Can you crack this century-old code?

15 02 2011

 

Postcard
Click for large image to see detail

Who were they?

With a few clues from an old postcard, photograph or letter, it is sometimes possible to piece together a profile of the lives of the people who owned them.  Tantalisingly, these exercises often open up even more questions that may never be answered.

The code of the postcard

On Monday July 20th 1908 at around 8pm, this postcard was sent on its way.  It was posted in Newport on the Isle of Wight, quite possibly near to the scene it depicts (below).  Much of the message is straightforward, but who is it from?  What are the messages concealed by code?

Here is my attempt at a transcript:

Dear Gab (Want to borrow something then)
I was very sorry that I could not come out last night there was still a leakage in the bicycle tyre.  Will see you to-morrow (Tuesday) I hope. Will you please inform Edith that I did not see her on Saturday, of course you know I would have spoken if I had seen her.  Tell her next time she happens to see me, to talk to me like she do her class at school or hit me over the head with her umbrella. ???? Hed(?) Baker & George. Remember me to all please.  Hoping to see you tomorrow night & make arrangements.
Yours etc Bedmate (?)
Woodbines
W.D. & H. O.
W.H.J.
Longyoungen

Bedmate? Is that what it really says?  In 1908?

Back in the early 20th century, there were several post deliveries a day, so a postcard referring to the next day would not have been uncommon.  In some respects, postcards such as this one might have been equivalent to sending a text message today.  By 1908 pillar boxes had been around in Britain for over 50 years, so the practice was commonplace. But would the messages all have been so brazen?  Is this brazen at all, or am I mis-reading the signature?

Who is this young lady? Well, without a name to go on, I have been unable to find out.  But I have discovered the identity of the young man to whom she was writing.

 

Winkle Street, Calbourne, Isle of Wight

Calbourne

William Gabriel Critchell was born in May 1890 in Newport, the county town of the Isle of Wight, so would have been 18 years of age when he received this postcard.  His father was a Wheelwright, (the son of a fisherman from Dorset), and his mother had been born in Hampshire.  By 1901 the family had moved out of Newport to Rose Cottage in Calbourne (a small village, even today).

The month after this postcard arrived, Gabe Critchell enlisted with the Army Ordnance Corps.  He had been apprenticed as a carpenter to Herbert Long, a Builder in Calbourne, but was still living at home.  He had apparently been previously rejected for the military on the grounds of having bad teeth!  From his service record it can also be found that he was 5’7½” tall, weighed 123lbs, had a 33″ chest and was of dark complexion with dark brown hair and brown eyes.  Now he is a real person. We can picture him.

On January 27th 1916 Gabriel married Lilian Sarah Harris in Putney. She was born in 1893 in Essex. It is not impossible that she is the author of this postcard, but it seems unlikely at this stage in the research.

He transferred to the Reserve in 1919 and was discharged from the Army in 1920 having been temporarily promoted to 2nd corporal (military buffs please feel free to interpret that in the comments) and later acting sergeant.  His address is given as High Street, Newport (back to the Isle of Wight).

There then appears on his record a copy of a reference sent to the Crown Agents for the Colonies which ends:

I know of no circumstances that would in any way disqualify him for a Colonial Govt. appointment.

In 1924 we find him returning from Lagos and his given occupation on the passenger list is Builder’s Foreman. His British address is in Essex, his wife’s home county.  Six years later and he returns to these shores again, now as an Inspector of Works.

In 1932 his wife Lilian returns, seemingly alone, and Gabriel in 1934.  In both cases their address is given as c/o Barclays Bank, Essex.  Gabriel is listed as a Civil Servant.  In 1936 and 1940 the couple return together and he is a Govt Officer.   It is not clear whether they live in Nigeria and visit ‘home’ or the other way around.  And that is where we have to leave them.  There are no further records.  I have found a Gabriel W Critchell who died aged 71 in Berkshire in 1960 but only the age is right and as I have said in previous posts, we can’t make assumptions.

 

Newport Postcard

Sts Thomas Church, Newport, Isle of Wight (now Newport Minster)

So what of ‘Bedmate’?  I feel it is unlikely that she is Lilian but of course we can’t discount the possibility that she is.  The final mysteries to unravel here are the cryptic messages she left at the foot of the message.

