Capturing Mail Rail: 3D survey of the depot, loop and platforms

Last week was an exciting one for the Digital team here at BPMA! For the past five days, Rachel and I have been accompanying ScanLAB Projects Ltd. while they undertake a 3D survey of Mail Rail.

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Scanner capturing the west platform.

 

ScanLAB have been targeting the areas of the network that are to be the focus of our Mail Rail  visitor attraction – that is the work depot at Mount Pleasant, the platforms beneath Mount Pleasant and the tunnel loop from the depot to the platforms – just about 1km of tunnels.

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Will from Scanlab discusses the technology with guests from FARO, New Scientist and Harry (BPMA Communications Manager).

 

The 3D scanning of Mail Rail is important in that it captures the industrial heritage of an unexplored and little-known feature of central London. The survey records the details and the features of Mail Rail as a working space, with all the flotsam and jetsam left behind when the service was suspended. From tools and equipment to newspapers and calendars from over a decade ago, Mail Rail is a time capsule just waiting to be explored. These features will inevitably be tidied up when we open it to the public so it is crucial to capture that detail for posterity.

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Thomas and Will from Scanlab sharing the raw data.

 

The survey will allow users to see these features in three dimensions – bringing the platforms to life in ways not possible even when the train ride is running. The survey can be shown via the web and used in the exhibitions we create at the Postal Museum and Mail Rail attraction to offer a truly explorative experience of Mail Rail in a way that the train ride cannot. Imagine navigating the tunnels and platforms for yourself?

Scanner on the platform.

Scanner on the platform.

Using the latest scanning technology from FARO, and using the surveying and imaging expertise of ScanLAB, we will be obtaining as faithful a representation of the site as we possibly can. From the work depot to the platforms and the tunnels in the loop around Mount Pleasant, we will be recording a truly significant piece of Britain’s industrial history.

-Martin Devereux, Head of Digital

Princess Mary Tin: Christmas on the front in 1914

In 1914 there was a popular view that the First World War, which had started on 4 August of that year, would ‘be over by Christmas’. As December rapidly approached however it was clear that the war would last considerably longer. It was in this atmosphere that Princess Mary, the only daughter of George V, expressed her wish to send a Christmas present to ‘every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front’. To help achieve this, a Christmas Gift Fund was established on 14 October 1914, taking  Princess Mary’s name. The public were immediately receptive to the idea agreeing with the Princess that ‘we should all be happier to feel that we had helped to send our little token of love and sympathy on Christmas morning’.

Princess Mary photo and christmas card

Princess Mary photo and Christmas card.

The form the gift would take was finally agreed on as a box containing tobacco and cigarettes along with the accoutrements such as a pipe and lighter. The box also contained a photo of the young Princess and a Christmas card with the message ‘With Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year from The Princess Mary and Friends at Home’. Only a month after the fund had opened and with one month still to go until Christmas there was enough money left over to extend the gift scheme to every man ‘wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas Day 1914’. A non-smoker’s version of the gift was developed with a khaki writing case containing pencil, paper and envelopes as well as the Christmas card and photograph mentioned above.  Religion was also taken into account so that everyone received a suitable present with tobacco being replaced by sweets and spices for Indian troops.

Non-smokers version - khaki writing case.

Non-smokers version – khaki writing case.

Many of the tins were kept as souvenirs and survive in families to this day. We are lucky enough to have two in the BPMA’s collection. One doesn’t have any of the contents remaining but the tin itself is a lovely item decorated with relief patterns including a side portrait of Princess Mary in the centre with a wreath with decorative ‘M’ either side. On six sides of the lid is lettering in vignettes showing the names of the allied forces: ‘Belgium'; ‘Japan'; ‘Russia'; ‘Montenegro'; ‘Servia'; ‘France’. The other is a new acquisition into our collection and includes the contents of tobacco and cigarettes. It belonged to Alfred Greenwood who served with the Royal Engineers and can be seen at our Last Post exhibition in Coalbrookdale until March 2015.

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Princess Mary tin.

 

Princess Mary tin and contents.

Princess Mary tin and contents.

In all almost 500,000 men received a gift from the Princess Mary fund and they have become treasured possessions and heirlooms for many families throughout the country and a reminder of the sacrifice that was being given at the time.

-Emma Harper, Curator

The Mystery of the Tolhurst Envelopes

We love a mystery at the British Postal Museum & Archive and the identity of the artist behind the illustrated ‘Tolhurst’ envelopes has intrigued us for years.

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The first step in identifying the artist was to research the address to which the majority of the envelopes were sent: St Lawrence, Ernest Road, Hornchurch. Staff at Havering Museum, where a selection of the envelopes were recently displayed, found that the 1911 census showed the occupants as George, Amelia, Frederick and Amy Tolhurst. Frederick and George Tolhurst, father and son, were frequent recipients of the illustrated envelopes.

