Thursday, 28 July 2016

Insights from a postcard and a mystery aunt

The leaning tower of family postcards!

My dad was always complaining about the amount of old postcards my gran left which he said cluttered up his cupboards. While sorting through them recently, I can see what he meant! She must have kept every holiday postcard she'd ever been sent by holidaying family and friends.

Amongst the designated albums and neat overflow piles, some bound in thick elastic bands, I also found postcards from my mum's side of the family. A true written history of the places people went and what they did while they were there.

As well as those sent on holiday, the collection included postcards from the First World War, on which verses of Abide with Me were printed below images of soldiers in pensive mode, occasionally being comforted by nurses.

Letters and postcards from home were understandably of vital importance to the morale of the soldiers and you can read more about the subject in an online article called Tommy's Mail and the Army Post Office. Sadly, the ones I found were blank.

Many of the postcards in my family's collection are simply photographic records of places around the UK, often of locations I know well and have hardly changed over time, such as Clovelly in Devon and Porlock in Somerset.

But it's those with messages written on the reverse which fascinate me most. Several are of the "letter card" variety, allowing space for more than just a brief note.

If I was expecting something monumentous amongst these newsy scribbled messages, often written in pencil and difficult to read, I shouldn't really have been surprised to find their content dominated by - yes, you guessed it (We are talking about British holiday postcards, don't forget) - the weather!

The weather is good so far, although it's been dull this afternoon or ...not a lot of sunshine but not too bad and the weather today shown some improvement after being very rough and cool since last Friday. So - that's one myth debunked. Summers in the early 1950s weren't an everlasting sun-fest, after all!

Even so, the cards do give an insight into holiday life back then. Comments such as, I've let Dad do the writing so I can do a bit of knitting. The scenery is very nice. Another read, Tomorrow I am going to the Scarborough Folk Dance class and, Sat on pier this morning and watched the navy, submarines, M.T.Ps and the steamer going round the island. (M.T.Ps? Answers on a postcard... ?)

One letter gave a summary of the hotel guests. 3 honeymoon couples, 2 engaged couples, 3 single men & the balance of the usuals. Presumably the recipient was perfectly clear what constituted "the usuals"!

A card from Hastings in Sussex began, Having got over the wedding we are now having a good time. What on earth happened at the wedding, I wonder, to cause Sam & Elsie (whoever they were) such trauma that they needed a holiday to get over it?

There was the odd complaint, too. Don't think much of the shops. None had cream cakes. Another said (and my apologies to inhabitants of the Isle of Wight), Visited Sandown but it's not as nice as Shanklin.

One brief message, though, intrigued me. It was from my Great Auntie Hilda, written to her sister and showing a photo of Hyde Park. 4.30 In the train, it said. Have had a wonderful time and engaged every minute. Will tell you more when I see you. But what fascinated me most was a note on the top in a different ink, as though it was added later. Please let me know Aunty Sally's address. 

Aunty Sally? Who's she? Didn't even know there was a Sally in the
family. A quick check reminded me that Sally was often a pet form of Sarah. Hilda's mother was called Sarah but she obviously wasn't referring to her mother.  However Hilda's uncle, Jabez Griffiths, married a Sarah Ann Astley. Was she known as Sally, to avoid confusion in the family?

It so happens that I've not been able to track a Sarah Ann Astley before her marriage to Jabez. Perhaps I should have been looking for a Sally Astley instead? Now, there's a thought... Don't you just love it when a chance discovery sends you off on another trail!