To celebrate the onset of the Summer Holiday Season, I am drawing upon my small collection of historic postcards from the two Trimleys. My interest in such ephemera was originally sparked by a small project I undertook about three years ago. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, part of this involved walking the entire length of the Thames from source to sea, whereby I touched upon many small and large settlements along the way. One of the side shoots of this project was wanting to understand the changes a hundred years had wrought and as a consequence, I began to acquire many varied postcards dating back to the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, showing views of a younger river. I surprised myself by becoming far less interested in the historic images of the places but instead becoming completely seduced by the messages they carried. Ordinary people dashing off the equivalent of the text messages of their day, with all their inconsequentialities, supplied me with tantalising glimpses of the people involved and a view of simpler holiday pleasures.
It therefore almost inevitably followed on that when I started working as a Village Recorder, I resolved to acquire postcards of Trimley for the same time period. I am certain there are far more Felixstowe postcards available but I have been rigorous in adhering to only those connected to the Trimleys. Furthermore, I have no interest in the condition of the cards themselves. My well-handled items are cherished for the snatches of stories they tell me about visitors to Trimley, the purchasers of the cards and their recipients. Prurience is not a motive, simply curiosity for an insight into an age none of us lived through. It’s not usually possible to connect with the senders information but their friends have stepped forward from a shadowy, century old recess, presenting a small glimpse into their lives.
One card that leaps out from my small heap is to Mrs. Readhead of Beachcliffe, South Shields. How could I fail to be captivated by the message on the back of a card which proudly boasts, ‘Trimley Churches (two in one Churchyard.)’
‘Preparing to go out. Spent yesterday in Ipswich, in consequence have several new teeth in my head.’
Whoever, Mr. James was, I feel certain he became a dashing dandy overnight. But the pain to achieve the look. The thought makes me wince and wonder. Was it truly worth it?
I am certain the background of the Felixstowe area is probably well known to most people. During the nineteenth century, a combination of circumstances saw Felixstowe grow from an insignificant seaside settlement to a premier holiday resort. Such was its fame and significance, it warranted regular mentions in ‘The Times’ in the context of how many sunny hours it had enjoyed compared with places such as Torquay, Eastbourne and Blackpool. Felixstowe was up there with the best of them and was visible to many potential visitors
A factor in seaside success was the arrival of commercial trains in the early eighteen forties, opening up the possibility of the faster and more extensive travel. The opening of the Ipswich to Felixstowe Railway on 1st May 1877 was important, for its development as it made the town accessible wider socio-economic groups. Coupled with the initiation of the Bank Holiday Act[i] in 1871 by Sir John Lubbock, thousands of ordinary people in England and Wales were granted the pleasure and opportunity to have four day long holidays a year. Two of these were assigned to moveable religious feasts, one on Easter Monday and one on Whit Monday. One was fixed to New Year’s Day and the other, August Bank Holiday fell on the first Monday in August. Towns such as Great Yarmouth thrived on Bank Holiday Mondays, eventually seeing the arrival of thousands of people from the Industrial Midlands simply for the day. Felixstowe was of a more genteel disposition and didn’t enjoy quite the same exposure although business was brisk enough. It was a resort which pulled in people throughout the year and when they arrived they were anxious to enjoy all the simple pleasures on offer. And when they arrived at their short or long holiday destinations, what could be more natural than letting your friends and family where you were through the medium of a postcard? Many people were doing a slightly better than their parents and had sufficient disposable income to have a holiday and buy small fripperies such as postcards. You will notice the cards, when they are addressed to married woman bear the initials of their husband, as was the convention of the times.
For those who made Felixstowe their destination, one of the pleasures undertaken by many visitors was the short walk to Trimley and back again. It was something which had to be undertaken as part of what we might now call “The Felixstowe Experience”. It could be undertaken in about an hour at a leisurely pace, along roads somewhat less busy than they are today. One of the postcards I pulled out at random goes someway to explaining the attraction.
