There was a young girl named Bianca

Resurrecting the humour of yesteryear is a favourite pastime of mine – so today I thought I’d share a charming hundred year old postcard from my maritime collection.  As usual, it also comes with an interesting back story.

From the Lemuel Lyes collection

“There was a young girl named Bianca

Asleep on a ship whilst at anchor.

But awoke with dismay,

When she heard the mate say,

Let’s hoist up the main sheet and spanker”

The sender of this amusing postcard was a husband who was about to embark on a sea voyage up the coast from London to Harton Low Staithes, South Shields. A short journey like this might seem mundane – but shipping routes like this one kept the lights on in London.  The husband was most likely traveling on a collier – a ship specially designed to carry large amounts of coal.

Our sender was traveling to a staithe run by the Harton Coal Company.  In 1902 they employed 4 700 workers but by the start of the First World War in 1914 this number had increased to over 10 000.  They owned all the collieries in South Shields, built their own railway system and supplied coal to cities like London.  This coal was the lifeblood of industry, powered electrification projects and literally kept the home fires burning.  So it isn’t surprising to find out that the Germans bombed the place with zeppelins.

One of my personal philosophies in life is that if anyone ever attacks you with zeppelins then you must be doing something right.

So in summary it is easy to look at a postcard like this, channel memories of the Onedin Line and smirk at the romantic notion of a woman mishearing a ships mate.  But in reality it was sent from a world where thousands of people toiled underground for precious fossil fuel to load onto colliers to power cities like London.  All the while being stalked by zeppelins.  I suspect this card was an effort to have a laugh despite hard work in hard times – but I’m going to romanticize it all anyway.  Have a great Friday.

© Lemuel Lyes

Collectors might be interested in this site which includes several articles on memorabilia from the Harton Coal Company

5 replies »

  1. Cool card – and a brilliant pun of the classic ‘music hall’ style ‘nudge nudge’ variety. Wonderful insight into how people thought back then. Oddly enough, my grandmother was attacked by Zeppelins.- I’m not kidding. She was living in London during the 1917 bombing campaign and actually watched one of the night battles – searchlights, AA guns barking, stripped Sopwiths climbing to try and shoot the thing down. They got it too. It must have been a pretty horrifying sight when you think about it.

    • Wow what an incredible family story to have. It must have been truly horrifying for Londoners to find their city vulnerable to attack from the air by both the zeppelins and then later in the war by the long-range bombers.

      I find the humour from that period fascinating, especially when a lot of it deals with pretty heavy subject matter. ‘Fragments from France’ is a favourite of mine.

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