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Tag Archives: 1910s

Taking the tram

Before Christmas, I started stripping the paint off the cast iron fireplace in our bedroom. Using a heat gun worked well, but I got spooked when I realised that I was almost certainly vaporising old lead paint, so we decided to get the fireplace dipped ‘n’ stripped instead. (The whole fireplace is put in a big vat of paintstripper by specialists.)

Dipping ‘n’ stripping is surprisingly cost-effective – £40 for a bedroom fireplace versus £20 and a lot of time doing the same job with a heat gun – but the downside is that you have to remove the whole fireplace. As we speak, I’m waiting for someone to come and refit it – another £60 as the plaster on the surrounding wall needs fixing after a messy removal executed by moi.


In spite of the expense and insidious rubble dust from the crumbling wall, the process started to feel worth it when I found an old tram ticket behind the fireplace.


The tram stops listed are for east Edinburgh, in and around Leith, and its edges are blackened from the fire. A little calendar card I found with it dates from 1919, so I’d like to think the ticket dates from then, but in truth I have no idea.



Which one’s R. Melrose?

I hope you had lovely – or at least survivable – Christmases and that you’ve come out the other side refreshed.

I went to uni with someone who said that Tuesday was always the worst day of the week, and today has definitely been a Tuesday-ish Tuesday. I seemed to spend a lot of time doing a lot to achieve not very much at all, which was probably because I was doing something website-related. Websites are great until they don’t work. To try to pep up my motivation, I’m doing something fun – this post – before getting my head clear about what should be on my work to-do list and what needs done when.

Before Christmas, I attended the latest Spoonful of Vintage fair and, for the first time, bought something. Surprise, surprise, it was two postcards. I still can’t decide whether I paid over the odds. I think I possibly did, but the cards so clearly have good stories behind them that it’s hard to feel aggrieved. You’ll see what I mean – here’s the first:


First postcard from Spoonful of Vintage

Postcard message

Message on first postcard

Almost a novel here! Here’s my attempt at a transcription:

Dear Jeannie Thank for your PC [postcard] sorry I have been so long in answering it but never mind Jeannie I will forget you not (come over here) I had a PC from bridget she was asking for wooden logs very considerate of her well Jeannie I am leaving Peebles in a fort-night but I have not got a job yet I will try and get one in Edin. [Edinburgh] beside you wouldn’t it be ripping Peebles is horrible in fact worse than terrible just now cant get a girl at all hard times I call it, now ganny [?] see if you know everybody here look well for me. I think you might send me a Photo of yourself Jeannie I am dying to see your sweet little face again tell Miss Stuart I was asking for her give her my second best love and keep my best yourself, now Jeannie I hope this finds you still enjoying life Tweed-side misses you now good night and write soon love from R Melrose

R. Melrose certainly had a crush on Jeannie but, to be honest, it sounds like he would take anything offered to him – or he was trying to make Jeannie jealous. From the tone of his writing, he’s certainly young, but I wish there was a clue as to which of the young men on the postcard he was. Peebles is a small town in the Scottish Borders which is actually quite pleasant, although maybe not what a young man looking for adventure had in mind.

The dress of everyone pictured on the card dates it to early in the twentieth century, so in the hope we could learn a bit more about our writer, I’ve done a quick search of the 1911 Scottish census. Melrose is seemingly a common surname in Peebles, and four entries for ‘R Melrose’ have come up, two of which seem to fit the likely age and marital status of the writer:

  • Robert Melrose, aged 17 and born in Yarrow, Selkirkshire, a boarder at Hay Lodge Stables and apprentice butcher
  • Robert A.G. Melrose, aged 15 and born in Broughton, Peeblesshire, son of Andrew and Margaret Melrose living with them at 17 Elcho Street, law apprentice and part-time student

From the stream-of-consciousness writing style, my hunch is that the apprentice butcher is our author, but that is making a pretty sweeping generalisation about butchers (and law apprentices).

