Did the inspiration for a glittering military career lie in this 1902 postcard?

The Edwardian Postcard Project recently launched a searchable database of one thousand postcards, written and sent between 1901 and 1910, together with transcriptions and all the historical data we have found so far about the people who wrote and received the cards.  Investigating the cards, the social networking tool of the early twentieth century, we have uncovered some amazing tales but perhaps few as remarkable as the story behind this card.

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This type of picture postcard is the only format the Post Office allowed at the turn of the century.  Although this was before the era of colour photography, publishers could produce attractive images such as this, of Hastings Castle, through techniques such as hand colouring.   Since there were several deliveries a day in towns and cards could travel across country extraordinarily quickly through the rail network, people used postcards just as they use social networking platforms and text messages today.  Wherever they were, they bought, commissioned or created their own artwork on postcards and sent them off in the knowledge they would reach their recipient within hours.

The card’s message reads as follows:

July 22nd 1902

I am sending you this view of Hastings Castle- as I am sure you learnt who landed here, & won the battle of Hastings- With much love M.M. (??)

At the very beginning of the twentieth century the Post Office regulations were understood to insist that the whole of the other side had to be used for the address. Therefore, although picture postcards had become popular the only space for a message was a tiny area left blank by the publisher.  The only possibility was to write a short messages that often functioned as a caption to the message, much as one might use Snapchat or Instagram today.

The Edwardian Postcard project uses the censuses, especially 1901 and 1911 in order to investigate the postcard addressees.  Occasionally, especially if we are given a clue such “Dear Mum” and a first name we can read we can find out about the sender too. With this card nothing about the sender could be ascertained but, with help from Kathrin Kaufhold, I succeeded in tracing the person who received the card.

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The card was written to: J. Drummond Inglis, Esq, 24 Culmingron Road, Ealing.

This led me on a fascinating trail with various twists and turns.  In the 1901 census (accessed through http://www.findmypast.co.uk) it was easy to find John Drummond Inglis living at the address on the card with his mother Katherine S. Inglis.  There, John was listed as being born in 1896 in Devonport, and so was just 5 years’ old when he received the postcard.  The household was relatively privileged with two servants, a nursemaid to look after John and a cook.  The husband was not present on the night the census was taken.

At this point I could find a John Drummond Inglis who progressed from being a Second Lieutenant, to Lieutenant and then Major in the Royal Engineers in the First World War.  The next record for him I found was as an “Exec” recorded as a shareholder in the Great Western Railway in 1932. But could I be sure this was the same John Drummond Inglis who received the card?  And if so, were there any other records about his life?

I looked forwards into the 1911 census where I found a Katherine Sarah Inglis, identifiable as John Drummond’s mother through repetition of her birthdate and place.  At this time she was recorded with her husband in St Marys Church Street, North Colchester.  Thomas Drummond Inglis is described as a Retired Major Royal Artillery Training.  In the household with them were three servants (none the same as 1901) but John Drummond Inglis was not with them and I could not find him elsewhere.

The breakthrough came through a simple search engine find for the military John Drummond Inglis.  This revealed a portrait of “Sir (John) Drummond Inglis” by Janet Jevons, dated 1944 in the National Portrait Gallery online collection.  A vital piece of information that enables me to prove our postcard was sent to this man was provided by the clue of his birth and death dates – here given as 1895.  It is extremely common for censuses to record birth dates wrongly; census enumerators enquired the age of everyone living in the house and then approximated the year of birth.

Armed with the new information that he was born in 1895 rather than 1896, much more information emerged.  His birth is confirmed in 1895 in Devon, in both birth and baptism records.  In the 1911 census, when he was not at home with his parents, he was a student at Wellington College, Crowthorne, Berkshire.  John Drummond Inglis like many of his schoolmates fought in the First World War; 707 lost their lives then.  John must have felt himself fortunate to survive.

