I continue to be fascinated and beguiled by postcard messages from the early twentieth Century, acquiring examples on a casual basis when they come on the market. In many instances it is not the image but the messages which captivate.
Postcards were introduced in Great Britain in October 1870 but at that time they were plain and unillustrated. It was not until 1894 the familiar photographic cards began to be published in Britain and their arrival created an interest in nearly every household. This cheap and robust form of messaging enabled any literate person to remain in contact with friends and family for the cost of the card and a ha’penny stamp. Inevitably, their existence lead to album collections which could be repeatedly viewed. Many of the cards relating to Trimley were produced locally, often from Emeny’s Walton or Felixstowe Studio, although there were other publishers such as J.E. Lacey of Bent Hill in Felixstowe.
Postcards were the text messages of early 20th century, whose charm lay in their novelty and seemingly endless variety. There was just enough room for a brief message comparable in length to the original Tweets of 140 characters posted on Twitter. Concision is not a modern modus operandi. Below are two recent acquisitions which came my way. Despite their brevity, there is more to them than initially greets the reader and researching them revealed aspects of women’s lives at the start of the twentieth century.
The first postcard, 1904
The Postcard: Date and Time 4.45 Monday, June 27th 1904 Postmark: Felixstowe
To: Miss Sutcliffe(s)
71 St. Helen’s Street, Ipswich
Message: Dear Polly 6 of Us have
been for a Drive this
Afternoon to see these
Churches & enjoyed it
so much, such a Lovely
Afternoon, No Dust, just
going for a Short Walk
Love to All. H.J.S
Publisher: 7285 “The Wyndham” Series (Wyndham and Company of Acton)
It can only have taken a minute or two to write this postcard and then drop it into a nearby post box. The author appears to have had their fountain pen to hand ready to scribble a few friendly lines, knowing the card would arrive the next day without delay or hesitation. Such certainties were a feature of the Postal system in 1904.
Who are the people associated with this card?
The clear hand employed to write this card eliminates any ambiguity and the addressees, the Miss Sutcliffe(s) are Mary Ann and Florence Sutcliffe. At the time of the 1901 Census, the two sisters may be found living at 71, St. Helen’s Street. Mary Ann was 37 and Florence 20. Both were single and together ran a Tobacconist Shop, a rarity in the twenty first century but then a part of everyday life for the working man. The Census doesn’t record either of the women being called Polly but I think this may be easily explained as the traditional abbreviation for Mary; it seems reasonable to assume they are one and the same person. Mary’s place of birth is given as Wherstead and St. Mary’s Parish Baptismal Register, records a Mary Ann Selina Sutcliffe Sparrow as being baptised on 28th September 1873. This may seem at odds with the age on given on the Enumerator’s form but examining the Civil Registration Birth Records for 1866, demonstrates this is the same person. Sutcliffe is a northern surname and the only Sutcliffes in any of the Ipswich Censuses during this period are all related to each other, starting with the pater familias, Joseph Sutcliffe, born in Derbyshire in 1797 and his wife, Hannah. Knowing this reduced the possible matches and increased the certainty this was Polly’s family. Mary Ann was not baptised until after the birth of her sister Hannah in 1873, after her parents Walter and Lucy married in1872.
Polly’s parents lived in Bath Road, Ipswich, just off the Wherstead Road, . Walter, the father of six children, became the landlord of the Engineers Arms, sometimes described as a Beer House, sometimes as a Public House. The Pub no longer exists, having been demolished when the Wherstead Road was altered in the late 1980s and early 1990s, although images have survived. Polly worked as a Barmaid for a while before taking on the Tobacconist Shop with Florence.
