The Ragtime Postman

Edwardian postmanFound in a scrapbook of clippings and manuscript material dating from c 1914 – 1930 and entitled ‘Gags ‘ is this written down ditty called ‘Ragtime Postman’. We are informed that the first verse should be sung ‘ by 4 with movement ‘.

Morning, noon & night you’ll always hear

Rat a tat Rat a tat Rat a tat

Then the ragtime Postman will appear

On his back in a sack he’s got letters in a stack

For you and me

And all of us get a move on post man do

Letters with kisses from other fellows’ misses

All of want to see what’s in them

(enter comedy postman & sings chorus) Continue reading

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J.B. Morton – ‘..one of the greatest English humorists of all time’

IMG_1914The Daily Express  celebrated the 80th birthday of the humorist J.B. Morton (aka ‘Beachcomber)  on 7 June 1973 with a long article and a tribute from Spike Milligan. Chesterton had described Morton as “a huge thunderous wind of elemental and essential laughter” and Evelyn Waugh wrote that he had “the greatest comic fertility of any Englishman.” He was certainly an inspiration for the Goons and subsequently Monty Python. Spike wrote:

I have met him once, though I have been a Beachcomber addict for a million years

It was a dinner the BBC gave to launch the television version of his column.

For years, when I was young back in Australia, I had collected all his stuff and stuck it in a book. I didn’t realise I had a sense of humour-myself until a discovered this man.

I didn’t know what to expect. But when he arrived he was just like his writing. There were lots of grey people there, and they did not know what to make of him. He kept launching into fantasy world. Continue reading

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Advice from an editor

Holbrook_Jackson picFound in a copy of the literary periodical Today for August 1919 is this advice for aspiring authors from its editor, Holbrook Jackson (pictured):

  • Typewrite your copy or handwrite it clearly
  • Write you name and address clearly on the back of last page of typescript or manuscript.
  • Enclose not a loose stamp, but a stamped and addressed envelope
  • Don’t write a letter of explanation to the Editor. But if you do write—
  • Don’t tell him your stuff is good—he won’t take your word
  • Don’t tell him it is bad —bad writing needs no bush
  • Don’t tell him your friends like it—he doesn’t care
  • Don’t say that another editor advised you to send it along—that would make him suspicious
  • Don’t say you want to earn money by writing—he is not out to help you, but to edit his paper and pay those who help him.

Continue reading

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Barbara Lea – a forgotten Fenland poet

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Found – a copy of The Urgent Voice: and other poems by Barbara Lea  (Fortune Press, London 1948.) She lead a short but productive life and is unknown to Wikipedia or any online database apart from Peerage.com who have a good factual entry* on her as, unusually for a Fortune Press poet, she was an aristocrat. The foreword is anonymous and it is just possible it is by Reginald Caton, the founder of the press but is more likely to be by a friend or family member. We append a good East Anglian poem by her after the foreword.

Barbara Lea (nee Pell) was born at Wilburton Manor in the Isle of Ely in 1903. She never lost her early passion for the Fenland, nor for the house in which she was born; indeed, she loved houses and places, before people, witness her poems ‘East Anglia Revisited’, ‘In Time of Trouble’, ‘First Visit’.

She married in 1924 and had five children, the last being born in 1934, and in spite of all the ties of home life, she became increasingly interested and active, in politics and the Women’s Institutes.

When the war started in 1939 she was on the Executive Committee of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, as well as the Worcestershire Committee, and Chairman of the Woman’s Land Army in Worcestershire; a member of the County War Agriculture Committee, and was occupied by a large number of less onerous activities, such as Justice of the Peace, Guardians’ Committee, Parish Council, Parochial Church Council, District Nursing Association, and others too numerous to mention. In 1943 she was awarded the O.B.E. Continue reading

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Anti Coronation satire 1953

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Found – a 1953 Communist Party booklet criticising the amount of money being spent on the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The figure of 20 million pounds is probably about a billion now but it may not be totally accurate. The name Beavermere is a compound of the two major Press Barons of the time-  Beaverbrook and Rothermere. The style is that of a contemporary gossip column:

