Fred Little was born in the Easton area of Bristol in 1874. Information is scarce about his early years, but by 1896 Fred was working as a newsagent and stationer in premises on Narrow Wine Street, soon afterwards he started selling photographic supplies. In 1903 Fred married Florence and they had two children – Frederick William in 1904 and Lillian Mary in 1909. In his business life Fred worked closely with his brother Arthur, who was four years his junior. Arthur dealt in antiques and also had premises on Narrow Wine Street. No doubt many of the paintings, sketches, engravings and early photographs that Fred copied and issued as postcards would have come from his brother's stock.
In 1899 Fred and Arthur self-published ‘A History of St Peter’s Church, (City) Bristol’. Arthur worked as a clerk at the church and, although the booklet does not contain any of Fred’s photographs it refers to objects and locations that appear in later postcards. It’s a dry and rather academic account, but the introduction contains some marvellously romantic prose, very much in keeping with what we know of Fred’s character.
"It is impossible, in comtemplating the history of the fabric, to avoid associating in the mind its connection with the formidable castle, by which it was immediately overlooked; around it must have passed revolting scenes of violence, when infuriated men, engaged in mortal conflict, have steeped its foundation with their gore, and shrieks of agony thrilled through its aisles and were echoed and reverberated through its dreary vaults."
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact dates that Fred Little was working as a photographer. Previously, his career was thought to have spanned 1905-1921 (based on trade listings in 'Wrights Bristol Directory'). Unverified postcard evidence also suggests photographic work after 1921. However, as the 1901 census return lists Fred’s sole occupation as Photographer, it’s fair to assume that 1901–1921 covers his main photographic career. These dates will be amended accordingly if new evidence arises.
While primarily known as a photographer, at various times Fred supplemented his income through working as a newsagent and stationer, a dealer in antiques and photographic equipment and, of course, as a postcard seller. It is not known for certain why his photographic work declined. It may have been that other areas of his family business proved more profitable. When the postcard postage rate was doubled to 1d in 1918 the interest for this type of communication waned – and with it the demand for Fred's extensive postcard production.
After the horrors of the First World War, the 1920s heralded a new age of optimism, where the rigid order of the Victorian and Edwardian eras quickly lost its appeal. Fred's vision of a bygone Bristol may have suddenly appeared archaic and obsolete.
The business was bought by H. Salanson & Co Ltd around 1937. They seem to have purchased at least some of his stock, as a number of postcards exist with the new owners’ details rubber-stamped on their reverse. These were presumably used as rather novel compliment slips for Salanson’s customers. Bafflingly some others were stamped "CANCELLED This is not a Postcard". While this has never been satisfactorily explained, it proved to be the final indignity for Fred's work.
The World War II bombing raids on Bristol were to wipe out many of the locations of his pictures.
Today nothing remains in the city centre to show where Fred lived and worked.
After retiring, Fred moved to Failand in Somerset. He lived there until 1953 when he returned briefly to Bristol. He died in Bishopston on 11 February of that year. His body was transported to Failand for burial in the grounds of St Bartholomew’s Church, where his grave overlooks a beautiful valley.
Since the 1970s, historians have become increasingly interested in Bristol's 20th century history; simultaneously postcard collecting has grown in popularity. Reece Winstone published many volumes of the 'Bristol As It Was' series. These featured many Fred Little images, although few were credited as his photographs. Numerous photographic histories of Bristol have since been issued – and most include images that came from the camera of Frederick George Little.