Posted on the 4th April 1914 and addressed to Mrs. G. Martin of ‘Conway, Salisbury Road, Chatham’, Kent, Lily wrote,
“Dear F. I hope you are getting long alright. Please write when you get time. I have been out walking today but not very far. I though you would like this card. Nearly everybody that comes to Felixstowe go to Trimley, a distance of 2 miles to see the Churches. They are built in the same Churchyard. Two sisters had a quarrel so one had a different church built to worship in. I have just written to Walter. I had a letter to say he can’t come home this year, as there are to be no Naval Manoeuvres, hard luck isn’t it, but there would only be the saying Goodbye again, wouldn’t there. Love to you both from Lily”
There are three brief observations to be made about this short communiqué. The myth surrounding the close proximity of the two Trimley Churches is prominent. Perhaps the Felixstowe Hoteliers and Boarding House keepers of the day delighted in the story as it gave the Tourists a possible focus and destination. The veracity of the Two Sisters and the Churches has yet to be determined or otherwise and continues to captivate newcomers to the village just as it did in 1914. Why was Lily careful to mention she walking was ‘…not too far…’. Was she recovering from an illness?
Significantly, it’s worth noting the mention of naval manoeuvres not happening that year. In 1911 the Naval operations had undertaken a ‘mock’ blockade against the German Coast. Those undertaken in 1912 and 1913 had demonstrated what was called ‘The North Sea Problem’[ii] which highlighted the inability to effectively observe just what the German Navy were doing. In 1914, international tensions escalated throughout the year and although a Naval Conference was scheduled for July, it never took place because war broke out beforehand. Lily’s mention of Walter, who appears to have been in the Navy in some capacity, indicates a close relationship and acceptance that meeting him would only lead to the inevitable farewell. Were they married, sweethearts or perhaps brother and sister? We may never know but it is safe to assume Walter was to be a participant in the Great War.
It is almost impossible to gauge who Lily was but Mrs G. Martin is a different story. At 28, she was the comparatively young wife of (Robert) George who was born c.1882 and who worked in an Iron Foundry in Chatham. They had married at the end of 1911 and went on to have three sons. Claude was born in 1914 and this may be why Lily hoped Frances was, ‘…getting along alright…’. Robert was born in 1917 and a third son, Edward, in 1919. Claude stayed in Chatham until at least the Second World War and avoided the heavy manual labour of the Iron Foundry by becoming a Decorator. To date is difficult to ascertain if (Robert) George was involved in the Great War or indeed when any of them died.
A third card serendipitously plucked from the collection is from another tourist, Alice, and is to her Auntie, Mrs D. Batham whose address was ‘Nr. the Church, High Street, Great Wakering, Nr. Southend, Essex.’ Posted on August 31st 1907, this is what she says,
“Dear Auntie Just a line to let you know I am going back to London Monday so will you please send the paper to 7 Beaumanor Mansions, Queens Road, Bayswater. Hope you are all well, I have been over to see these Churches tonight. With love from Alice.”
Once again, Alice’s surname is unknown although she is clearly related to Mrs. Batham otherwise known as Marie. Marie’s maiden name was Legerton and she was born on the 21st March 1843 in Great Wakering. You may suppose she spent her entire life there but her first husband George Everitt was from Great Easton and that is where she married him. They were to have a least four children, one of whom was called Alice, thereby posing the possibility Alice was a family name. After George’s death in 1894, Marie went on to marry David Batham in 1896. He was a 59 year old bachelor formerly of Cupid’s Corner in Great Wakering.
Alice, the sender of the postcard, had come to the Felixstowe area towards the end of the summer. The weather was fading as it often can in late August and on the 31st, it was described in ‘The Times’ as,
‘..less settled… Wind backing South Westerly…freshening; fine to cool, some rain later, moderate temperatures…’
Alice was to return to her London home on the 2nd of September. The Beaubaron Mansions[iii] where the paper was to be sent was a new and freshly constructed building, completed in 1904. Its expansive and impressive façade continues to look over the Bayswater Road and is the early twentieth century equivalent of today’s smart Apartments blocks, although possibly of better appearance. Alice appears to have been doing quite well for herself. Certainly, she like Lily, had enough money for a holiday in the fashionable resort of Felixstowe and like Lily, her perambulations had taken her to Trimley.
The fourth and final card dates from 11th August 1911 and is a favourite.