Lord and Lady Beavermere will be staying at Claridge’s during Coronation week. Claridge’s will be more than usually expensive because there are so many people like Lord and Lady Beavermere competing for room. The reason why they are stopping at Claridge’s is because the Beavermeres, like the others, have let their town mansion. Living in Lord  Beavermere’s house is the Rajah of Muddlecore who is paying £1000 for the week so as to be on the Coronation route. So, despite the expensiveness of Claridge’s, the Beavermeres can afford to do themselves well. Continue reading

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Angus Wilson—author from the Museum

Angus Wilson picAlthough Angus Wilson is almost as unfashionable as F. R. Leavis these days, there was once a time when members of the chattering classes could hardly wait for his next novel or collection of short stories.

We are talking about December 1953, which is when John O’London’s Weekly ran a cover story entitled ‘ Author from the Museum ‘. In it Wilson is depicted as a sort of Larkin-like figure of prose (although at this time the Bard of the Humber had yet to achieve the elevated position he now occupies).Like Larkin, he was a librarian of an academic institution—in his case the British Museum, where he was Deputy Superintendent of the Reading Room—and like Larkin at Hull, he seems to have become a bit of a celebrity there. This is how the journalist Sewell Stokes described him:

‘Small of stature, with a luxuriance of prematurely silvered hair, and the gentle and accommodating manner of a diplomat, he might be cast by a film director as someone attached to the retinue of Marie Antionette. His appearance somehow vaguely suggests his belonging to another century. Diplomacy he certainly needs to maintain friendly relations with those readers of various nationalities, and varying temperaments, who use the Museum. An American lady used it recently for no more legitimate purpose than to have a peek at Mr Wilson, whom she had come to regard, through her admiration for his books, as rather a landmark.  Continue reading

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Benson Herbert—the paraphysicist of Privett Farm

paraphysics journal cover 001If you turn left at the Pepperbox off the busy A36 from Southampton to Salisbury a rough track will take you to Privett Farm, high on Standlynch Down, with views southwards towards the little town of Downton sitting on the river Avon. It was to this isolated spot that the keen investigator into ‘ paraphysics ‘, Benson Herbert, came in 1966.

A trained physicist with a degree from Oxford University, Herbert, then in his mid fifties, was convinced that all paraphysical phenomena was caused by electricity in various forms. He had left his flat in London for a home that would allow him to pursue his research uninterrupted by unwanted electrical activity from the environment. At Privett Farm he set up the Paraphysical Laboratory, familiarly known as the ‘Paralab’, and it was here that he conducted a series of unconventional experiments, occasionally aided by leading paraphysicisal researchers from around the world. Many of these investigations were described in the Journal of Paraphysics, a photocopied publication founded by Herbert and edited by him until his death in 1991.

Paraphysics can be defined as measurable and observable physical phenomena which lie outside the realm of conventional physics. This might include telekinesis, telepathy, teleportation, ’direct voice’ phenomena, and psychotronics. Some investigators prefer not to use the term ‘paranormal’ because of its association with the discredited fields of ghost-hunting and spiritualism, but as a scientist Herbert was open-minded concerning most aspects of unexplained phenomena, including ghosts. In issue no. 4 , vol 3, of the Journal(1969), a copy of which can be found among the Haining archive, Herbert dealt with the telekinesis of objects shown on cine film, the ‘radiation’ from a finger and eye-gaze that caused floating objects to rotate on liquids, and the case of Maria Schnabel, who in 1923-4 was seemingly the cause of some extraordinary ‘poltergeist phenomena’ in Austria. Continue reading

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Llewelyn Powys—a typescript of his letters

Llewellyn Powys picIn an undated ( but probably late 1980s ) catalogue numbered ‘25’ from the American dealer David J Holmes are some genuine literary treasures and possibly some bargains. Letters from Henry James, A. E. Housman, W. S. Gilbert, and Lewis Carroll, together with manuscripts from Washington Irving and Vita Sackville West stand out. But at a mere $1,500 the undoubted bargain on offer is the typescript created by Alyse Gregory, wife of the writer Llewelyn Powys, of some of his letters, 1900 – 38.