Here’s my second purchase:

Picture of young children in the very early twentieth century

It’s not really a postcard, now I look at it – just a regular, mounted photo – and the image is faint, but I couldn’t leave all of those glum faces behind at the bottom of the box. I have no information about it whatsoever, but I think it’s interesting enough to look at in its own right. (Spotted the smiler, yet?)

In my next post or two, I’ll get onto the 1960s of my main postcard collection.

2012 – the shopping so far

2012 – the shopping so far

I spend not an inconsiderable amount of time (and a reasonable amount of money) buying old stuff and if you’re reading this, I guess you might too. Boasting about your possessions isn’t attractive, so consider post this more of a shopping audit.

I’ve gone a bit cool on vintage fairs since my trip in the spring to Judy’s Vintage Kilo Sale. I might have had a different experience if I’d arrived early in the morning, but arriving just after lunch, I felt faced with quite a lot of stuff that I personally think wouldn’t make it into my local charity shop – I couldn’t find a kilo on which to spend my £15. (I also didn’t like that business buyers got first pick before the general public were allowed in.) One vintage fair that is worth a look, though, is the Funk Fair.

It was just chance that I came across the Funk Fair – there was a sign outside one of my local churches as I walked back from Tesco on a Saturday morning. It looks like the Fair alternates across two Edinburgh locations and also does sessions in Dundee. Its traders are local and cover clothing, accessories, furniture and bric-a-brac.  There was really high-end stuff when I went, but you could also go with a fiver and still come out happy. I spent more than that, but not that much more, and came out with some experimentally-dyed underwear, a 1959 women’s magazine, a tea towel and  colourful adverts from old magazines.

Vintage underwear

Home Chat

Pictures before

Yes, I’ve worn the – PREVIOUSLY UNWORN – red pants.* They are perfect Edinburgh pants: warm (what with being massive and thick) and they hold your stomach in (for the winter comfort-eating, which goes on 11 months a year in Auld Reekie). The now-blue open girdle – style 762R from Berlei’s Gay Slant range – reduces me by nearly a dress size, but combine it with heels and you may as well just wear manacles on your ankles. The magazine pages and tea towel are now in IKEA frames and brightening up our kitchen – thank you to Rhian Wright (AKA Rhian Wright Illustration) for the idea. Finally, the magazine provided a couple of evenings of interesting bedtime reading, but my favourite part is where someone has scribbled reminders on the front about the recipes (cod with banana stuffing, anyone?) and food adverts inside.Recipe notes on magazine cover

Cod with bananas recipe

Food adverts

I really get a kick out of things which document household history, so one of my best finds this year was a copy of Better Home Making from a stall at the Meadows Festival at the start of June. The Meadows Festival is probably the closest thing my bit of South Edinburgh has to a village fête and it’s a good place to pick up old household items, books and clothes as well as a burger and some face painting. Better Home Making Image of Better Home Making bookis an encyclopaedia of almost everything you might wish to know about running  a house or raising a family if you were doing so around 1960. I paid around £3 for the book, which is slightly over the current going rate, but it provided me with some great pictures and insights for my earlier post “Single-Room Living”.

In preparation for my summer holiday in Greece, I did a bit of Ebay-ing. I’ve got an original 1950s sun dress that I wear to death in the heat – its full cotton skirt is cool and it’s not so skimpy as to make me self-conscious – so I tried to find another one like it. In the end, I opted for this white dress, which is made out of heavy linen and embroidered in blue – the embroidery was what attracted me. It was too big for me, and had quite a high neck and short sleeves  that I didn’t like, so I took the sewing machine to it. I did think twice, but the dress is fairly crudely home-made anyway, so I guessed it would probably be quite forgiving of my efforts. I made a scoop neck out of the high V (I used a dinner plate as a guide), removed the sleeves and took in the bodice, adding a popper fastening on one side (previously, the dress just pulled on over the head).  It’s not a fantastic piece of tailoring – if I was more skilled and patient, I would have added bust darts and tweaked the yoke – but it did the trick and the dress fulfilled its purpose.

