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  • Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection by Alan Spree

    In 1972, I was asked to go to the Hastings Office of the Department of Environment to do a short course on concrete technology. I had never been to Hastings or St Leonards on Sea so I took the opportunity to have a couple of days there with my wife and son. It was not until 1997, when I began researching my family history, that I realised my direct ancestors had lived in that part of the country. In particular I found out about my great grandfather John Henry Spree who became a postcard publisher in Hastings, St Leonards on Sea and later in Nottingham.

    John Henry Spree 1869 - 1932. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    It would appear that John Henry Spree started producing photographic postcards from around 1904 whilst living in St Leonards on Sea. It was from there that he registered a number of his postcards at the Stationers' Hall in London under the Copyright Acts in force from 1842 to 1912. National Archive records show that in 1910 John Henry Spree registered more of his postcards and in particular ones of a night and day image of St Leonards Pier and Multi View postcards of Crowhurst. The earliest postcards that I have which were taken by my great grandfather are from 1905 and include one of St Georges Church in Crowhurst posted in May 1905 and a series taken after the storm in 1905.

    Probably the most well know postcard publisher in Hastings was Judges. In 1902 Fred Judge purchased an existing photographic business and renamed it Judges Photo Stores. According to my father, John Henry Spree took a job as a photographer at Judges in Hastings where he successfully worked for a number of years. As it is generally accepted that most of the photographs used by Judges Ltd were taken by Fred Judge it could be that John Henry Spree was employed at the previous Judges shop in White Rock run by A E Marriot or he was employed at Judges Ltd in a capacity other than a photographer.

     

     

     

    Hasting & St Leonards First Tram on the front line, taken on the seafront near Bopeep on the 18 December 1906. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    Having previously had a book ‘John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire’ published, and as I had a few postcards taken by him of Hastings and St Leonards on Sea, I decided to put together this book which includes an introduction and a brief summary of the history of Hastings & St Leonards on Sea up to 1900. As a general principle I organised the layout of the book with the images in a geographical sequence starting in the east and then proceeding west through Hastings and St Leonards on Sea.  I then included some postcards of the more prominent outlying areas of Crowhurst, Fairlight Glenn, Hollington and Ore.

    The book covers the years between 1900 -1918, from the turn of the century to the end of the First World War. During this period John Henry Spree published postcards in the Hasting and St Leonards on Sea area. It contains 17 images of the few remaining Spree postcards of the area and many other images from local and national postcard publishers.

    St Leonards. Heavy seas and high gusts of wind on the 27 November 1905 ripped the kiosk, situated at the entrance to the pier, from its foundations and overturned it.. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    In the years covered by this book there were many significant events in Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. For example the White Rock gardens were opened on the 3 September 1904, the inauguration of the tram service in July 1905, the sinking of SS Clara in June 1905, the sea front flooding that followed an exceptionally high tide in November 1905, the S.S. Lugano on fire off Hastings in April 1906, the launching of the Hastings lifeboat in a snowstorm on 25 April 1908, the State Visit of the Lord Mayor of London to Hastings on 28 November 1908, heavy snowfall on 30 December 1908, the opening of the American Palace Pier on the 23 May 1909, the great fire in Waterworks Road on 4 January 1909, proclamation of King George V  on 9 May 1910, severe gales on 12 March 1912 and 22 March 1913 and the declaration of War 5 August 1914. Many of these events are covered in the book.

    Crowhurst St Georges Church This card has a postmark of May 1905. (Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection, Amberley Publishing)

    The majority of the postcards in the book are in colour but due to the infancy of colour cameras many of the early post cards were coloured in by hand from the black and white originals with varying results as the shades chosen by those that did the colouring were not always true to life. Alternatively colouring could be done by the photochrom process for producing colorized images from black and white photographic negatives via the direct photographic transfer of a negative onto lithographic printing plates.

    John Henry Spree and family moved to Nottingham in 1915 and became a prolific producer of postcards around Nottingham and the rest of the East Midlands. I am of course proud of my great grandfathers achievements as a postcard publisher. To date I have collected 379 images of them including 123 original postcards that I have been able to purchase. The search goes on.

    I am looking forward to having two more books published by Amberley, ‘British Military Dinky Toys’ and ‘Portsmouth The Postcard Collection’.

    Alan Spree's new book Hastings & St Leonards The Postcard Collection is available for purchase now.

  • Did Harold die at Hastings? by Teresa Cole

    Although it was a turning point in British history we don’t actually know exactly how King Harold died. Two different stories have come down to us. The traditional one, known to every schoolchild probably from that day to this, is that he was fatally struck in the eye by an arrow in the final stages of the battle of Hastings. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (Song of the Battle of Hastings) however, gives an altogether different version.

    This Carmen is probably the earliest account of the events of 1066, a poem in Latin prepared rather hastily in 1067 for presentation to King William on his return to Normandy. The only manuscript copy of the poem disappeared some thirty years after it was written and was only rediscovered in 1856 leading to suspicions that it was a forgery. Now, however, it is generally accepted as authentic and the author is named as Guy, Bishop of Amiens.

