Life before the internet

I was nineteen before the internet reached me. So I have little memory of what it means to be in an adult world without the trappings of the World Wide Web. Like so many others, I run my life from my family iPad: online shopping, banking, travel plans and research, to name just a few areas. And it’s always intrigued me how people managed such areas of their life without the internet. And that’s when I discovered collection D10423. 

The items in collection D10423 mainly date from the 1930s to the 1960s and evidence suggests that at least some, if not all of it, belonged to Mary Graham Wade, the wife of Charles Wade of Snowshill Manor. 

Mary’s husband, Charles, was a great purchaser of ‘stuff’, whose motto “Let nothing perish” sums up his passion for collecting. He was rather an eccentric person of great interest. He was an architect, who, through inheritance was able to purchase Snowshill Manor to house his large assembly of items. Snowshill Manor, now run by the National Trust, holds a huge number of fascinating, beautiful and precious items – thanks to Charles Wade. Wade was in his sixties when he met his wife, Mary Graham, the daughter of a local vicar and she survived him by many years. 

By comparison to Wade’s Samurai armour, decorative furniture and costume collection, the collection I wish to discuss might seem somewhat meagre. A stack of carefully cared-for leaflets, menus, forms and curiosities. All paper items. But fascinating in themselves. They seem to span the mid-20th century though it’s hard to be specific as few come with dates. There are also a couple which date to the end of the 1800s though these seem a little out of place. I particularly like the WW2 leaflets on diet as well as air raids and evacuation, an example of how we tried to project calm and order at what must have been a chaotic time. There is also a fashion brochure which includes prominent sixties’ and seventies’ model, Twiggy, displaying some smart outfits. Someone has carefully written in the scarf they want to order. Did they just send them money, I wondered? How trustworthy. And then I think about the data breaches on the web and I see that at least they only stood to lose the cost of a scarf. As it stands, most leaflets in the collection asked for a postal order* or cheque** which sounds inconvenient compared to a few clicks on the web. 

The menus and articles for places to visit tell us a lot about the diet and interests of those living mid-20th century. Did children really eat creamed liver or was this like the wishful thinking of some parents today who push houmous on their unappreciative children? Looking through the menus for various banquets was interesting. The idea of fancy food in the mid-century has changed a lot from today. Come to think of it, when did I last go to a banquet which wasn’t at a wedding? Maybe I don’t move in the right circles? 

Like the web, we also have slightly more leftfield areas: a leaflet on phrenology, a booklet on clairvoyant pictures and a note on spiritual healing. Of particular interest is a booklet summarising a new publication ‘Women’s experience of the male’: “a sensationally frank statement of women’s sexual experience in all its aspects” by a “prominent female doctor”. A quick Google search tells me that the book was published in 1967, the summer of love. 

One of the biggest differences of course is that you don’t have to carry bits of paper around; it’s all there on your mobile phone – assuming you have a smart phone. And working on Reception at the Hub, I am constantly reminded that not everyone has got a wizzy phone with Wi-Fi. But assuming you do have a smart phone, you don’t have to write to and send off for information or items. For people today, so much is immediate. So much so that we do not want to wait for anything, we feel put out, impatient. This is a sweeping generalisation but for many of us, true. How often have I stared in anger at my phone because it’s taking an extra few seconds to load? This is less problematic with paper leaflets.

So what can we learn about Mary Wade based on her collection of paperwork? We can infer that she actively gave to charities (animals and children), she liked scarves and historic properties, she attended numerous banquets which in itself suggests she was above a certain wealth. She was careful and meticulous. (Where I do keep paper items, they end up faded and dog-eared stuck to my fridge). These may only be bits of paper but their neatly folded state suggests that Mary cared for them as her husband cared for his collection. A good love match then? As for the collection, well, it’s useful to be reminded that information didn’t always flow at our fingertips with the rapidity it does today. It also raises the question of what our generation will leave behind when so much of what we do is ‘born digital’? Gloucestershire Archives, like so many other similar repositories, is working on this challenge. But even if we capture it with a selection of emails and our search history, would it be as enticing as collection D14178?

  • Photograph of brochure including Reeves colour swatches
  • photograph of a leaflet entitled Hobbies to keep you happy including carpentry, polishing, fretwork, odd jobs and furniture making
  • photograph of leaflet entitled The year's good cause, a little blind child in Bethlehem needs your help this Christmas
  • Photograph from inside a brochure showing a women in knitted jumper and skirt
  • photograph for an advert for gloves, shaped like a glove. including the text We send gloves in all parts of the world in real kid chamois suede
  • photograph of advert for Barclays travellers cheques your passport to trouble free travel
  • photograph of a flyer for Woman's experience of the male book
  • photograph of recipes for milk puddings and cold puddings

*A postal order is a piece of paper representing a sum of money. You can buy one at a postal office and send it to someone as a way of sending them money. 

**A cheque is an order to a bank to pay an amount from the drawer’s account. It was written on a special form from a book of such forms, belonging to the account holder. 

By Jemma Fowkes,

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