vintage seaside portrait photographs


School run

Mother and two school children Thirties

The school run … Thirties style. These days looking at this photograph you would think ‘private education’ right away, but I can still recall the daunting multi-page list of kit my parents were faced with when I got into the local grammar school (though in my case it was a striped cap not a straw bonnet!). It’s a good example of the way walkies captured everyday life; it seems very unlikely Mum and her two smartly attired daughters would have ever been photographed on their way to school otherwise.
This is one of a strip of three walkies taken in the Thirties in another unidentified location. I have a few others taken on the same spot, and everything suggests an urban rather than coastal town. The number of trams is one thing, while the general bustle looks more determined than relaxed. The far side of the busy street is tree lined, so may be the edge of a park. The sturdy stone built and soot darkened edge of an important building is the only likely way to tie this in to the scene today, but I’m not holding my breath!

Empire expands

Empire Films, walking picture

I have looked at Empire films on this site before. They were based in Clacton, however Empire walkies keep turning up which clearly are not from there. Here are two more from a walkies strip which I picked up recently. The background buildings suggest somewhere quite small and quaint, there is a sign for a Tea Garden up the stone steps on the right, and the walkway is elevated, with those traditional seaside iron railings stopping you falling into the road.

Empire Films, walking picture

One frame has been marked in ink with a cross, earmarked for keeping perhaps, or sending to a friend. I would guess at husband and wife and her sister but they all seem set for a sit and a read somewhere.

Westham Bridge, Weymouth, walking picture, 1930s, mum and pram

Susan Ashton has also been trying to find the location for two Empire walkies she has, one of which is dated 1936 on the back. Had I found these walkies in a pile of snaps I would have guessed at a family group, but in fact her Mum – who is the young girl on the right in both pictures – was kindly taken on holiday by her neighbours. But where? Susan rightly agreed it wasn’t Clacton. There were some clues which might help; the distinctive church in the background and the wide bridge they are walking over, although there was a chance it had been replaced in the meantime. But in the second photograph was a bus with the destination board which read Westham on it.

Westham Bridge, Weymouth, walking picture, 1930s, old bus

The only Westham I could find (apart from London – and as they were carrying beach spades that seemed unlikely!) was near Eastbourne, a popular town for walkie photographers. I could not find a bridge or church like this in the area so emailed the Eastbourne Local History Society and they kindly asked their members. They said it wasn’t Eastbourne but Alan Brooker found a Westham in Weymouth and suggested I try that. A few moments looking for this on Bing Maps showed a likely looking bridge and then an image search threw up this old photo of Westham Bridge and the church in the distance; mystery solved. Memo to self, do not rely on the web to find suburbs, dig out the trusty old Reader’s Digest map and gazetteer of the British Isles in future.

Westham Bridge, Weymouth

The concrete bridge still strides over Radipole Lake, but is now stopped to traffic and used as a carparking area. I have marked the church from the original walkie in red. All the entertainments which once drew visitors to the area, including a miniature railway and a small circus, were swept away by road development and the church is now obscured by a big development of flats (I have walkies taken by the railway there by a firm called Guy’s Snaps which are on the site).

Westham Bridge, Weymouth

But if the location is now confirmed it means the story of Empire Films is not as simple as first thought. They are known to have taken walkies in Norwich, and possibly Bournemouth too. And if they were operating as far away from Clacton as Weymouth, how was the company set up, and where else did they have photographers?  Do let me know if you have any walkies by the firm which are named.

Walkies book pages

The publishers of the upcoming book devoted to walking pictures (Go Home On A Postcard) have just posted a set of page visuals, and the results look really interesting. We can reproduce one here; to see the rest click on the title link and it will take you straight there. They are planning for a summer publication.

Go Home On A Postcard walking pictures book

All back to Mablethorpe

Mablethorpe pull over 1930

I have shown some of the walking pictures taken on Mablethorpe’s pull-over before and have been keeping an eye out for more. Here are two more recent finds, both taken by Wrates who had a shop and kiosk in the town but were (and still are) based in nearby Skegness. I was in Mablethorpe a few weeks ago and the location has completely changed although amazingly I chatted with a lady whose parents both worked for Wrates in the thirties before setting up in business as photographers on their own.

