Way Down West

We know that picture postcards covered (and in some cases still do) virtually every location, so whatever place takes a collector’s fancy, a selection of cards will be around from Golden Age vintage to the present day. I’ve got a soft spot for Ilfracombe on the north Devon coast and am always prone to pick up the odd postcard when I can.

One particular viewpoint is quite fascinating – a view of the town and harbour from Hillsborough, an elevated spot that affords a cracking view. Postcard publishers were obviously quick to spot this, so innumerable cards were produced from a huge number of publishers. Two feature here, an early Raphael Tuck (below) and a Great Western Railway official (above). That plethora of views from Hillsborough postcards illustrates one of the frustrations of collecting postcards of a seaside resort – there are just too many cards of the touristy bits and not enough real photographs of animated side streets!

Some of the best photographic cards actually came from W H Smith, one of many nationals to get in on the Ilfracombe act. Raphael Tuck, the leading national publishing firm, contributed some early cards in their ‘County’ series and later there were several sets of Oilettes.

Even in Edwardian days, trips to local places on carriages pulled by horses were popular and Lynton was a favourite trip. The surrounding terrain was negotiated best by these conveyances, and lots of postcards exist of travellers waiting to depart. The developed photos would be available to buy on their return! Also occasionally found are postcards showing the ‘Great Gale’ at Ilfracombe in December 1910. Originally a small fishing port, Ilfracombe developed in the 19th century, initially as a select place for wealthier travellers and then, with the arrival of the railway in 1874, a popular resort for everyone. Hotels and boarding houses sprang up to cater for demand when trains began bringing in huge numbers of holidaymakers. The town probably saw its most vibrant days in the 1950–70 period but decline set in (the closure of the railway line in 1964 didn’t help), which was reversed only relatively recently (pre-Covid). Its immediate future may be tough. Incidentally, there was an attempt to resurrect the railway line from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe as a heritage route, but it came to nothing.

Article by Brian Lund

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