Swansea Family History
Swansea Family History 

Postcards & Photographs

Charles Wilson Watkins has been on holiday to Devon; a trip that inspired his article for this month.

During July, I had a weekend away in Paignton, Devon to visit my friend, Neil Dimmick.  I booked into a seafront bed and breakfast – plenty of sea air, just what the doctor ordered. Neil, a local Devonian, had just returned from working overseas and was home with his wife Sheryl and baby, who is my Godson.

Whilst away in Devon, I thought I would write my next article, and I wanted to cover something a little lighter than the last two months – poking and probing the subjects of dentistry and medicine.

Ideas that came to mind included, carrying on with the census theme, or looking at the mass movement of people from Devon in search of employment in Swansea; or where I do come from following DNA test results – all very interesting topics that I will feature in future articles.

Then I had a eureka moment!

This month, I will be writing about postcards and the importance of photographs.

Postcards & Photographs

This article will cover all facets of society,  starting with the upper classes to whom we should be truly grateful for their architectural tastes which can be seen in public buildings located around Swansea, for example the Glyn Vivian Art Gallery and the Alexandra Road library buildings.

The Grand Tour was a traditional trip around Europe, which flourished from 1660 to the 1840s, with the sole purpose to expose both the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance.  A Tour could last for months or several years.  The brothers Richard Glyn and Graham Vivian were prominent Swansea citizens who embarked on their Grand Tours around Europe.  Richard on his tour, during 1855, amassed a vast art collection.  It was from these tours that he provided albums containing sketches and photographs.  His art collection can be viewed today, in the recently refurnished art gallery.  This was the start of the importance of photographs.  Graham supposedly was the first person in Swansea to have owned a motor car, and it was from his tours that he was inspired to design Clyne Gardens, in 1860.

In Victorian times there was no such thing as a prolonged holiday for members of the working class, they just worked and worked until they eventually died.

Most of the working classes would have relied on cheap excursions, organised by Sunday Schools, employers and temperance societies. Large crowds would congregate on Swansea Beach at the Slip.  Unfortunately, there are no records of these groups and their outings and the number of people in attendance.

Theodore Hook, of London was in 1840, the first person to post a postcard, in fact it was to himself.  This card was bearing the Penny Black stamp.  During the 1850s, post boxes were making an appearance on roadsides.  It wasn’t until the 1890s that the British publishers could manufacture and distribute postcards.  The first one in Swansea was published in 1898, showing Swansea Bay (top pic right), and the recently built Mumbles Pier.   Mumbles was becoming a favourite destination, and could be visited using of the Mumbles Train.  Postcards would have pictures of local areas around Swansea, including the Swansea Hospital (2nd pic down on the right) and the Police Station in Alexandra Road (3rd pic down on right). Could the message have been ‘wish you were here’?

Meanwhile, photography was being developed (no pun intended!). The earliest photo which was taken was during 1826, was by French man, Nicephore Niepce.  It is the work of Mary Dillwyn, of Penllergarer, during the 1840s that  is thought to have captured the first smile, also the first snowman! Her album, containing 42 salt prints and 1 albumen print can be found in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

The popularity of photography during the 1860s enabled Samuel Chapman to open a photographic studio in York Street, then later in High Street. His son Henry, opened his own shop at No 235 High Street (bottom pic right).  Today this shop is an amusement arcade.  Henry produced the extremely popular card-blacked portraits, at a cost of 2d.  Also produced were studio postcards, which could be sent to family members.

Colour photographs were available as early as 1860s, but it would be a further 60 years before it became widely available.  Photographs have taken over from postcards, which sadly are rarely posted today. As a researcher, I would advise people, to use a pencil to label the back of their photograph with details of who are depicted and the date, in years to come it will enable people to be identified and not just be a face in a crowd.

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© Charles Wilson-Watkins