Dressing for the beach

With the summer approaching, beachwear is a topic on the minds of many blogs. Fear not, I am going to spare you my opinion on bikini vs swimsuit; in fact this post is more about suit versus swimsuit.  Or, to put things a different way, why we look at so many seaside posters with too much of a modern eye.

Posters like this, for example.

vintage railway Poster `Margate - Britain`s Finest Resort - Go By Train`

For an audience today, seeing this poster from the distance of fifty years or more, what is being advertised is the joy of Margate beach.  And this is true, except that we are missing something very crucial.  These people are being daringly  modern and middle class, not just in their choice of sunglasses but in their entire choice of beach wear.  Because when we take a look at actual people on Margate beach in the 1950s, they look rather different.

Margate beach

Children and teenagers might wear swimming costumes, but everyone else wears clothes, and quite a lot of them too.

This wasn’t a peculiarity of Margate beach either, smart formal was the dress code up and down the country in the 1950s.

Filey beach 1950s

In Filey not even the children got swimsuits it seems.

Now, there are some interesting reasons as to why this might be.  Back in the 1950s, your smartest clothes didn’t automatically equal ‘working clothes’.    Working clothes were grimy, hard-wearing and, well, blue-collar overalls.  So your suit was something that you could relax into, an alternative, a sign that you were no longer at work.  More than that, it was a status symbol which proved that you could afford clothes that went beyond the simply practical.  In some ways, the suit and smart dresses were the sartorial equivalent of the ‘best parlour’ at home: not necessarily the best use of resources and often overly formal, but essential if you wished to be respectable.

Paradoxically, though, the suit on the beach is at the same time a sign of being working class, of not having unlimited means.  Because while it may be telling people that the wearer owns more than just their working clothes, it also indicates that they don’t have the means to afford ‘leisure’ clothing either.  These well-dressed beach goers occupy a very particular place in the British class structure, and their clothes speak of it.

All of which puts a very different slant on posters like these.

Hunstanton British Railways poster 1960

These families are not average, they are modern and aspirational.

And look at this trio, they are so upmarket that they not only have swimsuits but leisure clothes as well.

R M Lander Morecambe British Railways poster

Mind you, Morecambe always fancied itself as an upper-class resort.  Although not so posh that everyone was expected to have a cozzie.

Morecambe anonymous holiday poster family on beach

The family here are quite happy to conform to the cultural norms of the time, although I do think he must be quite hot in that tank top.

In fact, when I start to peer at the 1950s holiday posters, there is more clothes wearing going on than I had expected.

Aberystwyth, BR (WR) poster, 1960. Artwork by Harry Riley.

Poster produced for British Railways (BR) Eastern Region (ER), promoting the Humberside seaside resort of Cleethorpes, showing an aerial view of the town and coastline, overlayed with images of holidaymakers engaged in various activities. Included are children making sandcastles, riding on donkeys and carousel horses, families relaxing in deckchairs, a man playing golf and the winner of a beauty contest. Artwork by Blake. Printed by Jordison & Co Ltd, London & Middlesbrough.

All of which may help us to look at these posters differently, and so it should, but that’s not the half of it.  Because if the swimsuit wearers of the 1950s were middle class and modern.

Glenn Steward Teighnmouth British Railways poster

What does this then make Tom Purvis’s swimsuit wearers of the 1930s?

ÔEast Coast by LNERÕ, LNER poster, 1930s.Poster produced for London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) to promote rail travel to the East Coast of England. The poster sows two women sitting under a large red beach umbrella. Artwork by Tom Purvis (1888-1957), who rallied for the professionalisation of commercial art. In 1930 he was one of the group of artists who founded the Society of Industrial Artists, which campaigned for improved standards of training for commercial artists in order to broaden their scope of employment. He became one of the first Royal Designers for Industry in 1936. Dimensions: 1016 mm x 1270 mm.

Very posh and very modern indeed, that’s what.  They can afford swimwear at a time when, it seems from the photographs, most people went to the beach in their overcoat.

working class seaside

There are, of course, so many signifiers of modernity in a Tom Purvis poster that one could write an entire thesis about them: the love of the outdoors, the new fashion for getting a sun tan, the flat bright colours – I could go on almost indefinitely, and probably will some other day.  Nonetheless I do think the swimming costumes would have been very striking at the time and would have made the poster dramatic and innovative in a way that we simply cannot appreciate today without putting some thought into it.

For me, though, the posters that most benefit from this reappraisal are Fortunino Matania’s posters for Southport, which until now I’ve considered to be rather dull workings out of Art Deco which fetch too much money at auction.