She writes ‘Woodbines’ and ‘W.D. & H.O.’  An earlier investigation revealed that Woodbines (a very popular cigarette once, in Britain) were made by WD & HO Wills.  That explains what it is, but not what it means (nor what she may have meant by writing it).  If it was a request to bring cigarettes to their Tuesday meeting then it was a little elaborate.  There would not be any need to state the initials of the makers, surely.  And what is meant by W.H.J.?  Google only throws up William Henry Jackson – a New York photographer from that era.  Perhaps they knew of his work.

The final, and perhaps most intriguing mystery is the signature. Is the card signed Bedmate or is the signature Longyoungen – and what on earth does that mean?

 

Woodbines

Photo by Leo Reynolds

If you know anything about the conventions (or otherwise) of sending secret messages by such a public vehicle as a postcard, then please let me know in the comments below. I’m hoping to discover that these words and initials are codes, but perhaps they were known only to Gabe and this young lady, and were not universal to young people of that day.

I’d love to hear what you think about these mysteries.  I hope you have found it interesting.

 

 

 

As posts aren’t always regular on this blog it’s definitely worth subscribing to the RSS feed so you don’t miss any updates.  The Who were they? project will become a recurring feature along with the On the Window Trail posts about the works of Lawrence Lee.  You might also like to take a look at my other blog.

In this series:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





December Diary (part 2)

2 01 2011

The first half of December threw some interesting weather at us, with a week of snow, freezing temperatures, and with the thaw a dense fog which gave the place a very eerie look indeed.

Wheatsheaf

The light still shining at the Wheatsheaf

The second half was really the busy half – it seemed to go in a blur.  There was the work Christmas meal followed swiftly by a night out with friends after which I visited my local pub which had a nasty fire back in November.  It’s still not open and at the beginning of the month they had been hoping to have it open by Christmas Eve but the snow put paid to the work starting on time.  I went in for a look around with my friend who runs it.  So sad to see all the damage, but she had a nice little setup with a couple of comfy chairs so we had a couple of drinks there before heading home.

The following weekend saw me out and about again for a pre-Christmas drink with a group of friends.  We visited several places in town and I do believe there is video footage of me singing karaoke but I believe it has been kept from the internet to protect the ears of the world.

80s

What would your expectations be?

One disappointment that night was the 80s bar in town.  Well we thought it was an 80s bar.  It’s called 80s.  The sandwich board style sign outside read “Live Bands, 80s Music, Guest DJs” (though with apostrophes I am not prepared to reproduce here).  So we were surprised, on a Friday night, to find that there was no 80s music playing.  We asked the barman first, who said it would be on ‘later’ (it was already almost midnight).  I then cornered the owner/manager to say that we’d all paid to get in and had been expecting 80s music and he said “there’s nothing I can do about it, that’s just the name of the club”, before disappearing rapidly through the fire escape door.  Well if it’s your club then you CAN do something about it – a refund would have been nice.

Still, the Christmas spirit hadn’t been diminished and we went elsewhere.  A couple of days later my daughter and I went over to Portsmouth on a special hovercraft charter into Gunwharf Quays and did some serious shopping.  We were absolutely frozen by the time we got home but it was a good day and we managed to get most of the things we wanted.

a Day In the Life Of ...

The December DILO is always Christmassy for me.

The main photographic event of the second half of December was the quarterly a Day In the Life Of … (DILO) event.  Every solstice and equinox the members of this Flickr group take photos of their day and post them to the group.  Some collections really are of their day to day lives and that makes a fascinating snapshot of the world four times a year as there are members from every continent.

There is a theme set every time, but we try to keep it to a subject that is accessible to all – so a Christmas theme is definitely out.  However, this time the theme was ‘Celebrations’ which can encompass many things.  My friend Duncan and I headed out to see what festive things we could capture.  First of all we went to Cowes and were quite surprised to see that the decorations in the street and in the shops were quite subdued.  I’m not sure if it is because there has been, in recent years, this habit of throwing things out and buying new each year.  Perhaps everyone decided not to buy many decorations this year (although the domestic outdoor lights were still very much in evidence on the journey there).  With a few exceptions it certainly seemed a little lacklustre.

