William Morris Crouch was born in Binfield, Berkshire, on 30th November 1846, the son of Edward Crouch and Betsey Morris. [The birth of William Morris Crouch was registered in the Berkshire District of Easthampstead during the First Quarter of 1847].
Edward Crouch had married Betsey Morris (born 1819, Westminster, London), the daughter of Edward and Elisabeth Morris, at Binfield in 1845 [ The marriage of Edward Crouch and Betsey Morris was registered in the Easthampstead District during the First Quarter of 1845 ]. Edward and Betsey produced at least six children – Sarah Crouch (born 1845, Binfield – died 1846), William Morris Crouch (born 1846, Binfield), Louisa Crouch (born 1848, Binfield), Edward Crouch (born c1851, Binfield – died 1861, Wokingham), Caroline E. Crouch (born c1852, Binfield), and Fanny Crouch (born 1855, Maidstone, Kent).
Edward Crouch, William’s father, was a schoolmaster by profession. Slater’s Directory of Berkshire, published in 1852, lists Edward Crouch as the Master of the National School in Binfield, while the 1852 Directory also shows that Edward Crouch was employed as Binfield’s Parish Clerk.
By 1855, Edward Crouch and his family had moved and were living in Maidstone, Kent where, sometime in the 2nd Quarter of 1855, Edward died. Betsey gave birth to her youngest daughter Fanny in Maidstone during the 3rd Quarter of 1855.
After the death of her husband, Mrs Betsey Crouch settled in Wokingham with her five surviving children [See note below on Betsey Crouch].
When the 1861 census was taken, Betsey Crouch is recorded in Wokingham at the home of her widowed father Edward Morris (born 1793) together with her children William Morris, aged 14, Louisa aged 12, Edward, aged 10, and Caroline, aged 9, and five year old Fanny. William Crouch’s younger brother Edward Crouch junior died in Wokingham later that year.
William Morris Crouch evidently displayed some talent in drawing and painting and as a young man he worked as an itinerant artist. At the time of the 1871 census, he was working as a portrait painter in Devon, but a few years later was operating as an artist in Liverpool. On 27th May 1873, he married Caroline Margaret French (born 12th November 1852, Holborn, London) in Liverpool. Their marriage was registered in Liverpool during the 2nd Quarter of 1873.
William Crouch remained in Liverpool for a couple of years, during which time his first child Ada Bessie Crouch was born on 13th August, 1874.
NOTE: By 1881, Mrs Betsey Crouch (William’s mother) had gone into business with her widowed daughter Mrs Louisa Gibson (born 1848, Binfield, Berkshire). In the 1881 census return Mrs Betsey Crouch and Mrs Louisa Gibson are recorded in the High Street of Burton-on-Trent and are described as “Milliners and Costumiers employing 5 girls”. William Morris Crouch’s youngest sister, Fanny Crouch (born 1855, Maidstone, Kent), was employed in his mother’s business as an “Assistant Milliner”.
By early 1876, William was in London and their second child, a boy they named Edward Alfred Crouch, was born in the Marylebone district of London during the First Quarter of 1876.
By August 1877, William Crouch was working from 17, Blandford Street, in Marylebone and worked as an artist in London for the next five years or so, although it is possible, like many artists and painters of the period, that he was supplementing his income by taking photographic portraits.
In 1881, according to the census, William, his wife and their two children, Ada, aged six, and Edward, aged five, were boarding at 88, Lambs Conduit Street, Holborn, the home and place of work of Adrian Mansfield, a London watchmaker. William describes himself as an “Artist & Painter“, aged 34 and gives his place of birth as Wokingham, the nearest town to his native village of Binfield.
At the time of the census, William’s wife was pregnant with their third child, Frederick Charles Crouch, who was born in Holborn, London, during the 3rd Quarter of 1881.
