Encountering the richly eclectic range of artefacts in the Beamish Museum stores, I
experienced a singular sense of the actuality of times past.
Some items, such as the enamelled advertising signs, and examples of household
equipment, I remembered from my childhood; but others, dating from an earlier
period, I could relate to only through the lens of sympathetic imagination.
This urge to experience - even at a remove - the lives of ordinary people who lived a
century ago is what prompted me to start collecting picture postcards. Like the
objects at Beamish they provide a physical link with the past.
I was initially attracted by the pictures themselves; but then I became intrigued by the
messages on the reverse - the snippets of everyday life, the windows into thoughts
There are possible hints from the love-lorn : "I suppose by now you will have
forgotten the sender"; and indications of romantic success : a note written mostly in
French, arranging a meeting at "the same rendezvous" - was it somewhere in the
Ward Jackson Park shown on the card ? - and signed "Votre ami".
Other planned meetings are more down-to-earth and businesslike, such as the
instructions sent to Moor Park, near Harrogate : "Tell Benson and Clarke to come
down . . . on Saturday morning to meet us with the cattle from Middlesbrough".
There are glimpses of separated families : "Dear George I hope you are a good lad
as well as Dicky. I shall soon be seeing you. Love Dad" - with three kisses; and - in
a child's hand - "Dear Mother I . . . . have been in the sharrabang to Hart and I wish
to know when you are coming" - five kisses.
A sailor named Fred buys a postcard in Hartlepool and posts it on New Year's Eve at
his next port of call to his mother in Kent.
Other cards are destined for recipients further afield - in Amsterdam, Hamburg, and
Information about a performer's booking at the Palace Theatre, West Hartlepool,
rubs shoulders with the mention of a Band of Hope trip to Seaton Carew.
Then there are those poignantly inconsequential references to matters tantilisingly
just out of reach : "Sorry to disappoint Saturday morning but could not get. Had no
boots." and "Reuben says you might have reminded me on about his waistcoat. He
hopes you don't want it for your best boy."
Finally, there are the mysteries : "In answer to yours of Jan 30 I shall be delighted.
Chivalry says that it is the lady's privilege to name the day." But if he was so
delighted why did he wait until April 9th to post the card ? Still, the relationship
obviously blossomed, because in the August the writer sent that same lady his
"French" card. . . . . and then . . . . what happened next ?