Arthur Wilson Massingham (Palace Book Depot)


Trollybus decorated for Hastings Carnival Week (1937 postmark)

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Fancy goods dealer, stationer and proprietor of the Palace Book Depot at 37 White Rock, Hastings (close to the Palace Hotel). In the late 1920s and during the 1930s Massingham published some glossy, sepia-toned real photographic cards of Hastings, which were labelled on the back '"Palace Book Depot," 37 White Rock, Hastings'. All the examples that have been inspected have white borders. The earliest cards have captions written in very neat, evenly sized, blocky capitals and 5-digit serial numbers followed by the initials "J.V.", which indicates that they were printed by Valentine's of Dundee. The cards were evidently not exclusive to Massingham since versions have been found that make no reference to his Book Depot and are prominently labelled "Valentines" on the back.

In about 1931-2 Book Depot cards appeared with captions in italic capitals, and by 1933 the captions became less formal with capitals only at the start of words. The capitals sported a variety of idiosyncratic embellishments. Serial numbers in many cases shrank to 4-digits or were omitted altogether. By this date the cards included at least one view of Pevensey, which suggests that Massingham was seeking trade at increasing distances from Hastings. There is no reason to suppose that Valentines were still carrying out the printing, but the cards were almost certainly bought in, and further research is needed to try to determine the identity of the supplier.

The card reproduced above is exceptional in that it lacks both a caption and a serial number though it has the usual Book Depot label on the back. Posted in 1937, it shows an open-top Hastings bus decorated for carnival week, and may have been specially commissioned by Massingham to mark the occasion, most probably from a local printer. The existence of this card suggests that Massingham was a genuine postcard publisher and not merely a retailer. The Pevensey card hints that he sold to shopkeepers as well as the general public.

Arthur Wilson Massingham was born at Walthamstow in east London in 1882. His parents were James Massingham, a draper, born at Bethnal Green in 1844, and Sybella Massingham, born in about 1843 at Barnsbury, Wiltshire. James was evidently very successful as a draper - the 1881 census records that at Walthamstow he employed "10 hands and a boy". In 1891 and 1901 he and his family were living at Woodford in east London. By 1911 he had moved with his family to 29 The Drive at Chingford in Essex. According to the census, Sybella had had eight children, one of whom it appears had died in infancy. All the others were unmarried and still living with their parents, including Arthur, who at 28 was the youngest child.

Like many of his brothers and sisters, Arthur Massingham began his working life helping his father with his drapery business. He moved to Hastings to set up as a stationer on his own account in 1923, taking over the White Rock shop from a Mr. F. Pololi. One of his brothers, Alfred William Massingham (born at Bethnal Green in 1874) also moved from London, but settled in St Leonards as a draper and ladies' outfitter, at 55 London Road.

Soon after arriving in Hastings, Arthur Massingham acquired a second shop at 6 Queens Road. He was still trading at White Rock and in Queens Road in 1940, but retired during the war. He died in 1954, aged 71.

Acknowledgement: Robert Gray kindly commented on and corrected an earlier draft of this text.

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