As an example of poor transcriptions, in the 1881 census the name of William Crouch’s daughter, has been wrongly transcribed as “Berne Crouch” instead of “Bessie Crouch” and the transcriber has, also, mixed-up her details with those of her mother. A further error is that Caroline Margaret Crouch’s name has been merged with the name of the wife of a fellow boarder, William Thornburn, and is thus recorded as “Caroline M. Thornburn“.
Around 1883, William Crouch set himself up as a professional portrait photographer in London and acquired a long-established photographic studio at 204 Regent Street, London. The premises at No. 204 Regent Street had been used as a photographic portrait studio since 1854, when the London photographer James Henderson (born c1825, Lambeth) began taking “paper portraits”, using Frederick Scott Archer’s newly introduced “wet collodion process”, at this address.
One of the most notable practitioners at 204 Regent Street was Edwin Sutton (1826-1883), a photographer from Lambeth who occupied the studio for over sixteen years between 1856 and 1873. Crouch had taken over the studio from Baron William Charles Nastrowsy (1845-1919), a fellow artist and painter who had, over the last six years, been taking photographic portraits in London.
Crouch’s new studios, at 204 Regent Street, London, were known as the “Bijou Photo Studios”. In London trade directories, William was listed as the Studio Manager of the “Bijou Photo Co.” yet it appears he was the actual owner of the Regent Street studio. The photographs produced at the Bijou Photo Studios carry the name of “W. M. Crouch”, who is described as an “Artist Photographer” and a “Miniature and Portrait Painter“.
William Morris Crouch was based at 204 Regent Street for just a couple of years. The business was, however, not a financial success and there were at least two County Court judgements made against him – the first on 23rd September 1885, relating to debts of £14 1s 4d and another, on 14th October 1885, regarding a sum of £11 3s 7d. By September 1886, Crouch’s former studio at 204 Regent Street was up for sale.
Shortly after leaving his Regent Street studio, William opened another photographic portrait studio under an assumed name, Carl Beethoven. Why he assumed the name is not clear – perhaps to avoid debt collectors and/or the law. With his new name he opened a photography studio at 118, New Bond Street, London, from around 1887 until about 1889. The premises were in a fashionable and expensive district of London and were only a few doors from London’s leading art galleries. He, probably, had to commute from his home to the studio in New Bond Street.
When Crouch heard that the photographer Netterville Briggs (born 1835, Hackney) was planning to quit his long established studio at 20, Baker Street, London, he decided to leave Westminster and transfer his business to the district of Marylebone. At an auction, held on 30th May 1889, William managed to acquire Briggs’ old studio.
By June 1889, William Morris Crouch had moved into the property at 20 Baker Street, which included living quarters.
It appears that William’s wife, Caroline, died in 1891 and it seems that it didn’t take him long to find a new companion as, in the 1891 census he was residing on the premise with a twenty-six year old woman, recorded on the census return as his wife, “Mary Crouch“. The young woman sharing William Crouch’s home had presumably replaced William’s former wife, Mrs Caroline Crouch.
William Crouch is described, on the 1891 census return, as a forty-four year old photographer and artist.
William Crouch’s two children from his first marriage – Ada Bessie Crouch (born 1874 Liverpool) and Edward Alfred Crouch (born 1876, Marylebone, London) – are not recorded at 20 Baker Street, yet we know that his daughter Ada was still alive in 1891 because she was married in London six years later.
There is a possibility that the Mary did become William’s second wife, as there was a marriage between a William Crouch and a Mary Ann Elizabeth Tims, in Marylebone during the First Quarter of 1892 – she was born in 1863 so would have been around 26, depending on birthdays, 1891. This means that William and his partner Mary were not legally married at the time of the 1891 census.
Interestingly, a gentleman, named James W. Tims, is mentioned in connection with the sale of the photographic studio at 20 Baker Street, on 15th December 1890. [SOURCE : A reference in the entry for William M. Crouch on photoLondon ; The Database of 19th Century Photographers and Allied Trades in London: 1841-1901, compiled by David Webb – “James W. Tims, December 15th 1890 – £45 from 20 Baker Street, St Marylebone”.]
