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Tag Archives: Postcards

  • John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire by Alan Spree

    This is a short insight into the story behind the publication of my book, John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire. I am sure that, in common with many others who have written similar books, I later found postcards that I would have liked to have included in the book so I have taken the opportunity to show some of these here.

    The Weir at Gunthorpe. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    In the summer of 1997 I was in Nottingham and was browsing through books in W.H. Smith on Lister Gate when I came across a booklet in the ‘Yesterdays Nottinghamshire’ series entitled ‘Wollaton’ by David Ottewell. As I was born in that area I flicked through it and was surprised to find some postcards with the name J. Spree on them. After some family history research and talking to my father I gathered more information about John Henry Spree, my great grandfather, and started putting notes together along with any images I could find of his postcards. This research brought up childhood memories when my grandfather, Reginald Spree, who bought me my first camera and taught me how to take photos, and then develop and print them in his darkroom, which I now know was set up by his father John Henry Spree. I remember boxes of prints and negatives in a corner of that room which my grandfather referred to on a number of occasions, I now realise that they were the negatives and prints of images taken by my great grandfather. Unfortunately these were destroyed many years later by the American son of my late grandfather’s second wife. He travelled to the UK, without informing the Spree family of her death, to sell the property inherited from my grandfather and disposed of or destroyed items he did not want. As I was working in Germany at the time and my Mother, Father and sister lived in Australia our contact with my grandfather’s second wife had been limited but we were still disappointed that no apparent effort had been made to contact us.

    Parliament Street. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    As time moved on and the internet became more readily available I collected more images and then began purchasing the original postcards. This collection I gradually put together as a family history booklet. I was surprised to find during my continuing search for Spree postcards that the Lenton Local History Society had also researched my great grandfather and published an article on him in their magazine the Lenton Times which was then followed up with an article in the Picture Postcard Magazine. Because of the interest generated I decided to try and publish my own book which resulted in the Amberley Publication John Henry Spree’s Nottinghamshire.

    School of Art Nottingham. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    John Henry Spree published over 1000 postcards, initially in East Sussex and then in the East Midlands. My book contains 220 images taken by John Henry Spree in the period from 1915, when he moved to Nottingham from Hastings, until his death in 1932. I have captioned the images with information on the location and where applicable included historical text researched on the internet.

    I have also included sections on how I identified some Spree postcards which did not have his name on them, a short family history before and after his death and one on how he took, developed, printed and captioned his postcards.

    Lenton Church Crossing in 1884. (Author's collection, John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Putting the information into a publishable book was a long process with a steep learning curve as this was the first time that I had attempted to do that. Along the way I found some interesting facts and a few points that raised questions that will probably never be answered. At times I wondered if John Henry Spree occasionally travelled with another photographer or he sold or shared his images with others as I found that five images, either identical or obviously taken at the same time, had been duplicated by others and published as postcards. Also on one occasion I found that John Henry Spree used an old photograph of Lenton Church and Crossing, dated many years prior to his move to Nottingham, to make a postcard that he published, this incidentally is not included in the book as it was found after publication.

    The whole process has been very rewarding especially some of the very nice comments on Facebook group websites dedicated to Nottingham where many images of Spree postcards had already been uploaded by members. The administrators of two of these groups have also kindly allowed me to advertise my book on their websites.

    I am now well into the process of publishing two further books, one on Postcards of Hasting and St Leonards between 1900 and 1918, which includes some early postcards from John Henry Spree, and another on the complete range of British produced Military Dinky Toys.

    Alan Spree's new book John Henry Spree's Nottinghamshire is available for purchase now.

