Bertha Duke was born in Chiddingstone, near Penshurst, Kent in 1876, the daughter of Frances Woodhams and John Duke, a manufacturer of cricket balls and cricket bats. [The birth of Bertha Duke was registered in the Sevenoaks District of Kent during the 2nd Quarter of 1876].

When Bertha was in her early twenties, she applied for a position at William Morris Crouch’s “Sackville Studio”, in Sea Road, Bexhill-on-Sea. To begin with, William Crouch employed Miss Duke as a receptionist but, in addition to her reception room duties, Bertha was trained to retouch negatives and “finish” the black & white photographs. By the time the 1901 census was taken, twenty-five year old Miss Duke had become William Crouch’s chief assistant at his business premises in Sea Road. The 1901 census records Miss Bertha Duke as a twenty-five year old “Assistant” to William Crouch, the studio proprietor. Boarding alongside Miss Bertha Duke at 7 Sea Road in 1901 were William Crouch’s two apprentices, Joseph William Jacklett and Percy Short, both 16 years of age at the time of the census.

Miss Duke and Joseph Jacklett take over the Sackville Studio in Bexhill

Since establishing the Sackville Studio in Bexhill-on-Sea in 1898, William Morris Crouch had struggled financially. By the summer of 1901, outstanding debts at the Sackville Studio totalled over £25. Given William Crouch’s past and future record as an employer, it is likely that by the end of the following year he owed wages to his three assistants at the Sackville Studio.

By the end of December 1902, William Morris Crouch had vacated his studio at Bexhill-on Sea, probably to escape his creditors. By January 1903, Crouch had set up a new photography business in London under an assumed name (“Morris Beethoven”). Crouch’s former photographic studio in Bexhill-on-Sea was left in the hands of Miss Bertha Duke, then aged around twenty-six, and Crouch’s former apprentice, eighteen year old Joseph William Jacklett.

Mrs Ellen Jacklett purchases the Sackville Studio in Bexhill

From 1903 to about 1905, the studio at 7, Sea Road, Bexhill-on-Sea was run by Crouch’s two former employees, Bertha Duke and Joseph Jacklett, it’s not known who was, actually, in charge of the Sackville Studio during this period and local trade directories don’t help.

A trade directory of 1904 lists the proprietor of the studio as “Miss W. J. Jacklette” and the Manageress as “Miss Duke”. Other trade directories give details of the studio as “Mrs Jacklette, 7, Sea Road, Bexhill-on-Sea.

Between 1898 and 1906, Joseph’s mother Mrs Ellen Jacklett (sometimes referred to as Mrs J. W. Jacklett) owned a successful studio at 160, Victoria Road, Aldershot and, in January, 1903, she purchased the studio in Sea Road, Bexhill, on her son’s behalf.

The “Miss W. J. Jacklette”, referred to in a previous paragraph, could have been Bertha Duke, who was co-habiting with Joseph William Jacklett at 7, Sea Road. There had been, and was, a relationship between the two and they, finally, married in 1908, when Bertha was thirty-one and Joseph was nearly twenty-four.

It is possible that, because Miss Duke had been William Crouch’s assistant before he escaped to London and was eight years older than the teenage apprentice, it was Bertha who was, effectively, in charge of the Sackville Studio, in 1903. However, the name that appeared above the Sackville Studio address, on the photographs produced between 1903 and 1905 was “J. W. Jacklette”, which is a slightly modified version of the name of Miss Duke’s partner Joseph William Jacklett.

The name of Jacklett or Jacklette had been associated with photography since the early 1850s, and it, probably, made commercial sense to place a well-established name on the photographic mounts, and in the publicity for the studio. It appears that Mrs Ellen Jacklett, Joseph’s mother, had cleared the debts of the Sackville Studio and bankrolled the new photography business, so she, probably, insisted that her teenage son’s name appeared prominently on the studio’s trade plate and publicity.

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