In 1903 the brothers George and Herbert Bunce established themselves as professional photographers in a wooden hut to the rear of their father’s home in Asylum Road, Caterham. In 1906 they moved across the road to a new building at 26 Asylum Road (a road later renamed as Westway), Caterham. Photographing Guardsmen at the nearby Guards Depot was to become the core of their business but they also photographed many local families, buildings and activities.
The surviving glass plates in the Bunce archive at Surrey History Centre illustrate the breadth of their business and contain some notable images. There are fine series of photographs of events and activities at Caterham School, Dene School and Eothen School, in Caterham. The Bunce brothers recorded carnivals and fetes organised by Caterham Hospital and Caterham Fire Brigade, the activities of Caterham Scouts, V E Day and Coronation street parties, and local football and cricket teams. Aspects of World War II were also recorded including photographs of ARP and Home Guard personnel and the results of bomb damage. There are also fascinating views of the RAF base at Kenley. The majority of the surviving images date from the 1920s to 1940s and there are very few from the World War I period.
However customer order books survive for the war years from April 1916 to December 1917 and from September 1918 onwards which show the types of photographs taken during this period. Customers ordered copies of photographs in a variety of formats including postcards, passport photographs, Victor Panels, Panelettes and Cabinets, some in sepia.
Some images were also hand coloured. In May 1916 W A Fox Pitt at the Guards Depot, Caterham, ordered 12 Imperial portraits and was described as ‘hair fair to medium, eyes blue, moustache lighter, buttons bronze, cap gold’. Captain Bremner of the Salvation Army, Caterham Valley, ordered photographs of a decorated tea table, songsters and soldiers. In 1916 photographs were also made at Bletchingley Isolation Hospital and Burntwood Red Cross Hospital, and Mr Wadeson of William Road, Caterham, ordered 6 pendant photos of Private Walter Wadeson. Miss Brown of Queen’s Park, Caterham, wanted a picture of a soldier for a heart shaped pendant.
In October 1918 Captain Menzies of the Army Gym Staff ordered ‘1 enlargement framed in oak with brass plate and inscription’ and images relating to Second Lieutenant J C Cavanagh, Royal Air Force, were poignantly inscribed ‘God called him to fly higher’. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website shows that John Charles Cavanagh of 218 Squadron was killed on 19 August 1918 aged just 18 and was the son of Mrs Elizabeth Cavanagh of Sunnydene Road, Purley. At the same time ordinary life also went on as people ordered photographs of weddings and babies.