Picture postcards: an entertaining source of local history

A talk given to our 2013 AGM by Peter Lawrence, MLHG member

Did you know that a post card boom hit Britain in the 1840s?  The government suddenly allowed ordinary people to send personal messages on an open card for less than half a modern day penny, including postage. Everyone could afford them.
At four deliveries a day they were virtually the emails of their time.

It was a boom time for the Royal Mail, and also for the village newsagents that became Post Card Depots, collecting them by the sackful to send to the sorting offices. It was also a boom time for artists cum photographers, who produced pictures of pretty well anything and anybody, and for the printers who brought them out in bulk. Most villages had their own printer making local post cards.

The end result was an illustrated social history of the real people of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Britain.

Photographers returned again and again to the same streets. So, for example, we saw horse-drawn buses being replaced by open top electric trams. The trams suddenly grew roofs, only to be pushed aside by petrol powered buses, which soon were supplanted by private cars in largely empty roads.

Family photos were often converted into postcards and so we saw snapshots of of changing fashions and of differing social conventions. It used to be the man who sat whilst his wife stood dutifully behind him. Even Queen Victoria and Prince Albert posed like this, thus people imitated this so-called Royal Pose right up to the 1930s. Children happily posed for the strange man with a camera, whilst ladies waited for trains dressed as if for Ascot. Why do they all look so much smarter in the past?

Most of Peter's postcards were from his time in London and Essex. Now he is starting on his Norfolk collection, like the local one opposite.

Potter Heigham Bridge halt

(Above: Potter Heigham Bridge Halt - one of the postcards in Peter Lawrence's collection)
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