A Happy Christmas. That's what the overprint on this postcard wishes us. The card shows Maidstone Corporation trams 5 and 7 in the High Street of Maidstone, Kent. The card is number 411 in a series by the prolific North Kent publisher Thornton Bros. of New Brompton (Gillingham) and was printed in Britain in 1905. The view is taken from the bridge over the River Medway and looking to the east in the late afternoon. Tram 5 (on the left) is approaching the Queens Monument terminus at the top of the High Street while tram 7 is heading out of town towards Barming, the most westerly terminus of this small town system. The trams are seen in a notorious dip in the roadway which, until more recently built defences were erected, was subject to severe flooding from the river.
Trams 5 of 1904 and 7 of 1905 were from the batch of cars built by Electric Railway & Tramway Carriage Works Ltd. for the opening of the Maidstone Corporation Tramways in 1904. The colour of the trams was golden ochre and off-white, not the brown and cream of the card. The tramway, which ran until 1930, has been previously described with the Postcard of the opening.
After the introduction of picture postcards and the cheaper postage rate for them, a convenient way for the postcard publishers to create a low cost Christmas card was to overprint a normal view card such as this. See also the Postcard of Colchester. Our card was posted at 9.45pm on December 24th 1905, Christmas Eve, from Gravesend and sent to a local address. In those days there was a delivery on Christmas Day, unlike today when it is necessary to post weeks before to be sure your card will arrive before the event.
The Christmas card began in 1840 when British painter John Callcott Horsley (1817-1903) was asked to design a card (shown left) by Sir Henry Cole, who was later to become the first Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Cole had worked as the assistant of Rowland Hill from 1837 to 1840 and aided him in the introduction of pre-paid "penny" postage and the Penny Black stamp. Cole had numerous friends and had the card printed so he could wish them the season's greetings using the penny post. The card was of course sent in an envelope, as the sending of postcards at a halfpenny was not introduced in the UK until 1870, with picture postcards not appearing until 1890. In 1843 two batches totaling 2,050 cards were printed and sold by Summerly's Home Treasury Office for 1s each (1 shilling - now 5 new pence), Felix Summerly being a pseudonym used by Cole for his commercial projects.
Cole's card was not without its critics. Although it depicted the poor being aided by charitable work, the main scene was of a family enjoying Christmas which included a young child drinking wine, highly frowned upon by some. However, the custom of sending Christmas cards caught on and has developed into a multi-million pound industry, although Christmas postcards have mostly disappeared.
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