George Willes Hale (1832 -1900)


Family Origins

George Willes Hale was born in Lincolnshire in 1832, the son of George Carpenter Hale and Arabella Louisa Woodburne. George was baptised in West Ashby, near Horncastle in Lincolnshire on 2nd May 1832. George Hale was apparently educated to University level, as he held a Master of Arts degree. When he produced his first photographic portraits in Eastbourne, he had "G. W. Hale, M.A." printed on the back of the card mount.

Marriage and Children

George Willes Hale had fathered a child called Lizzie on the Isle of Wight in the March Quarter of 1860. On 22nd July 1861, George Willes Hale married  Eliza Jane Edwards ( born c1830 Birmingham ), the mother of the child, at St Nicholas Church in Brighton, Sussex. The following day, on the twenty-third of July, the couple's daughter was baptised with the name Lizzie Gertrude Hale at the same Brighton church. George and Eliza Hale produced at least two more daughters - Nellie Constance Hale, who was born in Eastbourne in the June Quarter of 1864 and Blanche Emmeline, who was born in Shaldon, Devon early in 1866.

Photographic Career

George Willes Hale opened a photographic studio in a building called St. Leonard's Villa, opposite Trinity Church, Eastbourne in the Summer of 1862, when he was just thirty years of age. An advertisement dated 13th August 1862 included the announcement that "Mr. Hale has completed his arrangements for taking the carte-de-visite and the new vignette portraits." The advertisement informed the public that portraits were "taken in any style from 11 till 4." An advertisement which appeared a year later, in August 1863, gave details of George Hale's prices. The carte-de-visite portrait retailed at 21shillings for twenty-one copies. This seems a large quantity for bulk purchase, but it meant that each single portrait would cost only a shilling. In fact, Hale offered a further bulk discount of fifty copies for a total price of 42 shillings. This price system might indicate that Hale was trying to attract customers of a higher social class than his rivals. For instance, George Robinson, a photographic artist from San Francisco, California who had in 1862 established a studio in Eastbourne ( first in Cornfield Road and later in Terminus Road ) offered to take single portraits for one shilling. These shilling portraits were probably collodion positives or ambrotypes, but Robinson also offered ten carte-de-visite portraits for 10 shillings. In his early notices, Hale emphasised the point that "portraits of the highest class" could be obtained at his photographic studio and that he was employing "first-class London Artists" to colour enlarged card portraits. Hale seems to have learned a lesson in the way of business by September 1863, when he offered ten cartes-de-visite for 10s 6d. In an advertisement placed in The Eastbourne Gazette, dated 2nd September, Hale admitted that he had endeavoured to meet the public requirements "for cheap and superior portraits"

[ABOVE] A vignette portrait produced at Hale's second studio in Gowland's Library, Marine Parade, Eastbourne.

[RIGHT] The back and front of a carte-de-visite portrait from the studio of George W. Hale, M. A. at  St. Leonard's Villa, Eastbourne ( c1863 ). George Hale thought it important to let his customers know that he had received a university education and that he had been awarded a Master of Arts degree.

It is not clear whether George Hale actually operated a camera at his Eastbourne studio. Hale appears to have been a man of independent means and may have been more of an entrepreneur who saw a business opportunity in the growing popularity of photographic portraiture. When George Hale's second daughter, Nellie Constance Hale was baptised on 1st August 1864, when he was still the proprietor of a photographic studio, Hale gave his occupation as "Gentleman" and not "Photographer". In fact, George Hale does not give his occupation as "Photographic Artist" in subsequent census returns and in the 1881 Census return, the 49 year old George W. Hale does not provide any details of his occupation or profession. The fact that Hale and his family were living at this time in a very fashionable area in East Stonehouse, Devon and employed a cook, a housemaid, a page boy and a nurse as "live-in" domestic servants, suggests Hale was never a humble photographer.

Even if George Hale did manipulate a camera at his Eastbourne studio, he almost certainly employed photographers to take portraits on a daily basis. Hale's advertisements make mention of the fact that he employed "first-class London Artists" and when he announced the opening of a second photographic studio in Eastbourne, Hale informs the public that "an eminent Artist from one of the first London firms has been engaged" to take "superior portraits."

  George Hale's Photographic Studio at St. Leonard's Villa, Eastbourne

In Kelly's 1862 Directory for Sussex, George Willes Hale is recorded as a private resident living at St. Leonard's Villa, Old Sea Road, Eastbourne. It appears that Hale constructed a photographic studio at his home address of St Leonard's Villa in the Summer of 1862. St. Leonard's Villa was a large house situated opposite Trinity Church. The road in which the studio was located was first called Old Sea Road, then Seaside Road and finally, in more recent times, Trinity Trees.

