Albert Marrett – Edwardian Entrepreneur

Through the efforts of local people like Harry Withers and his late wife Joan (to whom we are indebted for copies of photos used in this article), we know quite a lot about the people who populated the local area in the generations immediately preceding our own. But even our local history buffs are building on an earlier legacy created by their predecessors – several of whom have left behind a lot of information about past times in the local area in the form oof photos and essays about their lives.
One such person was Albert Marrett. Albert did not spend all of his life in the village, although he seems to have spent his formative years here. To judge from his writing, his heart was always in Shrewton. A piece written by Albert (possibly written for a predecessor of Arrowhead) survives and tells us about his life and experiences in the local area. The essay (which seems to have been written after he left Shrewton in 1916 under rather tragic circumstances) is written ostensibly as information about Shrewton for his children who must have done most of their growing up after the Marrett family left the village.

But Albert’s legacy is far more extensive then just one essay. As a go-ahead young Edwardian, Albert was able to catch and ride what was then the latest technology wave: photography. In the Edwardian era photography was the thing that many smart young people wanted to “get into” – equivalently sexy to the hi-tech digital world that many modern young people want to colonise today. There is no doubt that Albert hoped to make a good living from photography and sell copies of his photos as postcards – and he seems to have been very industrious in pursuit of that goal. Whether he attained his goal is open to question – many other smart young men across the country would have had the same idea and competition must have been fierce.

Ultimately though, we are definitely the winners from his ambition. He has left us a rich legacy of varied photos of Shrewton and Salisbury Plain. His pictures are highly sought after by collectors.

The picture of Albert with his camera box, his bike and his “have camera will travel” pose is worth a thousand words.
Albert’s father was a sea captain and his mother was a Miss Feltham from Shrewton. They met at Southampton – presumably whilst Captain Marrett was on shore leave. They married in February 1880 and Albert was born in December 1880.  The family moved to Newport in Wales. South Wales at that time lived on the coal trade so it seems likely that young Albert – who was a sickly child – did not enjoy very good health there.  It was thought that some country air might be best for him, so he was packed off to live with his aunt (another Miss Feltham) in Shrewton.  She ran a shop that once stood on the river side of the junction of Salisbury Road and Amesbury Road almost beside the old Baptist chapel, now a private residence. This was when there were buildings on both sides of the road.

In his late teens Albert became interested in photography. His aunt offered to publish some of his village photos as postcards for him.  Thus, early Marrett images are published by “Feltham” – because his aunt paid for this business venture.  This must have been successful, because much more followed. Some time later, Albert’s pictures were published as by “Feltham and Marrett” – and eventually as just “A.F Marrett” – Albert retaining “Feltham” as a middle name. Possibly, that was a mark of respect to the aunt who had given him a chance in life.

Albert met and married a girl from Shrewton. We think her maiden name was possibly Kilford, but we have no verification of this to date.  The Marretts had five children (of which only four ultimately survived). Tragically, Mrs Marrett died as result of complications of birth of the last child in 1915. Shortly after this tragedy Albert went into the army and in 1916 the remaining family moved to somewhere near Luton in Bedfordshire. We don’t know for sure, but probably he was “called up” rather than volunteering. We can only imagine his heartbreak at losing his wife, and being taken away from his beloved home village so soon afterwards.
David, Albert’s only surviving son has been a regular visitor to Shrewton over the years and we are indebted to him for most of the information about his father. However, we also have Albert’s surviving essay “MEMORIES 1884 – 1916 by Albert Feltham Marrett.” which is a series of memories of his early life in Shrewton. From this we can get a flavour of his life here. To complete this retrospective, here are some extracts – Albert Marrett in his own words.

“For the benefit of those who, like my youngest son, have never known Shrewton and the inhabitants thereof, breathed its life-giving ozone, drunk the pure crystal-clear water from its wells, nor heard the marvellous bird chorus of a spring morning”

“Shrewton, mostly one street a mile or more in length, lies on the main road from Salisbury to Devizes, almost midway between the two. Approaching from Salisbury, we pass through the hamlet Homanton, across a bridge over a brook – sometimes dry, but in the spring often nearly level with the roadway – into Shrewton proper, swinging right up a slight rise, and then left, we leave Rolleston to the right, where a private road with an iron gate locked at least one day in the year leads to Rolleston House, passing en route the house occupied as “Manse” by Revs T A Judd and Albert Smith; – at Rolleston Church only one bell is rung for a wedding but all ring for a funeral.”
“Returning to the main street and passing the National School on the right, we come to Shrewton Manor, home of the Wansboroughs, where Fred Franklin worked, another butcher’s shop on the left and, opposite, the home of the Rev Charles Light, for many years minister at “Zion”. Further on is the Wesleyan Chapel, left, over the stream, Windsor’s smithy and, formerly, on the right corner, a saddle and harness maker’s shop, Fred Chubb’s, whose son Sir Cecil Chubb gave Stonehenge to the nation. Shrewton Church is next, then George Kitley’s house, nearly opposite, George Williams’ shop and bakeries and, on the next corner, the Carriers’ Arms. A wall fronts us: the road left leads to Elston and then Orcheston, right is the London Road, with a sundial on the gable end of the first cottage: this road led to “Shrewton Lodge”, and its continuation was a grass track along which cattle were driven to London in olden days.”

David Marrett has confirmed that, sadly, none of Albert’s original photographic glass plates survive. He apparently used some of them to glaze a shed at his new home in Bedfordshire! Fortunately for us, because his photos adorned many mass produced postcards, examples of them are reasonably plentiful in the collectors market. One of the most famous is the photo he took at the dedication ceremony of the monument at Airman’s Cross. This is the monument which commemorates the site of the crash which resulted in the first ever military aviator fatalities – Captain Eustace Lorraine, and Sgt Richard Wilson.

The memorial is being unveiled by General Sir Horace Dorian Smith, Air Battalion Royal Engineers. In Albert’s photo we are looking from Airman’s Cross (in those days it was just a simple crossroads with no trees around it) towards the north, heading towards the Bustard Inn. As the photo clearly shows, the road was then not much more than a country lane.

Although it probably wasn’t intentional, Albert Marrett left us a rich legacy of local history in his photos and writings and though his residence in the village was probably no more than 20 years, he should truly be remembered as a Shrewton worthy.