Happy Birthday to George Garland!

By Nichola Court, Archivist

George Garland was one of the county’s best known photographers and his archive is one of West Sussex Record Office’s most popular collections. On what would have been his 120th birthday, Archivist Nichola Court looks back on his work and explains why his archive is so important.

George Griffin Garland was born on 4th May 1900 in Brighton. He and his mother moved to Petworth in 1907, where she eventually married the landlord of the Railway Inn; Garland would spend the rest of his life in the market town, becoming a well-known and popular figure.

Garland did not set out to become a photographer and fell into the profession by accident. In the 1920s, he tried his hand at freelance journalism and found that his pieces sold better if they were accompanied by a photograph. In January 1922, Garland took this photograph of a lorry which met with an accident on Coultershaw bridge, which was published in the London Evening News; this brought financial reward and reached a wide audience, encouraging Garland to take up photography as a profession.

As a jobbing professional photographer, Garland took more than his fair share of portraits, both group and individual, as well as wedding photos, and his collection contains some wonderful examples of these.

However, his collection is best known for the numerous rural and agricultural scenes which he captured, from traditional country crafts such as hoop and hurdle making, to sheep dipping, cider pressing, country fairs, harvesting by hand and horse, and the steady, inevitable rise of mechanisation.

As a professional photographer, Garland’s skill with the camera put food on his table. Many shots were commissioned by agricultural newspapers and magazines, in order to publicise or demonstrate the latest equipment – such as electronic sheep clippers, milking machines or combine harvesters.

In addition, local newspapers often carried photographs of fat stock shows and the like, to illustrate their reports on prizes awarded and prices raised.

Other photographs were picked up by general newspapers and magazines, with images of country crafts, disappearing rural idylls and their characters proving popular with urban readers – so much so that Garland, who was well known and liked by many of these ‘characters’, would often contrive scenes, using his favourite models to depict various traditional roles, for example.

That said, Garland had a genuine affection for the countryside and its crafts and a real rapport with the men and women he photographed. He and his wife, Sally, were familiar figures to many, visiting fairs and farms the length and breadth of the county, traversing the Downs in their motorbike and sidecar, capturing old traditions and new developments in agricultural processes and the rural calendar. 

Over the course of his career, Garland amassed some 70,000 glass plate negatives, all of which were bequeathed to West Sussex Record Office on his death in 1978. Spanning nearly half a century, the Garland Collection is, without doubt, our largest and probably most important photographic collection, given its scale and content. There is much to interest the local, family and social historian, since it captures and charts our changing society and culture, alongside the rural landscape and our agricultural practices.

The entire Garland Collection has been catalogued and can be searched via our website (select the Advanced Search tab and enter Garland in the CatalogueNo field to call up the entire collection); in addition, over 1,500 images from the Garland Collection can be viewed on our Online Picture Gallery (enter ‘Garland’ in the search box). My illustrated talk, ‘Bygone Sussex’, featuring Garland and an amateur photographer, John Fletcher, provides lots more information about Garland and his work, can be booked for local groups; please email record.office@westsussex.gov.uk for information.

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8 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to George Garland!

  1. George Garland’s photo collection is a treasure and delight to see. They reveal visually what it was like in the early 20th century that would be difficult to imagine from just reading texts from that era.


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