Joan, 98 – a woman of letters . . . and images

Joan Russell.
Joan Russell.
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Over the years it has given me great pleasure to interview many readers of The News.

But for a woman I talked to last week it was not just a pleasure and honour but a privilege.

Russell & Sons' headed notepaper.

Russell & Sons' headed notepaper.

Joan Russell (née Ede) is 98 years and recalls events as if they had happened yesterday.

She was born in what everyone calls Old Fawcett Road, Southsea, although there is no such road, it is just Fawcett Road.

It was 1917 and her father was away on the Western Front. On his return and demob the family moved to Worthing Road, Southsea.

Joan was home-taught until she was nine and then attended school in Kingston Crescent.

Joan's business card

Joan's business card

She says: ‘It was a penny on the tram, but if I walked a short way and caught the tram at Fratton Bridge then it only cast me a halfpenny.’ In those days there were 240 old pennies to a pound so it puts that saving into perspective.

Joan left school at 15 and took an apprenticeship in photography. As a pupil her first two years were at her own expense and she was not paid a penny.

Her firm was Russell & Son’s [no relation] in Osborne Road, Southsea, which went under the title Royal Photographers and had a coat of arms on its notepaper. In their cellar were stacked many glass plates of royal photographs they had taken.

Joan’s training not only included taking photographs with medium format cameras – Leica was her favourite – but also printing and developing as well.

In 1938 Joan became a qualified photographer with letters ARPS (Associate of the Royal Photographic Society) after her name.

She remembers how difficult it was to get hold of film in the early days of the war and having just three rolls which she used sparingly.

In 1940 she was married in the Royal Garrison Church, Old Portsmouth, which was bombed in 1941 and remains roofless. She later had two daughters Anne and Mollie.

In 1941 she moved to Havant Road, Emsworth, to a large, seven-bedroomed house called The Elms. One day someone asked her mother if she would take in a boarder which was agreed to. A 16-year-old grammar school boy called Harry came from London with nothing but what he stood in. He was taken into the family and later married one of Joan’s sisters, Barbara.

After the Second World War Joan’s husband Roy went back into insurance and had offices in the Royal Insurance Company off Guildhall Square where the library is now.

Joan’s business went from strength to strength and she made a name for herself, but like many photographers, she kept away from weddings as much as she could.

Critical work was part of her criteria, judging other photographers’ work.

She was well-known in the city and was acquainted with Wright & Logan the famous naval photographers.

In the late 1950s she lived on Hayling Island but her girls still went to school in Portsmouth and Anne told me of the traipse it was to school, catching the Hayling Billy to Havant then a train to Portsmouth then a bus. And doing it all in reverse in the evening.

In the mid-1960s Joan worked for a retail photographic company and travelled across Europe and behind the Iron Curtain for camera and photographic exhibitions. Her daughter Anne often travelled with her.

In later years Joan moved to Worcester where she lived for 30 years returning to the city a few years ago to settle at Milton.