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My Great Grandmother Clara 1867 -1956

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posted by Rob Lucas alias Robstours on Sunday 7th of March 2021 08:25:32 PM

carte-de-visite by Franz Heinrich Lösel... was he a spy? Franz Heinrich Losel was born in Germany in 1858, and moved to England some time before his 23rd birthday in 1881. He was unmarried, and called himself Francis in the census. He learnt his trade as an assistant to the photographer John Hunt (who was aged 68 in 1881), Losel may well have served as an apprentice to Hunt during the late 1870s. Hunt was an experienced photographer having started his business in 1851. In 1881 Losel lived in with his employer John Hunt (born in Preston) and his wife Mary Hunt (she was born in Sheerness) at Mile Town, the rear of High Street, Isle of Sheppey, Kent. It seems likely given his age that Hunt retired soon after 1881 or even died, leaving Losel to run the business, certainly Losel was set up with his own studio at some time before 1888. Here Losel produced good quality carte-de-visite photographs, and probably the larger cabinet cards, his style seems to be usually head and shoulders only or a seated pose. The small albumen print photo was pasted on a green or white card, with his name displayed in gold lettering on the lower front. The back was plain, and provided with a fold over tissue protector cover. Having a foreign sounding name was not a disadvantage to a photographer in the 1880s and actually sounded professional, as many photographers had such names: J.Von Dollhopff and Fehrenbach in London, Guttenberg in Bristol and Lombardi in Brighton. After about 1902 the world-wide demand for carte-de-visite and cabinet card portraits declined, and Losel had to find other types of photograph to sell - many went on to the popular postcard format, but I have no evidence that he did. In the early 1900s Losel was living by Beach Fields in Sheerness, his studio was a large conservatory attached to his house (since demolished) and facing the sea, the glass provided the natural light needed for good photographs and he had a large telescope. Each morning he would set off along the sea wall carrying his camera in one hand, and tripod and black camera cover, in the other, to take what photographs he could of the ships he had spotted through his telescope - this I assume is how he could tell if a ship had docked, and he often got the crew to line up in front of their ship, sometimes a warship. By simply taking one group photo, he gained the opportunity to sell to each crew member one to six copies of the same photograph. These they would send to friends and family, and with a large crew it would be well worth the effort. We are fortunate that an elderly lady, Ivy Russell, when aged 90, could still recall Losel and his morning walks on his way to take these photographs: He would appear in the distance, he seemed a sinister, menacing figure, causing Ivy to panic and grasp her father's hand tighter. In her fright she would gasp, It's German Losel, it's German Losel ! and stop dead in her tracks. Her father would placate her and urge her to carry on and answer politely when he greeted them, as he always did, with great politeness, addressing her as 'Missy'. Later with war looming, another local resident Mrs Lily Filby, at 87 years old, recalled Losel as a harmless, unprepossessing character, he was a solitary man with whom no one, because he was German, would associate. Nevertheless he addressed everyone he recognised with a mild. mannered, polite Good Day. In a government document of 1909*, mindful of the then relationship with Germany and the possibility of spying, records that in 1904 an officer was sent to have a look round, one of the list of suspect things he reported was: At Sheerness there is a very suspicious German photographer named Losel who spends a good deal of money and does little or no business. He is, however, known to be a doubtful person, and his opportunities are, therefore, not great. *April, 1909 Proceedings of the sub-committee of the committee of Imperial Defence appointed by the Prime Minister to consider the question of foreign espionage in the United Kingdom - copy in the British Library.. Losel had run his studio for almost thirty years, and this profession usually did provide a good living, and profits were usually high enough to allow most photographers to make investments. By 1904 his studio trade had fallen off because of trends beyond his control. Later on he seems to have lost trade simply because he was seen as German, even though he had lived in the area for more than thirty years. So he probably lived off his investments and what trade he could get from the passing ships. After about 1910 guns and searchlights were placed along the sea front and later troops were drafted into the town, the people of the town following the invasion fever of the times, muttered that Losel might be a German spy, people wondered where he got his money from when his business had so few customers, so they gossiped that his photographs of ships and details of their crews found their way to Germany and that he was paid as a spy! Although no one could actually produce any proof that his wanderings with his camera were other than innocent walks, the rumours of spying were widely believed. When war was declared in 1914 Ivy and Lily clearly recalled that a contingent of children Smashed Losel's conservatory to smithereens It certainly would have been a very foolish and perhaps defiant act on Losel's part, as a German national, to continue to take photos of warships on the very outbreak of war - if that is what he did - but that was how he made his living, and it got him into trouble - see the extract below. Where he went next, neither ladies were sure, but Mrs Philby says he was taken away by the Military and interned for the duration of the war. The question remains, was Franz Heinrich Losel a spy, or was he taken away for his own protection?

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