Addressed to a, ‘Miss D. Smart c/o Mrs. Billiquez, 50 Wheatley Lane, Doncaster’ and posted on 22nd August 1911, Ivy took time to write a neatly penned message,
‘Dear Dorothy, We are having lovely weather down here, hope you are having the same. Time is drawing near, we return home next Monday week on the 28th. I daresay you are not looking forward to go(ing) back to business yet. Wish you were having a longer holiday. We went for a picnic to the River Orwell about two miles from Trimley which was simply lovely. On Saturday after tea we went to Felixstowe. With love from Myrtle and myself, Ivy.’
Clearly, it wasn’t just the churches that made Trimley attractive to visit. The River has always been a preferred beauty spot from the time of George Nassau onwards[iv] and the almost unaltered view of Trimley shore has to have been as lovely then as it is now. Ivy and Myrtle were visiting the area during one of the long, hot, golden Edwardian summers. ‘The Times’ reported the highest temperature recorded for the month of August 1911 was on the 9th, when the thermometer reached 100 degrees in the shade at Greenwich. Rainfall was a fifth lower than normal and it was reported that a drought lasting seventeen days was in progress. Our two tourists must have been grateful for the cooling breezes from the river as they sat down for their Picnic.
But who was Dorothy? I don’t know, is the short answer, because I suspect her time in Doncaster was as a visitor and at the moment I have no way of determining her home town. However, Mrs. Biliquez is a different story. She originated from Highclere in Hampshire and was aged 43 in 1911. She was widowed and in the absence of state support, had to make shift as best as she could by running a small Grocer’s shop to provide for her three children. Of course, it which has long since been pulled down. Born Emily Jane Ireland, she had married Jean Biliquez, a French Chef, in 1895. Their marriage was of a comparatively short duration as he died in 1906, when their youngest child was just one year old. Jean had been part of a team of chefs in one of the houses in Belgravia close to Hyde Park Corner in the eighteen eighties. Emily was only 38 when he died and was to greatly outlive him, finally dying in 1960 at the age of 93. Her son Alfred Louis Jean was to continue with the Grocery tradition in Doncaster. I have a suspicion Emily Biliquez was a family friend of Dorothy Smart, but any investigation into this will have to wait for a different day.
There were many new technologies and social changes during the course of the nineteenth century which enabled and encouraged ordinary men and women to part with some of their disposable income. Holidays offered the opportunity to spend it in comparatively carefree manner and with the introduction of Forster’s Education Act[v] in 1870, literacy levels rose as did the means to use such skills. Theoretically, reading and writing became within the grasp of all children and certainly by 1894, increased literacy could express itself on those little pieces of card. One of the new technologies, albeit already a mature one by the time postcards hit the big time, was the advent of the postage stamp on 1st May 1840. Previously, the cost of a letter was borne by the recipient but the pre-paid stamp allowed the sender to be assured the addressee would not turn away his communication other than on a wilful whim. There is a consensus that plain postcards were introduced in 1870 and picture postcards sometime later in 1894. The size of the cards provided space for a message that didn’t take too long to digest. The cost of postage from 1st October 1870 until 3rd June 1918[vi] was just a ½d[vii]. This of course, included the reign of Edward VII[viii] and blue green ½d stamps bearing his profile were introduced on 1st January 1902[ix] replacing those featuring Queen Victoria. The taste for collecting postcards developed during the Edwardian period, and were frequently collated in ornate albums. There is something rather wonderful about the simple application of saliva to a small gummed piece of paper, which is then attached to a larger piece of card, allowing millions of people to contact one another within a day of posting. How many have outlasted the twentieth century? And how will we record the countless text messages we receive every year?
A King George post box, Trimley St. Mary. July 2019
If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:
Sources used include the Censuses from 1841 to 1911, the 1939 Register and were accessed via FindmyPast and Ancestry.co.uk. I have also made hearty use of FreeBMD: https://www.freebmd.org.uk
[iv] (Lord of the Manor 1766 to 1823)
[vii] For those unfamiliar with Imperial coinage, a ½ d is worth about half a penny in 2019 money. https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetary-policy/inflation/inflation-calculator
[viii] 22nd January 1901 -6th May 1910