An Irish taxi

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up this weekend I thought I’d get in early and share these impressions of an Irish jaunting car from 1935.

A J. Valentine postcard from 1935.

Postcard by J. Valentine from 1935.

Postcard by J. Valentine from 1935.

Postcard by J. Valentine from 1935.

Postcard by J. Valentine from 1935.

Postcards by Valentines.


The games people played

Modern cruise ships provide every kind of entertainment to keep their passengers from boredom at sea. Shops, movies, nightclubs, casinos and live theatre shows; luxuries that less demanding travellers in simpler times couldn’t have imagined. But some of the old favourites have been dropped in the name of progress.

What about ‘Slinging the Monkey’, ‘Chalking the Pig’s Eye’, ‘The Turtle Pull’, and Cock Fighting? These were all part of the fun on your journey from England to South Africa on a Union Castle liner in the early years of the 20th century.


This Union Castle mail ship leaving Cape Town isn’t named on the postcard but is probably the RMS Kinfauns Castle (1899 – 1927).

You’ll be relieved to learn that no animals were harmed during these activities. In fact, no animals were involved. They relied on volunteers from the audience.


 Slinging the Monkey. The rope is standard issue (non-elastic) so this isn’t an early form of horizontal bungee. A tall man with long arms would be a safe bet to win.


Chalking the Pig’s Eye. A variation on the old Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey game you might remember from childhood birthday parties. Obviously these people had no sense of direction.


 The Turtle Pull looks like it could have been invented by a rugby coach. Was it a consolation event for men who weren’t picked for the Tug-o’-War team?

UC_cock fight

Cock Fighting. Yes, I know – you have to see it to believe it.

These illustrations were taken from an extensive list of postcards published by the Union Castle company. I have 33 of them and wouldn’t be surprised to find there are more. They were issued in booklet sets and can be dated fairly accurately to 1913, give or take six months.

The Old Tower, Lynmouth, Devon.

Tucks postcard of the old tower at Lynmouth, Devon, England.

The Old Tower, Lynmouth. This is a “modern antique,” but unlike most of its kindred it is both ornamental to the quay it stands on and comely to the eye, and when the tide is up in the little harbour to sit in its shadow is one of the pleasantest idlenesses in the world. [Artist – E.D. Percival]

When this postcard was issued by Raphael Tuck and Sons in 1908, the tower was less than 70 years old. It had been built around 1860 by a General Rawdon. Web pages without number copy and repeat this name but not one can tell you who he was. Not even his first name. Accepted wisdom, and almost every site, says the General built the tower as a folly to hide seawater storage tanks that supplied a salt water bath at his house. Charles G. Harper, in a book printed at the same time as the postcard, has a similar but slightly different version.

…. an inspection of old prints leads one to believe that, though there are more houses now [in Lynmouth], the enclosing hills are more abundantly and softly wooded than then. And, with the exception of the Rhenish tower built on the stone pier, every-thing has been added legitimately, without any idea of being picturesque.
That quaint tower, a deliberate copy of one on the Drachenfels, owes its being to General Rawdon, who resided here from about 1840, and, finding his aesthetic taste outraged by a naked iron water-tank erected on posts, built this pleasing feature to harmonise with the scenery. An iron basket, still remaining, was provided to serve for a beacon, and now that Lynmouth is lighted by an installation of electric glow-lamps, a light is shown from it every night.
‘The North Devon Coast’, Charles G. Harper. Chapman & Hall Ltd., 1908.

This tower was swept away in a terrifying flood on August 15, 1952 that destroyed homes and took many lives in Lynmouth. Read this incredible eyewitness account by retired policeman Derek Harper who was awarded the George Medal for his bravery on that disastrous night.

A faithful replica of the tower was built on a lengthened pier in 1954.

Landseer’s Lions

Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Duchess of Abercorn and daughter by Landseer. Tate Gallery.

Sir Edwin Landseer, the painter…..was one of my father and mother’s oldest friends, and had been an equally close friend of my grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. He had painted three portraits of my father [the Duke of Abercorn], and five of my mother. Two of the latter had been engraved, and, under the titles of “Cottage Industry” and “The Mask,” had a very large sale in mid-Victorian days. His large picture of my two eldest sisters, which hung over our dining-room chimney-piece, had also been engraved, and was a great favourite, under the title of “The Abercorn Children.” Landseer was a most delightful person, and the best company that can be imagined. My father and mother were quite devoted to him, and both of them always addressed him as “Lanny.”

My mother going to call on him at his St. John’s Wood house, found “Lanny” in the garden, working from a ladder on a gigantic mass of clay. Turning the corner, she was somewhat alarmed at finding a full-grown lion stretched out on the lawn.

Trafalgar Square lion

Landseer had been commissioned by the Government to model the four lions for the base of Nelson’s pillar in Trafalgar Square. He had made some studies in the Zoological Gardens, but as he always preferred working from the live model, he arranged that an elderly and peculiarly docile lion should be brought to his house from the zoo in a furniture van attended by two keepers. Should anyone wish to know what that particular lion looked like, they have only to glance at the base of the Nelson pillar.

Vintage postcard of Trafalgar Square, London, by the Photochrom Company.

On paying an afternoon call, it is so unusual to find a live lion included amongst the guests, that my mother’s perturbation at finding herself in such close proximity to a huge loose carnivore is, perhaps, pardonable.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton, Hodder and Stoughton. 1920.

The photograph of the captive lion was taken by Gambier Bolton, probably in the early 1890s, and published on a postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons about 1905. This pioneering animal photographer was sometimes described as the Landseer of photography and his original prints fetch high prices from collectors today.

