Picture postcards are an unparalleled resource for local and social historians. The varied collections at Hampshire Archives and Local Studies include thousands of cards depicting local scenes and events in early 20th century Hampshire. The written messages on the reverse can contain fascinating snippets which illustrate the busy lives of our ancestors – everything from ‘Wish you were here!’ to ‘Tell mother I’ll be round at 7’.
Opening day at Kingsworthy Station, 1909, by Charles Beloe (Ref: 41M93/26/2)
Decades before use of the telephone was ubiquitous, and 90 years before the advent of social media, this was fast communication, Edwardian style. A postcard writer could reasonably expect to send a message to a friend or relative across town and receive a reply before sundown on the same day. Millions of cards were posted, and many of these were retained by their recipients because of their pictorial value. Equal numbers were purchased as souvenirs. Special postcard albums could be obtained to house your precious collection.
William Walker, the Winchester Cathedral diver, by Charles Beloe (Ref: 191A09W/A2/2)
Picture postcards were first published in Britain in 1894. Postal regulations reserved the whole of one side for the address, with just a small area or margin reserved on the front for a message, alongside the picture. The format that we are familiar with was introduced in 1902, with address and message on one side of the card. The picture now occupied the whole of the other. Postcard publishers such as Frith and Raphael Tuck went to town, depicting local scenes, newsworthy events, and anything they considered to be commercial, including birthday posies, satirical cartoons and film stars.
Market Hotel, Winchester, now the Theatre Royal, by Charles Beloe (Ref: 41M93/47/18)
The cards of most interest to historians are usually those produced by purely local photographers and stationers. One such photographer, and in this case a gifted and seemingly self taught amateur, was Winchester man Charles Beloe, who produced postcards on a small scale between 1905 and the mid 1920s. His published views of the towns and villages of the Itchen valley, no more than about 200 in number, are highly valued by historians and collectors. Beloe undertook the whole process himself, from taking the photograph to printing the card itself. Some examples of his work are illustrated here.
Children and windpump at Sparsholt, by Charles Beloe (Ref: 41M93/39/3)
Beloe was a man of independent means. Making postcards was a hobby for him. No doubt he tried to cover his costs, but he was able to concentrate on scenes that were less obviously commercial than the usual tourist views. With a photographer’s eye he was keen to add interest, in the form of people or vehicles, to each shot. His legacy, like those of many other photographers and postcard makers across Britain, is priceless. Further information about Beloe and his work can be found in CES Beloe: An Edwardian Photographer in Winchester, with introduction by Edward Roberts (HRO TOP343/1/163)
Stuart Bridges, archivist