Listening to Postcards

As detailed in an earlier blog, one of the collections that is being digitised and catalogued thanks to our Heritage Lottery funding is the personal collection of a family who used to live in Huyton and was deposited by a member of the family who had been born in 1914, shortly before the outbreak of war. Luckily for us, she was an habitual hoarder – keeping correspondence between herself, family members and friends, as well as various other family-related items. Included amongst the family’s business and personal documents are some fantastic postcards sent and received from the First World War through to the Second World War. My earlier post on this collection described how powerful and insightful these are and how they provide a fascinating glimpse into the relationships family members had with each other and their wider friendship and community networks. The combination of image and words that postcards bring together has a wonderful way of evoking voices, allowing us a rare opportunity to listen to the past.

Now that the digitisation and cataloguing of the postcards have been completed, we decided to put up a small display of duplicates, with labels providing interesting contextual information.

girl holding dog postcard 1918

Postcard from 1918 showing a young girl holding a dog

Four of the postcards are part of a chain between a father who was serving in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and his young daughter (whose personal collection all of the items in the display come from). As described in an earlier post (‘Postcards from the Past’), the pair used to enjoy trying to outdo each other with cards that made them laugh or they found particularly cute – usually meaning pictures of little girls or sweet animals or, even more ideal, animals and children together!

Also from the First World War period, we have two cards that portray the devastation wrought by battle in Europe. Postcards with images of bombed ruins in France were popular towards the end of the First World War with British soldiers sending word home or to be purchased as a souvenir of the war. The postcard of Peronne we have selected (below, top) is one of several in this collection that was not sent to anyone, but brought back to England as, presumably, a memento. As ever, humorous cards were very popular to send home and our other card of war damage (below, bottom) provides a brilliantly incongruous image of a British soldier taking a nap on a bed amongst the ruins.

the little house postcard 1917

‘The Little House,’ Peronne, 1917

Tommy sleeping in the ruins postcard 1917

‘A Tommy Does A Sleep Amongst the Ruins,’ 1917

The postcards we have selected from the inter-war years reflect the social life of our depositor as she became a young woman who was lucky enough to travel across the country and visit parts of mainland Europe. From 1928, her elder sister, sends a beautiful image of the Blackpool Illuminations back home to her then-teenage sister, a reminder of both the long history of the Illuminations and the popularity of Blackpool as a short break destination for residents of Merseyside and the surrounding areas.

blackpool illuminations front

The Blackpool Illuminations, 1928

Our young woman’s correspondents during the 1930s include a German man who would send her postcards in English, French and German. Amongst these are two postcards of great historical significance. The first (below, top), from April 1938 and written in English with an image of Semmering, Austria, was sent from Vienna, Austria, shortly after Adolf Hitler had annexed the country and paraded triumphantly through the city. The sender uses apostrophes when writing how ‘happy’ his friends are to see Hitler there, possibly indicating that they were exactly the opposite. The second (below, bottom) has an image of the Rheinhotel Dreesen in Bad Godesberg, Germany, and was sent on 22nd September 1938. The German text contains references to Hitler and the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, as it was written and sent whilst historic meetings were taking place at the hotel between the pair that would, with hindsight, bring the Second World War one step closer.

postcard Semmering Polleroswand 1938

Semmering, Austria, 1938

bad godesberg front

Rheinhotel Dreesen, Bad Godesberg, 1938

The mini-exhibition of postcards can be viewed at Kirkby Library, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays: 10am – 5pm; Thursdays and Saturdays: 10am – 1pm. For any more information about the collection or to view the originals, please contact Knowsley Archives.

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Christmas Delights!

