Barrett Jenkins 1904 – 1992

Arnold Barrett Jenkins was born at 94 High Street, Southwold (where Noa Noa is today). He was the second of five children of the well known local photographer, Frederick Jenkins and his wife Maude. Frederick ran a thriving photography and processing business and was responsible for many of the historical images which have become an important source of insight into what life in Southwold was like in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Barrett joined the family business but gradually carved out a separate niche for himself in the emerging field of radio and gramophones. Eventually he opened his own shop selling and repairing wireless sets which, in those days, were powered by large accumulator batteries which needed periodic recharging. Barrett would collect, recharge and redeliver accumulators to wireless owners throughout the area, eventually developing a busy recharge-and-repair round as radio caught on. In 1929, on his 25th birthday, he married Queenie, the daughter of one of his customers, and they set up home together in North Road, later moving to Pier Avenue. They had three children: Ann, Andrew and Peter.

Fascinated by technology
By nature Barrett was what would, in today’s jargon, be termed an ‘early adopter’ of new technologies and, when cinematography started to make its mark, he was among the first private individuals to invest in a movie camera. Hand-cranked, it was a very basic piece of equipment but Barrett became fascinated, not only by the technology but, like his father, by the prospect it afforded of creating permanent visual records of events and people in the town. Several of his movies are featured on this website.

Frederick Jenkins taking a group photograph, filmed by his son, Barrett!

One of the most historically important of his films is the one he made of the final days of Southwold Railway in Spring 1929. Having filmed the train arriving at Southwold, unloading its passengers and goods and departing again for Halesworth, Barrett hopped on his motorbike with his camera and raced the train to the Heronry at Blythburgh where he set up his camera once more, pointed it up the line and waited for the train. It was a lengthy wait; Barrett’s bike was quite a bit pokier than the locomotive whose maximum speed was 16 mph! Then it was off to Halesworth and another wait. Much of the resulting footage can be viewed on this website. Queenie, Barrett’s fiancée, wearing a fashionable cloche hat, features as a prominent ‘extra’ in many of the scenes.

Public spirit
As he entered his 30s, Barrett became increasingly immersed in the public life of the town. He was a founder member and, later, Commandant of the local Red Cross. He started Southwold’s ambulance service and personally drove the ambulance for 15 years as well as being a highly respected first-aider. He was a founder member of the Southwold Hospital League of Friends, helped to set up the town’s first blood transfusion service, regularly patrolled the beach as a member of the Royal Life Saving Society and, when the Second World War broke out, became first an ARP warden and later a member of the Civil Defence.

After the War, Barrett opened a new shop at No 15 Market Place (now the Amber Shop and Museum) and, true to his pioneering approach to technology, prepared the business for the advent of television. He had a TV set in his window long before the town could actually receive a discernable flicker of a signal. Meanwhile he was becoming an increasingly respected pillar of local society – a Rotarian, a Freemason, a Town Councillor and, later, like his father, Mayor of Southwold – a post he held on three separate occasions. He was on the council for a total of 25 years, retiring from it only on his 80th birthday.

It is hard to believe that such a full life left room for hobbies, but Barrett developed several. He was a self-taught magician, member of the famously exclusive Magic Circle and regular performer at local events. He was a skilled wood carver and furniture maker. He was also a fund of local historical knowledge and, for 35 years, presented an annual magic lantern show in the Town Hall, based on his father’s unequalled collection of glass slides and using the very same lantern Fred had used in 1902.

A sense of history
In his retirement, Barrett published these images in a series of four, very successful books. Many of the most prized photographs in our museum today were donated by him. He had always been a great supporter of the Southwold Archaeological and Natural History Society (the former name of the Southwold Museum and Historical Society) and became its Vice President. He donated to the museum his extensive collection of railway memorabilia and models, to accommodate which, a special extension was opened in 1962. To recognise Barrett Jenkins contribution to the museum, a hand-crafted commemorative chair was commissioned from local craftsman, George Smith and is now in daily use in the museum.

Barrett’s daughter, Ann Thornton, has recently been instrumental in helping to set up the Barrett Jenkins Charitable Trust to provide financial support to local charities whose aims chime with Barrett’s own lifelong community concerns. The Trustees of the new charity have approved a substantial donation to the Southwold Museum and Historical Society and this is being used to finance a new exhibition space to display for the first time the museum’s collection of historical garments as well as a recently acquired collection of local fossils.

We are also very grateful to Ann for her enthusiastic support and help in enabling us to display some of her father’s movie footage on this website.