Advice from a friend

Vintage postcard of a dog chasing geese, posted 1905.

On the face of it, the subject of this old postcard looks like it might have a limited market but the person who bought it in 1905 thought it would drive home his message to a friend perfectly. It was mailed to a Mr. P. S. Wilson by someone with an illegible signature who added just one line of advice at the bottom – “Dear Pat, Don’t chase a goose, aim for something higher”.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the word goose could be used to describe a “silly person” (Blackie’s Standard Dictionary c.1918) and, it has to be said, was most often aimed at a woman. A shallow or superficial person, easily exited, and not very bright. What some unkind people would call an “airhead” today. Modern dictionaries, by the way, will tell you it means “simpleton” which raises a mere derogatory term to a much higher level of insult.

Was Pat’s friend giving advice about geese in general, knowing Pat’s usual choice of female company? Or did he have one particular goose in mind, which seems likely from his use of the singular? And was he still Pat’s friend after he posted this card?

A Busy Day at Boulters Lock

Edwardian scene at Boulters Lock on the river Thames, England.

From a vintage postcard mailed in 1907

This chaotic scene at Boulters Lock on the river Thames near Maidenhead, England, may have been photographed on Ascot Sunday, when this popular part of the river was at its busiest in the late 19th/early 20th century. You can see moving pictures, filmed in 1926, at this British Pathe site.

The first lock was built here in 1772.

Eleanor’s cross

J. Valentine vintage postcard of Charing Cross, London, c.1913.

This is one of London’s busiest spots. The stream of traffic at this point is great and constant. The ornate stone monument is a replica of the original Charing Cross, one of many erected by Edward I , in memory of his Queen, Eleanor. On the right is the grand hotel entrance to Charing Cross Station, the terminus of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway.
Card caption c.1913.

A day at the seaside

Tuck's Oilette postcard of Littlehampton, England.

Littlehampton, the Harbour. Here is the pier and its little lighthouse, and the houses of Littlehampton showing hazily in the distance. Steamers come up alongside the pier to take a cargo or to drop one. – Card caption

Littlehampton is in the county of Sussex on England’s south coast. This is one of a set of six Tuck’s Oilette postcards first catalogued in 1908 and shows the East Pier. The picturesque wooden lighthouse was replaced in 1948 by a futuristic concrete cyclops.

The Matinee Tea Rooms

I bought this old postcard of London’s Regent Street for no better reason than I liked it. Nicely composed and radiating late Edwardian elegance.

Edwardian postcard of Regent Street, London, c. 1909.

Unused and without a postmark, I wanted to get a more exact date for the image, so I followed the only obvious clue – the banner on the right. It was a long shot but, to my amazement, a search for the Matinee Tea Rooms returned this –

” An enterprising young lady from New Zealand, Miss Barr, of Dunedin, has opened in Regent street, London ……’The Matinee Tea Rooms.’
They are very tastefully and attractively appointed and decorated, and Miss Barr is sure to be loyally supported by visiting New Zealanders as well as by colonists living in London.
She is associated in the venture with an English lady friend. The ladies deserve every success. Miss Barr is the daughter of the late Mr Alexander W. Barr, solicitor, of Dunedin, who came to England a good many years ago, and niece of Mrs W. Stringer, of Christchurch.
For two years she was with Miss Mellish at that Christchurch lady’s successful institution in London, the Cottage Tea Rooms, of which there are two branches in existence, while a third is shortly to be opened in the city”.
Otago Daily Times, [Dunedin, N.Z.] 21 June 1909.

From there I followed a newspaper trail that led to a story of colonial female enterprise in London society at a time when women were fighting for their right to vote.

Miss Barr has been reluctant to reveal herself, or even her first name. Her Christchurch aunt is no help and we shouldn’t assume her father’s name is a printing error for the ‘notorious’ John Alexander Barr without further investigation. Her former employer, however, is more co-operative.

