A debt of gratitude to cameramen of yesteryear

Peggotty 1710

Peggotty 1710 - Credit: Archant

IF somebody ever trawls through back issues of the Mercury to log every old postcard used to illustrate my weekly feature since it moved to this newspaper 27 years ago, the number might well run into hundreds.

Peggotty 1710

Peggotty 1710 - Credit: Archant

For picture postcards are a prime source of photographs of yesteryear, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the cameramen who, encumbered by the awkward and heavy tools of their trade, wandered around our highways and byways in search of scenes, events and faces and places to capture on the glass plates or films.

How they would have marvelled at, and revelled in, today’s digital cameras and mobile phones, items of technological wizardry so compact and lightweight yet capable of results of high definition and resolution.

Most of those long-ago snappers have been rendered anonymous by the passage of time, but their work has survived, eagerly sought not only by collectors but also by historians anxious to preserve images of our past to give a glimpse of it to future generations.

I doubt if any but a comparative handful of the most far-sighted of those photographers realised that their output would provide an invaluable and matchless pictorial record of their villages, towns and cities in eras before every household possessed a camera.

But, of course, amateurs filed their pictures in albums or stuck them in a sideboard drawer, seldom to be viewed again, whereas the professional marketed his shots to benefit himself and – as almost a by-product - to give us a record of his life and times.

It always surprises me that those old-time photographers dealing in the postcard trade did not confine their subjects to the obvious – in Yarmouth, for example, sea-front and river scenes and attractions, and historic buildings – but also focused on the mundane, like humdrum residential roads, off-centre shopping streets and minor factories.

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I cannot imagine why they did so when these places were not photogenic and unlikely to be popular with picture postcard buyers on whom their livelihood ultimately depended.

But thank goodness they did. Hereabouts, down the decades there must have been countless picture postcards of our piers, Marine Parade, Revolving Tower, harbour and similar features, but those of – say – Harley Road, or a grocer’s shop with staff self-consciously posing in the doorway, or a back-street public house, are few and far between and tell us about those humdrum corners that may, or may not, have survived bombing raids, decay or redevelopment.

Thus the past appearance of the less up-front parts of the borough is preserved into the distant future.

Today’s illustrations include two coloured postcards showing old Great Yarmouth views from early last century. The pair are in mint condition, neither written on nor posted in truth. In fact, they are so sharp and well preserved that I wonder if they are digitally-remastered old pictures...

The views are oval, the cards designed to look like a framed miniature picture for wall-hanging. They were printed in Germany for a London firm.

I happily paid £5 for the pair from a dealer a few years ago when Mrs Peggotty and I were on a coach holiday in Brighton.

In one, the adjacent Fish-Stall House pub and the Old Blue-Coat School are prominent on the east side of the stall-packed Market Place, and a tram passes Palmer’s store which is out of shot. The old charity school – built in 1713 but compulsorily closed by Yarmouth education committee in 1891 - became a sixpenny bazaar.

The foreground of the other shows the ornate bandstand built in the Wellington Pier Gardens in 1900, with the Pier Pavilion in the background.