Old Hong Kong in the UK

Submitted by David on Sun, 04/02/2023 - 22:00

Greetings from springtime London. I'm at the end of a visit to the UK, mostly spent visiting family and friends, but I also took the chance to find some new photos and maps of old Hong Kong.

Festival of Cards

When I'm planning a trip to the UK I'll check the Postcard Traders Association's calendar to see if any postcard fairs will be on. Luckily the start of this visit coincided with the Festival of Cards, advertised as Britain's largest postcard fair.

The Postcard fairs aren't as good sources of Hong Kong cards as they used to be - most dealers in the UK who get any Hong Kong postcards now post them straight to eBay, knowing there is always a good demand for them there. Still, at an event as large as this there should still be some interesting finds.

Festival of Cards, 2023

Down among the stalls I run through a standard routine, starting with the obvious question, "Do you have any Hong Kong cards?" Many will answer no, but if I'm lucky I'll be pointed to a box like this.

Box with the Hong Kong postcards

I make a quick first pass through the cards, building a small pile of the ones I'm interested in. Those go under the magnifying glass for a more thorough inspection. I'm looking for sharp photos that have lots of detail to explore, and the potential for good surprises after I've scanned them in and can enlarge them.

Many won't make the grade and go back in the dealer's box, leaving me with an even smaller pile. There's a last run through to weed out the scenes where I can't see any story to tell, then it's time to look at the prices and see if any give me sticker shock. Finally I prise open my wallet to pay for what's left, then my new possessions go into a plastic box I bring with me, to make sure they'll get home safely without being creased.

I move on to the next dealer, and repeat those steps until I've visited all the stalls.

Here's the final haul from this trip. (We'll be looking at the individual cards in future newsletters, but if you'd like a preview you can click on the photo and use the Zoom tab to take a closer look.)

The day's purchases


UK National Archives

After visiting family in Wales and Cheshire, I came back to London for the last few days, giving me the chance to visit the archives at Kew. I selected an assortment of documents and old maps to view, including this map from 1873.

1873 Proposed new road


1873 Proposed new road - detail

The map has the label "PROPOSED NEW ROAD RED", and was clearly drawn to show the line of the new road we know today as Kennedy Road. It also has this note stuck to the back cover:

Removed from ...

Looking up document CO 129/164 in the archive's catalogue, it is described as:

Despatches. War and Colonial Department and Colonial Office: Hong Kong, Original Correspondence. 01 July 1873 - 30 September 1873.

In this case the document has been scanned, so I could view it online without having to wait for the original to be retrieved. The despatch was from Governor Kennedy, writing to London seeking approval to build the new road.

I thought I'd previously read that the reason for the new road was to give the British Army another east-west route, but I must have imagined that. Instead I was surprised to see Kennedy highlighting the need for the public to have safe access to eastern Hong Kong for their exercise!

5. At the present time, however, - since the Pier of the Hong Kong Pier and Godown Company, with its attendant tramway across the road, has been built off the Praya East, - it is especially necessary to provide an access by which, without present dangers, the Public may ride, drive or walk to the Eastern portion of the Colony, where the only level road for recreation exists.

Something else that caught my eye is that the document was written on 26 Sep 1873, and received at the Colonial Office on 17 Nov,  seven and a half weeks later.

1873 Despatch 210

An idea for a future project could be to look through the CO 129 despatches over the years, seeing how the time taken for them to reach London reduced as the journey from Hong Kong to London got faster.


Museum of London Docklands

Britain has a lot of good museums to explore, so I try to go to at least one per visit. A few years ago I enjoyed going to the Museum of London, but hadn't realised it is currently closed while a replacement is built at a new site. I also didn't know they had another branch, the Museum of London Docklands. That is still open, so along I went. It covers a variety of subjects related to the history of London's bustling port, and I particularly enjoyed the hall that described how the workers loaded and unloaded the ships. It showed old photos and film of the men at work, and surviving examples of the equipment they used. It was interesting to compare them with the scenes on Gwulo of ships being unloaded in Hong Kong in the early twentieth century.

That hall also has old signboards hanging from the ceiling, and one stood out:

Cargo destination board: Hong Kong

The information board explained these boards were:

Cargo Destination Boards.

Goods leaving the warehouse were prepared in transit sheds. They were loaded onto ships in reverse order, so the first batch of  cargo to be unloaded went into the hold last. Destination board were hung above each batch so the dock workers knew which order to load them in.


Charing Cross Collectors Market

This is a weekly fair held every Saturday. It is much smaller than the Festival of Cards, and only a few stalls sell postcards so, as expected, there were slim pickings - just the two cards shown below.

Slim pickings

I wouldn't recommend making a special visit to London just to go to this fair, but as it is very close to the Embankment underground station it's easy to get to if you find yourself in London on a Saturday.


Winding down

Tomorrow is my last full day in London. I'll start off with a visit to the Monday Jubilee Antiques Market at Covent Garden, hoping for a last chance to find an interesting card or photo. Then as the weather forecast looks good I'll join one of the London Walks for a final dose of London history.

Tuesday I leave to fly back to Hong Kong, where I'm very happy to see that the last of the Covid restrictions & requirements for arriving passengers have just been cancelled!