It is Polly’s sister, Hannah Jane Sutcliffe, who wrote the postcard and sent it from Felixstowe on a sunny day in June 1904. The retrospective weather report in ‘The Times’ on Tuesday 28th June 1904 recorded Clacton enjoying ten and a half hours of sunshine and Lowestoft eleven hours. A perfect day for an outing to Trimley and Felixstowe and as a Housemaid working in Stowmarket, the pleasure and excitement are not difficult to visualise. Hannah’s employer was Hervey Aston Oakes of Hill House, Stowmarket and for a Domestic Servant or Housemaid this was a prestigious place to work, where only women with a good character would be employed. The Oakes family were highly respectable with good connections to the upper sections of society. (The middle light of St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s Church in Stowmarket is a memorial to Mary Isabel Oakes, the first wife of Hervey Aston Oakes, who died in 1872.)
The outing comprising ‘6 of Us’ may have been the whole of the Domestic staff of the Oakes household. In addition to Hannah, there were two hospital nurses, a Cook, a Parlour maid, and a Kitchen maid. Perhaps the Master and Mistress of the Household were away or perhaps they indulged their servants. Whatever the reason, it is a happy thought to imagine the Staff ascending a horse drawn vehicle in the early morning and heading off to Ipswich, Trimley and Felixstowe before the sun reached its zenith.
It’s an innocent card enabling the sisters to keep in touch. But what happened to the three of them afterwards? Focusing only on the women above, a story of mixed fortunes emerged.
Florence Ann Sutcliffe
Florence was only 23 in 1904. She married Godfrey Foster in 1909 and subsequently had two children, a boy, Sedgeley, named after her brother-in-law and a girl Eva. Florence died about three or four months after Eva was born in 1920.
Mary Ann Selina Sutcliffe or ‘Polly’
Polly was 40 when the postcard was written and 42 when she married in 1906. Her husband was Horace Bristo, a Jobmaster employing other men. At the comparatively late age of 43, she gave birth to their only child, Walter Charles Bristo. She lived to see him grow to adulthood and join his father in the family business. Unfortunately she died in 1932. In 1939 her husband Horace and son Walter were living in 305 Woodbridge Road, Ipswich. Horace was a Garage Proprietor and Walter a Motor Garage Engineer.
If you combine the words ‘motor garage Ipswich and Bristo’ in the Google search engine you may be interested to see what emerges.
Hannah Jane Sutcliffe
The delighted young woman of 1904 underwent a sad change of circumstances. By 1911, identifiable only by her initials, she was recorded as a patient in the Ipswich Mental Hospital, better known then as the Asylum and later known as St. Clement’s Hospital. The 1911 census indicates she was retired from her former work as a Domestic Servant. Unable to access St. Clement’s ‘Admission and Discharge’ Registers due to Covid 19 restrictions as well as the building of the ‘The Hold’, there is no immediate answer to why Hannah was admitted to the Asylum. She never married and died in 1917.
Overall, it is interesting to note is the number of children Polly and Florence bore. Unlike their mother who had six children over a twenty year period, they had far smaller families, which may have improved the quality of everyones lives. Although I have not researched the full family history, it is possible to observe an upwards trajectory in the lives of their children.
The second postcard, 1906
The Postcard Date and time: 11.30 16th July 1906 (Monday). Postmark: Redhill
To: Miss Howard
Message: Dear R. arrived quite
safe both got at L. St At same
time boy a bit queer heat
too much for him better to-
day Bob met us at station
A.H. got the tea already with
love from W.H.
Publisher: F. Frith and Co. Ltd. Reigate. No. 43247
The photograph for this postcard was likely to have been taken in 1899 if the information on http://www.johnowensmith.co.uk/histdate/friths.htm is correct. F. Frith and Company were based in Reigate. Frith’s output of photographic scenes was about 75,000 and is considered sufficiently important to be represented in the Victoria And Albert Museum
W.H’s. ordinary card is typical of the period. Superficially, its curiosity rests in the fact it is a card of the two Trimley churches being sent to an address in one of the villages. The perfunctory message is very similar to today’s text speak; we might send something along similar lines today, just to inform the addressee of a safe arrival. Given the brevity, it might appear difficult to extract any information about the recipient and the senders but there was just enough to identify the people involved in this journey. The broad stroke of ‘Trimley’ as an address might seem to pose difficulties for the Post Man but in the event, there was only one Howard family in either village and as the Post Man would have local knowledge it would have been safely delivered. The address was on the High Road, close to Candlet. Perhaps the sender bought and addressed the card before they left Trimley Station, already to be sent as soon as the message had been added.
