June 24, 2021

Mary Hampton

The First and Last House

Nearly two decades ago, in a spirited dialog concerning a future meeting site for the Canal Cards Collectors Circle, an old and dear friend told me that it was too far to travel to the next meeting. “It’s way up north,” she said. That was the year the group met in a tiny village about twenty miles west of London. The meeting my friend suggested that she would be unable to attend was to be in Birmingham – an easy 125 mile drive up the M-40 (the UK’s equivalent of our Interstate Highways) through Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

I never realized how protective the British and particularly the English are of what we would call, “our own backyards.” My friend was being apologetic for her provincialism. However no nation in the history of mankind expanded their “god given” imperialism farther from their national boundaries. Some things are beyond understanding.

In the UK there are two houses with similar sobriquets. One is in John O’Groats, Scotland, the other is in Cornwall, England – literally at Land’s End.

The modest little two-room home was built in the mid-19th century for a “dear-soul” named Gracie Thomas. There she was at the western edge of her homeland trying to eke out a living, growing potatoes in her back yard. It is unknown if Gracie appreciated her position. She must have realized, even in her day and in her place, where tourists would arrive at her door and seek refreshment (and possibly, relief) as they went about their journeys that she needed to be a good hostess.

If you walked a short distance from Gracie’s front door, you would find yourself at the edge – the edge of everything. The next place you would find to put your feet would be in Newfoundland – just short of 2,200 miles across the North Atlantic.

So as it happened Miss Thomas started to sell Last House or in some cases, First House souvenirs. Most of what was sold were chips of rock she gathered, washed clean and then stamped with the words LANDS END.

And what else? Examine the card above and look closely at the display rack to the left of the front door. It’s a postcard rack.

Lands End postcards were popular among the UK’s publishers. There are cards published by Valentine’s and Tuck as well as others who remain unidentified.

The feature card with this article comes from a Lands End painting, circa 1923.
This Valentine postcard shows a 1932 extension. The extension doubled the size of the structure and a toilet block was added.

The First and Last House is still in the souvenir business. The First & Last House website invites guests to “Pop In” for some real Cornwall Ice Cream or a variety of refreshments and toys.

And, I have it on solid authority (a friend who lives just up the M-4) that the everyday tourist can still buy postcards at the First and Last House.

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I’ll have to stop at the First and Last House if I ever visit Lands End!

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