Mistletoe

Mistletoe on a door near the floating bridge

After having made the trek from the seafront, through the main shopping street and up along to the floating bridge at the river’s mouth, we were really feeling the cold so paid a visit to Corrie’s Cabin – the best chip shop on the Isle of Wight in my opinion.  I don’t remember it having an indoor sit-down area before but perhaps I’d never wanted to sit down indoors for chips until that day.  A big plate of cheesy chips and a pot of tea and we felt human again.  By this time the light was going and as we walked back to the car, the town did seem a little more festive as the lights in shop windows and the large tree by the Vectis prettied up the place.

Phase two of the DILO day was spent in Newport.  Before we’d set off for Cowes we had a coffee in Newport and were trying to decide where to go.  I said “how about we go to Cowes while it’s daylight and then we can come back to Newport for the dark light”.  I knew what I meant!  When you are a photographer everything is light. Even the dark!

Window

This is my favourite window every year. Click to see it in 2006.

I popped home quickly for my tripod and first of all wanted to photograph the tree that’s on top of the fire station every year.  Once again the photos weren’t good so I’ll have to give it another go next year.  It did make an eerie appearance in one of my fog photos earlier in the month however.

We then wandered around town but again the street decorations were poor and there were still a lot of people bustling around doing their last minute shopping.  I was very glad I had only my fresh food left to buy.  I had a go at capturing some traffic trails with varying degrees of success and some of the better window displays. Eventually we ran out of town and lights and decided to call it a day.

And then, of course, came Christmas. My daughter and I spent a quiet day as planned and it was a little different this year as my brother and his family now live on the mainland so we didn’t have the morning visit to them.  Dinner was timed to coincide with Doctor Who as usual and all the rushing about had paid off.  The next day it was out for drinks with friends and then to the mainland to visit my brother (and IKEA!). My friend’s birthday (awkwardly on the 30th but this year a 1950s themed party which was great fun) was followed by a quiet but fun New Year’s Eve and December (and 2010) was done.

There are plans for another outing to photograph Lawrence Lee’s stained glass windows in January, so if you’ve been missing them your wait will soon be over.

I hope you all have a wonderful 2010, and thanks for reading.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

As posts aren’t always regular on this blog it’s definitely worth subscribing to the RSS feed so you don’t miss any updates.  You might also like to take a look at my other blog.

December Diary (part 1)





December Diary (part 1)

8 12 2010

It seems that I have neglected this blog for some time, but the main reason for this is that we haven’t been out photographing stained glass windows since the spring and I had kind of forgotten that I’d originally planned to keep this one going with photo outings of other kinds as well.  So in order to try to remedy the situation, I thought that maybe a monthly ‘diary’ entry would be useful.  A photographic diary that is.

Snow

Snow on the Isle of Wight - twice in one year!

December began rather startlingly with a downfall of snow.  “We don’t get snow on the Isle of Wight”.  Well that statement might need to be revised as we’ve had snow twice this year – a heavy fall which lasted over a week in early January, and now this, admittedly shorter-lived, covering – and before Christmas!

When I moved to the island in 1993 my daughter was just two years old and I was looking forward to us making our first snowman together that winter.  Everyone laughed at me when I mentioned this and I was told that it never snows here.  Well we did get a light dusting three times that winter and everyone blamed me!  We made our tiny snowman and that was that for several years.

Window

Snow transforms everything - I love it!

There must have been another light snowfall after she started school because I remember taking her up the road in less than an inch of the stuff to be surprised at the school gate when I was told the school was shut!  I’d never heard anything like it and couldn’t understand it.  When I was a child we’d go to school in the snow, or if it was really bad we’d walk up there to get homework.  I suppose nowadays teachers don’t live nearby and of course the ‘Elf & Safety’ brigade probably have something to say about it all.  Still, considering the number of 4x4s that are apparently necessary to take children to school, a little snow shouldn’t be any trouble at all.