The Post Office London Trades’ Directory for 1891 lists ‘Carl Beethoven’ as a “Photographic Artist” at ’20 Baker Street, W.’ yet it appears that William Morris Crouch (aka ‘Carl Beethoven’ ) had ceased trading as a photographer at 20 Baker Street by December 1890. William Morris Crouch was yet again in financial difficulties. A County Court Judgement made against Crouch on 4th December 1890 referred to debts of £175 5s 4d. On 15th December 1890, the photographic studio at 20 Baker Street was sold to William Henry Hayles (1868-1945), a photographer from Cambridge.
It appears that after the business was sold, William Crouch and his female companion were allowed to stay on at the apartment adjoining the photographic studio, as they are recorded at 20 Baker Street, London when the census was taken on the evening of 5th April 1891.
William Morris Crouch’s Fraudulent Apprenticeship Scheme
Between 1892 and 1898, William Morris Crouch was without a permanent photographic studio. It appears that for the next six years Crouch worked as an itinerant photographer, travelling from town to town with his camera. When business was not good, Crouch concocted a scheme whereby he generated income by swindling young people who were keen to learn the art and science of photography. From 1896, Crouch would place advertisements in local newspapers and trade journals offering apprenticeships in his photography business.
An apprentice was bound by indenture to serve a Master for a certain term and was to receive in return for his services, instruction in his Master’s profession, art, or occupation. Apprentices and Masters were equally bound to perform the duties outlined in the Apprentice’s Indenture document (see example, right). If the Master neglected to teach the apprentice his business, or the apprentice refused to obey his Master’s instructions, both were liable to be summoned before a magistrate to answer the complaint against them. It was usual for a parent or guardian to pay a professional craftsman or tradesman a premium of around fifty pounds so that the young person could enter an apprenticeship and learn a skilled craft, trade or profession.
William Morris Crouch’s fraudulent scheme was to place advertisements in a local newspaper or photographic trade publication, such as the The British Journal of Photography, inviting young people to apply for an apprenticeship in his photography business. Any prospective student would be required to pay Crouch a premium of £50 in order to become his apprentice and, in return, he would provide instruction in the art and science of portrait photography. The advertisements stated that the fee of £50 was refundable. The promise of the return of the premium if the student was dissatisfied helped to reassure applicants for apprenticeships. In the nineteenth century, it was not uncommon for the employer to pocket the premium and then renege on his promise to provide appropriate training and instruction to the apprentice. Practical handbooks published in Victorian times warned of the pitfalls of entering into an apprenticeship agreement with an unknown employer. This extract comes from a guide published in 1859 :
“The moral character of the future master, together with his commercial reputation, should be strictly inquired into; for there are some employers whose only anxiety is to secure the premium, and when that is received to allow the apprentice to pursue his own undirected course as best he may. The wisest plan, therefore, when the particular trade is determined on is to place the youth with a person who has been, established for some years, and whose, reputation and ability can be testified to by former apprentices.”
The premiums for apprenticeship are governed by no stated tariff but as a general rule they are proportioned to the wages which the trade affords.
Extract from from the entry under “Apprentice” in ‘The Dictionary of Daily Wants‘ – by Robert Philp (1859)
William Morris Crouch was later to face charges of fraud. It was reported that from 1896, he conducted a fraud involving bogus apprenticeship schemes at “various country towns”. Under a number of pseudonyms, including the name of “Morris Beethoven”, William Crouch received premiums on behalf of a number of “apprentices”, even though there was “little or no chance of business” and that he had no intention of providing the training in photography expected by his pupils. David Webb states that “the total value of the fraud was estimated at £1000”.
