The discovery of century-old Midland Railway posters, rescued from a Midlands station roof just before the building was demolished in the 1960s, has stunned antiques experts.
The pristine posters - which were never used - were found by chance by a Nottingham man during a night out with friends in 1964. They offer a rare glimpse of what English life was like during the Titanic era.
Dating back to 1910-1920, the posters were produced in and around the First World War, which took place from 1914-18. Consequently, they include First World War recruitment posters.
Also uncovered are Cunard and Canadian Pacific Railway Ocean Liner travel advertisements urging people to catch a train to the coast to join a steamer. This was the period of the Titanic, which tragically sank packed with travellers in 1912.
The vibrant, colourful and historical posters never made it on to billboards and, such is their rarity and condition, they could potentially make thousands of pounds when they go under the hammer at Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers on July 2.
One of the First World War posters acts as a reminder of how young recruits could be to sign up to serve their country: “Are you Between 15 ½ and 40 – If So, The Navy Requires You For Its Glorious Service – Join Today – Skilled Artificers and Artisans, Seamen, Stokers, Marines and Boys’. It has an estimate of £200-£300.
Meanwhile, a Midland Railway poster displays a gentle politeness, perhaps now lost: ‘Owing to the FOG the train service today is slightly altered – Full information at the Station Master’s office’. Its estimate is £100-£200.
The popularity of Blackpool was also paramount. One poster advertised: “Midland Blackpool for Gorgeous Sights’. Designed by Wilton Williams, it depicts three glamorous and fashionable young women on the promenade. Estimate £400-£600.
Meanwhile a vibrant Cunard Line Europe America poster ‘in connection with Midland Railway Expresses to Liverpool or Southampton’ has an estimate of £500-£700.
Jim Spencer, valuer at Hansons Auctioneers, said: “These posters are incredible. They sweep you back to a different time and place, not just in their design but in their use of language and what they were advertising.
“The fact that they were never used on advertising hoardings is surprising. They are in pristine condition. That, together with their rarity and historical value, is sure to make them sought after by collectors.
“Obviously, I love the vibrant ocean liner posters, but one of my favourites is the fog warning poster; through words alone it conjures up a vision of an Edwardian railway station, a November morning with figures in top hats appearing out of the mist.”
The posters were discovered by chance on a night out more than half a century ago by Chris Hind, 75, a retired businessman from Nottingham.
He said: “I found the posters in the loft at Edwalton Station, which opened in 1879. Edwalton is a tiny village on the outskirts of Nottingham. I rescued the posters just before the station was demolished to make way for housing in 1965.
“One night in 1964 I was having a meal with friends at what was the Edwalton Hall Hotel when we went for a walk in the gardens. These were the day when pubs locked up at 10.30pm and, when we got back to the hotel at 10.45pm, we found ourselves locked out.
“So, we went to the bottom of the gardens, jumped on to the railway line and walked to the old station to enable us to get back on to the road.
"I was a 22-year-old Cambridge undergraduate at the time. We had all the confidence of youth, but not necessarily a keen sense of danger.
“When we reached the station, we walked through the old ticket office and I saw some paper that had fallen through a hole in the ceiling. I realised they were station records so went back the next day, made a makeshift ladder and climbed into the loft.
“It was there that I found around 40 posters. They had been sent to the station to be displayed but had never been unfolded.
“I wrote to British Rail to ask permission to see if there were any old station records in the loft. They wrote back and said there would be no point as there was nothing there. But they didn’t say no. So, I went back and rescued the posters. Six month later the station was flattened.”
Mr Hind gave some of the station memorabilia to rail enthusiasts and later contacted the National Railway Museum who bought around 16 of them 20 years ago to create a definitive collection of Midland Railway posters.
“It made national news at the time with a story in the Guardian,” Mr Hind recalls.
He hung on to the others – putting them in his own loft and later storing them on top of wardrobes. But now he feels it’s time to let them go.
“The National Railway Museum had what they wanted. I would like the others to go to people who will value them. Some are collectable for artistic merit having been designed by notable poster artists of the day. Others will appeal to rail enthusiasts. They are very large, some being 4ft high.
“One of the saddest things is that one large poster advertising a football special for a Derby County match in 1912 had been torn into four parts and used as wrapping. Only the left-hand side survived.”
The posters will be sold on July 2 at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire. To find out more, email [email protected] or call 01283 733988.