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

Locating the census record enabled the identification of all but one recipient: Vera. Vera received the majority of the illustrated envelopes in the collection, and the majority of Vera’s letters were sent to the Hornchurch address. However, she did not appear in the census record, nor could we find her in the birth records of the General Register Office, due to lack of information. Not put off, we used the information we had accumulated to construct a family tree.
Returning to the envelopes, we found a vital piece of information: the initials ‘FC’ or ‘FCT’ appeared in the corner of several illustrations. Using the family tree, we narrowed down the identity of the artist to Frederick Charles Tolhurst.

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The artist’s initials

The identity of Vera continued to elude us, however. We considered whether Vera was a nickname, or perhaps an acronym, but we had no evidence to confirm either of these theories. We drew a step closer to the truth last week when we discovered a postcard which was addressed to Vera and signed ‘with love & kisses from your Mama & Papa’.

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The evidence that steered our search

We searched the birth index for Vera Tolhurst and identified a Vera Sylvia Tolhurst, born in 1908 in the district of Lambeth. A copy of the birth certificate arrived at the BPMA yesterday: listed as Vera’s father is Frederick Charles Tolhurst, and listed as his occupation is Lithographic Artist Journeyman. By 1911, Tolhurst’s occupation had changed to Trade Union Secretary, but his artistic talent was maintained in the mail art he frequently sent to his family.

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

I’ve been inspired by the Tolhurst envelopes to try my hand at mail art. Why don’t you have a go and let us know if they arrive by Tweeting @postalheritage using #mailart.

My attempt at mail art

My attempt at mail art

Joanna Espin, Curator

TALK: Glad Tidings: A history of the Christmas card

For our annual Christmas talk, we are welcoming Curator Steph Mastoris of the National Waterfront Museum. As a social history curator he has been fascinated for over two decades by the custom of sending Christmas greetings to family and friends, and the billions of cards that are produced. Get a sneak peak at what to expect from his Christmas talk next Tuesday.

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The Christmas card has been very close to the heart of the British postal service from just after the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840. Moreover, the Half-Penny Post of 1870 was an important catalyst for the widespread popularity of the Christmas card. Starting as a wealthy middle class novelty, the tradition of sending Christmas cards became and still is a massive activity.

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In my talk I will discuss how very recent research is suggesting that the first published Christmas cards were produced some years before the famous one commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843.

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As the history of the Christmas card is fundamentally about how people have used them, I will talk about projects that look into how we use the postal service over the holiday season. One of the current projects, People’s Post, gives you the chance to share your memories of receiving cards and gifts in the post. After the talk, there will be an opportunity for the audience to contribute their stories. The information provided may well get built into the interpretation of the new Postal Museum when it opens in 2016!

Join us next Tuesday (2 December) at 7pm at the Phoenix Centre to find out more!

3D Scanning moves into its final phase

Over the last fortnight we have been undertaking the latest stages of scanning of our 3D philatelic objects as part of our Share Academy funded project – from vault to view.

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Scanning the flintlock pistol.

We took a number of dies, including the Old Original die of the Penny Black, and the Silver Wyon Medal, over to UCL to be photographed in a PTM dome. The dome is opaque and is fitted with 84 flash lights arranged in rings around the hemisphere. Each flash is activated one at a time and a photograph taken. Once all 84 flashes have been triggered the resulting 84 photographs are processed together into one image so that all the lighting conditions can be observed via a special viewing computer program. The observer can manipulate the lighting condition to reveal hidden features – the engraving, the scratches on a die, etc

The activity described above is part of a series of techniques for a process known as Reflective Transformation Imaging (RTI). You can find out more here – http://culturalheritageimaging.org/Technologies/RTI/

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Scanning at UCL

The results of this test are still being processed, but the images we’ve seen so far are impressive and we’re very excited by them.

Last week UCL’s 3D specialist, Mona Hess, visited the BPMA bringing a portable 3D laser scanner with her. This was to be the last set of trials with laser scanning and we wanted to try the same set of objects which were digitised by the PTM dome. This time around, the results were more mixed as the laser had difficulty with the shiny surfaces of the dies and medal. We also tried scanning the flintlock pistol we had scanned previously with the large laser scanner at UCL and the results were slightly better. The scanner rendered the wooden parts of the handle and stock, but struggled to render the metallic parts, such as the barrel and the firing mechanism.

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Latest tests at the BPMA

The preliminary findings of the tests show that the PTM dome renders the most useful images of metallic objects from the stamp printing process. We have one day of scanning left to complete in this fascinating project and we will then make the results of the whole project publicly available.

Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means: Abram Games at the Jewish Museum London

During the Golden Age of GPO public relations under Stephen Tallents many prominent designers were employed to create posters for everything from ‘Post early’ Christmas campaigns to staff unions. One such designer was Abram Games who In March this year Royal Mail selected along with nine other distinguished subjects born in 1914, to feature on a stamp for its Remarkable Lives series.

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It’s fitting that in this centenary year, the Jewish Museum, London is celebrating the life and work of this iconic graphic designer in a major new exhibition; Designing the 20th Century: Life and Work of Abram Games (until 4 January 2015)

Games was the leading graphic designer of the postwar years and during his 60 year career was awarded numerous prestigious public commissions, including being appointed Official War Poster Artist during World War Two and designing the first animated BBC ident. He worked extensively with London Transport and his 1976 poster for London Zoo was recently chosen by Londoners as their second favourite poster for London Underground.

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Games’s war posters included the popular but controversial Join the ATS recruiting poster (1941), whose alluring female subject earned it the nickname ‘Blonde Bombshell’ and the condemnation of the House of Commons.

By the 1950s, Games was the foremost designer working in Britain and had carried out commissions for the General Post Office, the BBC and London Transport. In 1948, Games was commissioned by the General Post Office to design the official Olympic Games stamp and in 1951 he was awarded the commission to design the emblem for the Festival of Britain, one of the most significant designs of his career.

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Don’t miss your chance to see this major exhibition and discover more about the life and work of Abram Games as well as his celebrated theory which provided the framework for all of his compositions; ‘maximum meaning, minimum means’.

Favourite archive item: the Great Train Robbery

For our final blog for Explore Your Archives week Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue and Project Manager tells us about his favourite item from the archive, which, as you probably know from Head of Archives Vicky’s blog earlier this week, is no easy task!

When asked to pick my favourite object I (eventually) chose a Great Train Robbery file in part because I have worked  with it a lot so know it well but also because I feel it’s something people are surprised to find out we have. Although the train in question was a Travelling Post Office people don’t always associate the incident with the postal service. This particular file  is the main investigation report compiled by the Post Office’s own police force, the Investigation Branch (IB), into the infamous August 1963 robbery.

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Most of the file is made up of an in depth 40 page account of the robbery, investigation and subsequent trial, prepared by IB Assistant Controller Richard F Yates in May 1964, nine months after the robbery took place.

The file also includes schedules of arrests and prosecutions, a ‘confidential list of 28 suspects given to the IB by the Police’, memoranda, correspondence, details of the attempts to locate missing suspects, press cuttings, and a police poster showing wanted suspects. It also has snippets of people’s personal experiences of the incident and investigation such as that in the image below where Yates starts his report with an indication of how he became involved with the investigation.

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Yates’ in depth report details key events in the investigation including establishing the amount of money stolen, the journey on the night of the robbery, the systematic search of the Cheddington area, the discovery of the robbers hideout at Letaherslade Farm, and the subsequent arrests of the suspected robbers. It also includes notes on how the investigation was conducted, on page 10 he explains: ‘The extensive publicity given to this case inevitably produced an enormous amount of inaccurate and bogus information and this had to be examined with more than the normal care having regard to the seriousness of the offence.’

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Despite the investigation coming to an end around 1970 this year, over 50 years after the incident took place, there was interesting development. Gordon Goody, regarded as the mastermind of the robbery, unveiled Patrick McKenna as the Ulsterman . McKenna’s name is glaringly absent from all the files we have at the BPMA. Despite the Sun suggesting last year that the IB’s chief suspect was a ‘Thomas’ O’Reilly, our records show that they and Tommy Butler quickly dismissed him as a possibility: ‘[Butler] does not consider, however, that any useful purpose would be served by questioning [James Patrick] REILLY [incorrectly identified by the Sun as a railwayman]’.

I like this file for several reasons. It shows how the investigation developed over time, what the Post Office considered important at the time (Ronnie Biggs, subsequently the most famous of the robbers, being merely a footnote), and how they continued investigating and observing behavior for many years after the robbery. It demonstrates complex, messy history as it is happened and developed. Given that it was written almost a year after the robbery it is an exaggeration to call Yates’ report the first draft of history but draft it is, complete with amendments and footnotes based on subsequent knowledge. There is no neat ending simply a petering out as the last of the robbers Bruce Reynolds was caught in 1968, Biggs remained a missing fugitive, the driver of the train Jack Mills died and some of the investigators involved retired.

This is just a snapshot of the contents of one of many files on the Great Train Robbery. You can find out more about the robbery itself and the investigation that followed from our online exhibition on Google Cultural Institute.

-Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue and Project Manager