Picture postcards: an entertaining source of local
A talk given to our 2013 AGM by Peter Lawrence, MLHG
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.
(Above: Potter Heigham Bridge Halt - one of the postcards in
Peter Lawrence's collection)