Mary, Mary: Where Did Your Bookshop Go?
I’ve been on the track of two more missing persons: poster artists, book illustrators, makers of pictorial maps and – to my delight – booksellers. It’s a tale of two Marys, Mary Camidge and Mary Sims.
If you’ve read similar posts I’ve written you’ll know the drill. This time I’d bought a quad royal sized (40 x 50inch) British Railways (Eastern Region) station poster, published circa 1960. It’s an appealing pictorial map, grouping the three counties northeast of London, and promoting leisure travel by rail just before the Beeching cuts. For example, the map advises reaching the Aldeburgh Festival of Music and Arts by train, using the branch line from Saxmundham: the Beeching Axe put a stop to that in 1966. A varied range of activities are on offer for visitors, including sunbathing, racing and flint knapping, but the emphasis is on historical figures and buildings. Some are very well known, such as Elizabeth I (who is shown at Hatfield, where she learned she was to be Queen), but some are wonderfully eclectic and labelled with precision. For example, I did not know that the round church at Little Maplestead is one of only four in the country. Like many other maps of this genre it is deceptively simple: you will learn, and you might get an idea for an interesting day out – although whether or not you can get there by train these days is another matter entirely.
The artist signs as 'M. Camidge'; her original artwork for this poster, painted in oils, is held by the National Railway Museum (NRM), but the only biographical information currently on offer is 'active 1960, poster artist, British?' With a bit of lateral thinking (and a bit of luck) I think we can do better than that and give a proper attribution to Mary Camidge. The NRM also holds the artwork to another poster produced for British Railways (Eastern Region) in 1960, which is a pictorial map of Lincolnshire by M Sims. Both artists describe themselves as being 'of Maps and Guides, Ltd', establishing a link between them. Mary Camidge and Mary Sims collaborated on the illustration of a number of children's books in the 1960s and 1970s, for example: Behold the Land: a Pictorial Atlas of the Bible (1963); Founders of Europe (1964); Peoples of the World in Colour (1964); The New Testament and its Background (1977) and Antique Personal Possessions to Collect (1980). There is a cartographic component to some of these, and the style is a reasonable match.
There are also other instances where they chose to work independently, for example a pictorial map of London produced for Maps and Guides Ltd/Golden Galleon Press by Mary Sims c. 1960:
In 1977 Mary Sims and Mary Camidge established the Portman Bookstore, Portman House, Brodrick Road, SW17. Despite the name it wasn't an open shop: it was listed in Sheppard's directory of book-dealers as private premises, open by appointment. The business specialised in children's and illustrated books, 'annuals, comics and cinema'. Mary Camidge was still listed, though alone, in the 1995 edition. This is recent history, so if you remember the Portman Bookstore and have any anecdotes or photos you would like to share, I’d love to hear from you.
This blog was first published on a different platform. The original comments are reproduced below:
I believe that Mary Camidge was born on 31 July 1928. She was the daughter of Robert Eric Camidge, a railway clerk, and Elsie Mary nee Torr. It appears that the family lived in Strensall, near York, in 1928.
I think that her great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Leonard, was a first cousin of John Camidge, the first of three generations of the family who served as organist at York Minster.
Thank you David, this is certainly the right Mary. Toni (who commented above) has sent me a few recollections which I shall post soon. Mary Camidge was indeed born in 1928 and grew up in York., She was evacuated to Canada during the war, and after spending her working life in London she spent her last years in her parents’ old house in York; she died in 2009. More to follow! I’m guessing that you are related, so any further information you turn up would also be welcome.
Mary Camidge was my mother’s best friend and room mate in London. I have been to her studio on Broderick road many times as a child. I have an original painting of Mary’s she did as a gift for my Mom. It is a spray of poppies, my mother’s favorite flower. I live in America, but went back to England several times over the years to visit, and I saw Mary the year before she died when she was living in York.
Hello Toni, thanks for getting in touch! I would love to hear more. Have you any stories, anecdotes or other information about Mary you could share? It would be great to know more about her career, and what sort of person she was. I did not know she had retired to York, and don’t currently have her dates of birth/death. It all helps, and it would be wonderful if you have any photos of her you could send via our contact form. Hope to hear from you again soon! Many thanks, Tim.
I’m grateful to Toni Pitt for getting in touch and helping me get to know the two Marys a little better. I can’t do better than quote her recollections in full:
"Mary was born in 1928 and died of cancer in 2009 in the City of York. She was born and raised in York and was the only child of devoted parents. In 1940 at the height of the bombing in England, she was a part of the British evacuation of children who were shipped to Canada for protection. She lived with a family in Calgary and stayed in touch with them throughout the years. In fact, in 1978, she was in Calgary doing an exhibition of her work.
After the war, and after her schooling, she went down to London to start working. I don’t know too much about that part of her life as I was too young to care! All I knew was that she illustrated a lot of children’s books.
My mother lived on the same street as Mary when they were growing up in York. My parents were divorced when I was two and went their separate ways, and I stayed in York to be raised by my grandmother until I emigrated to America at the age of 18. My mother went to London and she and Mary shared a flat in Comeragh Road in West Kensington (the same street as Christine Keeler!) I would go there every summer holiday and stay with them both. I loved Mary, a funny, gentle person. Always with paint somewhere on her! She made friends very easily. One of which was Mary Sims….
My mother remarried, I came to America and the two Marys started [their bookshop in] Portman House. On every trip back to England I would spend a few days with her at Broderick Road. She lived on the very top floor and the studio was on the main floor. She was old fashioned at heart and loved to collect things. She never married. Her work consumed her and fulfilled her. Every note I received she would always say she was glued to the drawing board. During the 1980 recession, she stated that work was “a bit thin” but she was working on her painting. 1980 was also the year Mary Sims was diagnosed with cancer and she died in 1982. Big adjustment and a sad time for Mary C, both personally and from a business perspective. I know she worked on developing a book catalogue every year and would be shipping books all over the place. She shared the studio now with someone who was setting up an agency for slides (but I have no knowledge of what that was all about).
After her parents died, she moved back to York and lived in their house, the same house she grew up in. Even in 2009 when we last saw her, two months before she died, it looked the same as it had in the 1950s! No modernization, no changes. As I said, Mary loved “old fashioned”."