 Cheshire Lines Railway poster. Southport by Fortunino MataniaÕ, railway poster, c 1930s.

Just look at these people.  They have a lido, modern hats, swimming costumes and shorts; they are wearing not enough clothes while outdoors.  In short, they could not be more fashionable, upper class and modern if they swanned up to the swimming pool in a Rolls Royce car.

Of course they’re saving that for the next poster, when they get to the hotel.

Poster produced for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) to promote winter travel to Southport, Merseyside. The poster is illustrated with a painting of fashionably dressed women and men leaving the Garrick Theatre in Lord Street. Artwork by Fortunino Matania, who was born in Naples, but from the age of twenty worked in Paris and then in London. King George V (1865-1936) was impressed with Matania's work and invited him to cover his tour of India. 'Southport, For a Holiday In WintertimeÕ, LMS poster, 1925.

Southport, like Morecambe, rather fancied itself as being a cut above some other resorts (not least its near neighbour Blackpool) so Matania wasn’t the only poster designer to dress it up in the costumes of high fashion.  Here’s Alfred Lambart’s take on a very similar theme.

 Liverpool Overhead Railway poster promoting cheap fares via ÔThe Most Interesting RouteÕ. The LOR (1893-1956) became the first electrically-worked elevated railway, the first to use an escalator, automatic signalling and a colour light system. Until its closure in 1956 the line remained independent, even from nationalisation. Artwork by Alfred Lambart.  SouthportÕ, LOR poster, 1923-1947.

You might have thought that trippers from Liverpool might have lowered the exclusive tone somewhat, but then who am I to say?

If you want to judge for yourself, this is what Southport Lido looked like in reality; I think there is actually quite a lot of clothes-wearing going on beyond the front row.

Southport lido in 1930

Further proof of how exciting and different these swimsuit posters would have seemed comes in the form of other posters of a similar period, which were very happy to show beach goers wearing a more normal amount of clothes, at least by inter-war standards.

London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) poster. Artwork by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) 'The Yorkshire Coast', LNER poster, 1923-1947.

This one is by Dame Laura Knight, proving that you can be modern even without swimsuits for all.

But this is my total favourite, by Stanislaus Brien.

Poster produced by London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) to promote train services to the East Coast of England. Artwork by Brien. East CoastÕ, LNER poster, 1932.

This is not just on account of the fact that all the adults are fully covered in smart clothes and hats, but also because the beach is full, crammed with families and children and grandparents.  In fact it’s the only poster I’ve ever seen which bears any resemblance to photographs of a day out at the beach between the wars.  And yet it is done in the style of Leger: modern, but clothed and truthful.  And, it has to be said, pretty much unique in the poster record.  I’m not sure it looks that enticing to modern eyes.

But it is our modern eyes that are the problem.  Because just as we fail to see swimsuits as daring and signifiers of the future, we shrink with horror at a crowded beach.  (Why the beaches were so crowded is another story for another day, but one which is intimately connected to the railwayness of railway posters.)  And in doing so, we completely fail to see these posters, both from the 1930s and the 1950s, as they were intended at the time.  Does that matter?  In the end, perhaps not really, especially if you simply want an amusing print to hang on the wall.  But if we do take the time to see what they might have meant in their own time, how much more interesting they become.

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Posters for particular people

Despite all our resolutions, we seem to have bought some new posters.  The only justification I have is that a couple of them are quite interesting – this also being my justification for showing them off on here.

The most straightforward is this Eckersley for London Transport.

Tom Eckersley London Transport conducted tours poster

It’s very nice, we know who it’s by, thank you very much.

We also know that this 1956 poster is by Edwin Tatum, but that’s about it.

Edwin Tatum 1956 London Transport poster Kew

 

I have no idea who he was – other than that he designed posters for London Transport – and the internet can tell me little more.  So if any of you know anything, do tell.  I’d also quite like to know who wrote those rather strange limericks for London Transport in the 1950s too.

Incidentally, this is mounted on linen with brass rings set in the corner, something which seems to have been done a while ago.  I wonder if this is another way in which posters were mounted at the time, by London Transport, for display.

Less intrinsically mysterious, but interesting because it is rare, is this Christmas poster for Heals.

Charles Feeney Christmas Heals poster

I can at least tell you that Charles Feeney was Heals’ in-house display manager and designed a lot of their posters.  He was clearly very good at it.

Finally, this.

Tom Eckersley Properly packed parcels please doll GPO poster

Of course it’s a GPO poster from the 1950s, and of course it’s by Tom Eckersley, but beyond that I am somewhat boggled as I have never, ever seen it in a book or an archive before in my life – not even the BPMA have a copy.  So how can it really exist?

