The Unknown Photographer Exhibition Report

Unknown Photographer Exhibition (2019)

Despite the inclement weather the Yapton & Ford Local History Group went ahead with their planned, two-pronged exhibition on Saturday 10th August. They were rewarded with a turnout of approximately three hundred visitors during the course of the afternoon.

The main display told the story of an ‘Unknown Photographer’ and the incredible sequence of coincidences that led to the exhibition.

Twelve years ago, a collection of seven boxes containing over 300 glass negatives were saved from a rubbish skip by John Thomson while working in a bookshop in Bath. Last year John started developing them and publishing the resulting photographs on Twitter. One of the boxes had "Yapton" written on one end. John contacted the Yapton & Ford History Group who were able to recognise and date some of the views. Following some detective work, it was discovered that the mystery photographer was a retired Stockbroker by the name of Sidney Fletcher who lived with his family in Berea Court, Yapton from 1907 until 1917. With the help of on-line researchers many of the other views in the photographs were located in England, the Continent, Africa and India.

In July of this year two sisters travelling from the West Country visited Yapton Church while passing through the village. They picked up a copy of the Yapton News magazine and saw a photograph of their great grandfather, Sidney Fletcher, which was part of an article about the mystery photographer, staring back at them. They were overwhelmed with emotion and made contact with the author of the article.

The two sisters, Amanda and Tracey Congdon, along with John Thomson were invited as special guests by the History Group to Saturday’s exhibition. John brought with him a box of the glass negatives, and Amanda and Tracey added a selection of their own family photographs to the collection on show.

The display contained over 120 of Sidney Fletcher's photographs, including thirty of Yapton and Bognor Regis, along with several newspaper cuttings tracing his and his family’s history. Visitors took a great interest in the story, and several had travelled from as far away as Reading, Portsmouth and Brighton after seeing the story covered on BBC’s South Today programme.

In a separate exhibition running alongside the ‘Unknown Photographer’, the History Group displayed a range of historical documents from their archives relating to the villages of Yapton and Ford. Among those items receiving special interest was a series of ancient maps, a collection of references from newspapers from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and crime occurrence reports from the same period. Also on show were early census returns, the school register from the late 19th century along with the first schoolmasters log-book for the period up to 1886, and a range of old photographs with their modern equivalents.


Allen Misselbrook
Yapton & Ford Local History Group
August 2019

(Originally published in Littlehampton Gazette, August 2019)