One of my favourite collections of all those I’ve catalogued over the years is the archive of the Hicks Beach family of Williamstrip in Coln St Aldwyn, Netheravon in Wiltshire, and Oakley in Hampshire. It is full of all sorts of treasures, and two of them are particularly appropriate to revisit around this time of year.
One is a cache of Christmas, New Year and birthday cards sent to Ellice Hicks Beach (1875-1947), a member of the Hampshire branch of the family, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ellice studied in France and Germany, and joined the Diplomatic Service in 1900. He was posted all over Europe, including to Stockholm, Berne, Madrid, Belgrade, Constantinople, St Petersburg, Athens and Helsinki. He had many international friends and several of his papers, including a few of the cards, are in languages other than English, including French, German, Danish, Spanish and Russian.
Ellice was born in 1875, and so his childhood coincided with the late-Victorian boom in the production of Christmas cards. His collection (reference D2455/F4/5/1/4) is a fascinating snapshot of the sorts of cards people were sending each other at the turn of the 20th century – many of them are not really what we would call Christmassy, as you will see…(warning! Lots of images follow the ‘read more’ link.)
The second ‘treasure’ really merits its own post, and it will give you something to discuss with family and friends over the Christmas period. See my next post, which should appear here this time tomorrow morning…!
Karen Davidson, Collections Management Archivist
This not-particularly Christmassy card was sent to Ellice by his brother Archibald
It’s very scenic, but not even a snowflake in sight!
Swallows aren’t exactly the bird one thinks of at this time of year…
…and butterflies and flowers are a distant hope at this point.
There are only two cards in the collection featuring that mainstay of Christmas cards, the robin.
The robins on this one are flying alongside some very glittery holly…
…and their outline has been cut out carefully, as you can see on the other side.
Bullfinches seem to have been just as popular as robins – maybe it’s the red feathers.
The Victorians loved kittens just as much as the Internet does today.
They also seem to have liked glitter. I wasn’t aware the Victorians even had glitter until I came across these cards.
More glitter on this lovely floral card sent to Ellice by his former nurse, Ellen Barfoot.
Ellice stayed in touch with Ellen for the rest of her life.
Here’s a truly Christmassy card, although…
…it’s got a rather Scrooge-like message!
Many of the cards show evidence of damp damage, probably from being kept somewhere damp before the advent of central heating. You can see the stains on the paper quite clearly on this card.
I am not sure what this card’s designer thought pigs (or indeed mock-Irish verse) had to do with Christmas!
The next few images show a pair of clever ‘rebus’ cards sent to Ellice by his nieces Winifred and Cicely.
This card from one of Ellice’s German friends wishes him 365 happy days…
…and this one sends heartfelt wishes for happiness.
Meanwhile, this French card wishes him a Happy New Year.
Let’s not forget the cute puppies; the Victorians loved them just as well as we do, too!
The Victorians clearly liked to send New Year cards, like this one showing two children in 18th-century costume.
They also went in for verses, as you’ve probably worked out, just as much as we do today.