[ABOVE] An advertisement for Hale's Photographic Studio at St. Leonard's Villa, opposite Trinity Church, Eastbourne, which appeared on the front page of The Eastbourne Gazette on Wednesday, 13th August, 1862.

[ABOVE] An advertisement for Hale's Photographic Studio at St. Leonard's Villa, opposite Trinity Church, Eastbourne, which appeared on the front page of The Eastbourne Gazette on Wednesday, 19th August, 1863.


ABOVE] Back and front of a carte-de-visite portrait from the studio of George Willes Hale of St. Leonard's Villa, Eastbourne ( c1862 ).




ABOVE] An engraving of Trinity Church, Eastbourne, which had been erected in 1838 on an open space to the west of Seaside Road. Trinity Church became Eastbourne's Parish Church in 1847. The building to the left of the church in this picture could possibly be St. Leonard's Villa, where G. W. Hale established a photographic studio in 1862. This print was engraved by W. T. Harris of London and published around 1855 by The Misses Hopkins of The Library, Marine Parade, Eastbourne, the site of Hale's second studio.

ABOVE] Two examples of  carte-de-visite portraits taken in the studio of George Willes Hale at  St. Leonard's Villa, Seaside Road, Eastbourne. ( 1862 )

George Hale's Photographic Studio at Gowland's Library, Marine Parade, Eastbourne

At the end of August 1863, George Willes Hale opened a second photographic studio at Gowland's Library in Marine Parade Eastbourne. In 1862, Thomas Stafford Gowland ( 1835-1906) had arrived in Eastbourne from London to take over the running of The Library at 16 & 17 Marine Parade. The Library did have a Reading Room, but it was primarily a stationery and bookselling business, which also stocked drawing materials, toys and fancy goods. To gain access to Hale's Photographic Studio, customers would have to pass through Gowland's library and shop.

ABOVE] An advertisement in The Eastbourne Gazette of 2nd September 1863, announcing the opening of George Hale's second studio at  Mr. Gowland's Library, Marine Parade, Eastbourne.

For a short period, George Hale operated two studios in Eastbourne, one at St. Leonard's Villa, the other at Gowland's Library, but eventually he moved the whole of his commercial operations to The Library at 16 & 17 Marine Parade. Before the end of 1864, George Hale sold his photographic apparatus, studio equipment and stock of negatives to Thomas Stafford Gowland, the proprietor of The Library in Marine Parade. On 4th January 1865, Gowland placed an advertisement in The Eastbourne Gazette, advising the public that he was now operating Hale's former studio at 16 & 17 Marine Parade. Under the heading of "PHOTOGRAPHY", the advertisement made the following announcement : " T. S. GOWLAND, having purchased of G. W. HALE, Esq., the whole of his PHOTOGRAPHIC BUSINESS, is enabled to execute any number of Portraits in the very best style ... ... T. S. GOWLAND has all the NEGATIVES taken by G. W. Hale."

[ RIGHT] The back of a carte-de-visite  from the studio of George W. Hale, M. A. at  St. Leonard's Villa, Eastbourne, advertising his second studio at The Library, Marine Parade.

George Hale and his Family in Devon

George Hale and his family left Eastbourne and headed towards the West Country. In 1865, Hale's Eastbourne home, St. Leonard's Villa, was taken over by Reverend Henry Whelpton (1833-1902), who was to preach at the nearby Trinity Church before becoming the incumbent of St. Saviour's Church in South Street. Within a year, George Hale and his wife were living in Shaldon, Devon, where their youngest daughter Blanche Emmeline Hale was born in 1866. By 1878, George Hale and his family were living in Plymouth, Devon. At the time of the 1881 Census, George W. Hale was living comfortably with his wife and three daughters at 73 Durnford Street, East Stonehouse, Devon. In 1882, George Hale's wife died at the age of 53. Over the next six years all three of his daughters married. In 1887, the youngest daughter, Blanche Emmeline Hale, married Washington Merritt Grant Singer ( 1866-1934), a son of Isaac Merritt Singer (1811-1875), millionaire inventor of the famous Singer Sewing Machine. ( Isaac Singer had fathered at least 22 children by five different women, but Washington Singer, as a legitimate son, inherited a substantial part of the Singer fortune and became well known as a public benefactor in his adopted town of Paignton in Devon ).

By 1889, George Hale was living at Marine Villa, The Esplanade in Paignton, Devon. George Willes Hale died in Paignton, Devon in 1900, aged 69. ( Death registered in the Totnes District in the September Quarter of 1900 ).

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