Anyway (before I descend into a rant) the snow this December was what we would call ‘wet snow’ as opposed to what my grandfather used to call ‘Continental snow’.  This wet stuff falls loosely and only sticks around because it freezes.  It usually provides an even layer and can disappear as quickly as it arrives.  ‘Continental snow’ is more ‘powdery’ and it drifts well.  The resulting layers are more compact and it stays for ages – this is what we had in January.

Icicles

It was freezing!

So the snow of the night of December 1st surprised a few people as the previous settled-for-more-than-a-day snow here (if memory serves) had been in 1997.  It delighted many more people the next day.  The park was full of adults and children playing in it that Thursday, but it was not as good as January’s fall for snowballs and snowmen.  There was still some of it about on the Friday but that night the rain began and I could hear the icicles breaking off and landing outside my house.  The sound of running water and further dripping confirmed that the thaw had begun and by Saturday morning, barring a few patches on fields and on the hills, the snow had gone.

Fog

Fog hanging over Newport at midnight

It was still bitterly cold though and there were mutterings that it would snow again.  On Sunday afternoon I read reports online of fog in East Cowes, but the skies were clear in Newport.  However, by the time it was dark it had reached us and the air was icy.  By the end of Sunday night there was an eerie glow everywhere and combined with the very still water of the high tide (it was a new moon), Newport actually looked quite pretty.

Since then the sun has tried its best to peep through the clouds but it’s struggling and it still feels very icy.  Portsmouth had some glorious sunshine the other day but on my return I could see that there was still heavy cloud over the island (the fabled “own weather system” clearly visible).  However, I did manage to stop on the way back over the downs to take a few shots of the hazy valley below.  If we get a clear morning this week I think there are going to be some spectacular sun and mist shots to be had.  But probably not to be taken by me.  I don’t do mornings.

Hazy view

Hazy view across the Arreton Valley

Part 2

As posts aren’t always regular on this blog it’s definitely worth subscribing to the RSS feed so you don’t miss any updates.  You might also like to take a look at my other blog.





On the window trail – Wed 31 March

31 03 2010

The continuing saga of our quest to photograph and document the stained glass windows of Lawrence Lee (LSL).

St James, Milton

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, St James Church, Milton

It was only recently, thanks to a list of LSL’s windows shared with us by Peter Hart (who we met at St James, Milton, Hants), we discovered that there was a third church here on the Isle of Wight boasting a “Lawrence Lee”.  We had already visited Holy Cross in Binstead some years ago (the two gallery windows there were the first of LSL’s that I’d seen), and we visited All Saints, Ryde back in October last year.

The Ryde window is magnificent – depicting all the saints (as you might expect).  It’s worth taking a look at the photos (link above).

We headed off to Wroxall this morning in the icy cold rain and found a small window at St John’s which, if it had a title, I would be inclined to call The Lamb of God.  Stephen and I quickly came to the conclusion that this was not one of LSL’s finest pieces – fairly uninteresting overall, as were the other windows in this particular church.  It was done in 1953, so was one of his earlier works (although so was the Ryde window), and it is possible he had a fairly rigid brief as it looked very much in keeping with the others.

St John's Wroxall

St John's Wroxall

We found the colours to be a little duller than usual and there was nothing of his usual flair about it.  Interestingly the photos make the colours look brighter than they seemed to the eye.  Stephen recalled that at times his father was working flat out to fulfill commissions and inevitably some were done ‘to order’ and others allowed him some freedom of expression.  His style certainly developed over the years but it is in evidence in some of his earlier windows too.

After that we drove back to Ryde and picked up a friend, Jan, and went on to Holy Cross, Binstead to revisit the four windows there.  On our first visit Stephen and I had only been aware of the two gallery windows depicting the Peacock and the Phoenix, back in the days when I was using film exclusively.  On our second visit we were unable to access the gallery, although our main purpose then was to photograph the Holy Spirit and the Holy Cross windows that had since come to our attention.   On that occasion I was using a new digital camera and I had never been pleased with the results.

