Postcards on the edge

Private Edward Wolstencroft's nephew, Paul Wolstencroft, from Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire, holds the framed postcard lost by by the Great War soldier 96 years ago, after it was found by workman. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday April 17, 2011. Carpenters Alan Payne and Jason Grant found Private Edward Wolstencroft's card in December while fixing floorboards in the village hall at Shepreth, Cambridgeshire. See PA story SOCIAL Postcard. Photo credit should read: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Private Edward Wolstencroft's nephew, Paul Wolstencroft, from Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire, holds the framed postcard lost by by the Great War soldier 96 years ago, after it was found by workman. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday April 17, 2011. Carpenters Alan Payne and Jason Grant found Private Edward Wolstencroft's card in December while fixing floorboards in the village hall at Shepreth, Cambridgeshire. See PA story SOCIAL Postcard. Photo credit should read: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

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Wish you were here could almost be the obituary of the humble seaside postcard – its days now numbered by social networkers posting happy snaps online to friends faster than you can say “do you sell stamps?”

A survey of tourists by holiday firm Cox & Kings shows the immediacy of texting updates and photos or posting online, via Facebook and Twitter, now triumphs for 35 per cent of people – with only 15 per cent still sending postcards by snail mail.

For 18-24 year olds, the postcard has all but perished, preferring text and Facebook messages. Older folk, 35-54, also favour text, or calls, but 25 per cent of over-55s still send postcards.

But have reports of the postcard’s death at the seaside been exaggerated?

For sure, they are harder to find, but Golden Mile and other outlets still stock them, along with some high street chains, and specialist collectable stores.

Paul Smith, who runs seafront souvenir shop Imperial Drug Store, on the junction of the Promenade and Cocker Square, still sells plenty of postcards and Blackpool-branded merchandise.

“Postcards, rock, fridge magnets, tea towels, snow storms, they’re the big sellers,” he says. “I get the postcards from John Hinde, one of the best-known names. People still like to linger over the postcards, and they have been updated, not all donkeys and candy floss, but pictures of the Mirrorball and modern features. They’ll need to shoot a new set once all the seafront work is over.”

Amy Miller, 15, from Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, here with her brothers and parents for the week, is a first-timer to Blackpool. “I love the place and I’m on Facebook so will post updates there, and reach friends faster, and cheaper, than sending postcards. The views are nice, though, I like the ones of the Lights. I’ve bought rock too. You can’t come to Blackpool and not buy rock!”

Lyn Burinski, 33, from Ayrshire, visits Blackpool every year, with her parents Anne and George coming three times a year – as they have every year since she was eight months old. “We love Blackpool, but think of the fortune we’ve saved not sending postcards each time we come here,” says Lyn. Anne also reckons the views need updating. “We’ve seen it through good times and bad and it’s back on the up. You’ll have to get new pictures for those postcards!”

Blackpool photographer Juliette Gregson runs a Blackpool’s Past group on Facebook, sharing images of yesteryear. Blackpool’s history would be “poorer without its postcards”, she says, but she would love to update them with “more iconic images”, quirky rather than conventional.

Blackpool Civic Society president Barry Shaw, of Marton, a deltiologist, or collector, has more than 1,000 postcards, but his most cherished came from his dad. Just before Royal Navy signalman Benny Shaw was killed in conflict, in Corsica, in 1944, he wrote to Barry, then five: “You must pay attention to your (school) lessons, then maybe soon you will be able to write to me and when you grow up be able to see some of these places for yourself when the war becomes a memory.”

On a similarly poignant note, workmen fixing floorboards at a Cambridgeshire village hall found a postcard from Great War soldier, Pte Edward Wolstencroft, 96 years earlier, which was presented to his nephew, Paul Wolstencroft, by villager Eve Hardman.

Leading Blackpool historian Ted Lightbown confesses to being more interested in “what’s on the front, than the back, postcards are often the only pictorial record of a place. They were the text messages of the day, sent and received quickly, thanks to morning and afternoon deliveries, and replied to promptly.”

He’s struck by the formality of Edwardian postcards: “A husband would address his wife as Dear Mrs so-and-so and sign off in full.” One chap showed no such compunction or self-consciousness with: “Tell Nelly the bloomers arrived safely, they’re champion!”

Ted says his friend, the late Ralph Smedley, author and historian, had a postcard, posted in March 1907, the early days of Gynn estate. “It speaks volumes,” Ted concludes. “The writer notes: This is the house they are to pull down, the old lady outside used to be kind to us when well-off. Now she is poor I am going to see her.”