I’m rather pleased with that one though, as it’s one of the few posters of this type that has a happy ending.  We have this one framed and on the wall already.

Tom Eckersley properly packed parcels please dog

But it has to be tucked away in a corner, because Small Crownfolio doesn’t like to see it, as it makes her sad.  And I can see where’s she’s coming from with that.

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To the Max

Right, this is a fleeting visit as time has run away with me this week, but you need to know that Bloomsbury have an auction, and it’s tomorrow.  The title is Railwayana including the collection of Michael Max, and it contains all manner of things, including nineteenth century Parliamentary reports on atmospheric railways and maps of Barry docks.  Fortunately for us, there are also a few posters.

Star exhibit if you are me is this Lander, which I swear I’ve never seen until now.

R M Lander North Wales British Railways poster
R M Lander, est £150-250

Star exhibit for everyone else is probably this.

McKNight Kauffer Great Western Devon poster 1932
McKnight Kauffer, 1932, est. £600-800

Beyond that, there are pictures of trains and pictures of places and I can’t really get excited about very much of it.  Although this is at least different, and I’m always a sucker for that 1950s Festival typeface anyway.

Harwich British Railways poster 1956
Anonymous, 1956, est. £150-200

I have been meaning for a while to have a wonder about Bloomsburys, because some posters seem to have been slipping through there at quite a low price, and I don’t know whether that’s them, or a sign of changing times in the market (yet again). But I’ll save that for their next poster sale, I think.

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The importance of being dull

Still the auctions keep coming at us.  Although today’s first offering is a bit left field, as Lawrence’s of Bletchingly have a really quite massive set of World War Two Propaganda posters on offer in their next sale.  But it’s a set of posters I rather like, mainly because they are very, very dull.

Take the one on the left, here.  This is about strikes in the mining industry, which were a real problem during the war.

World war two propaganda poster illegal stoppages men wanted for stretcher parties

I doubt that would ever get illustrated, except perhaps in a fairly detailed book about the mining industry during World War Two.  And that’s if they ever found a copy – it doesn’t seem to be in the IWM collections, certainly not in the digitised set anyway.  And so it’s dull, but it’s actually quite important.

Sometimes it still boggles me that there is no complete record of what posters were produced during the war (I mean, what’s their excuse?) and, more than that, we still don’t really have any idea.  So posters like this can just pop up and, perhaps, be seen for the first time since 1945.  And so this poster may be dull, but it’s also important.

There are plenty more where that came from too.

Quicker Turnaround World War Two propaganda poster

This one isn’t in the IWM digitised collections either, but there are six copies in this auction.

The story of how they survived is as follows (with thanks to Lawrences for being so helpful).

The posterswere discovered in a chest of drawers which had been kept in a garage.  Surprisingly they have survived on the whole in very good condition, although many do show signs of age and some appear to have been displayed at the time of the war.  There are also many which have not been used and we can only guess were surplus to requirements.  Two envelopes and some labels are visible within the collection and are addressed to HM Inspector of Taxes, Hendon.  I should imagine that the collection had not seen the light of day for nearly 70 years.

From the selection offered, I am guessing that Mr Inspector of Taxes was an air raid warden, as a lot of the posters relate to that.

Strip posters what to do in an air raid, world war two propaganda

And I think we can see some official document here.

eyes poster and official ARP documentation

But he clearly got sent a lot of other stuff too, as what’s on offer covers a huge range from the run-up to the war, through to the war itself and then the financial aftermath as well.

Fill the Ships to Fill the shops World War Two propaganda poster

There is only one poster that I would buy on aesthetic grounds, which is this classic Lewitt-Him.

Lewitt Him Shanks Pony Walk Short Distances poster world war two

Unlike most of the others, it has an estimate, in this case a fairly reasonable £100-200.   Although it is in the slightly more lurid (and if I am remembering rightly, later) colour way and version, which I have to say I like less.

Lewitt Him Shanks Pony Walk Short Distances poster world war two

But that’s not the star turn.  Because what else was in the drawer, but this?

Keep Calm and Carry On poster

And not once, but six times.  Each now with an estimate of £400-600.

I have to say though, that I can’t really see the point of buying an original of these, unless you are a museum.  Because restored, framed and on the wall, everyone is just going to assume that you’ve bought a reprint.  And I can’t see the satisfaction of knowing that you have an original being worth several hundred quid.  Although this is mainly because I can’t really see the point of buying it at all.