Holy Cross, Binstead

The Phoenix - a symbol of resurrection

The gallery windows had been installed in 1971 during restoration following a fire in 1969.  The Holy Cross window is also dated 1971 and the Holy Spirit the following year.  We chatted with the lady who kindly opened the gallery for us and she remembered the fire.  She told us that it could be seen from the ferry (a member of the clergy was coming to visit and obviously had no idea that the fire he could see was the church he was heading for).

This time I was much happier with the photographs – the colours weren’t washed out and the detail was sharper.

Our next planned visit will be to some windows in London – particularly one at the “Chemical Society”.   We haven’t yet decided on which other places we’ll see as it will, as always, involve emails, phonecalls and route planning.  We might also pay a return visit (for me at least) to St Marylebone so that Stephen can see the Madonna and Child window there, which I photographed when I was in London back in January.

As always, watch this space, and keep an eye on the Lawrence Lee Stained Glass Flickr group for the latest updates.

Most of the images link to larger versions of themselves, but some will take you to other views of the same window or to sources of more information.  Always worth clicking through. There are also quite a lot of links in the text of this piece.

Gallery Windows

The two gallery windows at Holy Cross, Binstead





Let it snow! – Tue 5th Jan

8 01 2010

I have lived on the Isle of Wight since 1993.  I remember the first winter – my daughter was two and a half years old and I was chatting to people about how she was now old enough to have a go at making a snowman.  People laughed and told me that it didn’t snow on the Isle of Wight.  It did that winter – three times.  The first and the third time it was wet slushy snow, and the second time it was the crisper “continental snow” (as my grandfather used to call it).  None of the falls lasted long, though we did manage a tiny tiny snowman in our front garden on one of the days.  A few years later, when she was of school age, I took her to school one morning after a very light fall of snow and was very surprised to hear that this was sufficient to close the school.

Since then it’s been a rather disappointing affair.  1997 saw a reasonable fall that lasted more than a day.  All I remember from that was that my daughter was staying with a friend and I was at my mother’s in Newport.  That morning I went to work and was amused to see the imprints of my boss’s stilletto heels in the virgin snow ahead of me.  We were the only ones in so took some work home that day.  Everything was back to normal the day after.

Tuesday evening rush-hour, and the snow began to fall.

So you can imagine my delight when on Tuesday evening the snow outside began to settle on the ground.  For over a week I had been reading of the snow that other people had – it was being announced everywhere on Facebook and Twitter, and my British Flickr contacts were adding their snowy photos to those of my contacts in north America.  I was jealous.  I still miss the snow every winter.

My friend phoned me to say that her teenage daughter and her friend had come into Newport for the cinema and that they were stuck.  After a few calls, and after she had waited for her friend to organise for her father to collect her, she came to our house for the night.  She and my daughter know each other well so no problems there.

By 9pm the snow had become quite thick on the ground.

The snow fell steadily for several hours and even though I was meant to be concentrating on finishing my dissertation for uni, I was too excited.  I had to go outside and get some more photos.  I got all togged up properly this time, wellies and all.  It wasn’t too cold outside either so I grabbed my old faithful Olympus SP510 and headed out – the girls came too.

Snowed Under - the Police were working hard to keep the traffic safe and moving

The Police were out helping motorists where necessary and directing them to places where they could park up.  They closed Snook’s Hill – a steep hill that leads on to the largest junction on the Isle of Wight – because it was becoming dangerous.  Already some vehicles had been abandoned and the Church on the Roundabout had its doors open and they were offering hot cups of tea to all who needed them – including the police officers who had been out in the weather for hours.  I popped my head in the door to see if they had enough teabags, and a rather proprietorial looking lady said that they did.  I moved on.

Vehicles were being abandoned

A car pulled up near me and I noticed inside was the mother of one of the girls who had worked with me up until very recently.  She was looking rather concerned and had stopped to use her phone having been stopped from going up Snook’s Hill.  She told me she had a friend in Newport but didn’t have her number so wanted to find somewhere with a phone book.  The Police were concerned that her car was blocking the carriageway so they asked her to move it along further.  They also told her that the Medina Centre – this includes a sports centre, swimming pool, theatre and a high school – had opened their doors and were offering shelter and cups of tea and coffee to those in need.  It is a fair walk from where we were though, and she didn’t look convinced.  I gave her my mobile number in case she was really stuck for somewhere to stay, and we said our goodbyes.

