Posters have survived the decades in all sorts of strange ways. Some were acquired by collectors at the time and carefully preserved. Others have turned up in printers’ archives or long forgotten store rooms. Occasionally a ‘hoard’ is found in the most unlikely of places. And that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago when we contacted a lady who had discovered a dozen or so railway posters hidden under a kitchen floor in Yorkshire for over 100 years.
Orient Line poster by Dudley Hardy (1867-1922)
Normally this would be cause enough for excitement, but there was an unexpected twist. All of the posters were published during the final weeks before the onset of the First World War in August 1914, yet there is no hint that a cherished way of life is about to come to an end. Instead, the posters promote a range of summer activities, including cruises to Egypt & Australia, country shows and holidays in Scotland. Most poignant of all are those advertising daytrips for the August Bank Holiday, which would be cut short by the declaration of war on 4th August.
The Great Yorkshire Show (Bradford) 22-24 July 1914
The language of the posters, too, is heavy with retrospective irony: families are encouraged to take the ‘Royal Route to Poppyland’ (a pre-war marketing slogan for North Norfolk), while summer trips from Leeds to Edinburgh are said to pass through ‘the beautiful Valley of Eden’. In a world where everything was about to change, even the Orient Line steamers that the wealthy were being invited to board for far-off places would soon be requisitioned for the war effort.
‘Royal Route to Poppyland’, 1914
The group is interesting too because they were almost certainly intended to be displayed together. As such they provide a full-colour insight into how the hoardings looked at a particular time – an insight usually only available to us via the medium of black and white photography..
Epworth Agricultural Show, August Bank Holiday 1914
It’s not known why the posters were saved, although we do know that they were used as underlay for a linoleum floor covering, suggesting that the primary reason was pragmatic rather than sentimental! Although showing the inevitable wear and tear that you might expect after a century underfoot, the original colours are remarkably vibrant and undimmed by the passage of time. Several of the best examples have now been expertly conserved by PH7 and are ready for display once more.
‘Royal Route’ to the Highlands, 1914
Excursions from Leeds to Glasgow and Edinburgh, 1913/4