A few weeks ago, at the start of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I picked up yet more postcards, this time at a stall in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. I really can’t help myself when it comes to old postcards with messages on, but at 3 for £1, I guess there are more harmful compulsions. I’ve already written about one of them in my post “Father and Mr Thom”, so here are the other two:

Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Edinburgh 1923


13th June, 1923

Dear xxx

just arrived in auld Reekie this morning weather sunny [?] and awfully windy. expect to see Mull Tomorrow. so will have my sky and  kindest  regards to all xxx

As always, help deciphering the writing I’ve transcribed as ‘XXX’ is very welcome.

Love's Thermometer

13th August, 1910 [?]

Dinna forget your Huntly Johnnies.Love's text

yours entirely

The picture and colour on the second postcard are just great. Who were (or was?) the Huntly Johnnies?

Finally, last week, I saw something I would like to own in order to display all my shopping finds – a cabinet of curiosity. This seems to be a kind of lavish, portable museum that has been around for hundreds of years, one of which has recently been recreated by the University of Aberdeen. The Aberdeen reproduction has been inspired by the Augsburg Art Cabinet, shown here:

Augsburg Art Cabinet

The Augsburg cabinet of curiosity. Image taken from Gustavianum Museum website on 1st September 2012. Click on the image to go through to the Museum’s website for a full tour of the cabinet.

The University of Aberdeen is now loaning their cabinet out to Scottish schools so that pupils can curate their own collections of objects. What a brilliant opportunity is that?

* Gussets, like toothbrushes, should never be shared.

I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein (http://CMP.LY/0/jXFZkQ).

Tea, chocolate, polar explorers and false teeth

Tea, chocolate, polar explorers and false teeth

Hello peeps! Welcome back.

Well, having re-read some of my 1911 Daily Mail Yearbook, I’ve established that there was some major stuff going on that year: the coronation of King George V; the development of early aeroplanes; women’s suffrage. Given this, I thought it only natural that I would write today about some of the Yearbook‘s food adverts.

First off, a product incredibly dear to my heart – tea. Our tea manufacturer in this instance, the Maypole Dairy Company, existed from 1887 until 1964, and started out in the English West Midlands (thanks to the Wolverhampton Heritage and History Website).

Tea from the Maypole Dairy Co.

In my Googling just now, I found a picture of a Maypole Dairy Co. shop in South Yorkshire in 1912, and another advert for Maypole tea dating from nearly thirty years later.

Next up, it’s chocolate – the rather glamorously-named ‘Vinello’. Vinello was made by Fry’s, a brandname now owned by Cadbury’s, and seems to have got its name from a plant used to give chocolate a perfume. I’ve just seen a ‘Vinello’ advertising card on Ebay dating from 1922, so it looks like this product survived at least a while.

‘Vinello’ chocolate
Continuing on a sweet theme, we’ve got ‘Polar Biscuits’, a product developed to celebrate the efforts of the UK’s polar explorers. Captain Scott, who died just a year after this advert was published, reportedly took some with him on his ill-fated final expedition to the Antarctic.

Polar Biscuits

After all that sugar, it’s quite possible your pearly whites would be rotting away. Fortunately, you might have been to get a good price on a pair of false teeth, as it seems someone did a trade in recycling them:

Old artificial teeth bought.

Tea, chocolate, biscuits and possibly not paying as much attention to our teeth as we might – us Brits haven’t changed much in 100 years.

1911 – the Daily Mail version

1911 – the Daily Mail version

My internet connection and brain are similarly slow tonight, so just a quick post for you. I couldn’t resist bringing you a sneak preview of a book I’ll blog about more fully later on – the Daily Mail Year Book.

