This elegant Art Nouveau advertisement from 1911 takes us back to a time when London phone numbers were only four digits long and urgent messages were delivered by telegram.

A magazine advertisement from 1911 for Talbot cars.

It suggests the appearance of a Talbot motor car would be enough to stop horse-traffic and leave newspaper sellers gawping in awe as a member of the metropolitan police waved it through Hyde Park Corner. It would be chauffeur driven, of course, while the affluent owners relaxed in the rear cabin. Perhaps they’re off to some society gathering, or maybe an early dinner before the opera.

The ad is aimed unashamedly at the target market – people with lots of money. Clement Talbot Ltd of Ladbrook Grove didn’t need to advertise their cars to the mass market because, in 1911, there wasn’t one.

Busy Brindisi

These old postcard images give us an impression of the busy port city of Brindisi, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, in the 1930s.


My only visit has been courtesy of Mr. Google and his magical street view but I’m fairly sure this shows Corso Roma on the left and Corso Umberto I on the right.

Image from a vintage postcard of Brindisi, Italy, c.1930s.

I haven’t been able to identify this passenger ship heading out of the harbour yet (suggestions welcome). The tall column that seems to be growing out of the bridge isn’t actually part of the superstructure but the gigantic Memorial to the Mariners in the background.

Monument to the Mariners, Brindisi, Italy. Image from a 1930s postcard.

You don’t have to understand Italian to know that this is the National Monument to Italian sailors who died in World War One and that it was opened on 4th November 1933. Shaped like a ship’s rudder and standing over 50 metres tall, it’s an impressive example of fascist era architecture and has become Brindisi’s most recognisable landmark.

Brindisi harbour in the 1930s. Image from a postcard.

Three visiting submarines, presumably from the Italian Royal Navy, draw a crowd of onlookers. We can’t tell from the photograph if the boats are open to the public.

B_conte rosso

Tucked away in what seems like a quieter corner of the harbour is the passenger ship Conte Rosso (the Red Count) decked out in flags like the other ship in the picture, perhaps for some special occasion. On the skyline behind is the column marking the end of ancient Rome’s Appian Way from Rome to Brindisi.

The Conte Rosso was built in 1922 for the North Atlantic run to New York and, later, from Italy to South America. By the time this image was made, she was probably on the Far Eastern route to Bombay and Shanghai. While serving as a troopship in World War Two she was torpedoed by the British submarine Upholder on 24th May 1941 and sank with the loss of 1300 lives.

A Royal Wedding

York wedding225“The King’s second son, the Duke of York, and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, youngest daughter of the Earl of Strathmore, were married at Westminster Abbey on April 26th, 1923. The bride drove with her father from [his home in] Bruton Street to the Abbey in a closed carriage, but on the return journey the crowds along Piccadilly and Constitution Hill, cheering and showering confetti, saw her radiant and smiling at her husband’s side. The two were acclaimed anew on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, where 123 guests attended the wedding breakfast.

The last act of Lady Elizabeth before her marriage was to lay her bridal bouquet [of roses] on the grave of the Unknown Warrior. The ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Davidson, assisted by the Archbishop of York, Dr. Cosmo Lang. The bridegroom was attended by his brothers, [Edward] the Prince of Wales and Prince Henry“.
Text from cigarette cards printed in 1935 and 1937.

Photo by Swaine from a postcard. c. early 1920s.

Photo by Vandyk on a Beagles postcard.

Prince Albert, Duke of York, was called Bertie by family and close friends even after he became king in 1937 when he adopted another of his names – George (VI). Like his father, George V, before him he was second in line to the throne and didn’t expect to become king. His father’s older brother died in 1892 so he had almost ten years to train for the job before his coronation, but Albert was thrown in at the deep end at a month’s notice when his brother, Edward, abdicated.

Duke and Duchess of York with infant Princess Elizabeth, 1926.

Princess Elizabeth, the current Queen of England and Prince Harry’s grandmother, was born on 21st April 1926. This family photograph might have been taken at the time of her christening in May.

In his own words

From the diary of King George V.