  • Phillimore's Edinburgh by Jan Bondeson

    Reginald Phillimore’s house ‘Rockstowes’ at what is today No. 9 Melbourne Road, North Berwick. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Reginald Phillimore was born in 1855, one of five children of Dr William Phillimore, the superintendent of a lunatic asylum near Nottingham. He showed promise as an artist already as a schoolboy, winning a Government Art Prize for the painting of a still life group in watercolour, from nature. After a third-class Oxford B.A. in history, he worked as an assistant schoolmaster for many years. A shy, retiring man, he very much disliked the boisterous pupils and their unseemly shenanigans, and wished to be free of his humdrum day job to concentrate on his art, but he could not make a living with pen and brush. The turning point came when three capitalist aunts of his, who had taught school in North Berwick, East Lothian, all died in 1900 and 1901, leaving their house, school and money to Reginald. He decided to move into ‘Rockstowes’, the house formerly occupied by the aunts, with its splendid seaside views. The contrast from the impoverished assistant schoolmaster who hated his job, to the financially independent North Berwick property owner of great expectations, could not have been a greater one.

    Reginald Phillimore with his friend Dr Richardson. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Reginald Phillimore did not want to live in idleness, and anyway there was a need to accumulate money and provide for his old age. At an early stage after he had come to North Berwick, he began to produce picture postcards from his own drawings. All his early cards had local motives, from North Berwick and its immediate surroundings. The start of the picture postcard boom in Britain coincided with Phillimore’s move to North Berwick, and the quaint East Lothian surroundings must have inspired him to become a full-time postcard artist. From the bay window of his first-floor study at ‘Rockstowes’, he had a good view of the Bass Rock, a steep-sided volcanic rock that is home to many thousand gannets and other sea birds; it inspired several of his early cards. He employed a teenaged North Berwick schoolgirl, Mary Pearson, to do the delicate colouring; since she liked some variation, no two hand-coloured cards are the same. Most of his early picture postcards were conventional in that they depicted a standard view, like the Bass Rock or Tantallon Castle, with brief explanatory text; from the very beginning, they enjoyed good sales locally, since people appreciated that they were of superior aesthetic quality. As he grew more experienced, Reginald invented a style of his own for his picture postcards: there was still a main motive, but often several smaller vignettes as well, and brief explanatory text describing the history of the building, close or street depicted. This proved both a novel and felicitous manner to produce a postcard, and Reginald’s business flourished as a result. He sold his postcards for a halfpenny each to a network of dealers, initially mainly in the Lothians, but with time all over Britain. Between 1904 and 1914, he was one of Britain’s postcard kingpins, admired and collected by many, and easily able to make a living for himself.

    Edinburgh Castle. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Little is known about Reginald’s private life during his North Berwick Edwardian fame and fortune. He kept busy producing his cards, some from his own etchings, others from motives in the Lothians that he personally visited, yet others from old prints he procured in Edinburgh. He more than once went on tour looking for inspiration, and visited Gloucester, Malvern, Bath, Bristol, Exeter and the West Country, producing a series of felicitous cards with various local landmarks. He also visited Manchester, toured Northumberland and Yorkshire, and travelled to most parts of the Scottish lowlands. Since he did not approve of Glasgow, only one of his cards (Cathedral) is from the sprawling Scottish metropolis; nor did he like London particularly, and again just one card (St Paul’s) is from the English capital. The most felicitous of his cards were those from Edinburgh, a city he knew very well, and his many cards from East Lothian. Reginald remained a shy, introverted man during his North Berwick heyday, with a dislike for social pursuits and a fondness for a solitary life in his comfortable Rockstowes studio. The only woman he is known to have befriended was the aforementioned schoolgirl Mary Pearson, who became his housekeeper once she gained adulthood.

    Phillimore’s books about the Bass Rock and Tantallon. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    The Great War came, with its depressing influence on commerce in general and the postcard industry in particular, although Reginald continued to produce postcards throughout the war years. When hostilities ended in 1918, he was 63 years old, but it was not yet time to retire. Since the market for his picture postcards had largely disappeared, he had to conduct an orderly retreat for his postcard company, which once had enjoyed such meteoric success. He sold the occasional painting and etching, but the influx of money was nothing like it had been in pre-war times. He had produced 122 cards from early 1914 until 1919; from the summer of 1919 until the end of his life, he would make only 37 more cards. The market for his postcards continued to decline: town after town on the English mainland was lost, and shop after shop stopped stocking his cards since they were no longer fashionable; yet he remained well represented in Scotland throughout the 1920, particularly in his Edinburgh and East Lothian strongholds.

