Before his death in 1948 Percy Benzie Abery selected 1580 of his glass negatives and gifted them to the National Library of Wales. P B Abery was born in Folkestone, one of eleven children. In 1898 he bought a small photography business in Builth Wells and continued in business for half a century. By 1911 the business had grown sufficiently to allow him to move to the West End Studio. Darkrooms were placed in the basement, the shop on the ground floor, a workshop for framing and mounting on the first floor and the studio on the top to take advantage of daylight.
During the summer months P B Abery was a familiar site on his bicycle, with camera and tripod on his back, as he kept busy photographing groups of visitors as they took the waters in both Builth Wells and nearby Llandrindod. The following morning groups would gather round the shop window ‘like bees around a honeypot’ looking for pictures of themselves. Later the bicycle gave way to a motorcycle and side car and in 1928 his first car, a baby Austin.
Apart from photographing groups of visitors Abery was always quickly on the scene to photograph any newsworthy event, prints of which were sent off with great haste to the daily papers in London. Announcing his death the Daily Mail described him as ‘one-time ace press photographer.’ When photographing weddings he would prepare a set of proofs ready for the bride and groom to view at their reception. He was also appointed official photographer by the Birmingham Water Works during construction of the Elan Valley Dams.
At some point PB Abery acquired a number of glass negatives from another local photographer, Robert Newton Heywood of Knighton (1877-1935). A number of these are included here, distinguishable by his distinctive written captions, often with ‘CT. HK’ added, abbreviation for Copyright, Heywood Knighton.
Before the Kodak Brownie became a household item a trip to the photographers studio would be made for any number of reasons - engagement, christening, graduation, coming of age etc etc. Troops leaving the tranquillity of Mid Wales for the trenches in the First World War would often have their portraits taken in uniform as a keepsake for their loved ones. This side of the business slackened off after the First World War with the rise of the aforementioned Kodak Brownie. However this became another opportunity for the enterprising photographer and soon the developing and printing side of the business took off. A film brought in by 10am was ready for collection by five o’clock that afternoon.
For P B Abery photography was both work and his hobby. He was a patient man who would happily wait for hours for the right light or cloud effect for the landscape shot he desired. It is these photographs of rural landscapes, farms, villages and hamlets that make up the bulk of his donation to the Library. These record with detail many aspects of life in this part of Wales – sheep dipping, livestock, golf tournaments, fishing and even heavily disguised poachers. His collection of glass negatives have all been printed out and are to be found in photo albums 902(a)-918(a). Although not part of his donation he also recorded the 1909 Builth Wells Historical Pageant, photo album 90(c) which can be viewed on the Library's digital gallery. Examples of his work and of the pageant are currently available on flickr commons.
These notes are based information provided by P B Abery’s daughter, Evelyn Carr.