Edgar Gael was born “Edgar Gale” in Newbury, Berkshire, during the 1st Quarter of 1849, the eldest child of Fanny Carter and Robert Gale. Edgar’s mother, Fanny Carter (born c1828, Surrey), had married Robert Gale (born 1803, Salisbury, Wiltshire) in Newbury, Berkshire, in 1847. [The marriage of Robert Gale and Fanny Carter was registered in Newbury during the 4th Quarter of 1847]. Soon after Edgar’s birth, Robert and Fanny Gale moved to the Marylebone district of London, where Edgar’s brother and three sisters were born. Edgar had at least four siblings – Mercy Ann Gale (born 1850, Marylebone, London), Jane Gale (born c1856, Marylebone, London), Alice Gale (born 1858, Marylebone, London) and Robert Gale (born 1860, Marylebone, London).
On 25th September 1869, twenty year old Edgar Gael married Sarah Ann Tupper (1847, Lamberhurst, Sussex/Kent) in Bromley, Kent. Edgar’s twenty-one year old bride Sarah Ann Tupper was one of eight children born to Mary Ann and William Tupper, a plumber and painter of Lamberhurst. After the death of William Tupper in 1851, Mrs Mary Ann Tupper and her children had moved away from Lamberhurst and settled in the Bromley area of Kent.
It appears that, after Edgar Gael married Sarah Ann Tupper in Bromley in 1869, he joined up with one of Sarah Ann’s brothers to run a picture framing business in Bromley’s High Street. By 1874, the firm of Gael & Tupper were engaged in the manufacture of picture frames at a shop at 31 Market Square, Bromley and premises at numbers 45 & 130 High Street, Bromley.
Edgar Gael, who had trained as a photographer and had joined the South London Photographic Society in 1874, established photographic portrait studios at his business premises in Bromley.
The Bromley Directory for 1874 lists the firm of Gael & Tupper as “Photographers and Picture Frame Manufacturers” at 31, Market Square and at 45 & 130, High Street, Bromley.
By 1875, Edgar Gael was the sole proprietor of the studios in Bromley’s Market Square and High Street. The Bromley Directory, published by Edward Strong & Sons in 1875, featured an advertisement for “Edgar Gael, Photographer” at 130, High Street and 31, Market Square, Bromley (rather than two, separate premises, the two addresses seem to correspond only to two entrances to a single studio). The publicity printed on the carte-de-visite portraits produced by Edgar Gael at his Bromley studios during the 1870s describe him as an “Art Photographer, Portrait Painter, and Enlarger” and gives the location of his “Art Studio” as “Opposite Town Hall, Bromley, Kent” and at “The Post Office” in Bromley’s High Street.
During his stay in Bromley during the 1870s, Edgar Gael fathered four sons, but only two survived infancy. Edgar Tupper Gael was born in Bromley in 1872, but the boy died, aged 4, during the Fourth Quarter of 1876. Edgar and Sarah Ann’s second son, Clive Ronald Gael was born in Bromley during the 2nd Quarter of 1874. A third son, Ethelbert Lewis Gael arrived early in 1876, but sadly died before the year was out. Stuart Malcolm Gael was born in Bromley during the 3rd Quarter of 1877 and, like his older brother Clive, survived into adulthood and eventually joined Edgar Gael in his photography business.
Around 1880, Edgar Gael, his wife Sarah Ann, and their two surviving sons Clive and Stuart, travelled down to Falmouth in Cornwall, where Edgar hoped to continue his photographic career.
Around 1880, Edgar Gael, his wife Sarah Ann, and their two surviving sons Clive and Stuart, travelled down to Falmouth in Cornwall, where Edgar Gael hoped to continue his career as a professional photographer. Edgar Gael was definitely residing in Falmouth in 1880, as a favourable review of Gael’s photographs, published in the British Journal of Photography that very year, remarked that “Mr Edgar Gael, of Falmouth, has some very good examples of portraiture taken on gelatine plates, which are very delicate, soft, and brilliant, and also well lighted”. Surviving carte-de-visite portraits provide evidence that Edgar Gael was running a conventional photographic portrait studio at Berkeley Vale, near Bristol.
When the census was taken on 3rd April 1881, Edgar Gael and his family were recorded at No.9 Berkeley Vale, Falmouth, Cornwall. At the time of the 1881 census, Mrs Sarah Ann Gael, Edgar’s wife, was expecting another baby. A son named Allan Douglas Gael was born in Falmouth, Cornwall, during the 2nd Quarter of 1881. Another child, a daughter named Dora Eveline Gael, was born in Falmouth, Cornwall, two years later. [The birth of Dora Eveline Gael was registered in the district of Falmouth during the 2nd Quarter of 1883].