Christmas trees are being decorated, cards are being sent, and the sales of Baileys are suddenly soaring. Not wanting to be the humbugs hiding in the archive, we’ve decided to put together a small display in Kirkby Library of Christmas related documents from our collections.

christmas robins postcard front

Some uncomfortable looking Christmas robins

Included in the exhibition are four Christmas cards, all from during, or shortly after, the First World War. The earliest of these is a card sent by a man serving in the Royal Flying Corps to his daughter back home in Huyton. The straight-forward monochrome design of the card, featuring an image of fighter planes circling that must have intrigued the young girl when she opened the card, contrasts with a more saccharine image of three robins sent shortly after the end of the war in 1918; although the fact that the robins appear to be stuck within a parcel filled with jagged holly leaves does add a peculiar note to the picture. The third card is one that incorporates a strangely blurred image of a cottage surrounded by a decidedly un-Christmassy summer garden. The nature of the blurring is reminiscent of 3D pictures, but could be the result of some kind of production error. Either way, a father at some point, probably in the 1920s, selected the card to send to one of his children. The fourth card is a Christmas message sent from the Huyton Vicarage in 1949 with the “heartiest” greetings from the Rev. W.H. Lewis and his wife and would probably have been received by many Huyton residents at the time.

Huyton’s Parish Magazine was keen to share some household tips with its female readers in 1959. Alongside recipes (Chunky Cake, anyone?) on the page we have scanned for display, readers could also learn how to remove soot fall from carpets (presumably after Father Christmas had dropped down a tight chimney); solve the “problem” of toddler’s shoe laces; and discover how to stop pans boiling over (smear the top edges with butter apparently*). There were also some “Christmas Specials;” and if you’ve ever wanted to add “glamour” to your Christmas parcels then you need to read this!**

cross typed xmas message crop

A high-tech Christmas message from Cross International

The offices and factory of Cross International in Kirkby were very keen on Christmas in the 1970s and our exhibition features three documents telling the story of their Christmas celebrations in 1971. As well as a photograph showing the children of staff members working their way through mountains of cake and wearing novelty hats at a party, we’ve offered a taste of what their parents were up to with the menu for their impressive looking Christmas Dinner Dance (if anyone’s ever had Cranberry Peach Boats, we’d love to know more). Cross International were a cutting edge company and they knew how to show off to colleagues and fellow companies across the globe. Why send a boring old Christmas card (that was so 1960s) when you can send a state of the art message where the very letters of the words are made up entirely of the word ‘Cross’? It’s a wonderful document that hints at the excitement that new, rapidly-evolving electronic technology offered, as well as the confidence of an international business.

School logbooks can make fascinating reading, providing a revealing insight into the daily troubles, successes and challenges of school life. For this Christmas themed exhibition, we’ve included copies of two pages from the logbook of Whiston County Infants School. The first is from the Christmas period of 1938-39 and, as well as notes on the impact of snow fall (“attendance 52%”) in the New Year, it records that children were sent home for the Christmas break with milk vouchers. The second page, from 1953-54, features, alongside an alarming number of staff illnesses, an entry regarding the Christmas party to which, we can all be reassured to know, “Father Christmas arrived in good time.” Knowing Santa’s usual method of arrival, we’ll have to hope that school staff were already aware of how to remove soot fall from carpets, as it would be another few years before the Huyton magazine published that gem.

The exhibition will remain up at Kirkby Library until at least the 8th of January 2016. The library’s opening hours are Monday, Tuesday, Friday: 10am-5pm; Thursday and Saturday: 10am-1pm. The library is closed all day on Wednesdays. During the Christmas period, the Library is closed from the 23rd December 2015 until the 4th January 2016, with the exception of Tuesday 29th December, when it is open as normal.

*If someone gets the chance to test this, please report back with results!

**For those of you too far away to visit Kirkby, its all to do with ribbons saved from chocolate boxes…

From the front line…

There are many ways in which volunteers can get involved in activity in the ARK , whether it be through our HLF supported community projects or in a more behind-the-scenes role. Today, our longest-serving volunteer, Mark, gives us an insight into the invaluable work that he does in indexing volumes from the news cuttings collection. So, in his words…

Greetings and salutations! It’s your friendly neighbourhood Mark again with another post from the front lines. Today I’m going to tell you about what I do in greater detail.

It starts with a considerable book filled with newspaper clippings from years beMarkARKfore many of your parents were even born. I’m currently working on articles from 1951. I give each article a thorough examination, reading it
and re-reading it. Once that is done, I set about summarising it. It’s harder than it sounds. Trust me.

