Picture postcard history of Bognor

Postcards of Bognor - The beach at Bognor Regis
Postcards of Bognor - The beach at Bognor Regis

As we enjoy the summer season, I thought we could take a look at picture postcards and their history.

Today we see people on the seafront and around the town with their mobile ‘phones, either speaking or sending text messages to friends and family. How different this is to the past when the only way of communicating with those left behind was the humble postcard.

Postcards of Bognor - Bognor from the pier

Postcards of Bognor - Bognor from the pier

Nationally the first postcard was produced in October, 1869, and I believe it would be impossible to contemplate the numbers that have been sent since that date. The cards themselves have changed considerably from the first, which only allowed the address on one side and the message on the reverse, to the colourful postcards of the present day. Prior to 1894, many of the British postcards were quite plain.

However, from September, 1872, the private picture postcard was officially permitted. In 1882 the first reply-paid postcard was introduced.

In a Girls Realm magazine of 1900 there was an article regarding their perception of the postcard, which began: “I can imagine a future generation building up by their help (the postcard) all the life of today, our children, our pets, our adventuress youth etc, all are to be found thereon.” The report continued: “The postcard belongs to a period peopled by a hurried generation which has not many minutes to spare for writing to friends, what with the express trainings, telegrams and telephones the world has become a small place.”

The Victorians said ‘how absurd it is to write private information on an open piece of cardboard’, and they believed they would never catch on. How wrong they were to be proved!

Postcards of Bognor - On the sands at Bognor

Postcards of Bognor - On the sands at Bognor

In their heyday, just before the first world war, about two million postcards were posted daily. In 1902, Edward V’s coronation and the introduction of the postcards with a divided back, which allowed not only the address but also a message, was to encourage the use of the postcard. It was a regular occurrence to send a postcard home to say ‘I shall be home on the 5pm train tonight.’ I have read of where a wife saw her husband off on the train and sent a postcard to the butcher giving her order for the afternoon meat delivery. Another favourite remark was ‘here is another one for your collection’.

Today you can visit postcard fairs where the traders will be catering for all tastes. Some collectors favour scenes of railways, piers or churches. Others collect work by certain artists or publishers. Other categories include, fashion, animals, etc. It is so wide a subject it is impossible to even scratch the surface in just one article.

Bognor had its fair share of postcard photographers and publishers in the last century, covering a range of scenes and events. They included 
R Briant Burgess, Cleeves, King and Wilson, Lawrence Wood, WP Marsh, Donald Massey, Webster and Webb and some who produced just a few cards. Nationally, production rose to the challenge of supplying these much-requested postcards into an extremely large business.

Over the years there have been many interesting messages on the reverse of the postcard including, “Nothing to say – so I shall not write yet,” followed by “This is where I am now, just had a lovely bathe in the sea. We had to be drawn out in a bathing machine by a horse, as the sands were so long.” Other messages give another interpretation such as “The donkeys here look as interesting as usual,” and finally in 1921 “It is frightfully nice here, but so slow, very restful (ugh.)”

Postcards of Bognor - The Sands East, Bognor Regis

Postcards of Bognor - The Sands East, Bognor Regis

However we should be careful when viewing postcards. Such as one which clearly shows a very early view of Bognor dated 1815 – that is the view of course, not when the postcard was produced. Some are titled incorrectly and I have a number that show areas of the town such as The Royal Hotel, named as Blake’s Road, Felpham, or another showing London Road purporting it to be Station Road, so local historians beware.

A large number of cards were produced to commemorate the visit of King George V during his convalescence in Bognor, produced to enable the visitor to report home that they had been to see the king, or at least the house in which he stayed. Many of these cards were produced to raise funds for charities, such as one by Kodak which was to devote all the profits to the King Edward Hospital Fund of which King George was a patron.

Postcard producers have always dreamed of being in a position to link views and national events to increase their sales and those in Bognor really took the opportunity to do so at 
this time.

Advertising cards also had their place, and E&O Carter, whose shop was situated in the High Street, produced such a card. The one I have in my collection was typed and sent to a customer with the message ‘we are not sure if it is white or light cream No. 3 Star Sylko you require, we have just received light cream 739’. Service from a bygone age!

Air views of any place are always interesting, and this particular view of the centre of Bognor clearly shows St John’s church, the Pavilion and Waterloo Square, before the bowling green arrived. This type of card is of course invaluable today to the local historian, providing a snapshot of the area at a particular time.

The comic postcards were also well sought-out by the holidaymaker, from the point of view of humour, but also because many 
cards invariably had had a small lift-up flap from where ten to 12 fold-up views of their chosen holiday destination would emerge. These provided more views of their holiday destination and were eagerly awaited by those at home.

It is difficult for us today to try to imagine the excitement that would have been created by the arrival of these small pieces of card, at a time when communications were so much more difficult than today. No television, no holiday programmes, no regular newspaper, no glossy magazines from which to choose your holiday destination, just these small pictorial cards from which to glean information about other areas of the country.

However, in 2012 there were articles to report the final demise of the humble postcard. Only time will tell.