The letters begin when Powys was at Sherborne School and end a few months before his death in 1939 at the age of 55 from complications resulting from a stomach ulcer. As Holmes remarks, the typescript is a unique resource, since many of the letters were destroyed after the author’s death. However, his wife only selected the ones she considered worth publishing, which is a shame. The correspondents included his brother, the acclaimed novelist John Cowper Powys, A. R. Powys, Philippa Powys, Gertrude Powys and H. Rivers Pollock, a barrister, and show how avidly he followed the burgeoning literary career of his brother and also how his tuberculosis was a constant worry. For instance, in September 1915 he declared:

‘I am happy, yes, I am happy, but do not think if my health remains to me I will work always…God—-but my sickness is persistent –it eats away at me always. I am surely doomed. I am as good as dead already…’ Continue reading

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More schoolboy howlers

Schoolboy howlers cover 001Colin McIlwaine seems to have made a nice little earner out of collecting schoolboy howlers. His Selection of Schoolboy Howlers, first published in 1928, had gone into a fifth edition by 1930, while two further anthologies, More Schoolboy Howlers and Smith Minor Again followed. An obvious thought occurs with such collections. It must have been tempting to bulk out genuine howlers with made up ones, but since McIlwaine gives no sources for his examples, it is almost impossible to differentiate between the real and the suspicious. A date attached to each howler would also be useful from a social historical point of view. It would be interesting, for instance, to chart the rise of the specifically ‘ schoolboy’ howler as opposed to the malapropism beloved of eighteenth century compilers of joke books, such as Joe Miller’s Jest Book. My own tentative research has brought to light a chapter devoted to them in a book dating from the 1880s, but it doesn’t follow that the author of this book was supplied with howlers by schoolmasters of his acquaintance. It could be that certain howlers had become part of common currency by this period.

Some howlers collected by McIlwaine can be dated quite accurately.

‘ Joan of Arc was canonised by Bernard Shaw ‘

Mussolini is an ugly man. He wears the shirt of the Madonna, and when he smiles he makes people weep. He has been killed four times…He can do everything and knows everything and loves playing the saxaphone with his family. Galileo was charged with High Treason because he said that Mussolini moved round the sun, and not the sun round Mussolini.’ Continue reading

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Maundy Gregory – a St John’s Wood Gatsby

IMG_1829Found in a 1955 Punch – a review by the novelist Anthony Powell of Honours for Sale. The Strange Story of Maundy Gregory. (Gerald Macmillan, London: Richards Press 1954). Maundy Gregory had in the 1920s what amounted to a licence to print money. He sold honours, a profession that made a comeback in the Blair years. For £10,000 (about $1 million now) he could get you an earldom; knighthoods were a bit cheaper. You could, in fact, sign a cheque to him in your expected new name–only cashable when you assumed the title. He liked rare books, especially the works of the fantastical Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo.) In some cases (according to AJA Symons in Quest for Corvo) he would pay his agents to track down supposedly unfindable books, money no object. He had a mansion in St John’s Wood which later became the world famous Beatle’s recording studio.

Powell calls him an ‘honours tout’, a ‘real life Gatsby’ and ‘a mad aspect of the 1920s incarnate’. He suggests that anyone  ‘who enjoys a good laugh’ should read the list of  guests at his Derby Eve Dinner at his own club ‘The Ambassador’s.’ Something of a ‘sausage fest’ (i.e. no women) but, as Powell says, Gregory certainly knew how to ‘bring them in.’  The author of the book, Gerald Macmillan, may  be exaggerating when he says it was the most distinguished gathering ever held…

List of guests at Ambassador Derby Eve Dinner, held on June 2, 1931.

Major-General J. E. B. Seely (in the Chair), Sir Austen Chamberlain, Mr. Winston Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, Mr. J. H. Thomas, the Duke of Sutherland, Viscount Craigavon, the Marquess of Reading, Major-General the Earl of Scarborough, Sir John Simon, Lord Southborough, Viscount Elibank, Mr. J. Maundy Gregory, Lord Jessel, Mr. Ralph E. Harwood, Earl Winterton, Lord Queenborough, Lord Bayford, Mr. W. Dudley Ward, Lord Plender, Marquis del Moral, Lieutenant-Commander Sir Warden Chilcott. Continue reading

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The Greatest Invention since the Alphabet

Word and Idea Chart 001In an advert which caught my eye in the January 19th 1951 issue of John O’London’s Weekly is a description of ‘The Greatest Invention since the Alphabet ‘, the ‘Idea and Word Chart’ which ‘ gives the right word at a glance ‘. It bears the recommendation of no less an authority that ‘famous author‘ Gilbert Frankau, who declared it ‘ the best adjunct that I have so far discovered –it is not going to leave my desk.’