You wouldn’t believe the articles I’ve come across in my journey through 70 years of Knowsley history. There’s one I found from all the way back in 1949, detailing local rebuilding going on after the war. I’ve seen the early days of Knowsley Council, the rise and fall of the planned pavilion; I’ve even seen the early career of a future Prime Minister. Which PM? How’s about Harold Wilson?

There’s one ‘article’ (well, as series of articles would be more astute) in particular that really sticks out in my mind; a series of articles called ‘Municipal matters’ written by a man called Chris Perry. They’re not 100% focused on a single item, rather covering local council activities. I’ve never seen such a sarcastic, witty reporter.

And that’s what I do, roughly. Oh, sure, there’s a lot more I could talk about, but I could go on for ages about the things I’ve found. that would be, as the saying goes, ‘another article’!

Postcards from the Past

Collections of correspondence can be a fascinating source of historical information and provide a wealth of cultural and social context. They can reveal forgotten friendships, romances and feuds; or offer the evidence needed to piece together a family’s history or business dealings. For me, this sense of a family’s world pulling into focus is made all the sharper when much of the correspondence is conducted via greetings cards and postcards.

park rd huyton image

Many of the postcards capture Huyton as our correspondent would have known it growing up, such as this one of Park Road.

Here in Knowsley Archives, we have a collection of personal documents, currently being digitised thanks to Heritage Lottery funding, that belonged to a woman brought up in Huyton. Born in 1914, just as the small community (as it was then) of Huyton and the wider world was about to be forcibly and irrevocably changed by the First World War, she grew up during the inter-war years and was able to travel extensively across Europe during the mid to late 1930s, making friends in the different nations she visited and then keeping in touch with postcards written in French, German and English. We also know from correspondence that she became actively involved with the Liverpool Women Police Patrols. In 1939, of course, her life was again dramatically affected by war. This time, her younger brother joined up and was killed in 1944. The surviving correspondence allows us to see the warm, gently teasing relationship the siblings had and the terrible devastation wrought by her brother’s death upon herself, her family and their friends in Huyton.

Clearly, the information detailed above survives because of the written word, but it is often given extra meaning and can offer further levels of understanding when the correspondence has been conducted using postcards and greeting cards. The writing itself can tell us about the correspondent’s state of mind; we may wonder why some would write so much, often resorting to filling every available space on the back of a postcard, and others would keep their note to a brief, sometimes terse couple of lines. During the Tommy sleeping in the ruins postcard 1917First World War, our young girl’s father (who was serving in the Royal Flying Corps) would send very brief postcards to his wife, often with the message “letter to follow,” but much more detailed postcards to his young daughter, telling her his reaction to news she (or her mother) had passed on and how much he looked forward to seeing her again soon. There is a marked difference in the types of images used to illustrate the cards he sends to his wife and his daughter. For his wife, he often selects postcards that portray the ravages of the war upon Europe: bomb-damaged streets and buildings torn apart. Occasionally these may have a hint of humour to them, such as the card shown above that captures a Tommy resting on a bed amongst the ruins.

The postcards and greeting cards the father would send to his daughter are often chosen
because he hopes she will find them pretty. Towards the end of the war, we can gather
that they were exchanging cards that made them smile; each trying to outdo the other with cuter or more farcical images. We are very lucky that cards written by both the father and the daughter have survived to be part of this collection, so we can wonder if the “comical” card her father expresses surprise at receiving is the one of the girl dressing in front of her dog below. When he sends the card showing the girl floating in the tub he suggests that his daughter is more mischievous than the girl in the illustration and would pull the fish’s tail.

dog and little girl postcard c 1918

The caption reads: “Donald, you should look the other way when a lady’s dressin’!”

