20 December 2013 09:14

In the first years of the twentieth century, people in some areas occasionally posted a letter or postcard on Christmas Day morning, with it arriving within hours. It was certainly likely to arrive safely if posted on Christmas Eve if local, or the day before if sent over a greater distance. Christmas cards were very varied in their appearance and sometimes created or commissioned by the senders themselves.

In the Edwardian Postcard Project, we are studying the writing on postcards sent through the post between 1901 and 1910. I explain how things were much faster for the Edwardians in this video:

See the gallery on the right for an example of a Christmas card (Fig.1 and Fig.2) – though to our eyes it probably doesn’t look very Christmassy!

As the message contains no signature, it is most probable that the clergyman in the picture commissioned the card from a photographer. This was a common practice at the time. So it seems likely that this man, perhaps her parish priest, sent Mrs Beeson this card. We’ve found Mrs Mariette Beeson at this address in the 1901 census. At the time of receiving the card she was 41 years old and worked as a fruiterer and florist. Married to Alfred, a rope maker’s clerk, the couple had four young children and must have been fairly prosperous as they had a servant living with them.

Sending Christmas cards was a common practice throughout the twentieth century of course, but this card shows that during the first decade all sorts of images were used to carry Christmas wishes. The short message and lack of personal salutation suggests he probably dashed off quite a number of them in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. As it was a local card it would have arrived within hours. So in many ways it was perhaps more like a contemporary “selfie” plus message, than Christmas cards from later in the twentieth century.

The second Christmas card (See Fig.3 and Fig.4) illustrates another quality of postcard sending by the Edwardians. They didn’t just send cards when they were on holiday, as later in the twentieth century, but received them while away just as commonly. The Miss Alderson named here was a 21 year-old boarding house keeper, living with her widowed mother. Alfred and Lilly must have been staying there for their Christmas holiday.

Through knowledge of the handwriting and ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ salutation, doubtless they knew precisely who had sent the card even though it was not signed. The picture side of the card is extremely faded but you can perhaps just make out an almost rural looking scene. It is in suburban London, from the locality the sender has written from. Perhaps it was a spot the three of them were used to enjoying together.

So, with rapid delivery speeds and the wide choice of personalised images that were available at the time, Edwardian Christmas postcards probably have more in common with today’s social media greetings than they do with the modern-day cards that we’ll all receive through our letterboxes this December. Perhaps then, we have more in common with our Edwardian ancestors than you might think!

What do you think? Share your comments with us below.


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