Nowadays, the Daily Mail isn’t exactly my newspaper of choice, but this volume – which dates from 1911 – is absolutely fascinating reading. According to the front cover, the Daily Mail Year Book series started in 1900, and its purpose was to act as “a handbook to all questions of the day”. This edition covers politics, travel, the British Empire, social welfare matters (including education, housing and the vote for women), foreign affairs and more.

In coming weeks, I’ll bring you (what I think are) some of the more interesting insights from the book. Meanwhile, here is a closer look at the cover and some entertaining adverts for medical potions (click to enlarge):

“A Profession for Gentlewomen”

“A Profession for Gentlewomen”

This book is a piece of subtle rebellion. I bought it in a charity shop in St Andrews in May of this year when I was on a mission to find an old edition of Mrs Beeton’s Household Management (my modern edited version seems to miss the best bits). There was no Mrs Beeton to be found, but I did find a 1918 book entitled A Profession for Gentlewomen: being some reflections on the philosophy or housekeeping. The very fact that the book’s author, a Mrs F.S. Carey, proposes a ‘philosophy’ of housekeeping – not a simple ‘how-to’ – is a hint at what the printed page conveys.

Mrs Carey’s fundamental argument is that “houses which are worked by women should be designed by women themselves”. She proposes that women take up the profession of ‘domestic architecture’ and that well-designed homes will better society as a whole:

I dream of a time when it will be as difficult to find a bad house as it now is to find a good one, and when the life or sordid drudgery now imposed on millions of women will be an impossibility; when men will work less strenuously because women need to spend less, and when women will be so far delivered from the fetters of housekeeping that they can be true companions to their husbands and real mothers to their children…

To be honest, I did find myself thinking Mrs Carey was aiming a bit low by simply hoping to free women from housework so they could be better wives and mothers, but then it’s pretty hard for anyone of my generation to conceive of just how much time housework would have taken before the advent of automatic washing machines, electric irons, vacuum cleaners – the list goes on.

So, what is Mrs Carey’s definition of a ‘good house’?

  • The kitchen should face east and north, the larder north, the nurseries south-east, and “as few rooms as possible look west”.
  • Two storeys, “but with basement accommodation restricted to a cold larder and a wine cellar”.
  • Baths, while desirable, are “an expensive item” which “demand space”.
  • “The more main-water taps there are in the house the better”.
  • “Every house should have one large sitting-room”.
  • “Large bedrooms are seldom necessary”.
  • “The house with a basement kitchen is by all means to be avoided; for the health of the maids, the convenience of working and real economy, the ground-floor kitchen is essential”.

Mrs Carey has much more to say on the matter, and I hope to bring it to you in a later post. For now, you house-hunters out there have been told!

My second vintage sewing pattern…

…is all thanks to my sister. Knowing that I’d started to get the vintage sewing bug (I nagged her about finding my nan’s old Singer sewing machine for the best part of a weekend), she picked this up for me at a market stall in our home town.

According to the addictive resource that is the Vintage Patterns Wiki, this Butterick pattern dates from the Mad Men-era – the early 1960s. The Wiki describes it as:

Jr. Misses’ & Misses’ Dress & Jacket : The brief jacket tops a smart sheath or a bouffant dress. (A) Full-skirted dress with contrasting bodice, jacket to match skirt, purchased belt. (B) Slim dress shown alone, and with contrasting jacket.

 Early 1960s Butterick dress pattern

I would definitely wear either of these outfits (although the sheath dress version would probably suit my short frame better), and the 1960s UK size sixteen measures up almost exactly the same as my present-day UK size twelve – no pattern regrading required!

Pretty much the only catch is that I’ve still to cut out and sew my regraded 1950s skirt pattern from a few months ago (admittedly, life has been pretty full-on recently). I’m a devil for taking on too many things at once, so I’ll just have to sit on my hands until my first vintage sewing project is finished.

The 1910s fashion feast that is TV’s Downton Abbey is about to start, so I’ll love you and leave you for now, folks. Have a good week.

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