Evelyn from A Canadian Family left a comment on my post of a postcard of Nuthurst Parish Church. This got me thinking about whether postcards of parish churches are undervalued.
In terms of collecting, postcards of parish churches are probably the cheapest topographical cards that you can buy. There could be several reasons for this, there probably is a greater supply of parish church postcards (because they were once more common), but more than likely it is because churches just don’t seem as interesting as a high street with shops, public houses or Post Offices.
Evelyn is right of course, in many cases they may represent the only surviving images of some headstones. In most cases the inscriptions on the headstones are not readable, but many of the headstones pictured on these cards have disappeared.
Take for example the two images below of St. George’s Church, West Grinstead, Sussex. The first is a postcard published by A.H. Homewood of Burgess Hill, Sussex, it was posted in 1908.
The next image is a photo I took in 2008, and apart from the growth of the trees, in the intervening 100 years the headstones in front of the church have gone.
Sometimes this is from deterioration but sometimes this is through deliberate clearance, to create space for wedding groups to be photographed outside the church. Now of course health and safety also comes into play, with stones toppled in the name of safety.
How different it must have been for our ancestors to walk through rows of gravestones on their way to church services, rather than today where gravestones are dotted around the churchyard.
As a family historian and postcard collector I am happy that parish churches may not be as eagerly collected by others (it means I can afford them), but for me they are also an essential part of my collection and they are probably the only postcards where I can say for certain that “my ancestors were there”.