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Why were these old cards left behind the skirting boards?

WHILE carrying out some home improvements during the summer in his house in Essex Street, Middlesbrough, Bill Harrison was replacing some skirting boards. He carefully prized the old skirting board off the wall and, to his amazement, found some ancient cards and posters placed between it and the wall. The cards had obviously been placed there deliberately and had not just accidentally slipped in between. Bill reckons that the cards had been put there by the original builders of the house as a sort of time capsule for future generations to find. This sort of practice by no means unusual as artefacts such as these or old coins that have been hidden by the builders have turned up when people have been altering their homes.

The most colourful of the cards shows a camel with the pyramids of Egypt in the background. This, however, is not a conventional postcard because there is an advertisement for Stuarts (we sell the cheapest boots in the country) Shoe Shop at 45 Newport Road, Middlesbrough. Judging by the prices which are quoted the boots and shoes they sold certainly were inexpensive. For example the most expensive article on offer was a pair of "Ladies Very Smart Glace Patent Cap Boots", priced at 2s 11'd, or just under 15 pence in today's money. Why there is a picture of Egypt on this advertisement for a shoe shop or vice versa remains a mystery, perhaps the shoe shop owners thought a colourful card with an exotic scene might attract attention, who knows? Written at the top of the card in ink is the year 1904 which Bill tells us ties in with the year in which Essex Street was built. But in 1904 the equivalent of 15 pence could buy a lot more than it could buy today.

What was the real value of 15p in 1904? The answer is pounds 12.75, so these boots really were a bargain. The cheapest shoes on offer were ladies' dress shoes priced at just one shilling and four pence halfpenny or just under 7p today but the actual value was still only pounds 5.95. Returning to the picture of the camel on the front this apparently was some form of puzzle because at the bottom of the card it reads "Puzzle: Find the Sirdar". A Sirdar was a rank assigned to the British commander in chief of the Egyptian Army during the 19th century when the British controlled Egypt.

By turning the card 180 degrees a profile of a man in a fez can be seen on the blanket covering the camel. This presumably is the Sirdar but who exactly this was supposed to be remains a mystery, so maybe the card was meant to entertain while advertising the shoes on the reverse. Another card was advertising a Grand Trades and Food exhibition, which was being held at Middlesbrough Town Hall. This card was very fragile and is difficult to read but apparently there was to be a ladies' concert party and some lectures being held. But perhaps more intriguingly there was to be a demonstration by a phrenologist called Anne Marchant. Phrenology or the art of interpreting the shape of a person's head to define personality traits was very popular at the turn of the century. But even more mysterious is an announcement of a demonstration by "The Mystic Kettle". Does anyone have any idea what this might be? The most fragile article that Bill retrieved was a tiny calendar which had mostly crumbled away but the image of what looks like a lady from Spain is still discernable. Without careful handling even what was left could crumble in your hand. There were no dates, so we have no idea exactly which year this calendar was for, but it was most likely for either 1904 or 1905.

It is quite amazing to think that for all those years these little cards had been lying undisturbed through two world wars and several generations only to be found in 2010.

? The Egypt 'postcard', right, with the advertisement for Stuart's shoe shop, below right. Below is the Spanish lady on the fragile calendar while below left is the card advertising a Grand Trades and Food exhibition, being held at Middlesbrough Town Hall
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jun 25, 2011
Previous Article:My schooldays during the war.
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