June 22nd, 1911
It was overcast and cloudy with some showers and a strongish cool breeze, but better for the people than great heat. Today was indeed a great and memorable day in our lives and one we can never forget, but it brought back to me many sad memories of 9 years ago, when the beloved Parents were crowned.

CoronationMay and I left B.P. [Buckingham Palace] in the Coronation coach at 10.30 with 8 cream-coloured horses. There were over 50,000 troops lining the streets under the command of Lord Kitchener. There were hundreds of thousands of people who gave us a magnificent reception. The Service in the Abbey was most beautiful, but it was a terrible ordeal. It was grand, yet simple and most dignified and went without a hitch. I nearly broke down when dear David* came to do homage to me, as it reminded me so much when I did the same thing to beloved Papa, he did it so well. Darling May looked lovely and it was indeed a comfort to me to have her by my side, as she has been ever to me during these last eighteen years.

We left Westminster Abbey at 2.15 (having arrived there before 11.0) with our crowns on and sceptres in our hands. This time we drove by the Mall, St. James’ Street and Piccadilly, crowds enormous and decorations very pretty. On reaching B.P. just before 3.0 May and I went out on the balcony to show ourselves to the people. Downey photographed us in our robes with Crowns on.

Image from the National Portrait Gallery.

Had some lunch with our guests here. Worked all the afternoon with Bigge and others answering telegrams and letters of which I have had hundreds. Such a large crowd collected in front of the Palace that I went out on the balcony again. Our guests dined with us at 8.30. May and I showed ourselves again to the people. Wrote and read. Rather tired. Bed at 11.45. Beautiful illuminations everywhere.
‘King George the Fifth, His Life and Reign’, Harold Nicolson. Constable, 1952.
Quoted in ‘They Saw it Happen 1897 – 1940’, compiled by Asa Briggs. Basil Blackwell, 1960.

* David was one of a list of names for eldest son Edward, later to abdicate in 1936 as Edward VIII, and was the one used by his family.

Downey’s photograph “with Crowns on” from the National Portrait Gallery.

The Princess of Wales

Before there was Diana, there was Alexandra.

As a child I had a wild adoration for Queen Alexandra (then, of course, Princess of Wales), whom I thought the most beautiful person I had ever seen in my life, and I dare say that I was not far wrong. When I was taken to Marlborough House, I remembered and treasured up every single word she said to me.

Alexandra_of_Denmark02SMany years after, in 1885, [Prince] Edward and [Princess] Alexandra paid us a visit at Barons’ Court. During that visit a little episode occurred which is worth recording. On the Sunday, the Princess ….. inspected the Sunday School children before Morning Service. At luncheon the Rector of the parish told us that one of the Sunday scholars, a little girl, had been taken ill with congestion of the lungs a few days earlier. The child’s disappointment at having missed seeing the Princess was terrible. Desperately ill as she was, she kept on harping on her lost opportunity.

After luncheon the Princess drew my sister-in-law …. on one side, and inquired where the sick child lived. Upon being told that it was about four miles off, the Princess asked whether it would not be possible to get a pony-cart from the stables and drive there, as she would like to see the little girl. I myself brought a pony-cart round to the door, and the Princess and my sister-in-law having got in, we three started off alone, the Princess driving. When we reached the cottage where the child lived, H.R.H. went straight up to the little girl’s room, and stayed talking to her for an hour, to the child’s immense joy. Two days later the little girl died, but she had been made very happy meanwhile.

A little thing perhaps; but there are not many people in Queen Alexandra’s position who would have taken an eight-mile drive in an open cart on a stormy and rainy April afternoon in order to avoid disappointing a dying child, of whose very existence she had been unaware that morning.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton, Hodder and Stoughton, London. 1920.

Travelling in style

All the media of the Western World seem to be obsessed with British royalty at the moment, thanks to a recent addition to the family and a “fairytale” wedding this weekend. Well Pastimpressions isn’t too proud to jump on that bandwagon while the wheels are rolling – so welcome to Royal Week.

Royal trains.
For ordinary journeys royal personages often travel in a saloon attached to one of the regular trains, but for all important journeys, special measures are taken.

