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.

Mary Camidge’s railway poster, a pictorial map covering Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk published circa 1960.​

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:

Mary Sims’ pictorial map of London features the British Railways ‘lion and wheel’ crest which was in use 1956-1965, and the Mermaid Theatre at Puddle Dock, which opened in 1959. It was probably first published circa 1960, at about the same time as Sims and Camidge produced their railway posters.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.