Unfortunately, like so many ‘adjuncts‘ this piece of kit wasn’t available to examine in shops. So aspiring authors had to send away for a ‘ free specimen… embodied in a descriptive brochure ‘.

In what way ‘ The Idea and Word Chart ‘ differed in its function from the excellent and best-selling Thesaurus of Dr Roget we are not told. We are offered a rather feint and distinctly unhelpful image of an octagon- shaped piece of card in which a pensive-looking man—possibly Mr Frankau—is depicted at the vortex of a whorl of words and concepts that includes the unfortunate juxtaposition of ‘ passageways ‘ and ‘desires’. Continue reading

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Thomas Bewick tracks a package…

bew2Found -in a reprint copy of Bewick’s A History of British Birds (Newcastle, 1809) a  handwritten note pasted at the front endpapers from George Gulliver (anatomist 1804- 1882) stating that the book contains ‘.. 9 proofs of wood cuts of birds, an illustrated receipt, and an autograph letter of Thomas Bewick, dated April 14, 1823 (Newcastle) to Mr L .Edmonston: all inserted at the end of this volume.’ He continues- ‘They were given to me by Mrs Edmonston. Her husband, Dr Laurence Edmondston, has now (1862) been a medical practitioner upwards of 40 years at Bolton Sound, Shetland, which place he is a native. He knew and corresponded with Bewick about birds and the cuts were sent at different times by Bewick to Dr Evanston with the writing on them. George Gulliver. Bewick’s letter is present and reads:

‘Newcastle 14 April 1823.  Dear Sir, I received your kind letter of the 10th and have ever since been in anxious expectation of receiving the Ivory Gull, as it’s not yet come to hand. I fear the box may have been detained or else forwarded to Newcastle under Line by mistake as Wednesday is the date which you have limited me for its return. I thought it necessary to apprize you of its non arrival, that an enquiry if necessary might be set on foot without further delay– I have only to thank you for your very great kindness and attention endeavouring to procure from me so many specimens of rare birds which will always be most acceptable to me.I am dear sir your obliged and obedient Thomas Bewick.’  Continue reading

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The St Petrox lectern mystery

IMG_1760Found in  our boundless archive – this crime photo with a typed note pasted to the back: –

Police Sergeant Barrie Warner with the ornate brass lecturn (sic) which was found dumped in a quiet lane. London Colney* police are anxious to trace the owners of the object which has the inscription ‘presented to the Parish of St. Petrox by William Smith’ – Churchwarden 1884- around the base.” Echo and Post Ltd, Hemel Hempstead.

No date but most of the crime photos in our archive come from the 1970s. Possibly someone of an ecclesiastical bent was able to identify where the item came from. 40  years later using the net one can be pretty certain this is St. Petrox Dartmouth and William Smith was a local solicitor whose family were associated with the church. There is another St. Petrox in Pembrokeshire but Dartmouth is far more likely. How the lectern came to be abandoned in Colney is a mystery, possible the item was regarded as too recognisable or unsaleable in the criminal underworld…

*London Colney is a village near St Albans.  It is by junction 22 of the M25 but probably at the time it had not been completed in this area.

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A modern painting in every student’s common room

Undergraduate taste in art mag cover 001Thus begins the front page article published in the January 19th 1951 issue of John O’London’s Weekly. In it the art critic F.M.Godfrey recounts the campaign of Anthony Emery, a mature undergraduate at Pembroke College, Oxford, to supply examples of modern art for the Common rooms, hostels and Unions used by every undergraduate in Britain.