'any subtureens mr fish' postcard 1919

The caption reads “Any Subtureens Mr. Fish?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the First World War (which her father survived), our correspondent enters into correspondence with people from across Europe. In particular, we have a number of postcards sent to her by a German man. These are interesting documents as pieces of correspondence (made all the more intriguing by the fact that we have no postcards from him following the outbreak of war, so do not know what happened to their relationship), and also offer a visual representation of the pre-Second World War Germany. It is a shame that we are not able to see the postcards that she was sending to Germany – what image of Britain did they present, I wonder?

postcard Bernkastel 1939

Postcard from Bernkastel-Kues, Germany, 1939

postcard from Goppingen 1937

Postcard from Goppingen, Germany, 1937

Unfortunately, our collection of correspondence peters out after the Second World War. Other family documents are included in the collection, but there is a special power to these postcards and greeting cards that give us a tantalising glimpse into the life of one family during the first of the twentieth century. A card that may have been selected randomly or with great care can be so much more than a simple exchange of words; it can help to present a far more detailed picture of the world these people lived in and the way that they, and others, perceived it.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

It’s that time of year again: the leaves on the trees have turned autumnal gold, red and brown and the clocks have turned back, giving us a delicious extra hour to spend, whether it be a golden hour of additional sleep or time to get involved in leisure activities. Here at The ARK, our thoughts have turned to Explore Your Archive and we are busy making plans for some exciting events and activities which will take place throughout November.

The Explore Your Archive campaign is led by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association. This national  campaign gears up in mid-November, with archives from different sectors across the UK and Ireland taking part to raise awareness of the value of archives to society and of the rich variety of content that is held, preserved and made available to users. The campaign aims to encourage people to take a closer look at their local archives and to discover the treasures that reveal the stories, facts, places and people that are at the heart of our communities.

The ARK events are all free to attend and kick off on Tuesday 10th November with our ever-popular Family History Help Desk drop-in sessions. Find us at Prescot Library, 10:00am – 1:00pm and later at Stockbridge Village Library between 2:00pm and 5:00pm. The ARK, Kirkby Library will be the venue for the session on Thursday 11th November, between 10:00am and 1:00pm and on Friday 13th November we’ll be offering genealogical help and advice at Halewood Library between 2:00pm and 5:00pm. The final Help Desk of the month will be at Huyton Library on Saturday 14th November between 10:00am and 1:00pm.

The ARK holds a number of fascinating oral history interviews made during the 1970s, featuring local politicians as well as ordinary people who recorded their recollections of times gone by. This year, supported by HLF, we have been able to develop the collection through the Talking Kirkby project undertaken by Kirkby U3A, when local residents shared their memories of Kirkby in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s with members of the U3A. On Monday 16th November, we’ll be showcasing the audio collections, old and new, in The ARK through Sounding Out the Past. Sessions will run from 10:00am – 12:00pm and 2:00pm – 4:00pm. There’ll even be an opportunity for you to record your own memories!

Tuesday 17th November is Explore Your Archive Day, with an afternoon of exploration and information about how the archive ticks. From 1:00pm – 2:00pm and then from 3:00pm – 4:00pm, the cry is Your Archive Needs You! You will have the opportunity to find out how you can get involved in our HLF projects as a volunteer. Nestled in between these sessions, there will be a short presentation and Tour of The ARK – giving you a behind the scenes glimpse of how the archive works and a rare opportunity to view close up some of our most precious treasures.

Explore Your Archive has given us a wonderful opportunity to work with the Prescot Townscape Heritage Initiative and MATE Productions to engage local primary school children in an exciting initiative which will bring the archive alive through drama and interactive learning. Pupils from Our Lady’s Catholic Primary School, Prescot will be joining us on Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th November for A Morning (or Afternoon!) in the Archive, when they will discover the rich history of their home town.

Friday 20th November brings the focus back to The ARK and a spot of refection with the TV Time Travellers.  Join us from 2:00pm – 3:30pm for a single showing of 3 of our most popular local history films: Kirkby: Portrait of a Town; Knowsley Today and Bridge Over the Bluebell. There’ll also be a chance to chat to our HLF Project Co-ordinators about volunteer opportunities.

So: there’s lot’s happening this November, and all of our public events are free to attend – so go on: Explore Your Archive!

Just call us on 0151 443 4291 or email infoheritage@knowsley.gov.uk for more information or to book a place. We look forward to meeting you!

