his services as Consulting Engineer. Although in poor health, Albert Vidler kept busy with his various interests and pursuits. As the Eastbourne Gazette remarked in 1894, " Mr Vidler was in every respect a remarkable man, and his talents were of a most diversified character." The Eastbourne Gazette went on to mention his interest in geology and archaeology, his collection of ancient and modern weapons and other curios, his artistic skills and his reputation as a maker of fireworks ( There are reports of Albert providing firework displays for public occasions which matched the work of professional pyrotechnists ). Apparently, Albert Vidler was also a "dead shot" with a gun, and as a clever amateur taxidermist, he was able to preserve the creatures he had killed and display them as trophies.



The Death of Albert Vidler

On the morning of Wednesday, 26th September 1894, Albert Vidler's wife went to Pevensey Station to purchase a railway ticket. At 11am., Mrs Vidler was at the window of the railway booking office taking her ticket, when she suddenly fell backwards on to the floor of the station. Medical aid was summoned, but Mrs Vidler was already dead, presumably the result of a heart attack. News of Mrs Vidler's death was conveyed to Albert, but in the words of the Sussex Express  - "the shock was so great that Mr. Vidler never survived it." Albert Vidler, who was in poor health and had been suffering from heart disease for some time, passed away at his home on Friday 28th September 1894, just two days after the death of his wife.

The obituaries to Albert Vidler which appeared in the local press, were warm and appreciative. The Sussex Express reported that "He was much respected by all with whom he came in contact or with whom he had business relations." Although, Albert Vidler was a very talented man with knowledge of a wide range of subjects, he emerges from the tributes as a quiet, reserved and modest man. The Eastbourne Gazette, after providing a long list of accomplishments, commented that Albert Vidler " with all these attainments was of a most unpretending and retiring disposition." The newspaper concluded its tribute with the following passage :

"He was a good husband and father and a valued friend. He did not give his friendship easily but once given it was firm and lasting, and those who enjoyed the privilege entertained for him the strongest feelings of affection and respect. He leaves a son to mourn his loss."

After the death of his father, Frederick Vidler moved into ' The Gables' with his wife and two daughters. A third child, Frederick junior, was born in Pevensey around 1897. Frederick Vidler is described as a " Dentist's Assistant", aged 42, in the 1901 Census. Within a few years 'The Gables' was being used as a Dentist's Surgery.

Albert Vidler's obituary in the Eastbourne Gazette, published on 3rd October 1894, listed his many interests and talents - surveyor, geologist, archaeologist, artist, stone carver, firework maker, taxidermist, weapons collector and sharpshooter. Surprisingly, the published tributes make no mention of the fact that Albert Vidler had been a photographer and had claim to the title of 'Eastbourne's First Photographic Artist'.

[LEFT] Albert Vidler's gravestone in Pevensey churchyard. The gravestone also carries the name of Mary Anne Grace Vidler, Albert's second wife and an inscription referring to the death of his daughter Florence Vidler, who died on 14th September 1888, just after her 28th birthday.


[ABOVE & RIGHT] Albert Vidler's grave and the impressive bell-shaped monument to Major Vidler (1798-1880), Albert Vidler's father, in Pevensey's churchyard. The monument to Major Vidler is inscribed with the names of  Major Vidler and his wife Anne, together with details of Albert Vidler's first wife, Charlotte Amoore Vidler, who died on 30th September 1860, aged thirty, after giving birth to their second child.




I am indebted to Frances Muncey for her research into the Vidler family and in particular her article on Albert Vidler which appeared in Issue No. 108 of the Eastbourne Local Historian (1998). My thanks also goes to Ted Hide of Eastbourne, who lent me the photographic portrait, which is believed to have been taken by Albert Vidler, and the original old print which shows Albert Vidler's Portrait Gallery on the corner of South Street, Eastbourne. Thanks also to Sally Wellings, who lives at The Gables, Pevensey, Albert Vidler's former home, who gave me permission to use my photographs of Albert Vidler's house on this webpage.


James PIGOT   Pigot & Co.'s Commercial Directory for Sussex  ( 1832 ) Pigot & Co.'s Commercial Directory for Sussex  (1839)+(1840)

F. R. MELVILLE & Co  Directory and Gazetteer of Sussex  (1858)

W. KELLY  Post Office Directory for Sussex (1859) , Post Office Directory for Sussex (1862) ,  Post Office Directory for Sussex (1866) + (1867) , Post Office Directory for Sussex (1878)

Kelly's Directory of Kent, Surrey & Sussex (1891)  Kelly's Directory of Sussex (1899)

Sussex Express ( 9th August 1862 ), Sussex Express ( 12th June 1880 ), Sussex Express ( 29th September 1894 ), Sussex Express ( 13th October 1894 ).

Eastbourne Gazette ( 3rd October 1894 )

Census Returns for 1851, 1861, 1881, 1891, 1901

Parish Registers - Births, Deaths, Marriages


J. C. WRIGHT  Bygone Eastbourne (1902)

George F. CHAMBERS  East Bourne Memories (1910)

Robert SUTTON  A Short Account of Pevensey (1897)


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