Now based in the Cornish town of Falmouth, Edgar Gael was keen to associate himself with The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, an educational, cultural and scientific institution which met regularly at the Polytechnic Hall at 24 Church Street, Falmouth. The first meeting of the Cornwall Polytechnic Society was organized in 1832 by members of the Fox family ( Robert Fox and his daughters Anna Maria Fox and Caroline Fox), an influential Quaker family. When it was instituted in 1833, the stated purpose of the Cornwall Polytechnic Society, was “to encourage the useful arts”. Established in 1833, the Cornwall Polytechnic Society received Royal patronage two years later and from 1835 the prefix “Royal” was added to to the official title of the Society.
Ever since 1843, when a selection of daguerreotypes were displayed at the Polytechnic Society’s Autumn Meeting, The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society had held regular photographic exhibitions at the Polytechnic Hall in Church Street and since 1859 the Society had offered ‘premiums’ or prizes at an annual competitive exhibition of photography.
By the mid 1860s, the photographic exhibitions organized by The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society were attracting submissions by some of the leading professional photographers of the day including Henry Peach Robinson of Leamington, Oscar Gustave Rejlander of Wolverhampton and the landscape photographer Francis Bedford. The annual exhibitions were No longer just a local showcase for Cornwall-based photographers.
In 1875, the admired photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, who was based in Whitby some 350 miles away, exhibited at the Society’s exhibition hall in Falmouth. Exceptional photographs were awarded medals by the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society. According to his own publicity, Edgar Gael had become a “Medallist of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society” in 1882.
It appears that Edgar Gael had also become an official photographer for the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society because at the 50th Jubilee Meeting of the Society held at the Polytechnic Hall on 5th September 1882, Gael was commissioned to take a memorial group portrait of the Society’s leading members. The Annual Report of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society published for the year 1882, noted that at “the conclusion of the President’s speech, Mr Gael took a couple of Memorial Photographs of the platform, which will be highly prized in days to come.”
By 1887, Edgar Gael had established a photographic portrait studio in Exmouth, Devon. Between 1887 and 1891, Edgar Gael is listed as the proprietor of a studio in Rolle Street, Exmouth, Devon. Gael’s studio was located in the seaside town’s main street. Exmouth, which had began life as a market town and seaport had become a “fashionable watering place” in the 19th century.
In 1891, Exmouth had a recorded population of 8,085, yet in the holiday season the town’s population was boosted by hundreds of visitors. The number of people visiting and residing at Exmouth provided enough customers to support no more than three photographic portrait studios at any given time.
In 1890, the seaside resort was served by three photographic studios – Edgar Gael in Rolle Street, Henry William Churchill at 10 Albion Street and William Beer & Sons at No. 2 Station Parade, Exmouth. Both Henry Churchill and William Beer were local men, both born in Exmouth around 1833, and both had been in business as photographers for over a decade when Edgar Gael arrived in the town around 1886 (William Beer had established a photographic portrait studio in Chapel Street, Exmouth, around 1865). Edgar Gael must have found it difficult to make inroads on the business of his competitors at Exmouth.
In 1892, Edgar Gael decided to try his luck in another rapidly expanding seaside town – Bexhill-on-Sea on the Sussex coast.
Edgar Gael arrived in the Sussex seaside resort of Bexhill-on-Sea in 1892 to take over the Rembrandt Studio in Station Road, recently vacated by Charles Ash Talbot (born 1859, Waltham Abbey, Essex). Charles Ash Talbot had opened his photographic portrait studio in Station Road in 1888, but had struggled to establish a foothold in the town and sold the studio to Edgar Gael four years later.
Bexhill-on-Sea was a seaside resort on the Sussex coast, 6 miles west of Hastings. The town had grown rapidly over the previous 5 years. In 1881 the population of Bexhill was less than 2,500, but by 1891 the population had more than doubled to 5,206.
Previously only served by passing itinerant photographers, Bexhill did not have a permanent photographic portrait studio until 1887 when Arthur Bruges Plummer established a photography business at 3 Devonshire Terrace, Bexhill, close to Bexhill-on Sea’s Railway Station. Plummer, like many other photographers who tried to establish themselves in Bexhill-on-Sea during this period, could not attract enough customers and by the Summer of 1889, he had closed his photographic studio in Devonshire Terrace.
Edgar Gael was no more successful than his two predecessors Plummer and Talbot and after less than a year in business he sold his studio to Emil Vieler (born 1851, Iserlohn, Westphalia, Germany) a German-born photographer from Huddersfield. Emil Vieler (1851-1912) was to operate the studio in Station Road for a period of nearly 20 years, the business only coming to an end in 1912, the year sixty-one year old Emil Vieler died of heart failure at Rembrandt House, Station Road, Bexhill, the site of Edgar Gael’s former studio.
In 1892, Edgar Gael and his family travelled down to the City of Bristol, where the photographer was to be based for the remainder of his life.