The Search for Edward Bragg – January 2014 – Phil Nicholls

The Search for Edward Bragg 

gustav crew at portscatho, e a bragg

If you’ve visited Portscatho’s Harbour Club in recent years you may have noticed a pair of large canvas prints at the far end of the bar – a shipwreck crew pose outside a house on The Lugger and fishermen display a thresher shark in the harbour. They were both taken by a photographer I’ve been researching for years…

I first came across the work of photographer and postcard publisher Edward Bragg sometime back in the mid 1980’s. A photographer myself, early for a shoot and idling around a Charing Cross antique market I picked up some postcard views of the Cornish village where I grew up.

e a bragg, thresher shark, portscathoMy family has lived in Portscatho for generations giving me a real sense of place and a passion for local history. These photo-cards by Bragg, compared to other photographers and publishers, stood out that proverbial mile and appeared to be the nearest I’d get to a time-machine, real windows in time and I marvelled at their clarity.

Why haven’t we heard of this photographer? Well, he’s just one more casualty of The First World War, gassed in the trenches and pretty much forgotten. I’m on a mission to get him the recognition he deserves almost 100 years after his working life came to a tragic end.

ea bragg, trophy reflection c.1910

20-odd years down the line I’ve amassed and recorded a large amount of this photographer’s work and scribbled down every fact  about him that I’ve come across. I showed the work of Edward Bragg, lecturing occasionally and finding audiences gripped by his images and fascinated

by the mystery surrounding the man himself. Until recently I had no idea what he actually looked like and would usually finish a talk with a high-resolution scan of a silver trophy, photographed by Bragg, in which a tripod can be clearly seen in the reflection. Is that a blurry figure behind the tripod?

e a bragg portrait

It really is astonishing how little personal information can be found, internet searches reveal next to nothing, he’s like a ghost. From his hand-printed photographs with ‘postcard backing’ (which survive in fairly large numbers) I’m trying to find my way into the mind of the man who must have been a familiar figure around our Roseland villages pre-war. Just occasionally a message from the photographer can be found scribbled on one of his own cards, just occasionally, but it’s all I have to go on.

It was only recently that I was able to put a face to the name.

I will be forever grateful to Linda Flynn from New Jersey in the U.S., Great-Granddaughter of Edward’s elder Brother, Henry, for making available a set of images including one of Edward himself.

e a bragg, the gustav ashore at porthcurnick 1912

Photographing his Sister Sarah at Southampton Dock, he appears to have stepped into frame alongside her,  and his affectionate note on the reverse of this print reads ‘…two distinguished samples of the Bragg family….Bash and Ted…’ Bash it seems was Sarah’s nickname. I believe three of his siblings including Sarah to have been missionaries hence a visit to the dock from which they travelled to Africa.

The search continues and I do have leads this year. I can now see the face of the photographer; I have a few hand-written notes and a whole series of images. It seems he travelled from The Lake District, arriving in Redruth C.1900 before moving to Illogan. He eventually settled in Falmouth in1907 from where he was able to visit The Roseland by steamer.

whirlwind , pendower, boat damage 1908 by e a bragg

He seems to have spent time in St.Mawes and regularly landed at Percuil from where he would have struck out for Portscatho. He records landscapes and seascapes, treks the cliffs, photographs St.Anthony, Trewince and Froe. He crosses from Portscatho to Porthcurnick (where he photographed the wreck of The Gustav in 1912), Curgurrell is another of his locations and his images of Pendower House struck by a whirlwind in 1908 are superb documentary pieces.

Through Roseland Online I’ll reveal my discoveries as they unfold, and show his images of our peninsula. He did work across Cornwall between Lands End and St.Austell so visit the website www.eabragg.co.uk to see his images of other areas. My aim is not to simply create an archive of Edward Bragg’s photography.

whirlwind damage, pendower, 1908 by e a bragg

I’ve been looking at his studies with my own ‘photographic vision’, treading in his footsteps, visiting his locations, and attempting to re-create some of these images. I’m keen to observe the changes in our Cornish towns and scenery and am considering why some of the sites were chosen to shoot from, i.e. often quite inaccessible high ground.

On the website I’ll muse on what he might have seen around him on the day he decisively captured a scene 100 years ago. Look to left and right of the frame. Was the image captured on a sunny day? On the cliffs of The Lizard Peninsula did he hear the Skylark and smell the scent of gorse flowers? We’ll never know exactly, but, I feel my interpreting his images will bring us a little bit closer to the man himself.

Phil Nicholls

Portfolio: www.philnicholls.co.uk

Archive & print sales: www.philnicholls.com

11 Comments on The Search for Edward Bragg – January 2014 – Phil Nicholls

  1. Hey Phil
    Love the article – am really glad to see you are still flying the flag for Edward. Look forwards to hearing more news.
    Am particularly interested to see he was shopping for some DIY goods – that gene definitely bypassed my father!!
    Jude

  2. Hi Phil, I really enjoy reading your articles, I have a great love of portscatho and have been visiting and staying in the village as often as I can for around forty years. I was just wondering if you are the same Phil Nichols that lived in caiseal, parc an dillon road? It may just be coincidence but I remember someone with that name being around the village in the seventies. just curious really, but mostly I just wanted to say that I’m enjoying reading what you put on here. Thanks.

    • Hi Angela,
      Thanks for looking at the Edward Bragg posts – Parc-An Dillon Road yes, left there many years ago, London calling etc. Back in Cornwall again…..keep following the EAB story, I appreciate all the interest!

      • Wow, so you are the same person! I think you knew my sister, Gill Brown. We lived in cheam, surrey. Why did you leave idyllic portscatho to go to London?! I want to leave London and live in portscatho! I still return there with my husband and son once a year. I love it there. Great to read your stuff, hope you keep writing and getting it online for others to enjoy. P.s do you remember will and Anthony? Their father ran the standard pub. Also the discos in the memorial hall? You’re right, the 70’s! ……where has all that time gone?

  3. Many thanks for your continued enthusiasm for researching Edward Bragg’s life and work. My thanks also to Linda for letting me know about the new links and article. Best wishes for 2014, Elizabeth

    • Many thanks Elizabeth. The website has pretty much been on hold but will blossom this tear, I promise. 2015 will be the centenary of Edward joining up and eventually going to war and I’m planning an exhibition to commemorate this date. His work came to an end in 1915 and it’s time now to get him some recognition for those intense years spent creating an incredible document of Cornish life and landscape!

  4. Phil, Great article. I am glad that your enthusiasm for Edward’s photo work is still going strong. What we all wouldn’t give for one hour with a long gone relative to better understand them and ask all the questions we feel will never be answered. I always check your website to see what project you will tackle next. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Linda,
      Yes, thanks for your comment and I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year!!!
      The project is still very much underway with some interesting discoveries in the last couple of months, inc….one of Edward’s shopping lists. He was obviously doing a bit of DIY and is buying paint, paint brushes and screws for attaching stair rods. I’ll be sharing this proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’ really soon.
      Remember that you play a big part in this project!
      Regards, Phil.

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