Before blogging, 100 years before

This post is inspired by Sidey. I am so glad to see her back and she has returned with a weekend theme: Family Heirlooms

Oh dear, I thought, as I am in the middle of the umpteenth cupboard clearing, I/we are not the sort of family that has heirlooms – and then I remembered – I have this wonderful handwritten book and the story is that without it my maternal grandfather and grandmother would never have met (so my mother would not have been born, and I/ ME, would not  exist!)

A fairly scruffy old book, falling apart now.
A fairly scruffy old book, falling apart now.

A cloth bound cover and gold-printed spine hides the 185 pages inside which are entirely handwritten, or hand-drawn and painted original pictures, or carefully mounted original photographs.

The Swallow – was it the equivalent of blogging around 1900? – was published once a month and there are several copies among my extended family. I have one, March 1903. For this copy at least, my grandfather’s sisters were editresses, my grandmother was a contributor, and the story is that she travelled to meet her ‘virtual’ writing friends, and there, she met the brother who became her husband. [They had nine children, my mother bang in the middle at number 5.]

The photos below, click for bigger pictures, are a tiny sample of the contributions, but also indicate how it worked. The three page contents list show 30 contributions in this issue, pictures, poems, sketches, paintings, short stories, social comment, and even four pages of sepia photos from all around the world. The contents are preceded by an editorial, in this issue a plea to send contributions in ON TIME, and this is followed by the ‘postal list’ and list of addresses which were the heart of the system. The addresses are from all over Ireland (in 1903, one country not two) England, and one from Calais. Not international, but nevertheless, a virtual community many of whom had never met. Blogging, 1900 style.

The Swallow took flight, posted to the next on the list, within three days, the contributions were in, the pages had to be read and commented on, and next month’s contribution created. There is a naughty page, with fines, for non-contributors and for those who did not send on in good time. After the main entries, there are pages of criticism: Art and Literary criticism, votes for best writing, art, photo, and Neatness.

Just like blogging, the comments are worth reading too, specific and general, and sometimes personal, such as the entry on an Essay which says “it takes the cake, while [the author] himself took the pledge, I hope“.

An observation from 100 years on is that the contributions are usually in good hand-writing, but writing in the comments is sometimes more of a scribble, got to get it written before the post goes! Being a Swallow member must have been quite absorbing, and a lot of fun.

Carry on blogging, like swallows, have fun.


15 thoughts on “Before blogging, 100 years before

  1. What a wonderful family heirloom!

    I agree – it was definitely the precursor of b;logging. What fun that lot would have had online, and how prolific they world have been. Maybe we should be making books of our best posts – every year go back 2 years and re-read, selecting the posts that have stood the test of time.


  2. Absolutely fascinating! I’ve never heard of this form of writing/publishing before. Presumably it’s not the only example of its kind. If you collected and edited the other issues from the rest of your family, you might have a bestseller to rival The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady!


    1. Glad you like it – I like the sense that people have always reached out to each other, entertained themselves and each other, and not for gain, except that it was fun to do

      > > New comment on your post “Before blogging, 100 years before” > Author : Tom (Aquatom1968) (IP: , > E-mail : > URL : > Whois :


  3. this is fantastic! I bet the history channel or the ‘Who do you think you are’ programme would be interested in this fantastic slice of life.


  4. Elspeth, what an amazing thing to have! Remarkable how the technology has changed but story telling and connecting haven’t.
    Thanks for showing us this slice of history. A real gem.


    1. It always seems as if there is a lot of real life lost when history is about ‘events’ instead of people and their everyday ways of living. Some of that is not much different maybe

      > > New comment on your post “Before blogging, 100 years before” > Author : speccy (IP: , > E-mail : > URL : > Whois :


  5. I read this immediately after you posted and I’ve been mulling it over and over ever since. The Sparrow is just so dam interesting, Not sure just how common of practice it was in that time period. I recently read a book ‘Down Home’ in one section the writer described how his grandfather at the age of 9 (late 1800’s rural Nova Scotia) wrote a monthly letter to a sister in the form of a local style gazette till he grew up. In turn that boys own son turned out to be Charles Bruce one of Canada’s better poets . Charles’ son Harry, fore mention, became broadcaster, editor, book writer with a down to earth unique perspective. Long and drawn point here. Something in the Sparrow and a boy’s hand written gazette seem to come from the same vane. Its more than just staying in touch. The world was changing fast back then. People were on the move, migrating, immigrating, traveling within and a broad. An communicating and describing became important. People wanted to share, people wanted to learn, to hear the gossip. The written word of the common man that was where it was it in those days. Probably what sparked the surge of writers shortly there after.

    Thought that shrewsday chick would be having kittens over the sparrow. I did.


    1. Swallow, not Sparrow, though the name is not so important as the idea. And it is the idea which has got to me – as most of the writing and art-work is not great, and those of us in the family who have read their copies would agree. It was indeed the communicating, sharing and learning that mattered. I do not know if any of the contributors became writers or better known for other reasons – we are not a famous family – but have got going on making contact with all my cousins to see what folk think about getting the swallows back together in some way. Uh uh I expect it will keep me occupied for a while if I cant find other things to do.


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