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Action stations at Tower Bridge

Date Sent:    19 AUG 1954

Sender: Margret

Recipient: Mr Jack Gallagher, 5 Hampshire Way, South Shields.

Transcript:

Dear Jack!

We arrived very good in London.  We stay now in Croyden [sic].  It is very nice in London.  Today we have been by the Tower Bridge and I have visite [sic] penpal in Catford. Now I am tired.

Best wishes and heaps of love

Your Margret!

To 21st century teenagers connected to the wider world at the touch of a button, the idea of pen pals must seem rather quaint. When the internet allows global gaming from the comfort of your own room unfettered by language barriers, composing a letter in beginner’s French, Spanish or German is indeed an alien concept.

For the 1950s youngster a clutch of penpals promised an experience of life elsewhere.  Postcards were the ideal medium offering a professionally taken picture and restricted space to practise newly acquired language skills. Presumably Margret was not venturing as far north as South Shields to see Jack in person, but her Croydon base afforded access to the capital’s sights without having to pay London prices.

The Tower Bridge on a coloured postcard

Raphael Tuck & Sons post card captures a sunny picture of “The Tower Bridge” in action over a busy river.  The Tuch family – Raphael, Ernestine and their seven children (four sons and three daughters) moved to England in 1865 escaping the fallout from Prussian expansionism. Initially Raphael dealt in furniture and picture-framing, but when his sons Adolph, Herman and Gustave joined the family business, the picture side took over.   Adolph guided the fine art publishing to its first Royal Warrant in 1893, an appointment carried through each successive reign.  In 1894 Tuck’s produced their first post card rising to become the largest post card publisher in the world. Margret’s card bears the new Queen’s stamp but was probably produced in 1952-3 as it is styled “The Art Publishers by Appointment to the late King George VI”.   Raphael died in March 1900 and his grandson Desmond’s retirement in 1959 marked the end of family’s direct involvement in the firm.

Margret’s postcard features a lost aspect of the Tower Wharf – a front seat view of the river perched atop one of the cannon.  Tower Wharf was constructed to facilitate movement of war materials from stores within the site to equip English forces fighting in France during the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453 – but who’s counting?).  As the offices of Ordnance and Armoury responsible for this function expanded and demanded additional space, the Wharf accommodated spare cannon and workshops as well as a defensive battery.  Tuck’s cannon may well have graced the Grand Storehouse displays in the Tower’s inner ward until their fiery destruction in 1841 and then formed the Gun Park west of the White Tower. In 1916 the Tower Armouries Curator concerned by “atmospheric and chemical deterioration” moved the cannon he considered more interesting and delicate to the Basement of the White Tower.  The remainder found themselves multi-tasking on the Wharf providing a kids’ assault course, convenient lunch-time restaurant for City workers and general riverside seating.  In 1996 the majority were to the Royal Armouries’ artillery outstation at Fort Nelson, Portsmouth.  Today two naval cannon and two mortars are all that remain.

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