Adventures in Letter Writing No. 22: Postcards from the Past

OK, seriously, this is why the world of letter writing is not dull at all but a little world of discovery!? From the same fabulous junk shop whence the candlesticks and Victorian glass bottles came I also found an unused pack of picture postcards of a place called Braemar in Scotland.  They intrigued me and made me want to visit Scotland even though it’s literally the other end of the country. I had intended to actually use them although I am always a bit undecided about old postcards, but at the same time feel they were made to be sent.  Anyhow I hadn’t. I’d put them in the ever growing pile of writing paper and stationery and bits and bobs for later use and then promptly forgot about them.

However the other evening, having prised the gaming console from youngest’s hands, I said “Let’s each write a letter to a friend. It’ll be fun (!?).  Write about whatever you want, it’s your letter. Look! I’ve even got loads of stationery to choose from”, which was when I rediscovered “The Duplex Album – Scenic Views of Braemar” stashed away for safe keeping. They seemed too special to write on in the end so we used some other pretty paper I got for Christmas.  But after we’d finished and herbert had left the table to plug back in again I thought (likewise) I must look up some of the photos and names, and history, behind this fascinating set of postcards.  And what a magical journey that took me on.  First I went to Braemar Castle as featured on one of the pictures, then to Balmoral Castle (I kind of knew where it was, sort of, although not personally obviously!), the Danzig Bridge over the River Dee although this either doesn’t exist anymore or had a name change (I’m still searching), and then The Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar. 

On looking closely it seems the postcards had been published by The Proprietor (of the time – not sure when?), a Mr John Taylor. They were a funny concept. Printed in gold lettering on the front it says, “Six views in rich sepia photogravure detachable for use as postcards, with miniature view of each picture for future reference”.  The back of the miniature view has a place to write the addressee, date, and remarks! Sort of cheque-book style. What sort of things would you remark on!? “Told Aunt Mabel we wished she was here”?? But it is beautiful other world. There is even a bedroom tariff at the back explaining that The Fife Arms “patronised by Royalty” (don’t you know) is “Up-to-date in every particular”. I can’t help reading that like The Queen.  A double bedroom cost 12/- to 18/- (what does that even mean?), and there are additional tariffs for baths, visitors’ servants, and dogs. I wonder if there was a meeting about which order one should put those in!

I can’t find much about Mr John Taylor but I do know that The Fife Arms Hotel is now owned by “the art world’s most powerful couple”, Iwan and Manuela Wirth, and that they are in the midst of renovating it to the highest standards. And that took me on another interesting and educational journey from Switzerland to Somerset and back to Scotland. It’s quite something to want to save this piece of heritage for years to come.  As was the exciting time capsule found under the floorboards of the hotel from over 100 years ago.  I know they aren’t really high end art but I wonder if the Wirths would like a set of postcards to add to the history collection? I’ll have to write and ask…


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