The invention of the camera by Fox Talbot in 1835 saw the beginning of photography and through his invention, the foundations of the postal system that we know today.

The first photographic negatives that could be used to make multiple copies were being produced by 1845. By 1875 plate cameras, with film needing less exposure were introduced, and by the time work on the building of Barry Docks had begun, the camera had over 50 years of being improved.

One of the many outcomes of having negative glass plates was that photographs could be reproduced hundreds of times, so that cheap multiple copies could be made. Prior to this negatives were bleached and etched, and only one copy could be made from each negative. This process was used by a Frenchman named Daguerre who used tin as a backing, and gave his name to the Daguerreotype process. In this country it was called tintype photography.

In 1869 when the Austrian government introduced the postal card as a new method of communication, there were two main disadvantages. Firstly anyone who could read could read the message, and secondly, it needed a stamp, which at that time were very difficult to obtain. The second obstacle was soon overcome, and in the first year of its introduction, over 1,500,000 postal cards were sent in Austria.

The British government's interest was soon aroused by the amount of revenue obtained by the Austrian government by the sale of postal cards and stamps, and 1870 they introduced the postal card to Britain. Reverend Kilvert in his diary, reported that in 1870 he had sent his first card.

When Rowland Hill of the Post Office introduced the Penny Post, the management objected, but later when they saw the increase in revenue it generated, they gave it wholehearted support.

A subordinate of Rowland Hill was Anthony Trollope, his main rival who was always in dispute with him, and between them they revolutionised the Post Office - Hill with his Penny Post and Trollope, with the post box. Within a short period of time, Trollope had placed at least one Post Box in every town and village throughout Britain. Post rose from under 1,000,000 per annum to over 4,000,000 per annum in three years.

W.J. Reader in a book entitled "Victorian Britain" stated that the Penny Post and postcards had revolutionised Britain, and had contributed to the mass migration from the countryside to the towns and cities. People who had left the countryside to enter domestic service, could write home and paint a glowing picture of life where they worked. Literacy was becoming more widespread with the advent of the Education Act of 1870. With the reduction of the postal rate for postcards to one halfpenny, a rise in the sale of both postcards and stamps by over 400% in a three-year period, proved the popularity of the reduction.

Some of the most common messages from a semi-literate population were "This is where I live /work /am visiting". Most of these cards were topographical, and were sometimes marked with an X to show where the sender was staying or working. Postcards are a useful source of information to the family historian, sometimes giving the only clue as to where family members moved to in search of work or a better standard of life.

The main supplier of postcards on sale in Britain in 1905 was Germany (Saxony and Bavaria), but soon after this date Messrs Wrench and Ettelinger began producing the first British postcards. Within three years, the revenue from the sale of the cards produced by them reached over £4,000 per month.

The next major British postcard manufacturer was the Bamforth Company, which together with Neville Cardus, began to produce saucy and comic postcards that were peculiar to Britain. (It was not until the 60's that these comic postcards began to be accepted as a form of art). Bamforth's, whose top artists were Douglas Tempest and Arnold Taylor, were later joined in competition by the Pictorial Postcard Company whose main artist was Donald McGill.

Barry was very fortunate that by the time work had started on its construction, the camera had been perfected. The thousands of workmen who had flooded into Barry to obtain work on the building of the docks, railways and town (many of whom were semi-literate) were able to send short messages on postcards to show where they lived and worked. Many postcards sent from Barry are still found overseas, in Germany, France and other European countries, and a great number were sent by seamen calling at Barry Docks. Others were sent to former residents, who, when work on the building of the docks and town was completed, emigrated to the Commonwealth, or to the colonies of the former Empire. These often come to light when house clearances take place and the cards are sold.

In the 1890's over 14 photographers were operating from studios that they had opened in the town. Postcards were obtainable from nearly every newsagent, tobacconist and sweet shop in the town. The most prolific local photographer was H. Shervington whose studio was in Main Street, Cadoxton. Other photographers were E. Nesbitt and G. Howe (whose photos appeared in the "Mates Town Guide" for 1904), James Cutter from Vere Street, and W. Humphries from Barry Road in Cadoxton. The St. Louis Photographic Studio, South Wales Photographic Company, Provincial Photographic Company, Bell's Photographic Studios, and C. Wallis and W.H. Brison in Holton Road, were some of the other popular and well known local photographers. Charles Farmer, who started his business in Dock View Road in the early 1900's, was the only photographer from that period who continued to produce postcards up to the start of the 1939-45 war from his studio in Holton Road.

Among the many travelling photographers who visited the town to take photographs of places of interest, beaches and topographical views, the most well known producer of postcards and photographic guides was Francis Frith. Copies of his pictures taken in the 1900's are still available today. Messrs Viners, Judges, Valentines, and Cardiff photographer E.T. Bush are some of the others. Cardiff and Barry photographers, the Hanson Brothers, took the most sought after docks and shipping photographs.

Barry Island over the years had a host of "While you wait" photographers, amongst whom the Grozcop brother and sister partnership was the most lasting, taking tintype photographs right up to the late 50's.


© T. CLEMETT 1999

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