Old photos and their history

Post Card Photo of Royal Artillery, Posted to Clarborough, Nottinghamshire

A group photo of nine Edwardian-era soldiers in front of a line of tents. The back of the photo is a postcard, sent by George to his mother.

George Swindin

George Swindin was born in the village of Clarborough, Nottinghamshire, in 1888. He enlisted into the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1908. The hat badges in the photo are faint but clearly those of the Royal Artillery. He served as a gunner and at some point was stationed in India.

The Swindin family

George came from a large family. He had four sisters and two brothers. Ellen Mary Lee (b1874), Walter Charles Lee Smith (b1878), Margaret Ann Swindin (b1887), Mary Phyllis Swindin (b1890), Thomas Swindin (b1892), and Edith Sarah Swindin (b1895).

His mother and father were Sarah Ann Swindin (b1852) and Frederick John Swindin (b1848). His father worked from home as a self-employed market gardener.

In the 1891 and 1901 censuses, their home was 46 Village Street in Clarborough.

There appears to have been a connection to Sheffield as many of George’s siblings moved there in later years. In 1911, his eldest sister Ellen, now married to Police Constable George Arthur Cobb, lived at 56 Dykes Hall Road. Round the corner was their sister Margaret, married to Brewers Drayman Herbert Staite, living at 53 Kendal Road. Their eldest brother, Walter, lived at 1 Kendal Place in 1917 (as far as I can find, Kendal Place is Kendal Road).

George’s father, Frederick, died in 1917. His mother, who he wrote this postcard to, died ten years later in 1927. And then his eldest sister Ellen another ten years later in 1937.

Military service

George’s brothers followed him into the military. A record from 1914 lists Thomas serving in the Royal Field Artillery. In 1917, Walter served in the Labour Corps and Durham Light Infantry.

Sarah Ann Swindin, further information

George’s mother was born in Walkeringham, Nottinghamshire, in 1852. Her original name was Sarah Ann Lee.

And so, her first daughter, Ellen Mary Lee, was born outside marriage.

Ellen’s first child, William John Lee, was also born outside marriage. In the 1901 census, both William and Ellen lived with Sarah and Frederick Swindin at 46 Village Street. William, like his uncles George and Thomas, served in the Royal Artillery (joining in 1914).

This explains why Ellen’s surname was not Swindin, but what about Walter Charles Lee Smith?

Sarah had married before in 1878. Her first husband was Charles Smith. Their son was born the same year.

In the 1881 census, both Sarah and Charles lived together in Clarborough. Charles worked as a boatman. Their children were not at home during the census. Ellen and Walter were instead staying with their grandparents Thomas and Ann Lee at 52 Abbey Lane, Mattersey, in Nottinghamshire.


Sarah’s first marriage was brief. In 1882, local newspapers reported what had happened in great detail. She had found her husband on the floor after taking his own life. Their children were both at home at the time (The Lincolnshire Chronicle, 1882: 8).

An earlier newspaper article mentioned that Charles had visited his brother’s house in the morning (The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 1882: 6). He was described as being anxious about going home and said that he had done something wrong.

Sarah remarried to Frederick John Swindin in 1884.


(1882) The Lincolnshire Chronicle, 07 April, p.8.

(1882) The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 04 April, p.6.


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Joseph Noble Perks, Cabinet Card of a Family, Swadlincote

A family portrait cabinet card embossed with “J Perks, Swadlincote” in gold lettering. The clothing and hairstyles suggest the early Edwardian era. Two adults, we can assume are the parents, pose with two girls and a boy. A studio backdrop of an opulent indoor scene lies behind them.

Joseph Noble Perks

Joseph was born in 1877 in the village of Woodville, Swadlincote. He was born to John and Annie Perks. Woodville is currently part of South Derbyshire but at the time had been within the boundaries of Burton-on-Trent and Staffordshire.


At 3 years old, Joseph lived with his parents and siblings at 194 Burton Road in Overseal, Swadlincote. He had an older brother and younger sister, Benjamin and Annie. His dad was a pipeworks engineer.


Swadlincote had been the site of pipe yards. They made clay pipes that were sold throughout the world. This wide commercial reach was enabled by Swadlincote’s connection to the Victorian and Edwardian railway.

Joseph’s family appear to have moved from Yorkshire so his dad could work at the pipeworks.

1901 census

At 23, Joseph still lived with his parents, though they moved to 219 Occupation Lane in Woodville, Swadlincote. He now had two sisters, Annie and Nellie, and a new brother called Charles. His eldest brother Benjamin had moved out. Nellie was a school teacher and Charles, at the age of 14, was an apprentice fitter.

Joseph was now listed as a photographer


Joseph married Evelyn Grace Warren in 1909. She was born in 1884 in Newhall. The town of Newhall is also part of Swadlincote.

In 1901, Evelyn lived with her parents and two brothers at 186 High Street, Newhall, Swadlincote. She worked as a dressmaker.

1911 census

By 1911, Joseph – now 33 – had settled down with Evelyn at 26 Church Street, Church Gresley, Swadlincote. He worked from home, self-employed as a photographer and picture frame maker.

