From the 1880s, as the fields of Brockley made way for the suburb of Crofton Park, local photographers were capturing the new London suburb, and its residents on film. The fashion for sending picture postcards was at its height from the mid-1890s up until the First World War.
One of the first to set up shop in the Brockley Road was William Henry Helmer. He opened up his shop in 1881, as a bookseller and stationer, and running a circulating library from 171 The Pavement. By 1884 and until 1903, he was a photographer, sometimes in partnership as ‘Webster and Helmer’.
Two more were in business during the Victorian era: T Lindsay Hemery’s studio was at 282 Brockley Road from 1898-1902 and a few doors away, at 272, Robert Wood lived above his studio with his wife Sarah, son John, and Louisa Baker, their servant. In the days when sitting still for a long while was part of having your picture taken, his advertising promised that ‘children were a specialty’.
Arriving some time later, at 398 Brockley Road, David Harris was the photographer most local to Crofton Park.
Just across the road to him, at 395, was Mansfield’s. It sold stationery, stamps and was Crofton Park’s post office – it still is today. Mansfield’s also published and sold their own cards showing the people and places of Crofton Park. At that time, when only the wealthiest had telephones at home, sending postcards was the quickest and cheapest way of contacting people. Typically for a London suburb, Crofton Park had eight postal deliveries a day so you could send a card to a local address and get a reply within a few hours.
Many of the postcards sold in Mansfield’s were hand-coloured. The streets and buildings are much as we know them today, but with horses and carts instead of cars. Many show local people: a photo of the library includes a local delivery boy; in Merritt Road, two women are talking outside one of the houses; around Hilly Fields, the school stands out surrounded by trees that are little more than twigs. When we photographed the same views recently, those trees completely obscured the buildings. There is also a colour picture of the Brockley Jack, taken just after the pub was rebuilt in 1897.
You can see all the pictures of Crofton Park 100 years ago on our website, www.CroftonParkhistory.com/gallery, and from there, can order large prints of your favourites.