Antique Wirral Postcards are a real collector's item

PUBLISHED: 00:59 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:28 20 February 2013

The Observatory, Bidston Hill and Lighthouse

The Observatory, Bidston Hill and Lighthouse

Alan Brack meets the remarkable Glyn Holden, Wirral local historian and collector extraordinary postcards

It is becoming clear that email disease and text-message blight are spreading to unexpected quarters. The latest victims, it has been reported, are picture postcards. The grand old tradition of sending picture postcards home from the seaside to Mum and Dad and sundry relations and friends has dwindled to the extent that there has been a campaign launched to save them from extinction.

And may that campaign succeed. A texted 'Wish u wr hr' or 'Hvng a gr8t tme' is not only insultingly fleeting but as cold as a fishmonger's slab, unlike a postcard which conveys the thought that although we're away you are still in our thoughts.

One section of the population which will look upon this news with mixed feelings is the picture postcard collectors, of which there are more than might be imagined. The news, of course, will really only affect collectors of the future. The interest of present day collectors lies in postcards of yesteryear and earlier.

'A texted 'Wish u wr hr' or 'Hvng a gr8t tme' is not only fleeting but as cold as a fishmonger's slab, unlike a postcard which conveys the thought that although we're away you are still in our thoughts '

One such is the remarkable Glyn Holden of Claughton in Wirral, the same Glyn Holden who we featured last year after he had completed and perfected a model of Bidston Parish Church which - with some unavoidable interruptions - had taken up 27 years of his spare time.

Glyn, a former electrical engineer, is also an ardent collector of old picture postcards of his beloved Wirral. But he was born in Liverpool so he avidly collects old postcards of the European Capital of Culture, too. He is also a keen collector of old maps and commemorative mugs.

As though that were not enough, he never leaves home without a camera in his pocket and now has copious albums of colour photographs recording the regeneration of Liverpool's city centre, almost brick by brick and girder by girder.

This might give the impression that Glyn's house must resemble the back room of a secondhand bookshop on stocktaking day. To the contrary. Like any good archive, all items are carefully filed in leather binders in a glazed cabinet or dated and colour-coded on shelves. They are also catalogued so he can immediately put his finger on any particular item.

He now has some 3,000 postcards in all. His speciality is collecting postcards depicting, in one guise or another,Wirral's famous Bidston Hill with its renowned (but now disused) observatory, lighthouse, children's farm, ancient stone carvings, rhododendron gardens and much else. 'It's a very special place,' says Glyn. And, not surprisingly, he is now regarded as a walking encyclopedia on its history. How many cards of the hill?' 'Well over 250 at the last count'.

He also boasts 300 postcards, from the Victorian era onwards, of scenes in Birkenhead Park. As we reported in the Wirral Matters feature of our May issue last year a number were on exhibition for several weeks in the Park's new striking all glass Pavilion.

An added interest in collecting postcards from yesteryear, of course, are the messages written on the reverse. In the Park exhibition the messages had all been reproduced underneath and the public found them almost as fascinating as the pictures.

Glyn never misses any Heritage Fair that may be held in the area and has an intimate knowledge of every secondhand bookshop and every market between Chester and Southport where postcard sellers have stalls.

Why does he go to so much trouble? 'I'm interested in life as it was led in these parts since picture postcards were first introduced in 1894. 'Picture postcards are history,' he said. And those illustrated here, kindly lent from his collection, emphatically support his view.

Take, for instance, the picture of Upton Road in Birkenhead. This is actually a Tjunction at the very centre of Claughton Village. A similar shot taken at the same spot today would have seen this gent and others in the road being stretchered off to hospital.

The raincoated, Homburg-hatted gentleman admiring (or rebuking) a lad on roller-skates has been identified. His name was Fergusson Irvine, well-known in Wirral as a local historian, lecturer and author of several books. He was also the father of Andrew ('Sandy') Irvine who, at the age of only 22, was lost with George Mallory on their legendary assault on Mount Everest in 1921. Both lived in Birkenhead. 'As I was saying,' said Glyn, 'picture postcards are history.

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