     

    Reginald Phillimore in his old age. (Phillimore's Edinburgh, Amberley Publishing)

    Reginald Phillimore’s health, both mental and physical, had always been very good, but in 1936, he suffered a serious stroke, becoming paralysed in the right side of his body and experiencing an impairment of his speech. On sunny days, the loyal Mary Pearson wheeled him about in an invalid chair, and he liked to sit in the small garden to the rear of his house. He is said to have learnt to write, with difficulty, with his left hand, and even to have attempted to copy an old water-colour painting of his; still, this is scant consolation for an artist whose creative power had been broken, for good. As the Bass Rock gleamed in the bright North Berwick sunshine, the shadows grew longer in the Rockstowes geriatric gloom. The memories of a man in his old age are the dreams and hopes of a man in his prime, and as Reginald sat lopsidedly in his armchair in the downstairs parlour, he must have pondered his unhappy days as a schoolmaster, the great inheritance triumph in 1901, the heady Edwardian days as one of Britain’s postcard kingpins, and the slow but steady post-war decline. Reginald Phillimore died on Christmas Eve 1941 and was buried in the family vault at Bridgnorth.

    Jan Bondeson's new book Phillimore's Edinburgh is available for purchase now.

  • Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection by Frank Beattie

    Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection 1 A fine example of a postcard just before the introduction of the divided back. The producer wanted to maximise the impact of the picture, leaving little space for a message. (Author's collection)

    The influence of postcards on our culture should not be underestimated. They are part of our social history.

    The phrase ‘wish you were here’ is a common enough expression that grew out of sending postcards home from holiday.

    Most people now associate postcards with holidays, but it wasn’t always like that. Britain’s first postcards were produced in 1870 by the Post Office, not that we would recognise them as postcards today. They were plain card; one side was for the address and the other for a quick message. Britain simply adopted a scheme that had been launched in Austria a year before.

    Of course, it could be argued that the Romans invented the postcard as something very similar was used to send messages home from places like Vindolanda at Hadrian’s Wall.

    European countries soon adopted the idea of putting an illustration on them. For some reason Britain was rather slow to come to this way of thinking and did not approve such things being produced by private businesses until 1894.

    The popularity of the postcards started to gather pace. Postcards were cheaper to send than a letter and with several deliveries a day in some cities and towns a postcard could be delivered the same day that it was posted.

    At the start of the 20th century most postcard illustrations were simply photographs of streets. Some postcards were published commemorating events in the South African war or royal events.

    The brake on further development was that the picture and the message had to be on the same side and the bigger the picture, the less space for a message.

    Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection 2 Postcard producers wanted to best impact on the postcard rack, so many pictures taken in black and white were painted in colour. The artist did not always get it right, as in this case. Kilmarnock trams were green! (Author's collection)

    Then in 1902 the Post Office relaxed the regulations and allowed what became known as the ‘divided back’ postcard. That’s the style of postcard we know today with the message and address on one side and a picture on the other. The UK was again showing initiative and was the first country to adopt this style of postcard.

    During the next decade the use of postcards exploded, and they quickly became the standard medium for short messages.

    The First World War changed everything, as did the increasing use of the phone. Postcards never quite recovered the high popularity of the first decade of the 20th century. Their use changed from sending informative messages to sending greetings. In the last quarter of 20th century they became more of an advertising or art item.

    There is also a lot more to postcards than just the photo. Postal historians take great delight in studying the stamps and the postmarks on postcards. They have just as much validity as the stamps and postmarks on covers (envelopes).

    The messages written on postcards can also be interesting, some carry urgent family news such as: ‘Little Mary was born today. She and her mum are doing well.’

    The imprint on postcards can tell us about local postcard producers. Whatever way we look at them, postcards are little snapshots of daily life taken over the last 120 years or so from villages, towns and cities across the country.

    9781445670348

    Frank Beattie's new book Kilmarnock The Postcard Collection is available for purchase now.

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