The crusade to inspire students with the right attitude to ‘ the good, the beautiful and true’ had begun just after the war at Emery’s own college, where, shocked by the ignorance of modern art shown by serving officers, he ( a wartime officer ) and some like-minded friends had pledge to subscribe a £1 each to established a small collection for their common room. Inspired by the guidance of Sir Kenneth Clark, who had chosen for them a painting each by John Minton, John Piper and Duncan Grant, they had gone on to choose their own pictures.

As Godfrey remarks, Emery’s manifesto, which he called ‘A New Oxford Movement’ had the spirit of the reformer about it. And Godfrey himself echoed his sentiments.

‘Our appalling ignorance towards modern art must be eradicated when we are at the impressionable …age of under twenty, and we must conquer the schools to secure a lasting influence upon our manhood. If we had a ministry of culture and in it a department for the dissemination of modern art, here are the brains and the will to conduct it. For already half of Oxford has succumbed: Pembroke, Worcester, Brasenose, Exeter and New College, Magdalen and St Edmund’s Hall are outbidding one another in the effort to acquire the largest collection of modern painting in the United Kingdom ‘. Continue reading

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Clifford Bax on Edward Thomas

Edward in 1913 by Clifford BakFound among the papers of Joan Stevens (1933-2015) the feminist bookseller and expert on the Powys Brothers and Edward Thomas this piece, apparently unpublished, by  Clifford Bax on the poet Edward Thomas.

Clifford Bax (1886 –1962) was an English writer, known particularly as a playwright, a journalist, critic and editor, and a poet, lyricist and hymn writer. He also was a translator (for example, of Goldoni). The composer Arnold Bax was his brother, and set some of his words to music. Between 1922 and 1924 with the mystic painter Austin Osman Spare he edited The Golden Hind, an important and collectable periodical. The photo of Edward Thomas was taken by Clifford Bax in 1913 (many thanks to the Edward Thomas Fellowship.) Bax’s piece was probably written in the 1930s when Edward Thomas’s reputation was much less than it is now – the reference to him not having the status of Patmore could not be made now and for the last 60 years… Only 2 typed pages were present but Bax seemed to be near the end at the point it is cut off..

At intervals during the three years that I lived there (Wiltshire), Edward Thomas, breaking the long journeys on foot of which he wrote so well, stayed with me for a month or more. I had become acquainted with him in the previous winter and as I learned to know him better I realised how raw was my literary sense by comparison with his. The swiftest and happiest way of putting a keener edge upon our perceptions is to associate with a friend of maturer taste. Imperceptibly because we do not understand them. In the end we are astonished that we could ever have made such crude mistakes. Continue reading

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Sabrina—Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe

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Sabrina on the set of ‘Blue Murder at St Trinians’ being sketched by Ronald Searle

Found in the Peter Haining Archive a small file on the now forgotten fifties British glamour model Sabrina, who in 1936 was born in Stockport as Norma Sykes. The nature of some of the contents of the file, which includes three large glossy prints of the scantily clad model in various provocative poses, suggests that Haining was one of the thousands of young ( and not so young) men who had fantasised about the bosomy blonde in her heyday, when she was compared to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. His curiosity may have prompted either by research for a possible book on Arthur Askey, in whose TV shows she had appeared, or by another clipping in the Archive—-a double-page spread in The Mail on Sunday for September 1st 2002.

In this article Sabrina, who following her unsuccessful bid for Hollywood stardom had settled for a life of leisure as the wife of a wealthy LA gynaecologist, only to lose most of it following her divorce, was tracked down by reporters to a seedy corner of Beverley Hills :  Continue reading

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The Book Bang of 1971

Book Bang 001Rescued from a pile of magazines is this programme of events for The Book Bang, which has been called ‘the first literary festival ‘. I doubt whether it was, but it was certainly a memorable event in 1971, and I seem to recall it being advertised widely in London. Held in, appropriately, the middle of Bedford Square, in the heart of Bloomsbury, between May 28 and June 11, it was organised by the National Book League under the direction of its Chairman, the former bookshop owner Martyn Goff.

The seed for this event had been planted in the mind of Goff in 1965, when he read a letter in an issue of The Bookseller from Desmond Briggs, of the publishers Anthony Blond, hoping that in the future a book fair might become a sort of circus and be held in candy-striped tents. When he was appointed Chairman of the NBL Goff knew that such an idea was feasible and he promptly went about preparing the ground by consulting experts and sponsors.

