William Durrant - Lindfield

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William Durrant (born 1837, Brighton, Sussex - died 1918, Torquay)


[ABOVE] A photograph of The Thatched Cottage, Lindfield ( c1865). As William Durrant was the only photographer active in Lindfield around 1865, there is a good chance that this view was taken by him. The three girls posing on the left were probably asked by the photographer to stand completely still for the camera, but because of the lengthy exposure time, the youngest girl has fidgeted and as a result her image is slightly blurred.


William Durrant's Family Origins

William Durrant was born in Brighton, Sussex on 21st April 1837. He was the son of Elizabeth and William Durrant of Lindfield. William Durrant senior (1814-1901) was a native of Lindfield, but in the late 1830s he was living in Brighton. He married Elizabeth Humphreys (1817-1901) at St. Nicholas Church, Brighton on 11th April 1836 and their son William was born in the town a year later. William Durrant junior was baptised on 21st May 1837 at the Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel in North Street, Brighton. William Durrant senior returned to Lindfield and in 1840, with his brother Thomas Davey Durrant, he set up a factory to make pianofortes. The piano factory, known as the Sussex Pianoforte Manufactory, was located near Lindfield's High Street ( the site of the factory is now occupied by the Tollgate Car Park and the Lindfield Medical Centre ). The various Durrant families in Lindfield took a leading part in the commercial activities of the village. Edward Durrant, for example, ran a grocery and a draper's shop in Lindfield's High Street and also owned a brewery in the village. ( Edward Durrant built a beer house, adjoining the brewery, which was nicknamed the "Stand Up" Inn, as no seats were provided. Later, the beer house  was given the name "The Linden Tree" and visitors to the modern pub can view the remains of Durrant's Brewery ).

At the time of the 1861 Census, William Durrant senior and his wife were residing in Lindfield with their five children - William junior, aged 23, Elizabeth, aged 21, Mary, aged 19, Charlotte, aged 15 and Edward, aged 13. Both William Durrant and William junior, his eldest son, give their occupation as "pianoforte maker" in the census return. The authors of Kelly's 1867 Post Office Directory for Sussex state in the introduction to the section devoted to Lindfield that: "The extensive pianoforte manufactory belonging to Mr. T. D. Durrant is situated in the village: it was established in 1840, and employs a large number of hands." In fact, the factory workforce was so large it was necessary for the Durrants to build a row of cottages in Lewes Road ( known as "Frederick’s Cottages" ) to house the piano factory workers and their families. By 1866, Thomas Davey Durrant (1818-1903) had taken over the running of the piano factory and William Durrant senior had become a prosperous land owner and was living with his family at Pear Tree House in Lindfield. ( The piano factory in Lindfield closed in 1886 and the business transferred to Rugby ). In the 1871 Census, William Durrant senior is described as a " Retired Land Owner", aged 57, residing at Pear Tree House with his wife Elizabeth and his youngest son Edward Durrant, a 23 year old "Draper's Assistant".


[ABOVE] Photograph of the High Street in Lindfield ( c1865). This view shows the old Lindfield Toll-gate which was set up in 1770 and taken down in 1884. This photograph was very likely to have been taken by William Durrant, who was the only photographer living in Lindfield at this time. The relatively long exposure times of the wet-plate camera meant that passers-by were obliged to stand stock-still to prevent any blurred images.




William Durrant's Photographic Career in Lindfield

[ABOVE] The trade plate of William Durrant, Photographer, of Lindfield, Sussex.

William Durrant junior was first listed as a photographer in Lindfield in Kelly's Post Office Directory of 1866. William Durrant junior's studio address in Lindfield's Commercial section is given as Pear Tree House, which was his father's home address. Some early photographs of Lindfield which date from the mid 1860s, such as a view of Lindfield's High Street showing the Turnpike Trust's Toll-gate, were probably taken by William Durrant during the few years he was active as a photographer in Lindfield. William Durrant junior was again listed as a photographer at Pear Tree House, Lindfield when Kelly's 1867 Directory was published.

When William Durrant first took up photography, he probably took his 'wet-plate' camera out on to the streets of Lindfield to capture images of the village which were familiar to him. Relatives, friends and neighbours in Lindfield posed in front of picturesque buildings and distinctive landmarks as William Durrant junior made a photographic record of the village. William Durrant junior was later to advertise himself as an artist as well as a photographer and one surviving signed photograph from his Lindfield days, entitled "A Study from Nature", shows that he was as much concerned with the artistic possibilities of the medium as with the commercial potential of photography. However, William Durrant wanted to be a professional photographer and in the 1860s the main market was in the field of portraiture. In 1861, the population of Lindfield was 1,917. Lindfield was a relatively large village, but it did not have enough inhabitants to provide a steady trade in portrait making .At least In the summer months, Durrant could look to visitors to supplement his trade. In Victorian times, Lindfield was regarded as a particularly pleasing village and attracted a fair number of visitors. The introduction to Lindfield in Kelly's 1867 Directory made the the following comments about its appeal for town dwellers :

"The village is noted for its extremely healthy situation, and for the picturesque and charming scenery by which it is surrounded: the beautiful common at the south end of the village adds very much to the attraction of the place. A large number of visitors from Brighton and London stay here during the summer months."

