The temporary exhibition launching this summer, Hello from Hampstead! Discovering A History Through Postcards, will showcase a rarely displayed aspect of Burgh House’s collections: picture postcards. Quite commonplace objects, but when explored they provide the means to unpick the history of this postal phenomenon, as well as revealing snapshots of Hampstead’s history.
Many of the postcards in the Burgh House collection date from the turn of the 20th century, the ‘Golden Age’ of postcards. Several postal deliveries a day allowed for postcard messages to be sent frequently back and forth, so that it was possible to arrange meetings and social engagements on the same day. Such a high volume of postal communication led to great demand for these affordable and easily available postcards, many of which have found their way into the collection that this exhibition is centred around.
As an exhibition based on Hampstead, it may seem a little discordant to begin with a postcard that actually shows Golders Green (see left), but it is a snapshot of an event that had a huge impact on Hampstead, its development and no doubt its popularity in postcards. The scene shows a large crowd outside Golders Green Underground Station, waiting to claim a free ride on the newly opened ‘Hampstead Tube’ that connected Hampstead and Golders Green to Charing Cross at high speed. The tube not only facilitated and promoted suburban living, but also an increase in recreational visits to the area. Hampstead had been popular with visitors for hundreds of years, who flocked to drink the medicinal spa waters as well as to walk on the rambling Heath, a relatively short distance from the city. The arrival of the tube in addition to the overground trains, built upon this popularity and cemented Hampstead’s reputation as an easily reachable destination. This postcard therefore seemed to be a fitting introduction to an exhibition built around the subsequent, extensive imaging of the local area.
Postcards included in the exhibition will reflect the continually changing face of Hampstead through images of buildings and businesses that have radically transformed or disappeared. Postcards of celebrated and well-known Hampstead landmarks will also be displayed, including Admiral’s House, Keats House and the Old Bull and Bush pub. The proliferation of postcards during the Golden Age no doubt helped popularise and mythologise these recognisable places. Aspects of Hampstead Heath will also be explored through postcards in the exhibition – some underscoring its flora and fauna, others celebrating the recreation the Heath is famed for. Postcards of the fair, of people fishing, paddling and Bank Holiday gatherings reflect the valued leisure time the Heath supported, and still supports today. One postcard particularly summarises the sheer volume of people that came to the Heath on their days off during postcards’ Golden Age: The Last Train from Hampstead. The steam train is covered with visitors who are literally clinging to its sides, worn out after a day spent on the Heath and in the village, many of whom no doubt recounted their experiences to friends and loved ones through the sending of a postcard.
Hello from Hampstead! Discovering a History Through Postcards opens on 17th July and runs until 13th October. Burgh House is open Wednesday to Friday and Sunday, 12:00-5:00pm. Free entry.