Holiday At Home: Anyone got a stamp?

Just a few lines about Postcards…

Although pre-paid lettercards had been around for some years, both here and on the continent, the picture postcard as we know it today really began life at the dawning of the Edwardian era. Before then, the Post Office insisted that the address took up one whole side of a card. Then, in 1902 a new size (5½ inches x 3½ inches) with a ‘split back’ was introduced. This allowed one side for the address and a message and the other for a decent-sized picture. Almost overnight, a new craze for sending and collecting these little splashes of warmth and colour was born, as postcards represented a revolutionary, quick, fun and cheap way of sending messages; much as texting and social media has over the last 25 years.

Anybody could send a card (they cost just a ha’penny to post) and in a world without telephones, or cheap, portable cameras, the idea of somebody getting your message and picture the next, or even the same day, must have seemed amazing. Just as ‘whatsapping’ someone on the other side of the world does today, at least to those of us over 40!

Telephones and telegrams were only available to the wealthy, so it was the postal system that really made the world work. It was a vast operation and larger towns and cities enjoyed the luxury of several collections and deliveries per-day. Meaning that if you posted your message early enough it was, pretty much, guaranteed to arrive the next, or even the same day.

The arrival of postcards coincided with boom years for industrial, mill towns like Oldham. Alongside industry, consumerism grew apace in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, with more products, popular publications and eye-catching advertising appearing across the country. Photography, in terms of snap-shots, did not truly arrive until the 1920s, so postcards frequently had to do; sent from the seaside, or perhaps just up the road. Stuck up on workbenches, mantlepieces or kept in albums, they became the must-have souvenirs of precious leisure time in an era when work was back-breaking and poverty widespread. Of course, holidays, were taking off too and in the North of England in the early 1900s a Wakes week away to Blackpool, Southport or even ‘abroad’ to the Isle of Man was finally becoming an affordable possibility, at least while trade was booming.                 

Although Wakes have their origins in religious custom, most of us associate them with industrial towns. They developed as unpaid holidays when mills and factories closed for maintenance.  By the 1860s, between June to September, mill towns across Lancashire all had their own holiday week or fortnight. In Oldham the season began with Mossley Wakes in early July and continued at the rate of one or two a week throughout the summer; with Hollinwood, Shaw, Crompton, Lees, Newton Heath, Milnrow, Middleton, Saddleworth (Uppermill), Saddleworth (Delph and Heights) and finally on the last Saturday in August, Oldham itself.

For two weeks the spinning mules fell silent and the smoke briefly cleared as mill workers headed to the seaside in droves while the town virtually closed down. Briefly, people shook of their drab workwear and sent jolly, cheeky, or even saucy cards back home. Those ‘holidaying at home’ often reciprocated, sending cards to those lucky enough to be away, in the safe knowledge that workmates and family would get their good natured, if slightly jealous ribbing the very next day. ‘Beautiful’, or ‘Smokey’ Oldham cards were popular amongst those ‘holding the fort’ back home and the humour of the mill often appears, with chimneys, clogs and shawls, or the cardroom frequently making an appearance. Just to remind everyone, in case they needed it, that the good times couldn’t last forever. 

Postcards proved equally popular during the First World War, as thousand found themselves forced apart from their loved ones and continued to be popular for many decades after. They enjoyed a brief resurgence as people started to holiday abroad in the 1960s and ‘70s, when larger, colourful ‘continental’ size cards started to flood onto the market. However, it was really the rise of social media that spelled the demise of the postcard.