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Two Men From Ilfracombe

August 10, 2013
by the gentle author

Two young men from Ilfracombe

A small cache of glass slides of a century ago arrived at the Bishopsgate Institute recently as a donation from Ilfracombe Museum, yet the fact that nothing is known of these two men from Ilfracombe featured in the photographs has not prevented speculation.

“Don’t we look like born Londoners, taking a stroll down the Victoria Embankment in our best suits on a Saturday morning?  It makes the quay at Ilfracombe look pitiful I must say. We sought out the statue of old Raikes on his pedestal in the park and took a picture for Norah and her Sunday School nippers, like we promised. I never thought there were so many people in the world as we saw in Fleet St, it makes you wonder who cooks them all dinner? Everyone seems to know where they are going, so we did our best to blend in, keeping our noses directed towards St Paul’s up ahead in the fog. Himself tugged upon my cuff at every watering hole and it was all I could do to resist. Yet I still felt intoxicated by the train journey, changing at Exeter St David’s and whisking us at lightning speed to Paddington yesterday. We kept our wallets in our inside pockets, like you told us, and made sure that we did not both fall asleep at once, lest we should get robbed. Himself snored all the way up and missed the changing wonders of the landscape, of course. The sheets in the guesthouse were not of the cleanest but rather than raise a fuss I slept on top of the blanket. You do fear you might get lost in all the streets and never find your way out again. Magnificent vessels moored in the Pool and it reminded us of home to see the little tugs and pilot boats bobbing. It makes my head spin to see the big cargo ships lined up and think of the dark continents so far away. I swear I never walked so much as we did through the West End and back across the Park, and I felt we deserved a decent refreshment but the prices were iniquitous and I shall regret that cold roast beef sandwich as long as I live. Yet Himself was philosophical and asked what is existence without adventures like this? The boots are bearing up well, thankfully. At least, if we never go outside dear old Ilfracombe again, we can say that we have seen life now. Greetings to Ernie and Nan, and little Ralph and the twins.”

“Behold Sir Robert Raikes who founded the Sunday Schools movement”

“Best foot forward up Ludgate Hill”

“Outside St Paul’s”

“At the Pool of London”

“Passing ourselves off as Londoners”

“This is me and Albert”

Photographs courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Val permalink
    August 10, 2013

    I love this – very evocative BUT – the mystery in this is, who took the photographs?

  2. Paul Kelly permalink
    August 10, 2013

    “We can say that we have seen life now” – how sweet is this comment? I almost feel sorry for the chaps and wish I could show them around. They do seem to be quite fretful and in awe of their company and sojourn. So different their holiday in comparison to our internet cheap flights to far-flung destinations. Wonder where the roast beef sandwich came from and what it tasted like?

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    August 10, 2013

    I would guess before 1908 or even earlier – no motor vehicles visible at all, anywhere.
    Only other clue is the prevalance of the very curly-brimmed bowlers ( an 1890’s fashion IIRC ) & the ladies’ dark clothing outside St Pauls.
    Any information?

  4. Gary permalink
    August 10, 2013

    Seeing the two men posing in all of the locations would suggest that these slides came from a set featuring a visit by two Devonians to London, probably to be shown in a slide show of London to be shown to the people in the west country.

  5. SBW permalink
    August 10, 2013

    Really lovely to see these, many thanks.

  6. August 10, 2013

    Brilliant photos and letter, I hope the mystery as to their identities is solved. We should thank them for such wonderful photos brought to life with the narrative.

  7. lesley permalink
    August 10, 2013

    Wonderfully evocative but the last photo made me think. Where is that place? Is this huge monument to Albert still here? And the ordinary man, so small in comparison…

  8. Paul Kelly permalink
    August 11, 2013

    Lesley , in answer to your wondering , that monument still exists and it is the Albert memorial in Kensington gardens directly opposite the Royal Albert Hall.

  9. Jenny Atkins permalink
    August 12, 2013

    What a precious insight into their lives and a lost world. Absolutely marvellous!

  10. August 13, 2013

    The penultimate photo shows an advert for Nestle’s Milk, but the name alone isn’t a great help in dating – Nestle entered the UK market in 1868. Perhaps someone out there knows more about the brand evolution.

    In any case, aren’t there at least 3 men from Ilfracombe in the party?

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