Who are the people named on the card?
Miss R. Howard is Rosa Howard, born in 10th August 1867 and the daughter of William and Rose Ann Howard. Miss Rosa was born and baptised in Trimley St. Martin and she remained in one or other of the Trimleys for all but the last two years of her life. Her siblings and parents were entirely local; her mother, Rosa Ann Cooper was born in Kirton in 1832. Her father William Howard, a Carpenter and joiner, was born in T S Mary in 1829. Rosa’s paternal Grandfather had been a Blacksmith and the Parish Clerk, which suggests a more reliable income than many of his fellow workers. Rose Ann and William married in 1863 and from a twenty first century perspective, Rose may be considered fortunate. Unlike many nineteenth century women, she only had three children. This would have made a difference to the quality of her life and that of her family; the less mouths to feed, the less wear and tear on the mother of the house.
The postcard is signed by W.H. and some research into any Howards living in the Redhill/Reigate in 1901 shows William Howard from Trimley, Suffolk, boarding with an Archie Wilkinson and his family in Reigate’s Garland Street, approximately two and a half miles from Redhill. Archie was the head of the Household; both men were Coachbuilders. William was a Coachbuilder when he lived in Trimley St. Mary in 1891 with his family. His move to London came at some point during the 1890s.
An A. H. is mentioned and this rather formal reference is to William’s wife Annie Howard (née Taylor) who was born in Bristol in 1875. In 1901 Annie had been a Housemaid in Park Road, Redhill less than three- or four-minutes’ walk from William’s home. It’s not difficult to imagine how they may have met in the streets on Annie’s day off or at a local church.
Who was the little boy and why was he off colour? He was another William Howard, aged just two years and the son of William and Annie Howard. His malaise may have been caused by the heat and humidity of the weekend. On Sunday 15th July 1906, London experienced two to four hours of sunshine with cloud and humidity predominating. The previous day there had been eight to ten hours of summer sunshine. Sunrise was at 4.01 a.m. (British Summertime had yet to be invented) and the long daylight hours affected working lives operating in high temperatures.
Reading this card, there seems to be an invisible fourth present. ‘Both’ arrived at Liverpool Street at the same time on Sunday 15th (?) July. The other half of ‘both’ couldn’t have been William and Rosa’s father William for he had died in 1903. Perhaps it was their mother, Rose Anne Howard who didn’t die until 1921 at the age of 90.
It was unlikely to be her other daughter Elizabeth Jessie Howard, born in 1864 for she was married to another Reigate inhabitant, William Robert Bunce. This William was born and bred in Surrey and evidence suggests he met Elizabeth through one of the other William’s, her brother. They married in 1887 and depending on how you view nearly twenty years of childbearing, it might be considered that Elizabeth was less fortunate than her mother, giving birth to nine children. This would have placed a strain on the family who lived about two miles away from William Howard in 1911. His house had five rooms, whilst that of his brother-in-law William Bunce had six rooms but five inhabitants.
Bob remains a mystery.
What other tacit information may be gathered from this scant message? Researching the individuals showed a wide pattern of movement from Trimley and Bristol to London. The opportunities available to those who went to larger urban areas for work, appears to have helped these families to thrive. Coachmaking was skilled work and assuredly paid more than the standard agricultural worker of the day. William had also worked as a Coachmaker when he lived in Trimley. It was some time after 1891 that he moved to Reigate and his migration may have been responsible for the marriage of his sister Elizabeth. In 1911 both Williams are working for a Coal Merchant; William Bunce as a Clerk and William Howard as a wheelwright. The latter is a reminder on the continued use of the horse as a method of delivering coal and other home requirements. This was to continue for at least another forty years, for I remember such deliveries when I was a child growing up in the fifties. Along with horse deliveries, you may recall householders leaping on to the road with a shovel and bucket to collect horse manure for their gardens. Recycling at its finest.
