Most of the old views of Maldon that you see in local history books date from the late 1890s and the early part of the 20th century.

Postcards were first introduced in 1870, but their 'golden age' was between 1902 and the start of the Great War.

However, occasionally, earlier pictures turn up. Amongst my friend Kevin Fuller’s collection are a few rare 'CDVs', short for 'carte de visite'.

These small sepia photographs are mounted on a piece of card - hence the name.

They were patented in 1854, became popular in this country from 1857 and reached a collecting peak during the 1860s (although the format continued until the beginning of the 1900s).

Flicking through Kevin’s CDVs, one in particular caught my eye. It shows a somehow familiar looking building-cum-shop, crowded with people – some looking through second floor windows, others on a first floor balcony and the rest down in the street.

Inscribed on the card mount is 'E.W. Robins Photo' and 'Maldon'. So where was (is) that building and when does the picture date from?

The first clue is in the photographer’s name. Edward Winter Robins was a jeweller-cum-photographer who was only in Maldon for a short period of time – from around 1859 to 1867.

So, we have an eight-year window when our photo would have been taken.

The next lead can be seen in the image itself. Above the ground floor shop front is the surname 'Humpherys'.

Turning to the 1861 census, there was a family of that name living in Maldon High Street.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: 50 High Street as it is today50 High Street as it is today (Image: Stephen Nunn)

William Humpherys was an unmarried, 26-year-old, Maldon-born “linen draper employing 6 men”.

He was living on the premises with his widowed mother, Sarah (53), “visitor” Emily Kemp (23), an “assistant”, Eliza Ann Holmes (24), “shopman” Charles Bocock (also 24), three apprentices – Thomas Barnes (19), John Brown (15), Philip Hicks (16) and two servants – Mary Ann Dush (26) and Eliza A Gentry (21).

It was clearly a large household, but the three-storeyed, double bow-windowed building in the photo must have made for reasonably comfortable living.

Checking the trades directories and scanning the architecture of today’s High Street, revealed the shop to be number 50, a Grade II listed, early 19th Century, gault brick building, that currently houses (on the ground floor) Barnardo's and Phonebox.

Further research revealed William Humpherys to be an interesting character in his own right. In the same year that he appeared in that 1861 census he married the “visitor”, Emily Kemp, at her home parish church in Southminster.

William had succeeded to the drapery business from his mother, Sarah Humphreys (née Amos), some time between 1851 and 1861. (She is listed as a Maldon “Linen Draper” in White’s Directory of 1848 and she died in 1869).

Son William went on to become not only a successful businessman (running both the drapers and an undertakers), but also an important member of Maldon society.

He was variously a magistrate, captain of the local volunteers (the 23rd Essex Rifles), a harbour commissioner, Conservative councillor and was twice mayor (in 1878 and 1884).

During his mayoral terms of office he promoted a successful agricultural show, arranged a first class cricket match on Fairfield (today’s Upper Plume playing field), improved the town’s sanitation, managed the instillation of the clock above the Moot Hall, formally opened the new Fullbridge, assisted at a balloon launch from the Gas Works and campaigned against the “paving of the High Street with asphalt”.

He also fought a number of controversial election battles and I suspect the picture captures one of those occasions. (In the Parliamentary Election of 1878, his shop served as a safe haven for the Tory supporters).

But then, in 1887, the golden jubilee year of Queen Victoria, something went wrong and, as far as Maldonians were concerned, he disappeared.

His mother had been dead some 18 years, leaving effects worth under £450 to William and his wealthy corn merchant brother, Edward, of The Limes, Market Hill.

Unlike his brother, William’s financial position wasn’t at all good. His liabilities out-totalled his assets by £1,132 10s. 1d.

The lease of 50 High Street had been signed over to the bank as security, and they finally decided to call in the debt.

However, in a bizarre twist, the bank (Sparrow and Tufnell, the forerunner of Barclays) offered him a job as a branch manager – a position he couldn’t really refuse.

The 1891 census shows him as a “Bank Agent” in Coggeshall, living with wife Emily, a visitor and one servant, no doubt mourning the loss of his business and missing his beloved town.

He died in 1897, aged 61, and his body was returned to Maldon by train from Witham.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: William’s grave in Maldon CemeteryWilliam’s grave in Maldon Cemetery (Image: Stephen Nunn)

The funeral party collected the coffin at East Station, processed up Market Hill, passed by number 50 and William was buried with full civic honours in the London Road cemetery.

It was said that he was once “a power in Maldon and…and a more popular man, or one who was more looked up to and respected by all classes of society, there could not be found”.

What more could anyone ask for?