SWAIN, George Edwin

George Edwin Swain had a studio in Bexhill-on-Sea for only about a year but that does, just about, qualify him as a Bexhill photographer! He was born in Luton, Bedfordshire in 1866 and baptised on 4th August the following year, at Christ Church, in Luton. His parents were Charles Swain (1827–1896) and Susannah Sale (1846–1907) who were married in 1863 in Luton – Charles was aged 36 while Susannah was only 17, nineteen years younger.

George had seven known siblings, all born in Luton – Charles Swain (1865–1942), Margaret Elizabeth Swain (1868–1885), Mary Jane Swain (1870–1955), Annie Amelia Swain (1872–????),Herbert Stanley Swain (1874–1968), Ernest William Swain (1876–1890), Percy John Swain (1882–1971)

George, aged just 20, married Clara Ann Wood, aged 19 (1867-1955), in October 1886, in Luton and the couple had three daughters and one son: –

Minnie Elizabeth Swain (1887–1975), born 22nd June 1887, in Luton

Lilian Clara Swain (1889–1972), born 18th October 1889, in Luton

Rhoda Mabel Swain (1892–1940), born 1892, in Luton.

On 20th October, 1896, George’s father, aged 69, died in Luton.

In the 1891 census, George, aged 24, and his wife, Clara, with two small children, were living at 26, St. Anne’s Road, in Luton – his occupation is given as “photographer”.

In the 1901 census, George is still a photographer, but visiting a George and Susannah James, in Luton, at 17, Dallow Road. Also in the household is Herbert S. Swain, step-son and George’s brother.

It turns out that Susannah was their mother and she was living with George James, a builder, and, though no record of a marriage has been found, that is how they describe themselves – married.

In early 1902, George opened a studio at 2, Marina Arcade, Bexhill but stayed there for, about, only a year as, in early 1903, he emigrated to Australia.

According to the ship’s manifest, with him went his wife and his one-year-old child but it would seem that this was not Clara but Mildred Mary Aldridge, the woman he would marry in 1909, once he was divorced from his wife, for that was what would happen, later.

He sailed out to Sydney, Australia on the RMS “Orizaba”, on 3rd July 1903 but moved on to Adelaide, in Southern Australia, where he, obviously continued to work as a photographer.

The “Evening Journal”, an Adelaide, newspaper, published on Friday 17th February 1905 (page 1) reported on a court case, in which George was involved in. He, George, gave his details as “photographer of Hyde Park”, which was something of an exaggeration, at best!

The plaintiff is named first – plaintiff versus defendant – so George is the injured party.



“ADELAIDE: Friday, February 17. Price, M.P., and H. V.. Pridmore”

George Edwin Swain, photographer of Hyde Park versus Charles B. Parks, baker, of Carrington street.

“Plaintiff claimed £29 damages for that the defendant did on December 19, 1904, so negligently drive a horse and trap in King William street that Plaintiff was thrown to the ground and seriously injured. Mr. Lathlean stated that, on December 19, 1904 the plaintiff was riding a bicycle in King William street, and when near the Town Hall he felt a horse’s nose against his shoulder. He was immediately knocked down and run over by a horse and vehicle driven by the defendant. He was rendered unconscious, and later found himself in the Adelaide Hospital, where he remained for several days. He was unable to work for two weeks, and lost his salary during that time. He suffered considerable pain, and still felt the effects of the accident. He lost £7 10s in wages, and the damage to his bicycle amounted to £2 19s. Besides that he had incurred other expenses. The plaintiff gave evidence, and did read counsel’s statement. A witness of the accident said the defendant’s horse was being driven at a “good fast trot”, about 10 miles an hour. There was ample room on either side of the plaintiff for the trap to pass. Five other witnesses were called by the plaintiff to substantiate the claim. Defendant deposed that at the time of the accident, besides Swain, two other cyclists were there travelling in the same direction. A lady cyclist swerved to avoid a trap that was standing by the watertable, and the action caused the others to do the same. The plaintiff went in front of the horse’s head and was overthrown. Defendant was not travelling more than eight miles an hour. Plaintiff became confused and if he had not swerved, an accident would have been avoided. Two other witnesses gave evidence for the defendant. Judgment for the plaintiff for £20. “

George’s mother died on 15th May 1907, at 17, Grove Road, Luton, Bedfordshire.

Whether or not it was due to the death of his mother, George and “wife” (they weren’t, as yet, married) returned to England in 1907. Somehow, his wife found out and filed divorce proceedings against him; perhaps, and most likely, he decided to settle this part of his life so that he could marry Mildred and get on with the rest of his life so he told her.

Clara filed divorce proceedings on 29th October 1907 and the result was as follows:

“. . . . . the said Respondent had been guilty of adultery coupled with desertion of the Petitioner for two years and upwards without reasonable excuse.”

“And on the application of Counsel for the Petitioner is ordered that Minnie Elizabeth Swain, Lillian Clara Swain and Rhoda Mabel Swain, the children, issue of the marriage between the Petitioner and Respondent, do remain in the custody of the Petitioner until further order of the Court, but it is directed that such children be not removed out of the jurisdiction of the Court without its sanction.”

The Final Decree as granted on 8th February 1909

George’s younger brother, Percy, in 1899, had become a chemist’s assistant in Luton but, in 1901, he was working in London as a boot-shop assistant.

In 1902, he set up as a photographer in Hastings, East Sussex – probably after having met and got to know another young photographer, Louis Smith, while he was in London.

After just two years, however, he got into financial difficulties and left Hastings with many unpaid debts so, to avoid the debtors, he took a variety of jobs under the alias of John Percy.

In March 1907, however, he moved to Norwich and went into business with Louis. They acquired a former studio at 2a Davey Place and set up as photographers.

In September 1907, the partners hired further premises at Orford Place, which they ran as the “Lightning Speed Photography Gallery”. Smith managed the new studio, while Swain (still, generally, known as John Percy) stayed at Davey Place.

In December, for some unknown reason, Smith wanted to dissolve the partnership and carry on alone. This led to the drawing-up of documents that referred to Swain by his real name (under which his earlier debts had been incurred), and Swain decided to file a   petition for bankruptcy.

This is where George Edwin Swain stepped in – while Percy moved on, George and Mildred took on the Davey Place business.

In January, 1909, George and Mildred Mary Aldridge were married and, according to the census of 1911, they moved into 27, St. Giles Street, Norwich. George & Mildred had three children –

Gwendoline May Swain (1902–1956), born July 1902, in Bexhill, Sussex – the one-year old child on the passenger manifest when they emigrated.

George Ernest Swain (1903–1981), born 17th September, 1903, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Muriel Mary Swain (1905–1994), born 19th May 1905, in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.

After the First World War, George became active in the moving picture industry, recording current events for showing in local cinemas. His ddaughter, Muriel, and his son, George, both joined the family business.

George became a pioneer in aerial photography, particularly noted for his documentary work and being the local official war photographer. The Swain collection of several thousand images, dating back to 1890, is held at “The Norfolk Heritage”.

On the 20th April, 1933, George Edwin Swain, died, still at 27, St. Giles Street, Norwich.

His probate record reads; – “SWAIN, George Edwin of 27 and 27a St. Giles-street Norwich died 20th April 1933 at 27 St. Giles-street Probate Norwich 14 April to Mildred Mary Swain widow and Benjamin Branford Morgan architect. Effects £203 2s 7d.”.

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