Leon Balk was born in 1878 in Taurage (Tavrig), a town in the western part of Lithuania. At the time of Leon’s birth, this part of Lithuania was under the control of Russia. There was a flourishing Jewish community in Taurage and, at the end of the 19th century, over 50% of the inhabitants of Taurage were Jews.
In the late 19th century, there was a tide of emigration from Lithuania. Many of the Lithuanian Jews left their homes in Taurage to escape persecution from the Russian authorities and the growing anti-Semitic violence – the younger men, to avoid conscription into the Russian Army, and many just to look for a better life.
During the period 1899-1903, over 52,000 Lithuanians emigrated to the United States, while large numbers of Lithuanian Jews sailed for South Africa and a considerable number arrived in England and Scotland.
Leon Balk appears to have left Lithuania as a young man and probably arrived in London after 1901. He settled in Eastbourne, Sussex around 1903. In an Eastbourne directory of 1904, Leon Balk is listed as a photographer at 114, Langney Road, Eastbourne. By 1905, Leon Balk was operating a photographic studio at 116 Langney Road, Eastbourne. Around this time, Leon Balk entered into partnership with Otto Brown (born 1883, Long Sutton, Somerset), a young artist who had previously worked as a photographer in Hampshire. The firm of Balk & Brown operated a photographic studio at 69, Devonshire Road, Bexhill-on-Sea but it appears that Otto Brown was based at the Bexhill studio, in Devonshire Road, while Leon Balk remained at the studios in Eastbourne.
Leon Balk was still living at 116, Langney Road, Eastbourne when, in August 1906, he became a Naturalised British Citizen (Jewish Chronicle, 7th September 1906, page 34). Although he was a Jew from Lithuania, Balk’s place of origin is given, in the published list of naturalisations, as Russia.
It was around 1906 that Otto Brown left Bexhill-on-Sea and established his own studio in Worthing, West Sussex, at 2, Chapel Road.
After Brown’s departure, Leon Balk took over the Bexhill studio and remained in business at 69a Devonshire Road until 1915.
The partnership of Balk & Brown doesn’t seem to have lasted for much more than a year.