Sunday, February 12, 2023

Sunday's postcard: Christmas greetings with Mary Kelynack

This undated, split-back postcard was published by F. Frith & Co. of Reigate, England.1 Across the top, it offers "All Good Wishes for Christmas." Across the bottom, the caption states: "Mary Kelynack of Newlyn, who at 80 years of age, walked to London to see the Queen."

I pulled bits and pieces of Kelynack's story, some conflicting, from several websites. It goes something like this:

Mary Kelynack lived in Newlyn, a seaside town in Cornwall, down in the southwestern tip of England. She had been having trouble receiving a pension to which she believed she was entitled (she was a widow whose husband had served in the navy). So, in the middle of 1851, she decided to walk about 300 miles (350 miles, by some accounts) to Mansion House in London and plead her case. The journey took her about five weeks. She carried a basket and "her dress would have consisted of a large shepherd’s hat of black beaver, a gaily coloured calico jacket, a coarse flannel skirt, an apron and buckled shoes," states an article on Cornwall Yesteryear. That's the traditional outfit of a Cornish fishwife. (In Cornwall, they called themselves fishjousters.)

By various accounts, Mary was either 75, 80 or 84 years old at that time.

One of Mary's other goals in making the arduous journey was to visit the much-ballyhooed Great Exhibition of 1851 held in the Crystal Palace at Hyde Park. Goods and wonders from all across the United Kingdom had been shipped to London for the exhibition, which ran from May through mid-October in 1851. Those in attendance included Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Alfred Tennyson. 

Mary wanted to see the spectacle. But, for a brief moment, she became the spectacle.

Some newspapers had documented her long journey, so, by the time she arrived in London, she was a minor celebrity. Upon being greeted by the Lord Mayor of London, she said, "I never was in such a place as this. I have come up asking for a small sum of money. I am 84. ... I had a little matter to attend to, as well as to see the Exhibition. I was there yesterday and intend to go again tomorrow."

At some point during her whirlwind time in London, Mary was granted an audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In her diary, Queen Victoria wrote: “The old Cornishwoman who walked several hundred miles to the Exhibition was at the door to see me, a most pale old woman, who was near to crying at my looking at her.”

Artists made portraits of Mary, and she received a number of gifts amid all the attention. At least one folk song was written about her.

Ultimately, Mary was able to make part of the return trip to Newlyn by train. But, despite her moment of national fame in 1851, her death in 1855 went mostly unmentioned and she was buried in a pauper's grave. She was 86. Or maybe 89. 

* * *

This postcard was never stamped or addressed, but a cursive message, written in pencil, covers the entire back of the card. It states:
My dear Lily,
Glad to hear you liked Washington. We trust you and Mr. Marshall will enjoy good health & be spurrd [?] & see old England again some day. Often think on you and pleasent [sic] hours we use to enjoy together. 

With kind love & best wishes,
Alfie [?], Aunt M. [?]
God be with us till we meet again.
1. There's an interesting firsthand account of the final years of Frith & Co., in the late 1960s and 1970, at The Francis Firth Collection. The account concludes: "Sadly, it fell to me to print the very last Frith postcards. The final standard size postcards were cut off the last bulk roll and given an extra wash to better preserve them. They were then hand glazed, but not back printed. I still possess my copy as a memento, together with its machine negative. The other card (cards were printed two abreast) was given to the machine assistant. By the summer of 1970 my short career at F F & Co. was over and I got my P45 once the firm went into liquidation. The building was demolished and houses now cover the site."

No comments:

Post a Comment