Sussex is well represented in my vast collection of hankies

Mid Sussex Times July 11
Mid Sussex Times July 11

Well, the sun’s shining and we’re looking forward to a trip to the seaside, hopefully without needing our cagoules. No doubt I’ll be browsing in a few shops while we’re there but what I am never able to buy these days, unlike in the 1950s and 60s, is a hanky to remind me of my visit.

When I was a child in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, a friend went on holiday to Seaford and brought me home a handkerchief printed with colourful views of Eastbourne’s Carpet Gardens and Bodiam Castle.

Mid Sussex Times July 11

Mid Sussex Times July 11

That was the start of my collection of souvenir and commemorative hankies and I now have more than four thousand from all over the world. It was the ideal little gift to buy myself when on trips out with my parents, reasonably priced and light to bring home on the train. At that time they were sold by Woolworths and souvenir shops, usually in silk or cotton, either printed or embroidered with local views, people and buildings.

Now that they’re no longer sold my husband Peter and I enjoy searching for them in charity and bric a brac shops and of course at car boot sales. At Ardingly Antiques and Collectables Fair one year I discovered a hanky with Shirley Temple’s portrait on and another time was delighted to get a keepsake of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

I’ve been fortunate to be given lots of fascinating additions to my collection, some of which I’ve needed to research, such as the one picturing Miss Marjorie Knowles, the Cotton Queen.

I have dozens depicting royal events including Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the 1934 Opening of the Mersey Tunnel by King George V and Queen Mary and the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll, but sadly none since those produced for her Silver Jubilee in 1977.

The delicate silk hankies, often lace-edged and daintily embroidered with regimental crests, were sent back to their wives and sweethearts at home by servicemen in the 1st and 2nd World Wars: a few of mine still contain the original powder-puff tucked into a corner pocket.

The Imperial War Museum borrowed a selection of these, together with my treasured Beatles hanky, to display in their From the Bomb to the Beatles exhibition in 1999.

We enjoy showing hankies at various events and for the past twenty years I’ve been giving talks about them. I love hearing the gasps of amazement when people see the variety of subjects they cover.

I’ve had the fun of showing them on television a few times too and meeting other collectors.

Sussex is very well represented among my mementoes. They include Chichester Cathedral, Arundel Castle, Littlehampton and Bognor Regis. I have a pair of dainty satin hankies, one edged in pink, the other blue, of different scenes at Wannock Gardens near Eastbourne.

I’ve been told by ladies who’ve heard my talks that they used to go to the tea rooms there for Sunday School outings in the 1950s.

An amusing hanky that I found at a rummage sale here in Burgess Hill is the Brighton Beach Memoire.

There’s a view in each corner with a picture of a knot underneath and in the centre is printed “This is an authentic Brighton beach hat. Knot the corners and put on your head.”

Let’s just hope there’s a chance to use it this summer!

I’m giving my “Blow by Blow Through the Year” talk to the Cameo Club for Ladies at 2.30pm on Tuesday 16th July in St John’s Church Burgess. Details from Linda Blaker (01444 233868).