Maiden voyage


The White Star liner R.M.S. Titanic sailed from Southampton on her maiden voyage 105 years ago today.

This painting, ‘Departure into History’, is by the renowned marine artist Colin Verity (1924 – 2011). It was reproduced on a postcard in 1998 by Marine Art Posters of Hull, England.

But is it Art?

Professor Henry Tonks (1862 – 1937), a ‘traditionalist’ of the Slade School of Art, was known almost as well for his sarcasm as for his paintings. Here he takes aim at ‘modern’ Art movements and their followers.


Tonks in 1922

It is interesting, on looking back on the early days of Post-Impressionism, as the new movement was called (a good title seeing that it followed Impressionism and to a certain extent was its product), to remember the attitude of the critics to these new ideas. They had not been very ready in detecting the good work that was being done in France and England in the fifty years before…….. the rule of the critics seems generally to have been very simple : all new work was bad, or at least to be suspected……

Why exactly I cannot say; but their treatment of the Post-Impressionists, and the large number of followers who arose over here [England], was very different. They were going to be well up with the hounds this time, and every new painter had a chance of becoming a genius very early in life.

After the first Post-Impressionist exhibition in 1911*, at the Grafton Gallery, a great many smaller exhibitions were held of the various divisions of the movement, among which were the Futurists, who, alas! now are part of the past; so that the adventurous artist and the critic had a fine time. Gradually a vocabulary was collected to enable the new ideas to be conveniently talked about, and we became familiar with such words as “plasticity,” “three-dimensional composition,” “volume,” “abstract form,” “formal design,” and so on, some of which seemed, on consideration, to be merely a new word for an old idea, others unconvincing, even supposing we understood what was intended to be expressed. But the great adventure had begun, and the critics cheered each little barque as it sailed away into the unknown…….

I am inclined to think that a new type of man altogether began to find his way at this time into the schools, one who would never have thought of trying to become an artist fifty years ago. He was tempted partly by what he found on the walls of exhibitions, feeling that he also might be able to express much that he saw there; he felt that he had no aptitude for drawing; on the other hand, he felt he had ideas, better, perhaps, than the artists he was looking at; a common enough belief among quite intelligent people this, that, if they did paint, they would find much better subjects than most artists, not realizing that it is the treatment of the subject which makes it into a work of art – or not. He saw that no great power of drawing was necessary to produce a picture of ideas, so he made the plunge – perhaps plunge is too violent a word, he sidled into art.

Fifty years ago a man would very likely begin his artist life as an illustrator, perhaps working half his time at earning what he could by drawing for papers or books, and the other half, or less, working in some school to improve his drawing. This course he certainly could not have followed if he had not had much natural ability. Today the word illustrator is a term of abuse; it is now definitely settled to have no relation to art; it is concerned with mere representation……… Who knows, perhaps in a hundred years a child who tries with his pencil to draw something he sees will be hurried off to a psycho-analyst?
‘The Vicissitudes of Art’ (Essay), Professor Henry Tonks, Fifty Years, Memories and Contrasts. Thornton Butterworth, Limited. 1932.

*1905 for the first exhibition and 1910 for the second. See Grafton link.
Photograph of Tonks by George Charles Beresford.

London’s Shaftesbury memorial

A vintage postcard view of Piccadilly Circus in 1904.

This image was taken in 1904 when ‘Eros’ was just eleven years old. Arthur Mee, writing a little more than 30 years later when advertising hoardings had begun to creep over the architecture, had this to say about Piccadilly Circus……

It is better to see it by night, when the glow of the lights blots out its shabbiness, for half the Circus is a noble spectacle and half is worthy of a third-rate town. London in the grip of private interests moves slowly to its destiny, but the time is coming when Piccadilly Circus will be worthy of the millions of money that have been poured into it in our own time. It has three or four fronts fit for any site in any city; it has the most marvellous Underground Station in Europe, and it has, enthroned in the centre of it, a delightful cupid worthy of the Golden Age of Greece. It is Sir Alfred Gilbert’s Eros, set up in this scene of gaiety in memory of the Earl of Shaftesbury who tried to bring a little more brightness into the lives of children.

Eros rises as a winged archer above a bronze fountain with two octagon basins set on steps, the basins decorated with little cupids. It was the first aluminium figure in the streets of London, if not anywhere. The monument was set up in the last years of last century [1893], in the days of the old Board of Works, and there was much trouble concerning it. Sir Alfred Gilbert received £3000 for it and it cost him twice as much. There were such annoying small experiences as the stealing of the drinking-cups, and the sculptor was displeased with the setting of his lovely figure, and finally, when the powers that be required that he should surround it with a parapet, Sir Alfred shook the dust of England from his feet and went into exile, leaving behind this letter to the Board of Works:

“There is more than £3000 worth of copper in the memorial. Take it, melt it, turn it into pence, and give it to the unfortunate people who nightly find a resting-place on the Embankment, to the everlasting shame of the greatest metropolis in the world – and cease torturing an artist.”

Sir Alfred remained in exile for 20 years and came back to finish a monument at Windsor at the personal request of George the Fifth.
‘London’, Arthur Mee, Hodder and Stoughton 1937.

There is more to the story of Gilbert’s exile in 1901 and his return in 1926 (25 years later) than Arthur Mee reveals here. Follow Gilbert’s link to find more.

Dating the imageThis postcard has not been used but the horse-drawn ‘omnibus’ at bottom right advertises a play, the Fairy’s Dilemma, at the Garrick Theatre. This was a comedy written by W. S. Gilbert that had a short run from 3rd May to 22nd July 1904.
The two Gilberts are not related, as far as I know. It’s just an odd coincidence that both names pop up in connection with this card.