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.

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

Vermeer and women’s literacy practices

Back in August my travels in the Netherlands took me to the then newly reopened Mauritshuis and the  Rijksmuseum.  Both hold collections of paintings by Vermeer.  I followed this up by going to the Vermeer Centre in Delft, which aims to explore the artist’s work, but doesn’t actually hold originals (to my memory).

I realise everybody will perceive aspects of an artist’s oeuvre according to their own lenses.  Vermeer’s work strikes me as a tremendous portrayal of women’s literacy practices.  I thought that the commentaries tended to gloss over this, in particular tending to obscure women’s agency.

My images here are of poor quality, being my photographs of the reproductions in the Vermeer Centre.  I realise they won’t do well at conveying the artistic quality of the work, but perhaps I can say a little about the subjects and the ways they are described.  It’s true that the Rijksmuseum does give this good general introduction to such works by Vermeer, including: “His later paintings are meticulous compositions of interiors featuring one or two figures, usually women.  These are intimate genre paintings in which the subject is engaged in some everyday activity, usually in the light of a nearby window.” Their suggestion for categories in which you might seek further examples are: Daily Life paintings, Daily Life and Immoral Women.

Woman reading a letter

Woman reading a letter

My first image then is related to Woman reading a letter.  The Rijksmuseum commentary as others discusses light and colour; aspects I’m not trying to discuss as I’m just focussing on the treatment of the literacy practices.  Here as the Delft Centre commentary, the woman is described as “being absorbed” or as “concentrating”.  The Delft Centre commentary proposes that implicit in the painting is “the absence of a lover.”

In the second image a young woman is writing.  The Delft Centre’s commentary is “Letters are a private matter.  But the lady seems to have no objection to our looking on.  She is clothed richly and with great care, and glimmering light dances over the painting.  Letter writing and vanity go together in the seventeenth century.”  Well, I am sure we can all reach our own opinions about that commentary.  It seems to me contradictory.  How can letter writing be simultaneously private and yet an occasion for vainly displaying oneself?  But leaving that aside, it is to me sad that the act of letter writing is turned into nothing other than a commentary on the subject’s appearance, itself then made the focus of some critical attention.

A lady writing

A lady writing

The third image depicts a group, all busily active.  I wrote the following description before looking for further information:

The concert

The concert

One young woman is doing something with her hands, possibly to the painting in front of her, which is also the focus of attention by the man, although we cannot see at all quite what he is doing.  Another young woman appears to be reading a letter aloud.  She looks very absorbed, and yet communicating to the others at the same time; for example through her hand gesture which actually neither of them are observing. To me, it’s a very intriguing painting.  I like the other signs of activity too, such as the material on the table in the foreground and the various kinds of equipment.  I expect the commentary to give me further information about what’s going on.

On looking online for further elucidation I’m first quite surprised to find out that seemingly my interpretation is way off. The painting, which was stolen in 1990 and is unrecovered, is called “The Concert.”   The first young woman is apparently playing the harpsichord, the second the lute (I still can’t see it, but I have realised that the foreground contains at least two instruments) and the third is singing.  So I seem to have been way off in my interpretation, judging from the helpful Wikipedia entry. It doesn’t discuss the placing of the figures, nor all the stuff in the foreground, which surely would be in the way of any audience?  I suppose the positionings indicate a very informal concert, perhaps to a tiny audience of intimates.

I do recall now, revisiting it, that I was a little shocked by the Delft commentary:  “A harmonious scene. Colour and composition, it all works together, just like a song perfectly sung. And much more virtuously than in The Procuress, on the wall at the right.  Nevertheless you can see an echo: two ladies and one man having pleasure together.”

I am no kind of art historian and perhaps these descriptions, stressing seductive appearances, lovers and so forth have a great deal of merit behind them.  But it does seem sad to me that Vermeer’s women, so active in their occupations, are only described in such ways.

If anyone is interested, I’ve collected more such images and commentaries on Vermeer’s portrayals of women and so could develop this with another posting.

50 years of the UK Literacy Association

Back in July many of us went to the University of Sussex to the 50th International Conference of the UK Literacy Association.  In my opinion it’s a superb organisation I’m very proud to be a member of, combining robust good sense, sound research and a powerful commitment to foster children’s imagination.  The latter is particularly apparent in its support for children’s literature; I’ll never forget, for example, hearing Malorie Blackman talk at an earlier UKLA conference.  This passion for books is something shared by some of the best contributors to the National Council for the Teaching of English – a US conference I visited in 2012. There I encountered the indefatiguable Donalyn Miller, who tirelessly discusses children’s literature and the power of reading via Twitter (@donalynbooks) to her 47k followers. Many folk in both organisations are interested in books, whether accessed by print or new media.