The extra numbers in the summer months were welcome, but probably not enough to secure a substantial or regular income for Durrant's photography business in Lindfield. The place to be for an enterprising portrait photographer was one of the rapidly expanding seaside towns. Brighton, England's largest seaside resort ( the population would reach 90,000 in 1871) was only 15 miles away, but this flourishing resort was already served by over 35 photographic portrait studios in 1867. Torquay was one of the fastest growing seaside resorts on England's south coast.  In 1801, Torquay's population numbered 838, but when the 1851 Census was taken it had reached 11,474. When William Durrant set out on his long journey to the southern coast of Devon around 1868, Torquay's population was around 20,000, boosted each summer by thousands of seasonal visitors.

[ABOVE] "A Study from Nature", a large, signed photograph by William Durrant of Lindfield . Albumen Print ( c1866 )

[ABOVE] The reverse of a carte-de-visite portrait by William Durrant, Photographer, of Lindfield, Sussex.

[ABOVE]  A portrait of a mother with her child by William Durrant of  Lindfield (c1866).

William Durrant in Torquay

By 1869, William Durrant junior was working as a photographer in Torquay in Devon. In 1869, Durrant is recorded as a photographer at a house named "Woodstock" in Abbey Road, Torquay. At the end of 1870, William Durrant married Rosa (Rose) Kate Brooke ( born c1850, Plympton Devon ) in Torquay. Around the time of his marriage, Durrant established the Torbay Photographic Gallery at 17 Victoria Parade, Torquay. At the end of 1871, William Durrant's wife gave birth to their first child, Harold Humphrey Durrant.

William Durrant operated a photographic studio in Torquay's Victoria Parade throughout the 1870s. By 1878, Durrant had studios at 30 Victoria Parade and in St Mark's Place, Torquay. By this date, William Durrant and his family were residing in Vane Hill Road, Torquay. Living in the same road at a house named "Fernwood" was Edward Henry Cox, a thirty year old photographer from London. Edward H. Cox had established a photographic studio in Park Crescent, Torquay around 1873. Cox invited William Durrant to join him in a business partnership around 1878.

[ABOVE] The trade plate of  William Durrant's Torbay Photographic Gallery from the back of a carte-de-visite dated 1871.


[ABOVE LEFT] A vignette carte-de-visite portrait of a young woman taken at William Durrant's studio at 17 Victoria Parade, Torquay, in 1871.

[ABOVE RIGHT] A portrait of a young woman taken at Cox & Durrant's branch establishment at 11 Bedford Circus, Exeter (1879).


Cox & Durrant

William Durrant and Edward H. Cox were in a partnership from about 1878 to 1893. Around 1878, Cox & Durrant established a branch studio in Exeter at 11 Bedford Circus. Cox and Durrant appointed John Ross Browning, a twenty-three year old photographer from Victoria, Australia, to manage the Exeter studio and they returned to Torquay to run their studio at 5 Park Crescent. In 1883, Cox and Durrant relinquished their Exeter studio to John Browning and set up a new studio in Torquay at 8 Victoria Parade. Cox and Durrant remained together at the Victoria Parade studio until around 1893.

Rose K. Durrant & Son

When the 1891 Census was taken, William and Rose Durrant's 19 year old son Harold Humphrey Durrant was visiting his grandparents in Lindfield. William Durrant senior and his wife Elizabeth were still residing at Pear Tree House, Lindfield. William and Elizabeth Durrant's children had grown up and left home, but in 1878 their eldest daughter's husband, Cephas Mannering, had died and so his widow and two children had come to live with them at Pear Tree House. Since 1871, William Durrant senior had been receiving income from his land and houses and in 1891 he was still able to report to the enumerator that he was "Living on his Own Means". Elizabeth Mannering and her two children, Ada, aged 20, and Mabel, aged 18, were all being supported by William senior. Harold Humphrey Durrant, William senior's grandson, gives his occupation as "Artist" in the 1891 Census.

William Durrant junior retired from photography ( perhaps through ill health ) around 1893, when he was in his mid-fifties. His wife, Rose Durrant, who at forty-three was 12 years his junior, decided to set up her own photographic studio.

Around 1896, Mrs Rose Kate Durrant and her artist son Harold Humphrey Durrant set up a photographic studio at 46 Fleet Street, Torquay. The firm of Rose K. Durrant & Son continued at this address until around 1913.

In the 1901 Census, both Rose Durrant and her 29 year old son Harold are recorded as photographers living and working in Torquay. Another son, fourteen year old schoolboy Gerald Durrant is also listed in the household. No profession or occupation is given for the 63 year old William Durrant.

At the outbreak of the First World War the photographic studio of Rose K. Durrant & Son was located at 37 Fleet Street, Torquay, where it remained until 1918. It was in 1918 that William Durrant junior died at the age of 80. [The death of William Durrant was registered in the district of Newton Abbot during the 2nd Quarter of 1918].


[TOP] A portrait of  Mrs Drury, wife of General Drury, signed in pencil on the frame "Durrant & Son, Torquay"(c1897) and inscribed on the reverse, "Mrs (General) Drury". [ABOVE] The trade plate of Rose K. Durrant & Son on the reverse of the portrait of Mrs Drury. The lady in the photograph was Mrs Jessie Drury, the widow of Major General George Drury (1823-1895). Jessie Pigou, who was born in Tenby, Wales in 1825, married Lieutenant George Drury of the Royal Marines Light Infantry in the East Stonehouse district of Devon in 1850. After Major General Drury retired from the R. M.  L. I. , he and his wife resided in Devon. Mrs Jessie Drury died in the Exeter region of Devon on 3rd September 1914, aged 89. *

* I am grateful to Judy Knuckey of New Zealand for identifying the sitter in this photograph and for supplying family history details concerning her great, great grandmother, Mrs Jessie Drury.

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