Other records, including a particularly informative obituary of his second wife, who died in 1987, flesh out his military career.  Between the wars he was particularly involved in technical developments in the army working in elements such as the “School of Electric Lighting” (19922-26) and acting as the Vice President of the Mechanical Board between 1934 and 1937.  During the Second World War, he became Chief Engineer, 21 Army Group and then held the rank of Temporary Major-General.  On retirement in 1945 he was granted the honorary rank of Major-General.  But he did something else very interesting when he retired: he deposited “correspondence, papers and photographs” with the Royal Engineers Museum.

The Museum have kindly given me some information about this archive which reveals his career to have been exceptionally glittering.  It includes a letter from

Field Marshal Montgomery congratulating him on the award of his KBE.  It also contains the paperwork for various awards he received including the OBE, Order of the Bath, the French Legion of Honour and several others.

John Drummond Inglis died in Eastbourne in 1985, so aged 90.  I can never be sure how the card was preserved for so long that we were able to buy it from a dealer in the twenty-first century. Usually dealers acquire cards once the families let them go,  often through house clearances.  But it seems likely it was held onto for a many decades, perhaps the whole of his life by John himself in order to reach us over a century later.  Was this card, sent to a small boy in 1902 about the Battle of Hastings, perceived by him as a source of inspiration for his long and glittering career?  Of course objectively the influence and position of his father and their social class, plus the good fortune of surviving the First World War were likely to have been decisive factors.  But we can still wonder.

Everybody is welcome to browse the new database, read the cards and transcripts for themselves.  We are now benefiting from an Arts and Humanities Council Cultural Engagement Fund Fellow, Dr Amanda Pullan.  People are beginning to contribute more information about the cards, their senders, receivers, as well as places and events associated with them.  We are also appealing for people to share their cards, or scans of cards with us.  The Edwardian Postcard Project website gives further details about this.

The database was funded through the Lancaster University Public Engagement with Research Leadership Group Fund.  The Edwardian Postcard Project is co-directed by Julia Gillen and Nigel Hall, Emeritus Professor, Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Reading (on) a postcard

I’m finding this Edwardian postcard fascinating in so many ways.

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Connie Ediss postcard

Its format is that of the very beginning of the twentieth century, when the whole of one side had to be taken for the address so people only had the small amount of space around a picture to write on.  Nevertheless it was a hugely popular communications technology.  It’s not at all far-fetched to compare this with something like Instagram today, especially as the postal system meant it could have arrived within hours of being sent.

Connie Ediss was an extraordinarily popular musical comedy actress and comedienne in her own day, gaining fame on the stages of London, Broadway, Australia and South Africa.  She particularly portrayed a witty Cockney persona and her choice of book fits with this: it’s Tony Drum (subtitled A Cockney Boy) by Edwin Pugh, published in 1898. Continue reading

Hong Kong student protest map

Recently I was very fortunate to be able to spend some time with the student/Occupy protests known as the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.

My photos included this astonishing map of the Admiralty area, which was located in the Admiralty MTR (mass transit railway) station, created by the protesters. It tells people where you can find first aid, supplies, social workers, “the stage” from which people sing and make announcements, and a self study area for students.

Umbrella-Revolution-map-image

On looking at the map, which many people were stopping to study, I realised that for me one immediate visual reference was the official map of Admiralty station, which I’d seen further inside the station.

So I went back inside and took a further photograph of that map.

MTR-map

I used these maps among other images in an exploration of multimodality in a lecture I gave on returning in my undergraduate Understanding Media course. I couldn’t have been more delighted than when after the lecture two students came up to me and offered to help me further with my interpretations. Since then they’ve suggested that in its detailed indication of details of everyday life, the protesters’ map may evoke a painting, attributed to Song Dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan called “Along the River during the Qingming Festival”. The painting captures the daily life of people and the landscape of the capital back then from the Northern Song period.

Looking into this painting I found indeed that it is “widely considered to be China’s best known painting” by: the Columbia University (2013) Asia for Educators: The Song Dynasty in China 960-1279. Life in the Song seen through a twelfth century scroll.

