Thursday, May 23, 2013

It's not what it appears on the face of it.................Sepia Saturday 178

A personal letter to my friend Anna P. in Moscow.

Derby, UK. May 25, 2013.

Dear Anna / Уважаемый Анна

This week you must read my blog [Блог]. I try to write every Saturday, and there is a group named Sepia Saturday. 'Sepia' is the colour of antique photos. Each member tries to write, each week, something which comes to mind from studying a photograph that the organising member chooses a few weeks before each Saturday. Here is this week's photo.....

This photo is the Sepia Saturday prompt this week. We bloggers try to follow the theme, in some vague way, as a seed in our thoughts. Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. Click here to learn more.

This week it is a picture of a girl, as above. It was quite hard when I first saw it. She is pretty, or not, happy or sad, European or Asian or Arabic. She holds secrets I cannot understand. I would like to know her, but I never will. So difficult !! But events in the past 2 weeks have helped me write something.

I promised to send you some postcards for your collection that my late Mother had kept, they were ones she had received, or had mailed to family members (she always asked for the recipient to return postcards to her to form her diary of travels !). I had decided to include in the parcel a much older English postcard, not connected to my Mother. It was sent in 1906, and was sent to my Great Aunt Beatrice (Trix) Slater (aged 17) from her boyfriend Charles S Smith (Charlie), (aged 16). Trix lived here, at the house where I live now.

Trix, with her father William Slater (my great grandfather), and Charles Sydney Smith, circa 1906.
(Own collection)

Here is the post card I have sent to you:

(Own collection)

and here is what is written on the back by Charlie:

"Dear Trix. Are you ready for the show; I think we had better leave the camera business as I have heard that no cameras are going to be allowed. Are you going to the show in the afternoon? We shall go after the procession. I am busy cleaning up uniform & etc. I think its is going to be an ideal day, tomorrow, although I did hear some ducks quacking today. [then 3 words in sweetheart code?]. No 1d bets this time ['1d' here means one penny, or one denarius, a hangover from Roman occupation !] What do you think of the dolls on this P.C. Yours etc. C.S S."
(Own collection)

What did this message mean?

When I read the card I decided that it was simple. Gabrielle Ray, on the card, was a famous English stage actress, dancer and singer, best known for her roles in Edwardian comedies. ( We use the term “Edwardian” for the period the period covering the reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910.) She was considered one of the most beautiful actresses on the London stage and became one of the most photographed women in the world.

I decided that Miss Ray must have been coming to Derby the next day, and Charles and Trix must be going to see her show at the theatre !!

But that did not quite fit the words on the card................first  impressions can be misleading.

I needed to check out her visit to Derby, it would surely be in the local paper for June 29, 1906, an advertisement or report. So I went to our local studies library to look at the microfilmed 'Derby Telegraph'.

How wrong I was !

For days each side of the date of the postcard there is no appearance of Gabrielle Ray in Derby. She did not come. Charles had just used a postcard of her image, what he was writing about was unconnected with Gabrielle Ray.

And this is what I discovered.............

The “show” was the Royal Show. It was an annual agricultural show/fair held by the Royal Agricultural Society of England every year from 1839 to 2009. It was held in Derby in 1843, 1881, 1906 when King Edward VII came; 1921 and 1933.

The “procession” was the parade through Derby of King Edward V11, who came to open the show.

The official programme (page 1) for the day. Along with the Sherwood Forester Regiment,
 the army cadet force of Derby School would be among those officially lining the streets.
(Courtesy Derby City Local Studies Library)

Why was Charlie “polishing his uniform”? 

The answer to this is now simple, he was an army cadet at his school, Derby School, and the cadets from the school were to line the procession route, as mentioned in the Official Programme.

Edward VII raises his hat to the newly erected statue of his late mother, Queen Victoria (reigned 1837-1901)

Please treasure this card...........

I have looked at the card many times and each time I misunderstood it. It was only because I decided to give it to you that I made the effort to be sure that I understood it, and to be sure that you had its correct history. I hope it finds a special place in your collection.

With my best wishes


P.S. / Постскриптум

King Edward VII was married to............

......Alexandra of Denmark,
who was the sister of......

.......Maria Feodorovna,
who was the mother of.......

........Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
Николай II,
 Николай Александрович Романов

In 1919, during the Russian Civil War the British battleship
 HMS Marlborough was on duty in the Black Sea and,
 on orders of King George V, son of the late Edward VII,
 rescued his aunt, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna.
(Courtesy Wikipedia)


Charlie Smith married Trix in 1915, during World War 1. You must read my earlier post to find out what happened to him. It's a sad story. You can read it here.