A seasonal image from the archive... A Kirkby farmer using a horse drawn plough to prepare for another year's crop [n.d. circa 1930]

A seasonal image from the archive… A Kirkby farmer using a horse drawn plough to prepare for another year’s crop
[n.d. circa 1930]

The Power of Apprentice Indentures

As part of our Heritage Lottery funded projects, we will be doing a lot of work talking to children and young people about their local histories and drawing on their own experiences – through photography, video, oral history, artwork, and other means – to develop our archive for future generations.

mary taylor crop1It’s probably not that surprising that many of the young people we have worked with so far have been drawn to items in our archive that reveal details of how people of their age lived in the past. Amongst the items that attract a lot of attention are some of the many apprenticeship indentures we hold. These documents can be incredibly powerful glimpses into the unfamiliar experiences youngsters of the past faced. Much of the language used in these documents is strange and foreboding; in some cases they use words that have connotations that can sound chilling to our modern ears. It is fascinating for us to think about how these words would have sounded to the children these documents concerned.

Take Mary Taylor, for example. In 1762, aged just 9, Mary, an orphan, was signed up by the Overseers of the Poor (itself a pretty intimidating title!) to be an apprentice to Thomas Ireland for seven years. The word that can especially surprise modern readers is the role Mary was being apprenticed into: “housewifery.” Understandably, when we have spoken about this indenture with young people, horrifying concerns about the kinds of abuse Mary may have faced spring to mind. Even taking away the title of her apprenticeship role, for many contemporary audiences the very idea of a nine year old child being apprenticed (almost certainly with little say in the matter) to a man she may well have not known for seven years, swallowing up the rest of her childhood, and with very few rights as we would recognise them, is awful enough. But that role – “housewifery” – is bound to catch mary taylor crop2the attention of young people living in today’s society; perhaps most keenly because it suggests a married relationship between a nine year old girl and an adult man. Of course, this wasn’t what a “housewifery” apprenticeship meant; in the same way that a boy apprenticed in husbandry was not being married off. Mary would have been employed in duties that were probably quite menial in nature. If she was lucky, she may have acquired some skills from other people in the household that would be useful to her when her apprenticeship ended. Still, the power of language and these archival documents to educate and challenge perceptions is a wonderful tool when working with children and young people.

As we gather memories and experiences from today’s young people, I wonder what will stand out to future generations and challenge their own notions of how young people used to live and, ultimately, their own lives.

Name That Tune…

In our last post, I mentioned Thomas Watkin’s music book. This 19th century manuscript contains hundreds of folk tunes, providing most with a title and writing out, in beautiful, clear script the music for each. Thanks to our Heritage Lottery funding, the whole manuscript has now been digitised and we’re very HMB crop_tunesexcited about the prospect of working with local musicians to bring the music to life at some point in 2016. Of course, if we’re going to perform a selection of the tunes, it would be useful to know which tunes are available to choose from. At some point in the manuscript’s life, one scribe has at least started to make the effort to index the contents. It could be that they only got so far before giving up on the task or that there are several pages missing from the book, but, either way, we now only have a two page index listing 69 of the tunes. Exactly how many tunes are in the manuscript is not yet known, but given that those 69 tunes only cover 16 of the document’s 152 pages, there is still a long way to go to complete the index!

HMB crop_indexOne of the tasks some of our fantastic volunteers will be getting on with is completing the index of tunes. However, this isn’t always such a straightforward undertaking, as the titles are written in a few different hands and how decipherable they are varies
massively. Add to this the fact that the ink has faded in some places and this is no simple transcription!

The legibility of the handwriting might not be the only thing that will slow our progress completing the index. Some of the language used in the titles can be surprisingly, erm, ‘choice’ to our modern sensibilities! Folk tune titles featuring swear-words is actually fairly common, but it can still be a little startling to be calmly transcribing a 19th century music book that contains titles such as “Pretty Betty” or “Love in a Village” and come HMB crop_tuneacross a four letter word that can still cause considerable offence if it is used in the media today. Perhaps the language used in the titles acts a clue to the kinds of environments and audiences many of the tunes were intended for. Then again, maybe we underestimate how common swearing was in the past or how the level of offence caused by certain words may have altered at different points in our history. Whatever the case, there’s definitely a lot more in these pages than some nice tunes…

And no, it doesn’t matter how hard you look, the pictures on this blog do not include the folk tunes with risque titles!