Several railways have constructed special trains for the King [George V] and Queen [Mary], and these are really palaces on wheels. They include sleeping cars – with proper bedrooms, not sleeping berths; dining-cars, in which meals are served just as in a royal palace; saloons; and compartments for servants, attendants and others. The trains used by the West Coast and East Coast Railways are like this, and will carry a hundred or more people on some journeys.

R_King's bedroom_GNR

The king’s bedroom in a carriage of the Great Northern Railway.

The King's Day Saloon on the Royal Train (King George V).

The king’s day saloon.

Image from a 1935 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills.At the starting and destination stations the platforms are covered with crimson carpet, and frequently they will be decorated. As a rule the chief officials and the Chairman of the railway will be there to receive the King or Queen, and some of them travel with the train. The engines and drivers are carefully selected, and generally the locomotives are decorated.

In many cases a pilot engine is sent in advance of the royal train. This engine travels by itself, about ten minutes in front, and after it has gone by all trains which are passed must stop, and no shunting work may be done or points moved until the royal train has gone by.

Each signalman has to see that everything is done properly, and to signal the royal train by a green flag in addition to the ordinary signals. Every level-crossing gate must be locked as soon as the “pilot” comes along, and men are placed at the principal points, and along the line wherever thought desirable. As a rule, a policeman is stationed on every bridge crossing the railway; and the stationmaster has to be on every platform passed.


A Royal engine at Portsmouth on the return of the King and Queen from their Coronation Tour in India [1912]. The ship in the background is P&O’s Medina which acted as the Royal Yacht for the tour.

Some people think that when the King travels he does not pay his fare. No doubt most of our railways would be very pleased to convey him on those terms; but in actual practice the usual rates for special trains and the fares of all on board are paid.
‘The Wonder Book of Railways’, Ward, Lock & Co., Ltd., c.1924.

Breakfast is served

What did you have for breakfast on this eleventh day of May? Cereal, tea and toast? Coffee to go? Nothing at all?

P & O crest on a Tourist Class menu, 1933.

On the morning of 11th May 1933, as the s.s. ‘Mongolia’ steamed up the English Channel on the last leg of a voyage from Australia, tourist class passengers would have found this menu card on their breakfast tables.

Tourist class breakfast menu from s.s. Mongolia, 1933.If you’ve ever been to sea as a fare-paying passenger, you’ll know that shipboard meals are different. They’re made for people with time to actually sit down to eat, relax and be waited on; who don’t have to rush out to work or wash the dishes. Not normal. The variety and volume of food available is not what you’d expect at home, either. If we ate like that every day the obesity epidemic would be ten times worse than it is.

But this list, modest by modern cruise ship standards, shows us how tastes have changed in eighty-five years. Would any of these be your first choice at breakfast, especially if the dining room was moving around a bit? Kippered herrings – popular in Victorian and Edwardian days and allegedly making a comeback, but not on my plate at 8 a.m. Grilled calf’s liver – not at any time. Creamed potatoes – for breakfast?

Tea, toast and marmalade would be a safe bet in most sea conditions, or try the Golden Syrup. A blast from the past and still available. Liquid sugar – it even makes porridge edible. Spread it on two slices of toast, feed them to a lethargic child and he’ll be bouncing off the walls for the rest of the day.

P & O passenger cargo ship. Image from a company postcard.

A notice on the back of the menu says “The Galley and Pantries will be open for Inspection by Passengers at 11.00 a.m. to-day. All those wishing to visit same please assemble in Forward Dining Saloon at that hour.”

Also – “Passengers are kindly requested to have as much baggage as possible packed by 5.00 p.m. to-day, in order that it may be stowed on deck, and thereby facilitate disembarkation.” The ‘Mongolia’ was due to arrive at Dover at 10.30 p.m. – hardly a convenient time – although this was “only approximate ….. subject to weather conditions, also strength & direction of tidal streams.”

‘Mongolia’ had a comparitively long career. Entering P & O service as a new passenger/cargo ship in 1922, she was transferred to the subsidiary New Zealand Shipping Company in 1938 and became the s.s. ‘Rimutaka’. Then she was the ‘Europa’ of Incres Shipping (Italy) in 1950, followed by ‘Nassau’ (’51 – ’61) and ‘Acapulco’ (’61 – ’63) before being broken up in January 1965.