Elsa Mary Megson was an only child born in 1911 in Bowden, Cheshire, daughter of Albert and Edith Megson. Elsa’s father had followed his father in running the family printing business in Manchester. Albert was a pioneer of wireless telegraphy and was an amateur painter working in watercolours, and was a friend and painting companion of the Manchester artist L S Lowry.
Elsa took up photography as a hobby. She served four years during the war in the Women’s Royal Naval Service attached to the Fleet Air Arm, and trained as an aerial photographer where she had to point her camera through a hole in the bottom of the aircraft. After the war she learnt of a photographer in Godalming, Chaplin Jones, who was looking for an assistant, and moved here in the late 1940s.
Elsa then freelanced and had a studio and darkroom in Hare Lane, Farncombe. There are 136 of her photographs mainly of Godalming, but including Hydon Ball, Winkworth, the Masque at Charterhouse, to name a few, taken mainly in 1957, 1960 and 1970, held in the Godalming Museum Library.
Elsa built up her reputation photographing weddings, special occasions at Charterhouse and King Edward’s School, Witley, and press work for the Surrey Advertiser. She photographed many members of the Royal Family, particularly the Queen Mother, Margaret Rutherford, and other well-known people. Elsa illustrated articles for The Lady magazine, Country Life, and other magazines. Her many black and white postcards and coloured greetings cards were sold in a local bookshop owned by her life long friend, Anita Dawson. She and Anita travelled extensively taking photographs when travel had not opened up, and not to women. Elsa contributed to gardening books, and to those of her friend, Roy Hay, a garden writer who lived at Hurtmore, such as Labour Saving Gardening (1957). Her photographs of a jackdaw were used to illustrate Blind Jack by Stephanie Ryde (1960).
In 1965 Elsa began to specialize as a horticultural photographer. She took photographs of plants and flowers at Wisley, Winkworth Arboretum and abroad. She took colour slides of botanical subjects such as close ups of plants and flowers, and her collection is still used to provide pictures for publications.
Her exceptional photographs covered many subjects, views, scenes abroad, people, flowers and plants.
She died on the 8th January 2004, aged 92.
Godalming Museum © 2004