In a previous blog, I wrote about my small collection of vintage cookery books and about how much I love to find handwritten recipe books at fairs. However, that’s where I draw the line in personal memorabilia. I feel very differently about strangers’ scrapbooks, photo albums and the like. My other half, who loves to buy photo albums and loose pictures of total strangers himself, says they are a social history. I say they are a very personal history and I don’t want people who have no connection to me looking through mine in years to come, so I have left instructions for everything personal to be burned when I am gone.
On TV programmes such as Cash In The Attic and the like, people seem prepared to get shot of family albums for what amounts to the cost of an average weekly supermarket shop – and then what? It’s gone forever! We yelled at the telly on one occasion, when the woman getting rid of one small family album said, rather feebly, ”Well, no one in the family wants it.” Not NOW, maybe but you just wait a few years’ hence, when someone wants to do the family tree and displays a natural curiosity to wonder where their curly hair, long limbs and big ears come from. The album wasn’t huge; it would have taken up a bit of space on a bookshelf somewhere, or a box in the loft, or under the bed, or on top of the wardrobe. Anywhere, really, other than in someone else’s home! As it is, she got an underwhelming hundred pounds for it, before auction costs were deducted. I repeat: probably the cost of an average weekly supermarket shop. Gone forever. Give me strength!
All that said, I made an exception at a vintage fair a while ago, when I spotted two identical albums crammed full of personal memorabilia. So personal, it hurt me to leave them behind. So I bought them, carted them home and stuck them on a bookshelf, always meaning to do something about them. Now, thanks to social media, I am going to try to find someone who can identify them at the very least; if not actually claim true ownership.
I imagine they were part of a general house clearance, though it’s sad to think there might have been nobody around to do a final check on everything. I hope that wasn’t the case. I hope there is someone out there to whom these deeply personal books are going to have a special meaning and connection.
The compiler is Mrs Gwen Brown, married to Douglas, with a daughter, Tessa and living at 34, Castle Road, Hythe, Kent. The books were compiled in the Sixties and Seventies and are crammed full of greetings cards received from friends, snippets about the weather, local dignitaries, cricket, India, horseracing, royalty and local news and dos, especially weddings. There are receipts for meals out and other special occasions, invitations, letters from friends and much, much more. An actress, Jane Merrow, is featured quite a bit, so whether she was a neighbour, family friend or relative, I have no idea but it might be a clue.
Mrs Brown appears to have had quite a wry sense of humour. There are some characterful line drawings of people and she clearly enjoyed cutting out headlines from newspapers to make up her own captions to letters, photographs, etc – sometimes a little bit cheeky. How could she ever have guessed that her own very personal record of her life and times would one day end up in a fair in a completely different county? Just heaped on a trestle table, along with countless other paraphernalia? For all I know, there were more scrapbooks at one time (though I could only see the two at this particular fair), as it seems to me that she had fun compiling these and, I’m certain, wouldn’t have stopped there.
It wasn’t all about fun things, though. Her brother, John, dies and it appears that, one minute her daughter, Tessa, is getting married – and the next not.
She comes across as a kind and thoughtful person. A lot of the letters are thank-yous for gifts received and good deeds done. It’s a pity there are no pictures of herself or her husband and daughter amongst the pages.
There’s a wonderful phrase from a friend who is writing about her forthcoming move: “Are we all too possessed by our possessions?” I shall most likely be coming back to that subject in a future blog, as one who is laden down with things and is far too sentimentally attached to them, so I have some empathy for the poor lady, as she tries valiantly to shift a lifetime’s belongings in order to downsize. (When I recently broached the subject of moving at some point in the near future to my OH, his first panicked utterance was: “But we have too much STUFF!”)
I have included a selection of photographs here and I’m hoping that someone, somewhere, can identify at least some of them. Wouldn’t it be great to get these books back to their rightful owner(s)?