Kate Mellish was the daughter of George Mellish (1835 – 1881), the resident magistrate at Christchurch, New Zealand. She may have moved to London in the 1890s and been quick to take advantage of the new fashion for ladies tea rooms because she opened her second branch at 215, Piccadilly, in 1902. Her first, at 408, the Strand, was “next to” the Adelphi Theatre. The Dunedin Star reported “an attractive establishment decorated to resemble an old English half-timbered country cottage with diamond-paned windows and quaint ornaments and attractive cottage maidens in violet muslin to dispense hospitality at Piccadilly prices. No doubt New Zealanders needing refreshment during the Coronation festivities [Edward VII, 9 Aug 1902] will foregather at this latest example of New Zealand enterprise”. Both branches advertised “Dainty Lunches, Teas, etc., from 12 to 8.30”.

Miss Mellish might have had a preference for New Zealand employees because Auckland’s Observer noted that “Mrs J. Iredale – who, when Miss Churton, so successfully conducted Iredale’s tea rooms in Queen Street, and made them quite a fashionable resort – is now assisting in the management of cottage tea rooms in Piccadilly, which are well patronized by the fashionable world of London”.

Edith Churton had managed tea rooms for John Iredale – located on the second floor of his drapery store (“take the elevator”) – from January 1899 and married her employer the following November. Unfortunately she was widowed almost exactly a year later even though her husband was still in his early 30s. The Iredales are worth following for their own story but that tangent would take us too far away from the elusive Miss Barr and Regent Street.

Ladies tea rooms in England became convenient gathering places for suffragettes and their supporters in the years before World War I. No documented connection between the movement and the Cottage or Matinee tea rooms has been found so far but, since New Zealand women were given the vote in 1893, it is reasonable to assume these three independent, successful businesswomen were sympathetic to the cause.


Cape Town Pier unearthed

A section of Cape Town’s elaborate Edwardian pier was uncovered during construction work recently and is now being preserved as an historic artifact. It was, during its lifetime, a magnificent structure by any standard. The five images below are from a set of twelve booklet postcards taken not long after it was completed in 1910.

Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.

Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.


Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.

Cape Town's Promenade Pier (1910-1939) from a vintage postcard.

Sadly, most of the pier was demolished in 1939 and the remains buried under the huge land reclamation that supports Cape Town’s business area today. You can see a photo of that work, and other images from Cape Town’s past on this Biznews page.

The Good Old Days


There are many misconceptions about the [Edwardian] period. It is often looked upon with romantic nostalgia as an age of elegance and security. Even the weather is said to have been better then, though this idea seems to have been dispelled by study of the meteorological records and to have been based on one or two memorably fine summers.

Was it a golden age? Nobody at the time seemed to think so, but it was natural, after the shocks and sufferings of the Great War, for older people to look back and imagine that it had been. This was particularly true of the upper and middle classes, whose supremacy had been shattered for ever. For many of the working-class population the pre-war years had been not only “the good old days” but also, in many respects, “the bad old days”. ……..

……Closer study shows that these bygone Edwardians faced, in an earlier form, most of the problems we ourselves have to cope with today.

Unemployment, bad housing and malnutrition were rife. There were strikes and violent demonstrations. There was the struggle for sex-equality – won today so far as Parliamentary voting is concerned, but still unfinished in several other fields. There was bitter controversy over Ireland, though that country was still part of the United Kingdom and the “Irish question” was different in form. There was fierce argument over the powers of the House of Lords. There were “immigrants” – especially Russian and Polish Jews fleeing from persecution under the Tsar and settling mainly in London’s East End – and there were “emigrants”, who saw a poor future for themselves at home in Britain and sought better opportunities in the United States or the developing dominions of the Empire. And there was the fear of a coming war, very real to a thoughtful minority, though it seldom troubled the mass of the nation, who were surprised and indignant when it overwhelmed them in 1914. In all these matters there are informative comparisons and contrasts that help us to understand our own time.

‘The Edwardian Era’, Geoffrey Trease, B.T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1986.