Mablethorpe pull over 1930s

The pull-over led people to the sea-front shown in the third image, and you can see one of the walking picture kiosks on the left, although I cannot be sure if this was owned by Wrates or not. They are also offering to have your film developed and printed in two hours.
These elegant wooden kiosks have gone and been replaced with very tatty albeit better protected modern buildings as seen in the colour snap.

Mablethorpe sea front then and now

Mablethorpe sea front then and now

Mablethorpe walkies over the years also feature in a YouTube video I have put together.


Pigeons Trafalgar Square, 1950s

While walking picture are by far the most numerous of the informal street souvenir photographs, cameramen were quick to exploit any opportunity and Trafalgar Square has been a tourist destination for many years.  It has also been a destination for many of the local pigeons and they became very used to people, so ‘having your photo taken with the pigeons’ has been going on since Victorian times. While some people took their own shots, street photographers have also been on hand in the square. I’ve no idea how they operated, though would imagine they used one of the ‘develop and print while you wait systems’ such as the Aptus camera, as tourists would be unlikely to want to come back later to buy a print. This is one such postcard of a smart couple from the late Fifties by the look of it, and I’m keeping my eye out for more so do get in touch if you have any.

Three ladies, Skegness

Three ladies, walking, Skegness 1930s

I’ve marked this great walkie simply as “Three ladies, Skegness” because try as I might I have not been able to pin down the street. It’s clearly not the front Parade as both sides of the street here are developed. Numerous streets in the town were tree lined too, so that doesn’t help. The only slight clues are the wooden fence panels and the car-park sign on the left. These panels appear in another walkie I have (see below) and I assumed they were the entrance to the Tower Gardens but if so, I can’t spot any old views which confirm this. The second view (which is probably earlier as the reference number is hand-written in the corner) might even be a different street, as the Gardens had several entrances, but for now it will have to remain a small mystery. I did have a walk round the park on a recent visit but couldn’t spot any clues.

Four ladies, walking, Skegness 1930s
Puzzle aside, the walkie is by the local firm of Wrates and looks mid-Thirties to me, though maybe fashion experts could narrow it down. Anyhow, proof that summers years ago were always better if you ask me.

The story of Wrates is covered on the site.


With three piers and millions of visitors, Blackpool was a hive of Walking Picture activity for a long time, but fewer turn up compared to places like Cleethorpes or Margate. I suspect this is because many were taken by a company called Walkie Snaps, who sold small half postcard size prints. But the two walkies here are of a higher quality. Neither were identified but the seller thought one was Blackpool, and although the building behind them has some changes in decor, it is clearly the same one in both photographs. The Hotel in the far background is recognisable as the Metropole, and the monument is Blackpool’s Cenotaph, both of which are still standing. Which identifies this as the North Pier, specifically the east end nearest the town.

Blackpool walking picture 1930s North Pier

It looks to me as if the group of five well dressed women is the older of the two, maybe early 1930s against late 30s for the other? It’s a really nice image though, they seem to have just left the restaurant and spotted the photographer just as he takes the shot – with the last of the group making some comment to the couple by the door and the well-dressed woman looking directly at the lens exuding an air of forbearance. Both at the photographer and the weather perhaps.

The two couples in the other image have been caught rounding the end of the building, which is probably why it was a popular lurking spot for the photographer (despite the evidence of a good breeze blowing in both instances). There is a clear reduction in quality between the two photographs as well.

Blackpool walking picture 1930s North Pier

The building itself has very little resemblance to the spot today, but the iron seating and pier remain, now listed. Both photographs are printed on postcard paper, but neither have been posted – although someone has put an address in Doncaster on the second card in pencil, but perhaps changed their mind – and used the rest to tot up a bill of some sort instead.


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