RAF and knitting

There is a record of Joseph being a member of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1918. At the same time, Evelyn served in the Swadlincote division of the British Red Cross. Her duties included knitting, needlework, war hospital supplies, and home worker.

1939 census

The last available census has Evelyn and Joseph living at 68 James Street, Midway, Swadlincote. They have constantly moved during their lives, though they cannot yet escape the gravitational pull of Swadlincote. Joseph was still a photographer. They lived with their two grown-up children, Noel Perks (certificated assistant teacher) and Iris Perks (shorthand typist). Noel was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden who either was a trainee or trained others in first aid. Joseph also had ARP duties.

If you would like to add to the story of the Perks family then please add your comments below or contact me directly.




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Edwardian Pram Holding Three Children

Initially a postcard, it seems the image was too small. It has been therefore trimmed and transformed into an attractive little photograph with a white border and rounded corners.

Three children are sitting upright in the pram. One is chewing a rattle. Beside them sits a smartly dressed girl with ribbons in her hair and a teddy bear in her arms. The last child sits grinning to the far left of the pushchair.

This design of Edwardian perambulator evolved from earlier French wickerwork bassinet prams. These allowed the child to lie flat. Earlier prams had been for older children to be pushed while sitting upright. They had been based on carriages used to transport the sick and physically disabled.

Note the different sized wheels. There are two wheels at the front with two larger overlapping wheels at the back. This allowed greater manoeuvrability for the pusher.

Carriage-style suspension kept the innocent cherubs content when travelling along the cobblestone paving. If you look closely you’ll see a belt strapped to the bottom of this particular pram. I’m unsure whether it was a feature or a cheap repair by the owner.


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A Brief History of Portrait Postcards

You may have come across portrait postcards whilst rummaging amongst dusty boxes of ancient family photos. You may have seen them at car boots or antique shops. They range from the professionally staged studio photos to the obviously amateur snaps. The private nature of these portraits can jar with today’s association of postcards with mass production and saucy seaside snaps.

This article gives a brief introductory history to the early 20th Century rise and fall of the portrait postcard in Britain. So, whether you’re new to them or not, I hope it will at least give you a better appreciation of these valuable private artefacts.

Early postcards

Postcards had been sold by the British Post Office since 1870. These were uninspiring blank cards on which you wrote the address on the front and your message on the back. If you wanted to send a picture, you often had to draw it yourself.

It was not until 1894 that picture postcards became widely available. A drawback of these was that the picture restricted the size of your message. As well as limited space, your tiny scrawlings could look untidy which detracted from the decorative image. The divided back in 1902 resolved these problems by allowing senders to write the message and address on the same side, meaning the picture expanded to fill the other side.

The postcard boom

The broad range and attractiveness of early picture postcards made them the ideal inexpensive gift or souvenir. They soon became collectable and some were posted just to be added to a friend’s collection.

They were also a quick and simple way to send messages. At the standard 1/2d for inland postage (prices increased after 1918), people took advantage of an affordable and reliable postal service. Increased literacy of the population meant anyone could send and read them, and proper grammar and spelling were not needed. It’s often said the postcard was the Twitter of its day.

All these factors led to postcards becoming a cultural phenomenon in Edwardian Britain.

Real photo postcards

Portrait postcards came with the introduction of the real photo postcard. The first was posted in 1899. They were photographic negatives developed onto a postcard backing. Most were black and white, though some were hand-coloured using water-based or oil-based paints.

Real photo postcards captured many aspects of life such as holidays, movie stars, architecture, local streets, and important historical events. One of the major 20th Century events captured was the first world war, with postcards being sent to and from the front.

The real photo postcard coincided with advances in technology that democratized photography. Kodak led the field with their simple “you push the button, we do the rest” cameras and their low-cost Brownie. Studio photographers began losing business as photography entered the hands of the people.

The amateur could make their own postcards. In 1902, Velox photo paper with a pre-printed postcard backing was first sold. Then in 1903, Kodak introduced a folding camera that took postcard-sized photos. Between 1906 and 1910, Kodak offered a service to produce postcards from any photo taken.

The real photo postcard and the portrait postcard it had given birth to began losing popularity in the 1930s. Alternatives, such as the more colourful photochrome cards, were entering the market. Increased availability of the telephone also diminished the need to send short messages through the post.

Social history and portrait postcards

Portrait postcards are part of our personal and collective photographic historical archive. Unlike the broader subjects of commercial postcards, they provide an intimate look at the ordinary person who lived in the past. From changing fashions, jobs, and relationships, we get up close and personal.

If you are lucky, these postcards were posted. The name and address of the receiver provide vital clues to identification (occasionally the sender’s details are present). A message may have been written, connecting us to the sender. Censuses and other records can be used with the information to flesh out the people behind the portrait.

A common problem is that they have not been posted and printing information on the back was too expensive. This means we don’t know the photographer, the subject, not even the date. If they are a family member, you may be able to put names to faces. A rough date can be guessed by looking at what they are wearing.

If you own any portrait postcards yourself, whether handed down or bought, then please share your stories. You can either post comments below this post or contact me about submitting your own post.





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