Monthly Archives: April 2015

Pointing To The Past : Jack Likes Pears

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The Wooden Dolly of North Shields is a tradition which was started in the early nineteenth century when a local brewer and shipowner erected an old wooden ship’s figurehead as a landmark on the quayside at North Shields (and conveniently close to one of his pubs). The wooden statue of a woman became something of a good luck charm to local fishermen who were in the habit of carving small keepsakes from the figure to take with them on voyages. Such a custom could only have one outcome and eventually most of the statue had fallen prey to the fishermen’s knives.

A second, new, wooden dolly was found and erected on the same spot and in no time at all suffered the same fate. The “new wooden dolly” featured in this early twentieth century picture postcard must either be the third or fourth dolly in the sequence: a sequence which continues to this day. If you travel to North Shields you can find dolly No. 6 in residence outside the Prince of Wales pub and overlooking the River Tyne.

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The postcard was sent to James Hart who lived in the Northumberland town of Corbridge which is about 40 miles up the River Tyne from where it meets the sea at North Shields. It appears that Edwin and Jack were planning a quicker journey to meet James, travelling on the Tyne Valley line which runs from Newcastle to Carlisle. The fact that “Jack likes pears” is just one of those inconsequential historical details that only old picture postcards can provide.

Picture Post 1287 : Safer With Elephants

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ORNAMENTAL CARVINGS, CLYDE WORKS OFFICES, THE WICKER, SHEFFIELD

The Clyde Works Offices in the Wicker, Sheffield were originally built for the firm of Shortridge and Howell. John Shortridge was one of the main movers behind the construction of the magnificent Wicker Arches. He died in 1869 when his horse bolted and turned his carriage over. He would have been safer being pulled by elephants.

The Lurid Confessions Of The Plastic Box Man

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My name is Alan Burnett and I am an hoarder. There I have said it and I feel better now. It took a lot of doing, making that confession: indeed I wrote some notes on a large post-it pad in order to find the right words. Now if you will excuse me a moment I just need to go off and file those notes.

That’s better. There is always a sense of satisfaction in getting something tidily filed away – especially when you have managed to invent a new sub-folder to file it under (News From Nowhere Blog Notes, DDS, 201504). In this particular case it is a digital file – I scanned the post-it note, uploaded it to my Evernote Account, started a new sub-folder, tagged it until it was top-heavy and finally laid it to rest.

You see I am twice cursed: not only do I suffer from compulsive hoarding syndrome (or Diogenes Syndrome as it is sometimes called) but I also suffer from the modern offshoot of the classic syndrome – which is defined by a desire to scan everything and digitally file it on some cloud somewhere) which I have christened Digital Diogenes Syndrome of DDS.

The two conditions feed off each other and attempt to compartmentalise my life. During this technological transitional stage there is even a temptation to get Diogenes to wear a belt and braces by not only digitising every aspect of my life, but also physically filing them away just in case the cloud should burst some day. Now if you will excuse me a moment I just need to go off and find a suitable plastic box.

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That’s better. My room is full to the brim with plastic boxes: if ever the place caught fire I suspect I would eventually be discovered sealed in a melted plastic block like some prehistoric bug in amber. Plastic boxes are both a boon and a curse for us Diogenes sufferers – they provide a cheap filing fix with endless opportunities to label and sub-divide. But even seasoned sub-dividers such as myself occasionally have to find recourse to that cheapest of tricks, the box marked “Bits And Pieces”. And it was whilst searching through several of these “Bits and Pieces” boxes this morning that I finally decided to make my public confession.

What I was actually looking for was one of the little plastic bricks from my childhood Bayko Construction set. Bayko was a wonderfully sophisticated construction system – a fine claret of a building system compared to the beaujolais nouveau of Lego – which probably hasn’t been manufactured for fifty years. The bricks were coloured a somewhat lurid red, green and cream and slotted into steel scaffolding poles that would be enough to turn the stomach of a modern day safety advisor. Some time ago I found an old brick and, true to my calling, I filed it away in a box marked “Bits And Pieces”: hence my search. And what started the whole thing off was passing a house the other day which suddenly reminded me of the 1930 suburban villas I used to design and build with my Bayko kit.

My confessions over, I can return to my search for the toy building brick. Just as soon as I have filed this blog post away on a suitable digital cloud.

The Vintage Postcard Path 12 : On The Ephemeral Nature Of Fame

I am taking a walk along the path where history interacts with geography and words rub shoulders with images – the vintage postcard path. The destination doesn’t matter and the route is determined by the random selection of old postcards I have bought at antique fairs and auctions. Number 12 in the series sees us return to a familiar recipient and an unfamiliar park.

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Given the length and complexity of the journey of a typical vintage postcard I am always surprised by their ability to stay in close proximity to their deltiologocal cousins. I am not particularly thinking about those original journeys undertaken 100 or more years ago, but their subsequent ramblings from shop to shop, fair to fair, sellers’ tray to sellers’ tray. You may recognise the recipient of this card which was posted almost 100 years ago from an earlier post in this series (“To The American Colonies, If Fine”). One can only assume that Mrs Watson’s collection of old postcards was sold as a job lot and, despite the chance pickings of illogical collectors such as myself, some at least have managed to stick together.

Whilst the recipient is familiar, the location of the illustration is not, which is something of a surprise as it is not all that far away from where I live. Womersley Hall is a seventeenth century house near Pontefract in West Yorkshire which, according to the snippets of news I can find about it on-line, has drifted slowly into dilapidation over the last couple of hundred years. Some hand – I like to think it might have been Mrs Watson as an elderly lady – has appended the postcard “Home of Lord Snowdon”, and indeed the hall was the childhood home of Anthony Armstrong Jones who went on to marry Princess Margaret and became Lord Snowdon. He became quite a celebrity in the early sixties – he had a job which was so rare for a member of the Royal Family that it attracted considerable comment – and I suspect the information about Womersley being his family home was added to the card then.

And now, 50 years later, Lord Snowdon has become a footnote in history and Womersley Park is as famous for being the subject matter of one of Mrs Watson’s cards as for being his home. Well almost.

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