Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Edge of the World

Penzance has the feeling of a town on the edge of Britain. With only the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Great Western Railway’s westward expansion came to an abrupt stop here. A well established local independent bookshop chose its name accordingly. When we visited in March, new shop premises were in preparation and shop-fitters were installing the final section of fascia panelling. Which made for a nice pair of photos and served as an encouraging sign of defying conventional wisdom which holds the days of local high street bookselling are all but over.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Au Téléphone

The invention of the telephone enhanced opportunities for romantic communication. Suitors could mumble words of endearment directly into the ears of their intended over great distances. But as we see here, the postcard retained its value as a medium for brief expressions of undying affection and co-opted the image of the telephone as a nod to new technology. These examples are all from France and, with a few exceptions, date from the first decade of the last century. They come saturated in the visual clichés of seduction – come-hither smiles, sprays of flowers and simpering expressions. The male participants struggle to disguise their baser instincts with vapid grins and intensive grooming (in the traditional sense) while the children, representing the end point of the fledgling romance, appear implausibly winsome. For the females, animating their features into submissive expressions of interest required rather less of an effort. It may all seem ridiculously naive and repressed in the age of Tinder but this was once a powerful platform for building relationships. It’s not uncommon to find 5 or 6 amorous postcards dispatched to the same recipient in just a few days – today that would be called stalking behaviour.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Snow on the Road

A North American winter is not to be taken lightly – weather bombs and snowmageddon are routine events. Especially in the North East and Midwest where massive snowfalls are reported every year with breathless excitement. Digging the driveway out of waist high snow was a common task, often shared with the family as shown here. These ads from 1930 to 1965 show Madison Avenue promoting the virtues of winter-proofed cars to an audience that needed no reminder of the perils of driving in snow and ice. Sporty associations were most favoured with the majority of cars pictured against a backdrop of winter sports – a ski resort is just about the last place where the affluent will be reminded of the existence of the lower orders. The merits of such refinements as triple-turbine transmission, a Super Jetfire Engine, a Vibra-Tuned Ride and swivel hipped handling are extolled in the text. For the reader with a strong stomach the final ad (Goodbye Mr Winter) is an egregious example of the art of the copywriter at its most long winded.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Snow Scenes in Postcards

For the last ten days or so, the nation’s weather forecasters have been addressing us in their self important faux-demotic on the subject of snow. In ever more apocalyptic terms we have been warned to expect unprecedented extremes of freezing temperatures and snowfall. If it was their intention to induce fear and dread, their success is demonstrated by reports of panic-buying of basic foods and supplies. TV newsgatherers have been out and about in the snow covered uplands in anticipation of blood curdling tales of human suffering – you can sense their disappointment when their interviewees respond with stoic acceptance of the tribulations of winter. In the meantime, the red tops have reworked the weather event as The Beast from the East in a phrase that neatly evokes the national paranoia over immigration that has poisoned political discourse in recent years. As a reminder that winter hardship was, and remains so for many, a routine event, we offer a selection of vintage postcards from winters past. To see some illustrations of snow scenes posted in 2010, please follow this link.

Monday, 26 February 2018

London Stations in Postcards – Victoria

When this postcard was published, Victoria Station comprised two separate termini operated by different companies. The modest, low-rise building pictured here was built by the London Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) in 1860. To the left, out of the picture, was the station for the London, Chatham & Dover Railway (LC&DR). Looming over the station is the Grosvenor Hotel (1861) – a view that would be lost a few years later when a six-storey red brick and Portland stone building was planted on top. Designed by Charles Morgan, Chief Engineer to the LB&SCR, in typically bombastic Edwardian Baroque styling, it was completed in 1908. It survives to the present under the protection of a Grade II listing from Historic England.

The second postcard shows the singular glory of Victoria Station – the slender, lofty and elegant wrought iron train shed built in 1862. It flooded the platforms with much needed daylight at a time when locomotive smoke and steam would have filled the atmosphere. The extra height allowed for dispersion of some of the worst effects. Sir John Fowler, former chief engineer of the Metropolitan Railway was responsible for the design. Fowler was a remarkable and prolific engineer who would go on to design the Forth Railway Bridge (together with Benjamin Baker). The train is a Brighton express from 1908 behind an H1 Atlantic locomotive, one of 5 constructed in 1905-6.

In the third postcard we see the departure of the Brighton Pullman, storming under the signal gantry outside Victoria Station. This time the locomotive is an LB&SCR H2 Atlantic built in 1911 that later carried the name, North Foreland. The train most famously associated with Victoria Station was the London to Paris service, marketed as the Golden Arrow and the subject of the final card as seen in the era of British Railways.