My excuse for writing about the UKLA conference now, perhaps a little late, although of course we are still in the UKLA 50th anniversary year, is that I’ve come across this superb blog post by Eve Tandoi about the Sussex conference. It’s brought back some good memories, engaging carefully with the views of the plenary speakers in particular.  I think I would just add that I was at the time very aware of the controversial nature of Ken Goodman‘s claims about literacy.  He raised quite a Twitter storm when suggesting that it would be better to abolish the teaching of literacy as such, rather embed it in purposeful, authentic work with children.  He is very critical of SATs that are so narrow that they demand, especially in less privileged classrooms, teaching to the test and endanger the sense of excitement in learning that children start out with.

Finally, then, I’ll share the short abstracts of the symposia by my colleagues and myself at the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre.  If you’re interested in learning more about any of this work, do contact any of us directly or look at our webpages.

Many voices of literacy: polyphony in Literacy Studies research.

These linked symposia from the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre reflect on the value of researching literacy as a social practice to enable us to hear and engage with the multiple voices and perspectives of different participants in literacy research.  We have a tradition of research which reveals the multiple capacities and creativity of people’s everyday literacy practices.  Ethnographic and interpretive methodologies seek to make visible, and sometimes to empower, the voices of those who are often silenced by the pseudo-objectivity of governments, policy-makers, large-scale survey research and other dominant voices.

The first session, on researching literacies in educational settings, continues an established area of interest.  The second, on researching digital literacies, reflects on an area which challenges and forces us to develop our established ways of doing research. They are followed by a discussion led by our discussant Brian Street.

Session 1: Polyphony in educational settings

Papers in this session focus on educational settings, addressing how literacy research can engage with the voices of teachers and learners positioned within centralised policies, formal, decontextualised assessments of achievement, and measurement against national and international league tables.  We have a tradition of working with teachers and literacy practitioners, understanding their role as active agents who bring their voices, experiences and understandings of learners to negotiate policy frameworks.

Diane Potts: “Teachers as knowledge workers: Positioning professionals in discourses of accountability.” A multimodal discourse analysis of teachers’ digital accounts of classroom literacies practices and educational stakeholders’ responses to these texts illustrates the challenge for educators attempting to take up a position within policy debates.

Mary Hamilton: “Representations in policy: positioning key voices, occluding others.” Examples of the powerful imaginaries of literacy and literacy learners that circulate widely in the media, government and popular discourse.

Uta Papen: “Studying phonics policy and practice: how the voice of policy is heard by literacy teachers.” A detailed analysis of how synthetic phonics and the new Phonics Screening Check are presented in policy documents and how the policy is put into practice by teachers and children in primary school classrooms, based on critical discourse analysis with classroom ethnography.

Session 2: Polyphony in digital literacies

In researching online practices, moves towards harvesting ‘big data’and applying techniques such as corpus analysis and visualisation can indicate broad trends and developments.   However, without an ethnographic perspective we risk divorcing digital content from its originators, occluding the perspectives and voices of the people engaging in these practices. The presenters will each address an approach to researching individuals’ perspectives on and practices in online literacy.

David Barton: “Technobiographies –  bringing the self into research.” A methodology for researching the range, variety and changes in people’s contemporary language practices. This also acts as structured way for students to reflect on their own life histories with technologies, as an introduction to studying new media.

Julia Gillen: “Adopting a new kind of professional voice: a literacy studies approach to a Twitter case study.”  A case study of an individual’s developing use of Twitter, drawing on ethnographic methods, examined in their sociohistorical context and through interactions involving others.

Karin Tusting: “Language use on an internet forum: voices of collaborative learning on Mumsnet.”  Detailed analysis of vernacular literacies for learning in online settings, developing an example of collaborative learning about parenting practices from the Mumsnet talk forum.

 

Racism in US Children’s Books

I recently came across this blog post by Sharon Chang about the tiny number of children’s books published in the US that feature characters of any other ethnicity than “white”. Chang points to a number of societal problems and impacts on literacy practices that may arise from this situation – not just for the minorities that are invisible in most children’s books, but for “white” families as well. But is the situation just as bleak in other countries, including the UK? There are certainly media reports suggesting this, and some UK professionals who point to positive examples of diversity in publishing from the US, while lamenting the UK situation. Comments and examples welcome!

Johnny Unger