London Is Calling

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Bob Teevan

London is Calling

Finding a London postcard that I like wasn’t easy. London is a city which I personally don’t like. I haven’t lived there although I have holidayed there many years ago and I did work in Haymarket, London (less than a mile from the area within the postcard image) for two years back in the early 1990s.

For two years I drove 31 miles to work and returned home each day. It was up through Richmond and Wandsworth, then Clapham, across the Thames, past the Wellington Arch, along Piccadilly and into the office. If it weren’t for the radio program of the late Derek Jameson, I would have gone insane! For many years I also drove 34 miles each day to work in the center of Glasgow, and later, 16 miles to the center of Edinburgh although those journeys seldom seemed as bad.

For me, London is too big. It wasn’t until I started this post that I realized how big it is. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, has a population of about 490,000. Glasgow has a population of almost 610,000. London has a population of more than nine million. With regards to population it is bigger than New York and the combined populations of Berlin, Rome, and Paris.

The card I selected is titled The Strand and Charing Cross Station, London and while I don’t know when or what company published the card, I do know that it was posted within London in December 1906. The image is of a busy street – although nowhere near as busy as it would be today. The main buildings in the image are Charing Cross Railway Station set back on the right with an Eleanor Cross standing in front. (Do not be confused by the word ‘cross’ as I refer to the tower with the word ‘Exchange’ around its base).

I’ll return to the properties soon as I suspect that these are the only constants within the image. I believe this is a form of generic card and depending upon what the publisher wished to show, the cars, buses, carriages, and people will have been moved about the image by some transfer process of which I am unaware.

This is not uncommon and I have seen many cards from London and other cities where the buildings (including shop awnings) remain the same, but the buses and carriages move about the image. So, I believe that what you are seeing is an image the publisher has customized.

Despite having worked only a mile or so from the station this is not an area of London I know. I know that the famous Savoy Hotel is in the Strand and that the equally famous stamp shop of Stanley Gibbons is also in the Strand. I have visited both although I should add that I only popped my head in the doorway of the Savoy to see what it was like. Similarly, the prices suggested by Stanley Gibbons were beyond my purse so let’s just say that I have visited both places, but only as a spectator.

Charing Cross Railway Station is London’s most central station. Built on the site of the famous Hungerford Market, it opened in 1864. One year later, Charing Cross Hotel was built, giving the station an ornate French Renaissance style frontage.

Located in the City of Westminster, London Charing Cross accommodates 30.2 million passengers a year. It faces the Shard (a 72-storey skyscraper) from the front, and the Hungerford Bridge at the other end where trains cross into and out of Charing Cross, passing over the river Thames.

The name Charing Cross relates to one of the medieval Eleanor Crosses which stood in the area from 1297 until it was destroyed on the instructions of Parliament in 1647.

The Eleanor crosses were a series of twelve, tall and lavishly decorated stone monuments topped with crosses erected in a line down part of the east of England. King Edward had them built between 1291 and about 1295 in memory of his beloved wife Eleanor of Castile. The King and Queen had been married for 36 years and she stayed by the King’s side through his many travels. While on a royal progress, she died in the Midlands in November 1290. The crosses, erected in her memory, marked the nightly resting-places along the route taken when her body was transported to Westminster Abbey near London.

The cross (some call them towers) you see in the image was rebuilt in 1864 and 1865. Despite the tremendous amount of development which has taken place in London over the last 120 years the façade of the station, the hotel, and the Eleanor Cross still stand there today very much unchanged.

The postcard is addressed to Mrs. Brennan of 146 Oriental Road, Silverton. It carries a short message from her daughter Eme regarding some sweets which are now available.

I found Phoebe Brennan at that address in the 1911 census. She was aged 66; had been married for 18 years and had no children. Her husband was William Brennan, cable worker. A ‘Dear Mother’ card to someone who has no children appeared strange although in the 1901 census (at a different house number in the same street) William and Phoebe are at home with Emily Ada Phillips, a confectionary factory hand and the stepdaughter of William Brennan. Not that there was any doubt, but the census enumerator has written the words “Sweets” above Emily’s occupation. It fits nicely with the card.

So, the card depicts what may be a metropolitan ‘rat race’ to which I have no intention of returning.

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Nice description. I’ve been to London and enjoyed it immensely. I went through Charing Cross and assumed Cross was just short for crossroads, the way the Brits sometimes abbreviate things.

I also wonder whether Mr Teevan’s checking the addressee’s identity in the census won’t lead others to do this more often. It provides a more human story and to me, the postcard message adds to a card’s appeal. I once bought a card solely because it was sent to the historian Samuel Eliot Morison. Lord knows where that card is now . . .

Thank you for your kind comments. I think that collecting postcards without ‘reaearching’ (and I use that term very loosely) is like collecting scraps or picture cards. Each to their own although the history of the postcard is the appeal for me. You may wish to try the above mentioned group.

I have yet to find a postcard message written by anyone famous but I confess to buying a postcard because of the message on the back. It was written by a girl who lived in my house a hundred years ago to a fellow postcard collector asking her to send a postcard back.

Wow. That is an interesting card. I don’t think I have any cards written by persons who were famous although investigating the cards has led me to the lives of many ordinary people who have led interesting lives. I also have a number of cards where the sender has commented on contemporay events (war, a coronation, a royal visit, a theatre show, an eclipse, a storm, etc) and I find it enjoyable to read these comments in conjunction with newspaper reports from the time.

I used to collect stamps. Since I’m in the USA, I used the Scott Catalog, but was aware that the Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue was favored in Britain.

The Stanley Gibbons catalogues (and there are many) were / are regarded as the ‘philatelic bible’ by many British collectors and whilst I am aware of Scott catalogue numbers I don’t think I’ve seen a catalogue in a uk retailer.

You didn’t mention the long-standing stamp and postcard market Saturday mornings in the underground parking lot at Charing Cross Station. Grotty but interesting.
You said nothing about the excellent Rail service for commuters. Can’t see why you would ever want to drive in to London. I did the drive in too – but only once!

Re Rail Service. – At the time (20 plus years ago) I was suffering from mental health issues which included an aversion to crowds and confined spaces. I did have to use the underground to move about the city at times although the daily rail commute from Effingham was beyond my tolerance. Totally irrational although most mental health issues are.As regards the stamp and postcard market – I never visited it although I was not then a postcard collector.

As you worked in the Haymarket I can tell you something of interest to Americans. Most paddle steamers were designed by a firm of naval architects there. I live in Charing Cross Road near the Strand. London is a collection of villages.

Past Article

Bonnie Wilpon

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Every once in a while, I see a face that brings a particular character trait to life for me. When I find a postcard with such a face, I just have to have it. It doesn’t matter whether the card is domestic or foreign, new or old, in excellent or poor condition — it just grabs me and won’t let go.

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