Needles in Haystacks
I know I’ve said it before, but, the life-story of photographer Edward Bragg really does read like the script of a novel. None of his captured images of The Roseland this month but more of the story as it slowly unfolds, a little more of the plot, all built upon personal traces which are few and far between.
Born into a working class family in Ulverston, Cumbria, christened Edward Bragg, working in Blackburn in the early days of commercial photography and witnessing the real growth of documentary media (both as stills and as movies), this creative soul found his niche. Apart from the images he left behind, and, the inclusion in everyday official documents, there’s not much to go on…what follows are some recent musings based around the facts.
Arriving in Cornwall at some point in 1900, and, quickly establishing a business in photography he soon adopts a middle name. He becomes Edward Albert Bragg. All published work from C.1904 is credited to E.A. Bragg and I believe this is him striving to perhaps be perceived as a member of The Middle-Classes. On all of the personal notes that turn up we see his signature, E.A. Bragg, whist every official document just carries the name E. Bragg.
From his own birth to marriage certificate, census reports, certificates for the births of his children, even a school report for his eldest son, he’s there as Edward Bragg. On one piece of paperwork accompanying his request to copyright an image he has actually crossed the ‘A’ from his signature. Look at the score-sheet for a sporting event of this period, a cricket match perhaps, working-class folk were usually listed by surname only, step up a class and your initials were included. I do feel this was what he aspired to….
Images of the man himself are virtually impossible to find. The high-resolution scan of a silver trophy, photographed by Edward (inverted and enlarged), sees the reflection of a blurred figure behind a tripod. For years I could find nothing more. For the first confirmed sighting of the photographer I never miss a chance to thank Linda Flynn, Great Granddaughter of Edwards Eldest Brother. Her image of Edward from a family collection gave me a little more to go on.
Also, confirmed by one of Edward’s handwritten notes I know that his wife Elizabeth was involved in the business in it’s infancy and actually on the spot to activate a camera. Two real-photo postcards showing rock formations at Carn Brea, Redruth, include a dapper chap in bowler hat posing for camera….there’s an unmistakeable likeness, a particular stance, the way the hand is poised. I’m sure this is one of those cameo appearances captured by Elizabeth Bragg. This is tantalising for me and I await the response from Edward’s descendants as to whether they detect family characteristics!
Another chance discovery (with special thanks to John Lethbridge) is a short piece of text in Edward’s hand which appears to outline an advert placed in The Cornubian newspaper in 1907. Edward’s note reads; ‘We are now getting up a splendid series on Cornish mines and miners. Have some excellent views of underground workings taken by flash light’.
He certainly took some fantastic views of mine buildings and workings around Redruth and Camborne but as for miners underground, I’ve found no evidence of him actually doing this. There are though portraits of miners, and, I’ve included one here which is titled ‘Miners Coming From Underground, Dolcoath Tin Mine, Cornwall’. It looks rather posed to me and I’m not sure Edward ever went underground with them, I hope to be proved wrong.
One other find, mentioned in a previous article, is a shopping list for D.I.Y. Materials. Addressed from the Bragg homestead in Falmouth, to a general store in the town, the request is as follows; 3lbs white paint, 3lbs green paint, 1 small paint brush for around the sides and corners, ½ doz. eyes for fixing stair rods. This is another scarce window into the everyday life of the family and again shows how I’m piecing together moments in this story. I wonder if any of Edward’s handiwork is traceable today?
And finally this month; when writing about or discussing this research I’ve always declared that Edward’s photographic journey ended in 1915 when he volunteered for war. I felt sure this was the case. None of his thousands of images I’ve studied over the last twenty five years post-date this… until, a discovery in April this year…
I found an image titled, ‘Medical Unit & Mechanical Transport, Feb. 23rd 1916’, showing characters in pantomime costume on a simple stage set-up. After seeking help from someone with relevant knowledge of military history I received this response from Penryn based researcher Keith Kneebone;
‘Knowing someone who could possible give me some information I rang Charlie Wenmonth, a member of the Royal British Legion, what follows is his opinion for which I’m very grateful. With the war situation at the end of 1915 being so desperate, and, at the time of Edward volunteering, he would have received very little training, likely to have been just a few weeks at Salisbury Training Camp before being sent to France.
‘It would have been unlikely that the stage production seen here in this photo would have taken place while Edward was in training and would have been much more likely to have happened in France. These stage production’s often took place at base camp as a sort of jolly before being sent to the front. Soldiers would return to base camp from the front to recoup only to return after a short break, it was at such times as this that these stage productions took place. In Conclusion, what we see here could be the only known photo taken by Edward Bragg while serving his country in France.’
Edward certainly had some kind of official permission to work in the vicinity of Falmouth during the build-up and outbreak of WW1 as he was freely recording images of troops, American Military Cruisers and captured German shipping in the surrounding waters. But, going to war with his photographic kit is a real surprise, especially as the pantomime image is printed on his own paper-stock with Falmouth address to the reverse. He must have carried the fragile photographic paper with him as well has having access to some kind of darkroom facility behind the lines!
On the subject of Edward enlisting, one of those scribbled notes of his declares an interest in The Photographic Section of The Naval Air Service although he says he has no Naval friends to recommend him. Unfortunately his military records were destroyed in The Blitz and the trail has run cold and I just don’t know what happened exactly. A reliable source believed him gassed and shipped back to a military hospital. Southampton perhaps? From there he certainly ended his days at the Falmouth Poor Law Institution, Budock House, where he died in 1928.
Ironically, the only official document recording him as Edward Albert Bragg is his death certificate.
Please visit the website http://www.eabragg.co.uk/ and do continue to contact me with any thoughts!
Phil Nicholls, November’14.
Archive & print sales: www.philnicholls.com