Postcard promoting JM Barrie’s Quality Street performed in Watford

Postcard promoting JM Barrie's Quality Street performed in Watford
A domestic servant in the arms of a policeman ‘at Watford’ was featured on a postcard published by Watkins & Kracke. As Eustace Watkins joined forces with Max Krake in 1909 and the partnership broke up a year later, it is easy to date.

The sender, ‘A.B.’ wrote to Lenny with little hint of romance: ‘Received your postcards quite safe; was pleased to hear you are enjoying yourself alright. Hope you do what I told you before you retire [from work or at the end of the day?] for the right two things. Don’t forget Clary and Archie as they both thought of you. We had John Scrivener and his wife in last night. They had been to Hendon to see the flying.’ John and his wife must have witnessed the first powered flight from Hendon: an 88-foot-long non-rigid airship built by Spencer Brothers of Highbury, London.

Watford Observer:

‘In the arms of the law at Watford’, 1909/10

‘A young man kissing the Village Belle when the sun is low at Watford’ bears a romantic silhouette, but it was sent in 1913 to a Mum: Mrs Marshall in Tillingham, Essex. ‘Many thanks for P.O. [Postal Order] received last evening. I do not know by what train I am coming by as we cannot get to know in time to let you know, but I will come in good time. Arthur told me he had written to you but don’t write to him until I come.’ I wonder what ‘Mum’ thought of her directives.

Watford Observer:

A young man and the village belle at Watford, 1913

A romantic Regency-era comedy that first opened in October 1901 at the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, Ohio before a short tour in New York was Quality Street by J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. A highly successful opening at the Vaudeville Theatre in London followed in September 1902 and, nearly 260 performances later, the production came to Watford on January 4 and 5, 1904. The producers sent prospective local theatre-goers a pictorial postcard advertising the production.

Mrs Parsons, of 51 High Street, Watford, was the recipient of my postcard. On the reverse it states: ‘Entire production carried with an exact replica of the scenery, uniforms and dresses from the Vaudeville Theatre, London.’ The venue was the Clarendon Hall, also known as the Agricultural Hall. The sizeable building, used for large meetings, military training and entertainment, was located to the rear of what became, in later years, the Carlton Cinema. The Palace Theatre did not open until the end of 1908.

Watford audiences paid 3/- (15p) and 2/- (10p) respectively for reserved and unreserved seats for Quality Street, bookable at Mr Carr’s in the High Street. They watched Valentine Brown, a dashing captain played by Seymour Hicks, and Miss Phoebe Throssel played by Ellaline Terriss in a dual role as a school mistress and her alter ego. Phoebe appeared on the postcard in both roles, the latter conceived to attract the captain’s attention after his ten-year absence in Europe fighting Napoleon’s army.

Quality Street was a smash hit, to such an extent that a brand of chocolates was named after the production. And, as a romantic postscript, Seymour Hicks and Ellaline Terriss became husband and wife in real life.

Embossed paper-framed hand-embroidered silk postcards were popular during World War One. Many had silk pockets into which pre-printed cards were placed. This Valentine postcard was sent by my grandfather to his fiancé, later my grandmother, from the Western Front in 1919. It was signed: ‘To my darling Agnes with fondest love, Your Reg.’

Watford Observer:

Silk postcard, sent from the Western Front in 1919 by Lesley’s grandfather to his fiance

In Hertfordshire, St Valentine’s Eve once bore similarities to All Hallows, in terms of spiritual connections. In the years long before mass-produced Valentine cards, a traditional old Hertfordshire song was sung by children of poorer families as they gathered soon after dawn outside local dignitaries’ houses. The householders would fling lovers’ knots, tokens and wreaths from their windows to the children below who also hoped for and often received sweets and money. The custom was for the children to don the Valentine gifts, dressing one boy with more than the rest. He would then lead a march as they all sang slowly at first, then gathering vocal momentum to match their pace:

‘Good Morning, ma’am, ‘tis Valentine

Curl your locks as I do mine,

Two before and three behind,

Good Morning, ma’am, ‘tis Valentine.

Good Morning, ma’am, ‘tis Valentine,

There are no grapes upon the vine,

There will be some in summer time,

So pray, ma’am, give me a Valentine.

Sentiments don’t change and Valentine’s Day remains a special date in the calendar. Have a good one!

Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary filmmaker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the ‘Evening Post-Echo’ in 1982-83 which have since been published in ‘Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey’, available at www.pastdayspublishing.com and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on ‘Two Lives, Two World Wars’, a companion volume that explores her father’s and grandfather’s lives and war experiences, in which Watford, Bushey and Oxhey’s history will take to the stage once again.

Watford Observer

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