The Company, photographers and postcard publishers, consisted of just Archibald Douglas HELLIER and his sister, Violet Constance HELLIER. They, initially, had their studio in Little Common, Bexhill-on-Sea. But later, in about 1916, Archibald moved to Heathfield – his sister may have moved with him but no such record has been found.
Violet was born in 1880 at Herne Hill in south London. Her parents were both Londoners: Richard Hellier, born in Bermondsey in 1834 or 1835, and Jessie Stacy Hellier, née Bishop, born in Holloway in 1852. When they married in the Bromley area in 1877, Richard had become a bank clerk.
In 1881, according to the census of that year, he was living with Jessie and young Violet at 2, Park Road in Bromley. Ten years later, when the next census was held, they had moved to a house called ‘Ambleside’ at 2, Wanstead Road in Bromley where, on May 12th, of that year, their second and last child, a son was born.
Richard continued to work as a banker’s clerk, but by 1901 he had retired and was living with Jessie and Archibald at a house in Glen Road, Hollington, in north Hastings. At that time, Violet was a resident teacher and governess at a small private school in Enys Road, in Eastbourne, which was run by a Mrs Elizabeth Green, aged 66.
By 1909 Violet gave up school teaching and set up in business as a photographer at Little Common, next to Bexhill-on-Sea, helped by her young brother, Archibald, even though he was only about 18 at the time. How Violet acquired her expertise in photography is not recorded – she may have worked briefly as an apprentice for an existing photographer or found a friend at her school to teach her. Perhaps helped by his sister, Archibald Hellier quickly became a talented photographer, and, in 1911, exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society, in London. The Hellier business at this date was based at “Mayfield”, in Meads Road, at Little Common, which was where Jessie, by this time a widow, and her children lived.
‘Collotype’ cards, of Little Common, hand stamped “Hellier, Bexhill” in violet ink on the back and in some cases initialled ‘V.C.H.’ on the front, went on sale in 1909. It’s possible that the colour was chosen by Violet because of ther name. Real photographic cards soon followed with neat handwritten captions in capitals. Some of the earliest, issued in about 1909 or 1910, are hand stamped on the back “Photo by V.C. Hellier, Bexhill” in the same violet ink. The white-bordered weakly sepia-tinted photographs are marked “V.C.H.” or “V. C. Hellier, Bexhill” in their bottom right corners. Other real photographic cards that began appearing in 1909 have weakly sepia or black and white photographs, with or without borders, and are hand stamped on the back “Photo by A.D. Hellier, Bexhill” in the usual violet ink.
By 1912 Archibald’s cards clearly outnumbered those of Violet, which suggests that he had replaced his sister as the driving force in the growing photographic business, at least in relation to postcard production.
As sales of the cards increased, hand stamping must have become intolerably time consuming. By October 1913 hand stamping had been mostly discontinued and instead the backs of the cards received a printed label: “Photo by A. D. Hellier & Co., Bexhill-on-Sea”. Presumably, the “& Co.” was, in fact, Violet, who appears to have become increasingly sidelined.
After Archibald Hellier moved the photographic business from Little Common to Heathfield. in about 1916, the cards were generally labelled on the back “Photo by A.D. Hellier & Co., Bexhill-on-Sea & Heathfield” or “Photograph by A.D. Hellier & Co., The Studio, Hailsham Road, Heathfield, Sussex” in black printing. A few cards were just hand stamped “A. D. Hellier & Co., Sussex”.
Hellier cards of the Little Common and Bexhill area often have serial numbers ending in the letter A, B, C, D or E and for some unfathomable reason the final letter is often a larger size than the preceding digits. Heathfield cards, by contrast, commonly have numbers prefixed by the letter A.
Some of the more interesting Hellier real photographic cards show various parades and processions in Bexhill, and storm damage to the seafront in 1910 and 1911. The studio’s range of view cards included several winter scenes, and was evidently intended to appeal to local residents and not just to summer visitors.
Of problematic origin are some printed (halftone) cards of Little Common, Cooden and surprisingly Crowborough that are initialled “C.H.” Real photographic versions of these cards can also be found, which are initialled “.C.H.” (note the peculiar preliminary full stop). Military camps were strongly featured, and at Cooden the cards were sold to soldiers at the camp’s YMCA, which may also have been the case at Crowborough. The cards may have been the work of Violet Hellier, who perhaps wished to conceal her identity when initialising the cards by leaving off the leading “V.” and just writing “C.H.” or “.C.H.” Possibly she worked at Cooden YMCA. It is entirely possible, however, that the cards were produced by a completely different and, as yet, unidentified publisher. Postmark evidence suggests that the first cards went on sale by 1916, and that some remained available long into the interwar period.
Violet and Archibald Hellier had to compete, in the Little Common and Bexhill area, with Emil Vieler and his son and this may have adversely affected their business. Competition to the north was less intense, and this may be the reason why Hellier & Co. opened a studio at Heathfield by 1916.
The original Little Common business closed by 1921, if not before, leaving only the Heathfield studio operating, which continued to supply Little Common and Bexhill cards to retailers in the area but at the same time issued new real photographic cards of Heathfield, Mayfield, Argos Hill, Warbleton, Brightling and Cross-in-Hand (e.g. the church interior, the local pine woods and a fine view of the local windmill). Thomas Illingworth of London supplied some of the photographic card that Hellier & Co. used for printing. The firm was still trading in 1934, but is believed to have closed by 1938.
In their book Around Heathfield in old photographs, a second selection (1991, Sutton, Stroud, p. 28) Alan Gillet and Barry K. Russell reproduce a photograph of Archibald Hellier’s quite modest photographer’s shop in Hailsham Road, Heathfield, which at the time of publication had become an auto parts shop. The 1925 electoral register records that Hellier’s home was at Southdene in Vale View Road at Heathfield. His mother, Jessie, lived close by in Hailsham Road in a semi-detached house called Laurelhurst. She died on 13 March 1934 at a Heathfield nursing home.
Violet’s whereabouts during the Great War and in the 1920s are uncertain, but she often played the organ at church services in and around Heathfield and took part in local musical recitals, which suggests that she lived in the area. She never married and may perhaps have looked after her mother before the latter moved to a nursing home.
Archibald Hellier married Hilda Isabel Stephens in late 1921; the marriage was registered in Uckfield. An accomplished singer she sometimes sang at Heathfield concerts. Archibald too was musically gifted, playing both the piano and violin, and often performed at concerts, sometimes in piano duets with his sister. He, also, operated the lantern at public lectures.
In the early 1930s he acquired a car (registration number JK1887) to help him reach the more remote villages around Heathfield. In April 1935 while driving near Sidley Station he was involved in a collision with a motor cyclist from Ninfield, who suffered a broken leg and concussion. Hellier’s car features in several of his 1930s postcard views, for example at Cross-in-Hand and Waldron (see Barry K. Russell, From Heathfield to East Hoathly in old photographs, 2004, Tartarus Press, Leyburn, Yorkshire).
Archibald Hellier seems to have abandoned postcard publication in the late 1930s. Judging from the serial numbers on the cards, he issued well over a thousand different cards, not counting any that were produced exclusively by his sister or by the mysterious “C.H.”.
He died, aged 71, at 12, Russell Terrace at Mundesley-on-Sea in Norfolk on 3rd November 1962 leaving effects of £5961 to his wife, Hilda. His sister, Violet, although older, outlived him, and died at her home at 5 Hampden Terrace, Latimer Road in Eastbourne on 28th September 1964, leaving her estate of £3925 to a German cousin to administer.