William Morris Crouch reached the seaside town of Bexhill-on-Sea in East Sussex sometime around 1898. Crouch (perhaps using funds generated from his “apprenticeship scam”) established a photographic studio at 7 Sea Road, Bexhill-on-Sea. In June 1898, William Crouch placed notices in the “Situations Vacant” columns of the Bexhill Chronicle newspaper, offering positions at his Bexhill studio. Crouch recruited Bertha Duke (born 1876, Chiddingstone, near Penshurst, Kent) as his chief assistant and receptionist. Joseph William Jacklett junior (born 1884, Aldershot, Hampshire) and Percy William Short (born 1884, Stonebridge, Hackney, London) were taken on as photographer’s apprentices. Kelly’s Directory of Sussex, published in 1899, lists William Crouch as a photographer at 7 Sea Road, Bexhill-on-Sea in the commercial listings.
When William Morris Crouch established his studio in Bexhill-on-Sea around 1898, there were two well-established photographers in the town – Emil Vieler (born 1851, Iserlohn, Westphalia, Germany), who had a studio at 11, Upper Station Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, and James Ernest Stanborough (born 1862, London), who operated from a photographic studio in Devonshire Road, Bexhill-on-Sea.
Stanborough, who had studied Art and had previously worked as a photographer in Putney, had settled in Bexhill-on-Sea around 1892. Emil Vieler, who described himself as a “Miniature & Portrait Painter”, as well as an “Artist in Photography”, had ran a studio in the West Yorkshire town of Huddersfield before moving down to the South Coast around 1893.
William Morris Crouch was listed as a photographer at 7 Sea Road, Bexhill-on-Sea in the 1899 edition of Kelly’s Directory of Sussex. Later that year, he advertised his business in Sea Road as “The Sackville Photographic Studio”. (An advert for Crouch’s Sackville Studio appeared in Pike’s trade directory published in 1899). William, also, placed the following advertisement in Kelly’s “Hastings & St Leonards Directory (with Bexhill) for 1900” :
THE SACKVILLE PHOTOGRAPHIC STUDIO
FOR HIGHEST CLASS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
7 SEA ROAD, BEXHILL-ON-SEA
Photographs in Silver Platinum and Carbon – Enlargements in Bromide, Platinum & Carbon
Miniatures on Ivory & Porcelain – GROUPS : Wedding, Football, School, &c
ARTISTIC REPRODUCTIONS FROM OLD AND FADED PHOTOGRAPHS ETC
PHOTO CASES of all kinds and in all materials
SCALE OF CHARGES FREE ON APPLICATION
A local directory published in 1900 has an entry for W. M. Crouch, The Sackville Studio, Penshurst House, 7 Lower Sea Road, Bexhill-on-Sea. In Kelly’s 1903 Directory of Sussex, William Morris Crouch is described as a “Photographic Artist & Miniature Painter” of 7 Sea Road, Bexhill-on-Sea.
William Morris Crouch’s Assistants
A few months after establishing “The Sackville Photographic Studio”, at 7, Sea road, Bexhill-on-Sea, William Morris Crouch sought to employ a number of assistants. On 10th June 1898, William Crouch placed two notices in the “Situation Vacant” columns of the Bexhill Chronicle newspaper advertising for a photographer’s apprentice and a female assistant to work in the studio reception area and to carry out negative re-touching and monochrome photograph finishing [see above left]. Five months later, in November 1898, Crouch placed a further advertisement for a female apprentice.
The 1901 census return for 7,Sea Road shows that William employed at least three workers at his Sackville Studio.
Bertha Duke, an unmarried woman of twenty-five, entered on the census return as an “Assistant” (presumably carrying out the role of receptionist and photographer’s assistant, re-touching and finishing Crouch’s monochrome photographs).
The other two were sixteen year old apprentices – Percy William Crouch (born 1884, Hackney, London), the youngest son of Mrs Alice Short, a widowed lodging house keeper, and Joseph William Jacklett junior (born 1884, Aldershot, Hampshire), the only child of Mrs Ellen Jacklett, a photographer’s widow who was running a photographic portrait studio at 160 Victoria Road, Aldershot.