It may seem an obvious statement, but existence of the railway allowed more opportunity for travel and being able to do so, suggest a certain amount of disposable income. Not much but just enough to ensure good contact between family members.
One other observation concerns Rosa herself. She worked for some time in Sutton, Surrey as a maid in the 1880s. But she never married and appears to have become the classic single daughter who lived with her parents as a support and companion. After her mother’s death in 1921, she moved to Reigate to live with her brother or sister; her income would have been minimal. At the age of 56 her employment opportunities would have been almost non-existent, unless she became a Char or Laundress. She was too young to be granted a State pension as the age threshold was then 70. Even had she been eligible, the pension was then approximately 5 shillings a week and neither work or pensionable options would have enabled her to maintain her parent’s house. Her destiny as spinster sister and aunt was confirmed. Her mother had left her £34-16-2d in her Will, the equivalent of £1,676 in 2019 terms. At the age of 54 Rosa was buried 5th June 1924 in the graveyard belonging to St. Mary’s Church, Reigate Surrey.
Following the removal of Rosa to Reigate, none of William and Rose Ann Howard’s immediate family remained in Trimley.
If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:
“England and Wales Census, 1841.” Database “1841 England, Scotland and Wales census.” Database and images. findmypast. http://www.findmypast.com : n.d. Citing PRO HO 107, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey. 19th August 2020
“England and Wales Census, 1851.” Database “1851 England, Scotland and Wales census.” Database and images. findmypast. http://www.findmypast.com : n.d. Citing PRO HO 107. The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey. 19th August 2020
“England and Wales Census, 1861.” Database “1861 England, Scotland and Wales census.” Database and images. findmypast. http://www.findmypast.com : n.d. Citing PRO RG 9. The National Archives, Kew, Surrey. 19th August 2020
“England and Wales Census, 1871.” Database “1871 England, Scotland and Wales census.” Database and images. findmypast. http://www.findmypast.com : n.d. Citing PRO RG 10. The National Archives, Kew, Surrey. 19th August 2020
“England and Wales Census, 1881.” “1881 England, Scotland and Wales census.” Database and images. findmypast. http://www.findmypast.com : n.d. Citing PRO RG 11. The National Archives, Kew, Surrey. 19th August 2020
“England and Wales Census, 1891.” “1891 England, Scotland and Wales census.” Database and images. findmypast. http://www.findmypast.com : n.d. Citing PRO RG 12. The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey. 19th August 2020
“England and Wales Census, 1901.” Database “1901 England, Scotland and Wales census.” Database and images. findmypast. http://www.findmypast.com : n.d. Citing PRO RG 13. The National Archives, Kew, Surrey. 19th August 2020
“England and Wales Census, 1911.” Database “1911 England and Wales census.” Database and images. findmypast. http://www.findmypast.com : n.d. Citing PRO RG 14. The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey. 19th August 2020
“England and Wales National Register, 1939.” Database “General Register Office: National Registration: 1939 Register.” Database. FindMyPast. http://www.findmypast.com : 2017. Citing RG 101, The National Archives, Kew, England. 19th August 2020
 The Dictionary of Picture Postcards in Britain 1894 – 1939. A.W. Coysh 1984 Antique Collector’s Club 1851492313
 The Times Digital Archive The Weather Tuesday, 28th June, 1904 Issue number 37432 Page 12, London, England. Gale Document number GALEICS202698460
 The Dictionary of Picture Postcards in Britain 1894 – 1939. Ibid.
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