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Changing Times | Postcards provide snapshot of town’s past

AS WE wish for summer, with warmer weather, I thought we could take a look at picture postcards and their history. Today, we see people on the seafront and around the town with their mobile phones either speaking or sending text messages to friends and family. How different this is to the past when the only way of communicating with those left behind was the humble postcard.


Nationally, the first postcard was produced in October, 1869, and I believe it would be impossible to contemplate the numbers that have been sent since that date.


The cards have changed considerably from the first, which only allowed the address on one side and the message on the reverse, to the colourful postcards of the present day. Before 1894, many of the British postcards were quite plain. They were known as postal stationery cards, and usually had a view depicting exhibitions or advertising. However, from September, 1872, the private picture postcard was officially permitted. In 1882, the first reply paid postcard was introduced.


In a Girls Realm magazine of 1900 there was an article regarding its perception of the postcard, which began: “I can imagine a future generation building up by their help (the postcard) all the life of today, our children, our pets, our adventuress youth etc. all are to be found thereon.”.


The report continued: “the postcard belongs to a period peopled by a hurried generation which has not many minutes to spare for writing to friends, what with the express trains, telegrams and telephones the world has become a small place”.


The Victorians said ‘how absurd it is to write private information on an open piece of cardboard’, and they believed that they would never catch on. How wrong they were to be proved!


In their heyday, just before the First World War, about 2 million postcards were posted daily. In 1902, the introduction of postcards with divided backs, which allowed not only the address but also a message, which was done to encourage the use of the postcard, took place.


It was a regular occurrence to send a postcard home to say ‘I shall be home on the 5pm train tonight’. I have also read where a wife saw her husband off on the train and sent a postcard to the butcher giving her order for the afternoon meat delivery. Another favourite remark was ‘here is another one for your collection’.


Bognor has had its fair share of postcard photographers and publishers covering a range of scenes and events. There were a wide range of postcard producers in the last century such as R Briant Burgess, Cleeves, King and Wilson, Lawrence Wood, WP Marsh, Donald Massey, Webster and Webb and more who produced just a few cards. Nationally, production rose to the challenge of supplying these much-requested postcards into an extremely large business.


However, we should be careful when viewing postcards. Such as one which clearly shows a very early view of Bognor dated 1815 – that is the view of course, not when the postcard was produced.


Some are titled incorrectly and I have a number that show areas of the town such as The Royal Hotel, named as Blake’s Road, Felpham, or another showing London Road purporting it to be Station Road, so local historians beware.


A large number of cards were produced to commemorate the visit of King George V during his convalescence in Bognor, produced to enable the visitor to report home that they had been to see the King, or at least the house in which he stayed.


Many of these cards were produced to raise funds, such as one by Kodak which was to devote all the profits to the King Edward Hospital Fund of which King George was a patron. Postcard producers have always dreamed of being in a position to link views and national events to increase their sales and those in Bognor really took the opportunity to do so at this time.


Advertising cards also had their place, and E & O Carter, whose shop was situated in the High Street, produced such a card. The one I have in my collection was typed and sent to a customer with the message, ‘We are not sure if it is white or light cream No 3 Star Sylko you require, we have just received light cream 739’. Service from a bygone age!


The area has had its fair share of events to be shown on postcards, from the King’s visit in 1929 to the visit of the clowns in the 1980s. We have also had our share of disasters with the ship wreck at Aldwick to the numerous high seas and flooding that were recorded on to locally produced cards.


Air views of any place are always interesting, and this particular view of the centre of Bognor clearly shows St John’s Church, The Pavilion and Waterloo Square, before the bowling green arrived. This type of card is of course invaluable today to the local historian, providing a snapshot of the area at a particular time.


The comic postcards were also well sought out by the holidaymaker, from the point of view of humour, but also because many cards invariably had had a small lift-up flap from where 10-12 fold-up views of their chosen holiday destination would emerge. These provided more views of their holiday destination and were eagerly awaited by those at home.


It is difficult for us today to try and imagine the excitement that would have been created by the arrival of these small pieces of card, at a time when communications were so much more difficult than today. No television, no holiday programmes, no regular newspaper, no glossy magazines from which to choose your holiday destination, just these small pictorial cards from which to glean information about other areas of the country. However, today these ‘little pieces of cardboard’ are in decline. Two of the major postcard producers have closed down.

Posted in Lifestyle.