In his introduction Goff shows prescience in warning about the threat that ‘new media ‘posed to books:

‘Expansion of the number of hours and channels of television broadcasting: the arrival of video cassettes: microfilms and microfiches, to name but some of the competitors, will blot up hours and money that might otherwise have gone to books…’ Continue reading

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Literary Masterpieces

james-joyceLiterary Masterpieces

In the miscellany Medley from October 1936 appears this intriguing pronouncement:

‘ It has been found that literary masterpieces of the first rank have been produced most frequently by authors who were from the ages of 40 to 44 inclusive’

Dr Harvey Lehman

We thought we’d test out the good doctor’s theory using, among other sources, the excellent Annals of Literature (1961), which finishes at 1950.

We started with Charles Dickens (1812 – 70). In this five year period he published three memorable novels: Bleak House, Hard Times, and Little Dorrit. However, most critics regard Great Expectations (1860) as his ‘literary masterpiece. ‘

We then turned to George Eliot (1819 – 80). She was 40 when Adam Bede was published, 41 when The Mill on the Floss appeared, 42 when Silas Marner came out, and 43 when Romola hit the shelves. All wonderful novels, but most critics would class Middlemarch( 1871-72) as her ‘ masterpiece of the first rank’.

Next we looked at James Joyce( 1882 – 1941). Here we hit the mark. His Ulysses, undoubtably a ‘ masterpiece of the first rank ‘, appeared in 1922 ( though it was years in the making ). Joyce was 40 at the time. Continue reading

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Odd photos bought online 2

anne1Bought at eBay for the price of a latte (and muffin) -these 3 photos purporting to be of a British royal – Anne, Princess Royal. The left and right photos are indubitably her, the middle photo (printed on Fujifilm Crystal
Archive paper -as is the other colour shot) may not be. It shows a well dressed and striking young woman emerging from a Ford Thunderbird sometime in the (late?) 1960s in what looks like a field or orchard with other mostly pretty fancy American cars parked there. It has the feel of a Cindy Sherman performance  art photograph and if authentic must have been taken on a tour of America by Anne or while she was on holiday there.

 

The mouth (and nose) and assured demeanour certainly look like Anne. The provenance is good but such web purchases always have an element of doubt- certainly if it is Anne she is looking uncharacteristically  ‘cool’ and it is one of the ‘groovier’ moments of her young life. An online search revealed nothing conclusive especially when coupled with the words ‘Thunderbird.’
ann2

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Odd photos bought online 1

Bought for the price of a cup of tea at eBay – the infinite online flea market, a photo of a jumble sale*, in England and likely to date from the earlier part of the 1960s. It is stamped on the back Salisbury Journal with a phone number ‘Salisbury 6933.’ The women are mostly wearing rain bonnets probably  because it was raining outside and possibly because it might rain (a fairly good bet most of the year in England, especially Wiltshire) or it may have been a fashion. The younger woman to the left with a transparentjumble plastic bonnet would indicate recent rain and also dates the photo in the 1960s, the rest of the women could come from the 1950s if not earlier. The goods displayed on the table are fairly meagre– some very basic bookends, a thermos flask without its cup, a lamp without a shade, a glass fruit juicer, some glass and tin jelly moulds, a cut-glass vase and one slim book. Some sort of raffle or tombola was also being offered (‘every card wins a bottle’.) The woman in the middle is obviously a keen and seasoned jumble sale shopper- she has three objects she may be buying from a box (a ruler, a chopping board and a wool hat or tea-cosy) and three bags ready for stuffing with bargains. Possibly she is holding these objects in order to be able to see or deal with things further down in the box. The lady to her left is either a friend or someone waiting to dive in…The woman behind in hornrim specs anxiously waits her turn – it is probably the very beginning of the sale, the first rush. Jumble sales still go on with bargain hunters, also online traders sourcing their wares , and people trying to help out the charity that has organised the event.

  • A sale of a mixed collection of things that people no longer want, especially in order to make money for an organisation, usually a charity. UK and Australian usage. In USA and Canada they are known as rummage sales.

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