It may safely be said that Smith is the most difficult English surname to research and the antecedents of Edward Gordon Smith are no exception. I feel well pleased therefore to have been able to trace them back as many as three generations to the Warwickshire area. Joseph Smith married Elizabeth Eld on 11 February 1782 in Holy Trinity Coventry and their son Samuel was born in Warwick in 1789; he it was who moved to London becoming a mercer.
Samuel married Henrietta Burt, daughter of John Burt Surgeon to the Admiralty, at Stony Stratford, Bucks, in June 1820 and lived initially in Castle Street, Westminster, where his eldest son John Burt Smith was born in 1821; he worked for Messrs Harding & Co at 82 Pall Mall. The next year the family moved to Chelsea and three more children were born to them in a small cottage at 14 South Parade, including his second son Edward born on 20 October 1825. In 1828 they moved into a bigger house at 1 Robert Street (later to be renamed Sydney Street), on the corner of Fulham Road; this house is still standing, although the ground floor has now become a shop. Two more children were born there, until by about 1838 he had become a partner and the business became known as Messrs Harding, Smith & Co. Samuel then took up residence above the business in Pall Mall; his youngest child Henrietta had been born there in 1835. We find them there on the 1841 census: Samuel and Henrietta, together with the eldest and youngest of their children, John and Henrietta; the other children were away at school and for the moment have not been traced.
In the directories between 1838 and 1849 the business is variously described as ‘Mercers and Jewellers’, ‘Silk Mercers’ and ‘Warehousemen’. Samuel, then aged 60, decided to retire in 1849, selling his share in the business to a Mr Anthony. With the proceeds he set up his two eldest sons John Burt and Edward as ‘Lacemen’ at 151 Regent Street. The first directory entry is for 1850 and we find John and Edward there on the 1851 census, together with 13 staff. Shortly after this Edward married Helen Farrar (born 1820 in Halifax, daughter of Thomas Farrar, merchant, and four or five years his senior) on 22 September 1855 at St James’s Piccadilly.
Thus it was that their eldest son
Edward Gordon Smith came to be born above the shop in Regent Street on 15 June
1857. Family life occasioned the sale
of the Regent Street lace business in 1859; reading between the lines I have
the feeling that Edward did not have the temperament for that type of
enterprise. Any way he moved back to
his father’s house in the leafy suburbs of Mildmay Park in Islington and began
working for James Parry & Co Ltd, Pen & Pencil Makers, of 3 Cheapside
in the City of London. Edward seems to
have now found a career more to his liking.
We find the whole family at 14 Clarendon Villas, Mildmay Park on the
1861 census; Edward is described as a ‘Salesman Stationer’, his widower father
as a ‘Retired Draper’ and his maiden aunt Catherine Sarah Burt. Edward’s youngest son John Harry Smith was
born on 19 July 1862 at Clarendon Villas and Edward is now described as a
‘Birmingham Factor’. Shortly after
this the whole family moved to 5 Somerset Villas, Lordship Road, Stoke
Newington. This house, since 1886 renumbered
as 61 Lordship Road, is an imposing villa and sports a pair of stone owls permanently
perched above the porch; Catherine Sarah Burt died there on 7 Feb 1868; Edward
inherited the bulk of her estate – young Edward Gordon Smith was left £100 in trust.
Samuel, the family’s last link with Coventry, died on 22 May 1869 at Somerset Villas. He left many bequests. To his eldest son John Burt Smith he left the Chelsea house at 1 Sydney Street; Edward received £1,000 + a third of the residue. The 1871 census finds Edward and his family now living at Somerset Villas – Edward is now described as a ‘Steel Pen Salesman’. His son Edward Gordon Smith is now aged 13. With all his new found wealth Edward buys the business at 3 Cheapside in 1879, the directory for which year records the change of name; the premises are shared with Hooper, Turner & Co, Photographers. Two years later in 1881 Edward has taken them over as well and the business is described as ‘Edward Smith, Wholesale Stationer & Photographer. And so it happened that the family first became involved professionally in photography.
The 1881 census records the family still living at Somerset Villas. Edward is now described as ‘Fancy Goods Warehouseman & Photographer – Master, employing 7 men and 4 women’; his son Edward G Smith, now 23, is simply ‘Fancy Goods Salesman’. Edward Gordon, always known simply as Gordon to distinguish him from his father, married later in the same year on 21 September at Stoke Newington church to Elizabeth Ellen Fox, daughter of Charles Fox, Merchant’s Clerk. Young Gordon Smith is described as ‘Manager’ and was clearly now in charge of the business at Cheapside. Gordon and Elizabeth Ellen set up house at 2 Guelph Terrace, Walthamstow and two daughters are born to them in quick succession: Dorothy Fox Smith b. 18 July 1882 and Ethel Gladys Smith b. 3 September 1883. They were to have no further children and no male heir.
Between 1883 and 1886 the Cheapside business becomes that simply of ‘Toy Dealer’ and in 1887 ‘Photographer’ only. By 1888 Edward has retired and it has been sold to ‘Aldis Frederick, Fancy Repository’. The same year Gordon Smith and his young family move into a brand new house at 68 Allerton Road, Stoke Newington; meanwhile Edward and Helen move to Putney to the south-west of London and take up residence above the new business at 34 High Street, purchased from Adrian Smythe. The new photographic business is named Edward Gordon; this was changed the next year to Gordon & Co.
There then follows a succession of deaths in the family: 21 February 1895 Edward dies at Putney aged 69; Gordon’s sister Henrietta Parker at Putney on 24 September 1897 aged only 37; and Edward’s brother Samuel at Hadley Green, Hertfordshire, on 7 February 1898. The business at Putney becomes once again ‘Edward Gordon, Photographer’. By 1901 Gordon clearly must have found the strain of commuting between his family in Stoke Newington and his business in Putney an increasing burden; in any event he sold out to Harold Moyse, Photographer, and retreated home to venture forth into the new world of postcards.
Shortly before Christmas in 1902 his first postcard of Stoke Newington church (where he was married) was published from his home address. The lithography and printing were carried out by Herbert & Mobbs of Bucklersbury in the City of London, not far from the original business in Cheapside. About three dozen such lithographic cards were published on undivided back and appear to have been an instant success; examples of many of these sadly have failed to survive. During the first three months of 1903 the range was extended to several hundred titles, made to a cheaper specification on divided backs. By April 1903 he had bought new premises at 15 Stroud Green Lane and after 20 May 1903, when two cards appeared of the opening of Kew Bridge, no further cards were published from the Allerton Road address. These early cards depicted primarily the areas in London with which the family had connections: Stoke Newington; Islington; central London; Chelsea and Putney. Hadley Green, where his uncle Samuel and family lived, and some Hertfordshire villages nearby were included and, no doubt, Gordon would have stayed with them when working in that area. A few early cards of Clapham Common and Forest Hill also feature, but any connection with those areas must have been short lived.
By 1906 the business was booming; over 2000 titles were in print. Sadly things changed dramatically on 30 May when Gordon Smith had a stroke and died, leaving his widow and two young daughters to carry on the business. They rose to the challenge, however, and over the next eight years added over a thousand more titles to the range, despite the death of Elizabeth Ellen in 1912. The war then put a stop to the printing of postcards in Germany and the ‘Golden Age’ went into an abrupt decline generally. A trickle of new titles did appear during the war, those after 1916 bearing the new postal district numbers in addition to the former areas.
After the war, however, a few cards are known bearing the imprint Thos. W. Gowans (Successor to Gordon Smith), Wood Green, N.; a card exists of the Cenotaph (unveiled in October 1920) although the precise date when the business was sold cannot now be ascertained.