I love the way snow transforms any scene and makes it beautiful

By now the girls had met up with some friends of my daughter’s and were doing their own thing (standing around and talking from what I could see!).  I took a wander up to the car park behind the cinema which gave me a lovely view down onto the junction.  It really did look like a different place and it was so quiet, apart from the occasional sound of a car and people’s voices carrying from further away.  There were a few people out walking and just looking around as I was.  One group were carrying flasks of hot tea just in case anyone needed a cuppa.  Almost everyone was smiling and enjoying it.

Normally taking photos at night like this would have been very difficult but the snow lit everything up and with the glare of the street lights on it, there was enough light to get quite a lot of shots.  I even made a short video.





Day 1 – Sat 12 Sept

13 09 2009

Ferry to Southampton

The first day of the adventure.  My friend Stephen and I got an early ferry to Southampton (the Portsmouth ferries were fully booked because of Bestival) and headed off to Surrey.  The weekend plans were to try to photograph his father’s stained glass windows in the area – as many as possible.  Stephen’s father is Lawrence Stanley Lee (LSL), a master stained glass artist who will be 100 years old next week!

Pippa and Brenda discussing LSLs 1954 window at St Lukes, Reigate

Pippa and Brenda discussing LSL's 1954 window at St Luke's, Reigate

We had a list of 21 places to visit, though we didn’t expect to be able to get to them all.  A few emails had been sent prior to leaving and I’d had a few replies, but we still weren’t sure exactly where we would be going.  We had, however been invited to lunch by Pippa – LSL’s last assistant.  She met us at St Luke’s Church in Reigate where we were let into the church by a lovely local lady, Brenda, who had lived in the town all her life and remembered the windows being installed in 1954.

Pippa is currently restoring one of the large windows in this church and I was able to get some close-up photos for her before we went to her home nearby for lunch in the garden.

LSL was a little unusual in that he always added his assistant’s name or initials to his signature on the windows.  On this window was the name C R Wallis – an assistant who went on to become one of Canada’s leading stained glass artists.

Pippa shows us a beautiful piece of very expensive red stained glass, in her fascinating studio

Pippa shows us a beautiful piece of very expensive red stained glass (made using gold oxide), in her fascinating studio

At Pippa’s we saw some of her own work – she has a magnificent stained glass piece in her front door and another on the landing of her beautiful house which is full of visual joys.  We were also treated to a visit to her glass studio upstairs.  What a place!  I could have spent hours there just photographing everything.

The three of us headed off to Abinger to see if the church there was open.  I hadn’t received a reply to my email but both Stephen and Pippa were keen to give it a try.  Unfortunately the church was locked and when we phoned the warden he said that he would be able to open it the next day for us.  I took a lot of photos in the grounds though, and the light was lovely.

Ripe conkers

Ripe conkers

The horse chestnut trees were dripping with ripe conkers ready to drop to the ground and I was surprised by this.  When I was a child, and even in much more recent times, my experience of ‘conker trees’ has been that you can’t get any because other kids have been there before you and nabbed them all.  To think that there would be any hanging from the branches was amazing.  “In my day” they would have been knocked out of the tree before being fully ripe, by thrown stones or sticks.  Perhaps kids these days are at home, not allowed out, or glued to their computers.  Perhaps the game of conkers is no longer considered fun.  Well I have these twin beauties in my handbag now – do I bake them in the oven on low and slow, or shall I soak them in vinegar?  I can’t remember which was best.

After Abinger we took Pippa home and had a cuppa before heading off to the B&B to check in and, although very tired, walk into town for something to eat.  We went to a Himalayan Nepalese Indian [sic] restaurant – wonderful lemon rice and a Thai curry (yes, I know – I wonder where these guys were actually from).

A successful day – very very tired though as I didn’t get much sleep the night before.  Out like a light, and lots planned for the next day.

Miles travelled: 116

Detail from LSLs window at St Lukes, Reigate

Detail from LSL's window at St Luke's, Reigate








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