Major Charles Sydney Smith M.C.
1880 to 1918

(Own collection)


I hear Lenin has a refurbished tomb in Red Square. Lucky Lenin ! Poor Queen Victoria, her Derby statue was moved, years after the photograph in my letter, and was placed in front of the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary. Recently we have had a new hospital in Derby, and the old infirmary is to be demolished. At present Queen Victoria is lost in the trees and undergrowth, not very respectful!

(Courtesy Google Streetview)

(I promise to stop now !!)

I could not resist showing this photo of the Royal Mail pillar box at the end of Highfield Road where Charlie lived, it is almost certainly where he posted the card. But the real reason for showing it is that it is one of the best shadows of the 'Google Streetview' car I have seen, showing the roof mounted camera. This is where I post my letters as its on my way to the park to walk my dog !!

Highfield Road, Derby. Junction with Kedleston Road.
(Courtesy Google Streetview)

The End


  1. You are most deserving of the "My Dear Watson" Award for tracking down the story of the postcard. (P.S. - does duck-quacking mean rain is coming??)

    1. Yes, I am sure you are right about ‘ducks quacking’ It should not be confused with the local slang here whereby Non-natives of the East Midlands are often surprised to hear men greet each other as 'Mi Duck’. The letters Charlie sent home to Trix from the trenches in 1915-16 were often addressed to her as ’Darling Duckie’. I am never offended when someone calls me ‘Duck’. Some months ago a policeman called me ‘Mate’ and I took the opportunity to tell him not to do so please which left him a little befuddled. A lad in the local supermarket came out with ‘Chap’ (as a form of address) recently, a bit of a new one on me, and I put a stop to that in an instant ! Strange how we can either accept or be highly offended by each other’s slang form of address. For more reading:

  2. I wondered about the duck quacking, too. Such an odd postcard. Glad you sorted it out for us.
    I can't believe what they did to the Queen's statue. It was standing so proudly there in the street for everyone to see and now it's almost hidden in the trees. Poor Victoria.
    An excellent post.

  3. Knowing what the message is about and who the people are makes the card more interesting--Though it is a nice card anyway.

  4. Great detective work, Someone should do something about resiting/recovering the statue of Victoria. She deserves better than that site.

  5. Good work. Don't you love it when "detective work" reveals a story that brings you closer to ancestors

    PS. You are currently leading in the matching challenge.

  6. I always wondered how google got all those shots via satellite. Turns out they use a trolley?

    1. can see the cars here...

  7. Good sleuthing Nigel. The duscks quacking comment is underlined, so may have had some special significance to the two of them, or had been discussed in a prior communication.

    I've just scanned a glass plate negative from around the same time which shows another Queen Victoria statue. When I at last located it in Google's Streetview, still in the same position, I was rather surprised to find that it had been turned around to face the opposite direction. You'll have to wait a week to see that one.

  8. Thanks for that very interesting post. You always amaze me with your sleuthing and the results you get. I never know where to look for things - not that I have your patience. I especially like your lateral thinking and the way you take us off on tangents only to bring us back again. Fascinating stuff. "Mate " is a very Australian term. It would drive you mad over here.

    1. Yes Mi Duck...I know......'Mate' came from Australia. Don't I know !! Post the late 60's 'Man' was imported from the USA (Flowerpower) but it seemed to die out by the 80's thank goodness. Of course all these slang forms of address depend upon the respect intention of the speaker, and the perception of that by the recipient. Its a very delicate balance. Yours truly...Editor...Psychology Saturday.

  9. Sepia Saturday at its very best : not just wionderful old photographs, but great detective work as well.

  10. 'Man" having been replaced by "Dude." Surely we are on to a different term now.
    This was excellent. Glad you sorted it out. My first assumptions often prove wrong.

  11. If, and when I need a detective, I am calling on you! Marvelous full and rounded interesting post! Thanks!

  12. You are indeed as others have witten persistent. My first glance at the post card with the actress in the bright red dress, I thought the two puppets looked like a Punch & Judy...

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Sorry, deleted by mistake. It's not Monsieur Poirot any more, all detective respect goes to Monsieur Nigel Aspdin. Just had a very entertaining history lesson.

  14. It's puzzles all around this weekend, Nigel. An excellent story on deciphering one of those seemingly innocent postcard messages. The secret code may need more clues.

    As to your comment on my blog about the firm of Kalamazoo Secure Solutions Ltd., that is indeed a puzzle as to why they chose that name. But I'm glad to see that they have a "Bribery and Corruption Policy"! One day I'll get around to putting one on my website too.

  15. As always in awe of my fellow Sepian's creativity and sleuthing. An intriguing post.

  16. Wonderful article, and wonderful sleuthing. I have a number of postcards like this in my own collection. Once in a while I have some success at tracking down the backstory, but most of them still confound me.