Living Chess and a loving Daddy — a postcard for Father’s Day

Living Chess, 1904, HA901542
Living Chess, 1904, HA901542

The Brighton Mayor’s Children’s Ball was a regular event. Usually held in the Royal Pavilion, it appears to have been a charitable occasion that took place in the early part of the year. The theme for 1904 was ‘Living Chess’, and this postcard shows the children dressed as black and white chess pieces.

Although the ball was, presumably, a fun occasion, the image seems stilted and awkward. The children are all unsmiling or supressing grins. Most likely, this is because the stiff poses of Victorian portraiture had yet to fade from the photographer’s art, but it could also be a reflection of the game. Chess may be fun, but it is a cold, logical, strategic type of pleasure.

As is often the case with postcards, the message side is a clear contrast. Written to ‘Miss M Hardwick’ in Putney, the sender’s message consists of three simple sentences.

Handwritten side of Living Chess postcard, 1904
Handwritten side of Living Chess postcard, 1904

‘I hope you are almost well & that it will not be long before you are able to come home. With love to Uncle Frank. Your loving Daddy.’

This message tells us very little. We don’t know the name of the sender, we don’t know what illness his daughter was suffering from, or whether she ever got better. We know nothing about Uncle Frank, or why the daughter had to convalesce with him. But we do know that this father missed his daughter. And, appropriately for Father’s Day, that’s the least mysterious thing of all.

Kevin Bacon
Digital Development Officer

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