Halsey Freeman (1891-1930)

by Jim Freeman, 2007
Halsey on his motorbike
Halsey on his motorbikeClick Image
 to Expand

It is extraordinary that so many of Tewkesbury’s photographic pioneers met with untimely ends - but the statistics speak for themselves.[1] And, even if my grandfather, Halsey Freeman, had been aware of this disquieting history of the profession he was about to join, clearly it did not deter him from taking up the art. Some eighty years on, this only makes his own tragic and premature demise seem all the more ironic ….

Halsey launched his photographic career in 1922. Significantly, this was the same year that Halsey and his wife Lizzie adopted their daughter, Dorothy (‘Doll’).[2] Doll was the illegitimate child of a Staffordshire girl, Edith Ellen Clark, and, when the adoption went through in July 1922, my grandparents received the, then, not inconsiderable sum of £75 to help offset their expenses.[3] A strong suspicion is that this money went towards Halsey’s business start-up. However, when Doll was still a teenager, Lizzie told her that the money had been returned (to her natural father, a Mr. Ferguson). If so, this may have taken place some time after the adoption.

Photo: A BSA 2 ¼ h.p. Model B popularly known as the “Round Tank”. From the registration number DD6690 it can be deduced the bike was registered by Gloucestershire County Council around about March, 1925. Being of 250cc it was the smallest model in the BSA range at that time and would have cost £39.10s. new. However, some accessories have been added that would have increased its value. A set of BSA leg shields would have cost £1.0s.0d., a gas light set, horn and mirror are also extras.

Doll’s Adoption Contract

(discovered in the Albion Public House by Derek Round)

This Indenture is made the 4th day of July one thousand nine hundred and twenty two between Edith Ellen Clarke of Norton Canes Near Cannock in the County of Stafford, Spinster, (hereinafter called "the Parent”) of the one part and Halsey Viscount Freeman of  Providence Place Tewkesbury in the County of Gloucester, Grocers Assistant and Lizzie Freeman his Wife (hereinafter called “the adopting parties") of the other part.

Whereas the adopting parties having no child of their own are desirous of adopting a child to be brought up and educated by them.

And Whereas the parent has an infant daughter who was born on the Thirty First day of May One thousand nine hundred and twenty two and is hereinafter referred to as the Infant.

And Whereas the parent being satisfied that the adopting parties are fit persons to have the custody of the Infant and that the arrangement hereinafter contained will be for the advantage of the Infant she has agreed to permit the Infant to be adopted by the adopting parties upon the terms hereinafter contained.

Now this indenture witnesseth that in consideration of the sum of Seventy Five Pounds paid by the parent to the adopting parties (the receipt whereof the adopting parties do hereby respectively acknowledge). It is hereby agreed and declared as follows:-

  1.  From the date of these presents and at all times hereafter during its minority the said infant shall live with or under the care of the adopting parties who shall have all such powers over and in respect of the said Infant as if such Infant were in fact the child of the adopting parties.
  2. The adopting parties or the survivor of them shall, at their/own – his or her - expense clothe, maintain, support and educate the said Infant in the manner customary in the case of the children of persons of the same rank of life as the adopting parties.
  3. The Infant shall be brought up in the religion of the adopting parties.
  4. The parent shall not in any way whatsoever communicate or attempt to communicate with the said infant or claim or attempt to remove the said infant from the care and custody of the adopting parties or the survivor of them or any schoolmaster or schoolmistress or other person to whom the adopting parties or the survivor of them shall for the time being have entrusted the care and custody of the said Infant or in any way interfere or endeavour to interfere by legal proceedings or otherwise with the control or discretion as to maintenance education or otherwise exercised by the adopting parties or the survivor of them as regards the said Infant.
  5. In the event of the death of the survivor of the adopting parties during the Infancy of the said infant the survivor of the adopting parties shall be entitled to appoint by his or her Will or codicil a guardian or guardians for the said Infant and the said guardian or guardians shall have the same rights in respect of the said infant as such guardiwi or guardians would have had If they had been legally appointed such guardian or guardians as aforesaid.
No Caption
Click Image to Expand
In 1924, Halsey’s fledgling enterprise received one of its greatest photographic breaks when Tewkesbury was ravaged by freak summer floods.  A series of memorable shots ensued - nearly all of those known to the family, having been published in a previous edition of the Bulletin.   Since then, several more have come to light - in particular, Photo 1 (which appears to owe something to the spirit of artist, R.A. Turner) was discovered in 2001 on the wall of the Albion Inn in Oldbury Road. Though not an original - nor even a very good copy - it shows the smallest of the Bathurst Cruisers, the Swallow, leaving the ‘Causeway’ on the Severn close to the Mythe Road. Other cruisers in the Bathurst fleet were the King, Queen and Jubilee. Uniquely the photo reveals two posts on the left which locate the position of the Hammocks ('Hangings') where local fishermen used to hang out their salmon nets.
No Caption
Click Image to Expand
In contrast, Photo 2 - only recently acquired at the London Postcard Fair – illustrates all too graphically the precarious nature of living by the Tewkesbury Avon. Mythe Row, Flooded cottages near King John’s Bridge.
No Caption
Click Image to Expand
On the strength of sublime images such as these, Halsey was to win important contracts around the town. One such commission was a marketing photo of a delivery van for Wilkins, the bakers. Wilkins had two shops – the main one was in Church Street but there was a second in Barton Street. Copy provided by Miss P.J. Pearce.