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Auctions, var

The Great Northern Railwayana auction is back with us again next weekend, once again in my old stomping ground of Poynton.  Sadly, the posters aren’t quite as exciting as they were last time, but there are still a few that catch my attention, like some classically styled seaside posters.

Whitby british Railways poster 1950s

I like both the woman fighting the dog and the oh, by the way we’ve got a ruin down in the corner.  So full marks for that.

Weymouth British Railways poster 1950s

This one gets points because we go to Weymouth (although the beach is never as curiously empty around us) which does also allow me to say that the bay actually looks nothing like that really.  But it also wins because it’s once again proving my argument that railway posters for seaside holidays are predominantly aimed at women.  I mean, look at he: she’s got to go and have a swim all by herself while he looks after the toddler.  And in fact she’s been away for so long that he’s turned the colour of a sideboard.  The colours make my eyes hurt generally with that one, they’ve been turned up too high.

Shall we look at something more restful instead?

British Railways poster York Spencer 1955

I sort of like it, but to be honest there isn’t a whole heap of stuff that tickles my fancy this time around.

I can also offer you this though.

Hugh Casson BEA Rome poster

Admittedly, it’s not the most ground breaking image in the world, but it is by Hugh Casson, which has to count for something.  Architectural detail, probably.

And that is about your lot.  There are some Terence Cuneos on offer as well. but I’ve run out of ways to express my lack of interest in engineering detail.  I’m sure they will go to good homes.

Meanwhile, Van Sabben have an auction the week after, and boy have they been busy.  But on my first trawl through the 962 posters on offer (yes you did read that right) I couldn’t see a single British item.  My second go did turn up one or two, but even then, they are not that exciting.  I think my personal favourite is this.

William Henry 1949 BEA poster
William Henry, 1949, est. €220-450

In the end, that is what you want from an airline, isn’t it.

Running  it a close second is this, mainly because I can hear the words being read in those tight clipped tones from the newsreels.

Crawfords Biscuits poster 1930s
Anonymous, Crawfords, est. €70-150

I would quibble with them about the date though, as I don’t think many manufacturers were printing posters in 1940, and the clothes and hair also look earlier.  But I am prepared to be wrong on that.

Lastly, this poster for P&O is out of my usual sphere being both early and for cruising, but it is rather good.

Michael Horan P&O cruise poster 1930
Michael Horan, 1930, est. €1,500-3,000

I’ve never seen it before, but a cursory search reveals that Horan also did this in 1936, which I now need very badly.

Michael Horan poster 1936 p and o cruise sun

Apart from these, we are mostly looking at the usual suspects, of which this Lewitt Him is just one example.

Lewitt Him AOA poster 1950
Lewitt Him, 1950, est €150-300

More interesting, and also by Lewitt Him, is this poster for Israel.

Lewitt Him Israel poster 1950
Lewitt-Him, 1950, est. €80-160

Which sits alongside this Abram Games on similar lines.

Abram Games travel to Bible lands poster
Abram Games, 1950, est. €450-650

I’ve never seen either of these before, and they are both rather good.

To find these, I have of course had to wade through 950 or so other, foreign posters.  My compensation was a squirrel trying to sell me milk chocolate.

Milk Chocolate squirrel poster
Karel Suyling, 1955, est. €80-160

As they do.

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Spying on posters

Another photograph from Twitter for your amusement.  This time, it’s Vauxhall Bridge in the late 1950s.

Traffic on Vauxhall Bridge with posters to one side

The bomb site/development area hidden by the posters will one day become Terry Farrell’s MI5 headquarters.

Mr Crownfolio says that we have a copy of the Keep Britain Tidy poster, which I think is by Amstutz, but I can’t find any record of it if we do.  And if anyone can identify anything else, I will be much obliged.  I’ve put the picture on here giant sized (just click on it to see) so that you can have a good peer.  All I know is that the poster nearest us, but the traffic lights, is for the Radio Times.

And while we’re here, there is a whole page of Guinness posters in situ.  This hoarding is probably about the same period as the picture above.

Gilroy Guinness poster crocodile on hoarding 1957

As indeed are these Eckersleys on a bus, probably.

Bus with Eckersley Guinness poster

Should these have whetted your appetite, you can find lots more of them here.  Have fun.

Addendum:

It turns out that we did have the poster after all.

Amstutz litter poster

I couldn’t find it because a) it doesn’t actually say Keep Britain Tidy on it and b) we hadn’t got round to cataloguing it anyway.  I hope you are enjoying the carpet too.

Mr Crownfolio would also like to ask whether any of you think, as he does, that this knight has more than a passing resemblance to one D Cameron?

And thank you to everyone for the dating, in the comments and by email – much appreciated.

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