Sidney Francis (1891-1973): Photographer


Image of Sidney Francis

Sidney Francis

Surrey History Centre is home to two wonderful collections of glass plate negatives from the 1920s and 1930s, chiefly the work of prolific Woking photographer, Sidney Francis. The first collection (SHC ref 7095) was purchased by Guildford Local Studies Library from a local collector who discovered the negatives in a garden shed back in 1991! More recently, a further 18 boxes of plates (SHC ref 9524) were presented by the family of the late Lyndon Davies. A local historian and ‘an incorrigible collector’, Mr Davies had amassed a large collection of Sidney Francis photographs, including a donation of glass negatives from the photographer’s widow, Edith Francis.

Although a resident of Woking for many decades, Francis was born Sidney Francis Patient in Southwark on 8 October 1891. Little is known of his early life but, by the time of the 1911 census, he was working as a photographer’s assistant and living with his grandmother in Crawley, Sussex. In 1920, Francis married Edith Heasyman in Maidstone, and from 1923 they lived in Woking, at 88 Maybury Road, where he also ran a photography business. In 1932, Francis opened a studio in Commercial Road. In addition to his work as a portrait and wedding photographer, he also undertook commercial projects for the local newspaper and local businesses.

Sailor's Wedding

Sailor’s Wedding

These photographic collections which offer a fascinating insight into life in the borough in the 1920s and 1930s, cover an extensive range of subjects and highlight significant events such as Eid celebrations at the Shah Jahan Mosque and the visits of American war widows to Brookwood cemetery. The people of Woking have been well documented, and wedding parties, sports teams, brass bands, and groups of employees all appear in the collection. Local commerce and industry is well represented, from shop windows and factory buildings to buses and commercial vehicles. There are also pictures of local landmarks and street views, and of graves of the famous (and not so famous) at Brookwood cemetery.

Supervised by Surrey Heritage staff, a team of volunteers sorted through the negatives, using local knowledge and sources such as Lyndon Davies’ book, ‘Around Woking’, and the ‘Woking News & Mail’, to try to identify the many uncaptioned images. Each slide was then carefully cleaned using cotton wool and distilled water, before being digitally scanned to create high-resolution positive images to make them available to a wider audience. These 1,500 images have been catalogued and can now be viewed in the search room at Surrey History Centre, while the original glass plates have been packaged for long-term preservation in the centre’s strong rooms.

For anyone interested in the local or social history of Woking, these collections are a wonderful resource and have helped to unearth new information about the town. Did you know that Woking hosted two trade exhibitions in the 1920s? The first event was a resounding success, but the second – Wokympia – was poorly attended in February 1929 due to inclement weather.

Below, we are pleased to present some images from the collection, while the catalogues and thumbnail images can be viewed at:

SHC collection ref: 7095:

SHC collection ref 9524:

If you have any information about the people and places in the photos, please get in touch!

Click on any of the images below to see a larger version.

7 thoughts on “Sidney Francis (1891-1973): Photographer”

  1. Natalie Phillips says:

    Wonderful pics

    1. Jill Hyams says:

      Thank you, Natalie. We keep discovering more gems which we plan to add to this page in the coming weeks!

    2. Sirah says:

      My parents and I lived at 88 Maybury Road in the late 1970’s to 1990 . They bought the house from Sidney Francis’ son . We remember the tea chests full of glass plates . We look forward to the exhibition in the Lightbox later in the year . They have memories of meeting Sidney’s son and happy to share these.

      1. Jill Hyams says:

        Thanks, Sirah. Interesting to hear about your links with Maybury Road and the Francis family. We’re looking forward to the exhibition too – it’s at The Lightbox from 14 July to 7 October.

  2. Shelley Davies says:

    This is brilliant. My late husband would have been thrilled that the glass plates have been restored and been able to highlight Wokings past. Thank you.

  3. Mary says:

    I have a framed Apostolic Blessing from 1959 with his business “sticker” on the back, but at 56 Maybury Road, not 88.

    1. Jill Hyams says:

      Thank you for your comment, Mary. After the Second World War, Sidney Francis moved his studios to the corner of Grove Road and Maybury Road. I wonder if this is was 56 Maybury Road? Jill

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