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Postcards from the past show old York
Postcards collected down the years by BRYAN THORNTON offer a fascinating glimpse into York’s past. Here is a selection….
THE postcard shows a troop of soldiers on horseback filing across Skeldergate Bridge in York, escorting at least two heavy horse-drawn carriages. Baille Hill, crowned with trees, can be seen in the background.
The card is dated January 29, 1909. But it is the message on the back, written in cramped ink that has faded to sepia over the years, that makes the card so poignant.
It is addressed to ‘Master Rupert Easton, 58 Westbourne Avenue, Hull’, and signed ‘Yours, Betty’.
“Here are some gee-gees, which are pulling a big cart,” it says. “There are lots of soldiers about here, you would love them. With best love, Yours, Betty.”
Reading that affectionate message, you can’t help wondering who Betty was, and what her relationship was to ‘Master Rupert’. He is obviously a young boy, and she writes with the intimacy of a mother: yet if she was, she’d hardly have signed herself Betty. So was she a sister? Or even a nanny?
We will never know, but it is a wonderful moment of affection captured in ink. The card is one of hundreds – or possibly thousands – of postcards of old York that have been collected over the last half century by retired railwayman Bryan Thornton, who lives in Bishophill.
They show long-ago street scenes; old trams and buses; street parties; weddings; and military parades.
Not all have messages written on the back, although many do, often in pencil that has scarcely faded over the years.
It is one of the things Bryan likes about them. “I don’t know whether things kept on a computer disk will last as long as photos,” the 72-year-old says. “The messages written in pencil on the back are still there 70 or 100 years later.”
Bryan, a former railway fireman who later worked at the carriageworks, has been collecting postcards for “a long, long time, on and off for 50 years now”. There is a name for someone like him, he jokes – he’s a ‘deltiologist’, which just means someone with a passion for collecting postcards.
He has about seven albums full now, and his collecting has taken him all over the country – postcards of York tend to be more expensive when you buy them in York, and much cheaper when you get them elsewhere, he says. Among his favourite places for collecting are Brighton, and Norwich auction market.
Many of the postcards have brief notes describing what they show. Some are dated, but not all are. Where there is no date, you can often make a rough guess at the period they show. Clothing is a good clue, Bryan says, as is transport. He has another tip as well. “Look at the stamp. If it is a halfpenny, then it is pre-1914.”
At other times, you just have to use your common sense. The wonderful postcard showing a Royal Flying Corps biplane visiting York, for example, is frustratingly dated 23 February, 19??. But just by looking at the aircraft, you can tell it is very early, Bryan says: certainly pre-First World War. “I would say it is about 1910.”
We can only bring you a few of Bryan’s wonderful cards today, but we will be back with more before too long. In the meantime, for your enjoyment, here are bygone images of horse-drawn and electric trams on the city’s streets; of the wedding of the Earl of Feversham to the Hon Anne Wood at York Minster in May, 1936; and of the fire that tore through Boyes on Ouse Bridge in December 1910. It was the “most disastrous fire which had occurred in York for many years”, according to a newspaper report of the time.
“The premises, which had an extensive frontage to Bridge Street on the north side of that thoroughfare, were stocked with a vast quantity of draperies, dress materials, and fancy goods generally, ready for the Christmas trade, and formed one of the finest shops in the city… By a quarter to ten all hopes of saving the premises had been abandoned, and the fire brigades, while playing on the blazing mass to keep down the heat, devoted their attention to saving the adjoining premises.”
We also reproduce today a postcard from Ebor Day at York races, which isn’t dated but which, following Bryan’s advice, we can guess must be pre-1914 because there is a halfpenny stamp on the back.
Perhaps best of all is a postcard dated July 1913, which shows “H Blackburn’s aeroplane, which he flew from Leeds to the Yorkshire Show at York in 20 minutes delivering the news’.
Talk about magnificent men in their flying machines. Those were the days...
Nessgate to Fulford tram
Royal Flying Corps visit to York
Ebor Day at York races
H Blackburn’s aeroplane which he flew from Leeds to the Yorkshire Show at York in 20 minutes, delivering news, at the end of July, 1913
The Haxby Road tram