Further, I discovered that in the tradition of Chinese art,the practice of creating new versions, sometimes adding contemporary details, is a much respected practice. Take a look at this presentation of a Qing dynasty version in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, completed in 1736  and now with a contemporary reworking on the Museum’s virtual media site.  It’s really worth playing to show how imaginatively they’ve added animation and music to the presentation of the 18th century scroll.

All these images vary, of course, but have in common a panorama which includes many details illuminating everyday lives, including as to social interactions and even the idea of people of different social classes co-existing. This photograph shows the extraordinary disjunct between the tiny tents and the buildings of the business district.

Admiralty tents

So I’m now engaged in turning this into a research project, which means of course that I need to think ethical procedures through properly and make a submission to our ethics committee. That’s why I can’t name the helpful students, yet, although I intend to find ways of developing a proper collaboration and crediting their work.

What was I doing in Hong Kong for a week in the middle of term?  Well, I had quite a few things to do.  I taught Research Methods to a wonderful group of students on our MA TESOL (Hong Kong) who are about to embark on their independent dissertation projects.  I also visited the School of English, University of Hong Kong, and the Department of English in the City University of Hong Kong.  By the way the latter is now housed in a rather exciting site: the School of Creative Media, in the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre.  I presented papers on my Edwardian Postcard Project.  I also met up with Winnie Ho, one of my PhD students – so we’ve had a good laugh about how far Lancaster Uni supervisors are willing to go to meet their supervisees! Finally, I was fortunate to catch up with Carmen Lee, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong,  a long term associate of the LRC, including, of course, co-author with David Barton of Language Online: investigating digital texts and practices.

An excellent article on “Capturing the sociomateriality of digital literacy events”

I have read a superb article by  Ibrar Bhatt and Roberto de Roock in “Research in Learning Technology”.   It’s open access too.

 These researchers have grappled with the challenges presented in ethnographically founded approaches to digital literacy events.  We simultaneously want methods to do so much.  We want to bring out the ‘big picture’, rejecting any idea that attention to text alone is sufficient without a greater understanding of context.  And with broadly sociocultural understandings we have complex, dynamic ideas relating to “context” as shaping and shaped by, specific interactions.  Yet we also know that to study any event closely, especially when considering humans interacting with one another in mediated online actions, demands attention to detail at forensic levels.  A few seconds of data can take hours to collect and analyse.

Bhatt and de Roock have achieved what I would have thought impossible in just one article.  They have illustrated, in considerable and helpful detail, methods of collecting data in digital literacy events using video and screen capture, within an overall commitment to ethnography.  The concept of granularity of analysis is not new in itself, but it is hard to think of a more clearly and concisely explained approach than this.  But far more than this they have also made a tremendous contribution to our theoretical understandings.  I’ve been trying for some years to bring the ideas of Karen Barad on performative enactments together with Latour’s take on sociomateriality. It’s tragically easy to find failed drafts that went nowhere in my files! 

 In my opinion Bhatt and de Roock have nailed it.  There’s no point my wasting your time in further describing their work when you could much more fruitfully engage with it directly. 

Congratulations Dr Adams

Congratulations to Dr Jonathon Adams, who was recently awarded his PhD for a thesis entitled “Analysing the construction of meaning with mediating digital texts in face-to-face interactions”, examined by Professor David Barton and Dr Sigrid Norris.

Jonathon’s research examined how people communicate using a variety of different modes when they are interacting around a mediating digital text, combining literacy studies with multimodal interaction analysis and mediated discourse theory.  He video-recorded Japanese learners of English talking about digital texts they had chosen themselves, ranging from Youtube videos to news pages to still photographs, and analysed in great detail the different modes and combinations of modes that were employed to make meaning around these texts.  

His work shows the characteristics of such digitally-mediated communicative events, exploring how the digital text people interact around can be seen to impact upon mode use, language use, and proxemic relations between participants.

Since most of my interactions with my family members now involve putting our heads closely together around screens showing Minecraft, Twitter, or Angry Birds Star Wars, I think of his work often!