Halsey’s son, Neville
Halsey’s son, Neville

Two years later, my father, Neville, was born, fortuitously providing Halsey with yet another economic opportunity. (Sentimental shots like this one were in popular demand in the twenties and so would have had as much a commercial value as well as family value in those days.)  

It was about a year before Neville’s birth that Halsey was to acquire the motorbike pictured in Photo 5.  According to Doll, this was resourced by Halsey’s widowed mother, Alice Elizabeth: and it transformed his business prospects. (Without the bike it is improbable he would have been able to continue trading on the strength of his Tewkesbury custom alone.) Indeed most of his later work seems to have originated well outside Tewkesbury – at least as far afield as Chepstow (if anonymous photos held by the family are any guide). So much so that his wife Lizzie was often heard to complain of how little she saw of her husband during these years. On shorter assignments Doll would often accompany her father, strapped to him on the back of the motorbike with a scarf. 

No Caption
Click Image to Expand
Of course, not all Halsey’s work arose away from Tewkesbury – as Photo 6 demonstrates.  Taken in Chance Street, the shot commemorates the Women’s Hour Trinity Church Outing to Broadway on 17 June 1928. In front, from right to left are Muriel Drinkwater, Halsey’s daughter, Doll, and son, Neville, Frances Drinkwater and Ted Drinkwater.  Lizzie is standing behind Doll in a dark hat. To the left of Lizzie, one person away is Mrs. Heath and one person to the left of her is Mrs. Chambers who is stood next to Mrs. Gough. In front of Mrs. Gough is Mrs. Green (‘Rimbo’ Green’s mother).

Colour Photos

Colour photography was not invented until the mid nineteen thirties. Before then, photos were often coloured by tinting using special inks and oils.  This was an art that Halsey ultimately was to become very accomplished in – as the photo on the front cover bears out. 

The subject of the shot is thought to be young Tewkesbury beauty queen, Lorraine Neale; this suggestion might, however, be incorrect. A slightly different version of the same photo (see Photo 8) – tinted green – was published in the Gloucestershire Echo (pp32-33) on 29 August 1998.

Halsey's End

By the end of 1929, Halsey was ready to embark on the next phase of his business development – with the acquisition of retail premises in Gloucester. A lease had been signed and preparations made for the family to relocate early the following year.  

But, sadly, it was not to be. Travelling back on the Ledbury Road, on his way home from an assignment on 5 January, Halsey’s motorbike slipped on ice, resulting in his sustaining serious head injuries. No other party was involved. Though he survived the crash itself and was allowed to be treated at home, soon after, erysipelas  set in and just ten days later – at the age of 38 – he was dead. (Years later, Doll was to comment on how lucky she had been not to have been travelling with him on that particular day.)  

The effect of Halsey’s loss can hardly be described. His family was devastated for years by the tragedy. Professionally there had been such hopes and so much promise….in the end, never to be fulfilled. Only now, generations on, does it seem possible to see his life in some sort of perspective. And the discovery recently that his postcards are so highly valued by professional collectors has been a revelation. This finding, above all else, perhaps gives the measure of the man – who is looked back on with great family pride.

Print Version


Your display name

Email address - required for confirmation
(it will not be displayed here)

Your comment or question

Please keep your comments relevant to this article.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. When you enter your name and email address, you'll be sent a link to confirm your comment.