    In this version of the story, as the English shield wall is finally weakening and beginning to break up, William himself spots a chance to dispose of his rival once and for all. Getting together a group of knights, he deliberately targets Harold, still in the thick of the fighting, and sets out to hack him to death. Gruesome descriptions are given of how Harold was pierced through with a lance and ‘drenched the earth with a gushing torrent of blood,’ at the same time being beheaded and disembowelled and even having his leg cut off.

    Which of these stories is true, we really don’t know. William of Poitiers, a Norman monk who had previously been a soldier himself, gives an account of the conquest full of detail on everything else, but says nothing at all about how Harold met his end. It has been suggested that he might have found the deliberate ganging up on Harold and the subsequent butchery to be a shameful act, and did not want to tarnish his hero William with such a deed, particularly when the victim was a consecrated king.

    the-norman-conquest-3 The death of Harold seems to cover two alternative versions of this as contained in the different accounts. Most take the figure on the left to be Harold, but the caption covers both. (By special permission of the City of Bayeux, The Norman Conquest, Amberley Publishing)

    The other almost contemporary record, the Bayeux Tapestry, is as unclear as usual. The caption, ‘Harold is slain’, is spread over two different deaths. One under the word Harold shows a man clutching an arrow apparently stuck in his eye, while the other has a man cut down by the sword of a horseman. The suggestion that both are Harold in a kind of cartoon sequence, can probably be discounted. In the first picture he is shown with a shield, but in the second this has disappeared and instead he is dropping a battle axe as he falls. It has also been pointed out that if both were intended to be Harold he seems to have had time to change his socks in between.

    Wace, born on Jersey and brought up at Caen in Normandy, wrote his Roman de Rou some hundred years after the event, intending it more as an entertainment than a serious history, but he also has the story of an arrow. He places it, however, towards the start of the battle and has Harold pluck it out and carry on fighting. In fact he flatly declares, ‘I do not indeed know … and have not heard say, who it was that smote down King Harold, nor by what weapon he was wounded.’ This suggests that a century after Hastings neither version of events seemed to be regarded as definitive, at least in Normandy.

    The uncertainty about the mode of death extends even more to the disposal of the body. By the time William finished his pursuit of the fugitives and returned to the battlefield it would probably have been quite dark. In the meantime, as depicted in a whole series of cartoons along the lower frieze of the Tapestry, others had been busy gleaning everything they could from the fallen, leaving the corpses, and no doubt others who were merely wounded, lying naked as they were born. How then was the dead king to be recognised among the pile of bodies?

    There is a story that when women came to claim husbands, fathers and brothers from those left on the battlefield Harold was so disfigured that it was left to his long time mistress Edith Swan-neck to identify the body by some mark known to her alone. Next we hear that Harold’s mother, Gytha, came asking for the body. She is said to have offered his weight in gold in exchange but was flatly refused. Instead we are told William gave the body to one William Malet, telling him to bury it secretly on the seashore and adding that since he had guarded the coast so devotedly in life he could go on guarding it in death.

    A strong tradition, however, claims that, although William refused money for Harold’s body, he did in fact turn it over to Countess Gytha, or at least to two canons from Waltham Abbey who may have supported her claim, and who then brought it back to the abbey and buried it before the high altar. The basis of this claim comes from William of Malmesbury writing in 1125, and he is backed up by Wace in the 1160s, though Wace adds, ‘I do not know who it was that bore him thither, neither do I know who buried him.’ In the abbey grounds today there still stands a memorial to Harold, reputed to mark the site of his grave, and this is certainly the nearest the last consecrated Saxon king has ever come to a gravestone. It is recorded, though, that when on one occasion the grave was excavated it was empty.

    Perhaps that would not be surprising if we were to believe another legend, recorded in a ‘Life of Harold’ also written at Waltham that gives a completely different end to the story. According to this Harold survived the battle of Hastings and in fact lived for many years after.

    This Vita Haroldi or The Life of Harold was among a collection of ancient documents known as the Harley Collection, preserved after the dissolution of the monasteries and eventually sold to the newly founded British Museum in 1753. It appears to be an early fourteenth century copy of an original work from the late twelfth century, written by a secular canon of Waltham Abbey. This in turn claimed to be based on a shorter primary source from someone with direct personal knowledge of the facts alleged.

    The story it tells is quite simply that Harold survived Hastings, that another body was wrongly identified as his, and that he was slowly nursed back to health over a period of two years. He then went abroad to try and raise help to dislodge William, failed in that, became a pilgrim and eventually returned to England to live out his life at Chester as a hermit.

    Hastings, Chester or Waltham? 1066 or sometime between 1090 and 1150? Harold, last Anglo-Saxon King of England died and was buried, but how, when or where we may never know.

    9781445649221

    Teresa Cole's new book The Norman Conquest is available for purchase now.

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