Happy Birthday Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, renowned playwright and poet, famous worldwide for Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and his sonnets…but he has another claim to fame. In 1964 Shakespeare became the first commoner to appear on a stamp.

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Hamlet contemplating Yorick’s Skull, designed by C and R Ironside (issued 1964)

In 1964 the Post Office issued a set of stamps to coincide with the Shakespeare Festival, marking the 400th anniversary of his birth. Five designs were chosen, one by C&R Ironside showing an image of Hamlet and four by renowned stamp designer David Gentleman. Gentleman’s stamp designs proved controversial as the image of Shakespeare’s head was the same size as that of the Queen’s making him appear of equal importance. This objection was however overcome and Gentleman’s designs were issued alongside that of C&R Ironside to celebrate the Shakespeare Festival marking his 400th Birthday.

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Shakespeare Festival stamps, 1964

 

It is now his 450th Birthday and both he and his work have found their way onto a variety of stamps worldwide. Some such issues include the Bicentenary of Australian settlement, 1988; the 150th Anniversary of National Portrait Gallery, 2006, which featured celebrated Britons and the Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 1995.

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Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre stamp issue, 1995

 

Last Post: Remembering the First World War

The First World War was a major turning point in the history of the Post Office. To mark the year of the centenary, our First World War exhibition, Last Post, is now open at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums group.

The exhibition explores the contribution of millions of people to wartime communication and the far reaching role of thePost Office on both the battlefield and the home front.

Field Post Office

Field Post Office

An Oxo tin among other things

Demonstrating the huge variety of items that could be sent through the post in wartime, you can see on display an OXO tin posted home from the fighting front by William Cox, a former Post Office worker. He posted the OXO tin back to his brother and sister, containing a button from the tunic of a fallen soldier and a piece of shrapnel.

Cox's OXO Tin

OXO tin sent home by Cox

Battlefield will and a favourite plant

You can also view the story of Private Leonard Eldridge of the 8th London Regiment (The Post Office Rifles). Soldiers were encouraged to write battlefield wills whilst on the Front. Private Eldridge’s will is on display in the exhibition.

Eldridge writes: ‘everything I possess except the aspadastras plant of mine, I give to you. The plant, I, with my last wish, leave it, and must be given to, Miss Florence Smith… She must be treated in my absence as my lover with every respect.’

Post Office Rifles

8th London Regiment – The Post Office Rifles

Wilfred Owen

Also on display in the exhibition are two original poems written by local Shropshire-born First World War officer and poet Wilfred Owen, kindly lent to us for the exhibition by The British Library.

‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, perhaps Owen’s most iconic poem, is on display. The poem was written in October 1917 and revised a few months later, in early 1918. Owen sent the poem to his mother, Susan Owen, with the message: ‘Here is a gas poem done yesterday, (which is not private, but not final).’

Field Post Box

Soldiers waiting for post

We also fittingly have on display Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘The Letter’. The poem depicts a soldier writing a letter to his wife back home. Whilst writing the letter, the soldier is fatally hit, and a comrade finishes the letter off for him.

The poem highlights the importance of letter writing to soldiers and also the danger present at all times in the trenches. It also illustrates that the contents of letters home may not have accurately depicted the conditions of everyday life for soldiers.

 

The exhibition is open Monday to Friday, until 27th March 2015 and entrance is free.

If you are unable to visit the exhibition in person, we have launched a simultaneous online exhibition in partnership with the Google Cultural Institute.

Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Buckingham stamps released

A new stamp issue was released today celebrates 300 years of Buckingham Palace.

Six individual stamps explore the different appearance of this iconic
building over the centuries while a Miniature Sheet celebrates the opulence of its interior.

Miniature Sheet, 1st class.

Miniature Sheet, 1st class.

The Throne Room, 1st class.

The Throne Room, 1st class.

The Green Drawing Room, 1st class.

The Green Drawing Room, 1st class.

The Grand Staircase, 1st class.

The Grand Staircase, 1st class.

The Blue Drawing Room, 1st class.

The Blue Drawing Room, 1st class.

The history of Buckingham Palace can be traced back to the early 17th century, when a mulberry garden was established on the site to breed silk worms. George III purchased the building and site from the Duke of Buckingham and George IV converted it into a palace, his chief residence.

Buckingham Palace 1862.

Buckingham Palace 1862.

Buckingham Palace 2014.

Buckingham Palace 2014.

Buckingham Palace 1846.

Buckingham Palace 1846.

Buckingham Palace 1819.

Buckingham Palace 1819.

Buckingham Palace 1714.

Buckingham Palace 1714.

Buckingham Palace 1700.

Buckingham Palace 1700.

Buckingham Palace has appeared before on stamps and is one of the most iconic buildings in the UK. Below is photograph that was taken for use on the Coronation issue for Edward VII, but it was never used.

KEVIII projected Coronation issue: Photograph of a view of Buckingham Palace  Photograph taken by GPO film unit for pictorial essays (not used). (POST 150/KEVIII/4/004)

KEVIII projected Coronation issue: Photograph of a view of Buckingham Palace Photograph taken by GPO film unit for pictorial essays. (POST 150/KEVIII/4/004)

The Buckingham Palace stamps are available from 15 April online at royalmail.com/buckinghampalaceby phone on 08457 641 641 and and in 10,000 Post Offices throughout the UK.

Royal Agricultural Hall during the First World War

This week we teamed up with Islington Local History Centre and Museum as part of the wider Explore Your Archive campaign to connect local archives with one another and the wider community. For this post, BPMA Archivist Helen Dafter and Islington Local History Manager Mark Aston discuss the importance of the Royal Agricultural Hall during the First World War: censoring POW parcels while continuing to host exhibitions, fairs and shows.

The foundation stone of the Agricultural Hall (or ‘Aggie’), Upper Street, Islington was laid on 16 November 1861 and the following year, the hall was officially opened. Originally built for the Smithfield Club as a venue for livestock and agricultural shows, the hall hosted a wide variety of displays, entertainments and sporting events. It was so well patronised by royalty that from 1885 it became the Royal Agricultural Hall (RAH).

The Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington, from Liverpool Road before the First World War. Courtesy of Islington Local History Centre.

The Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington, from Liverpool Road before the First World War. Courtesy of Islington Local History Centre.

During the First World War, it was largely ‘business as usual’ for the Aggie as it continued to stage exhibitions and present shows, despite the conflict brought to the home front. The complex, however, had not gone unnoticed by the government and Gilbey Hall was requisitioned by the War Office for official use in June 1916.

Work inspecting parcels for Prisoners of War was transferred from the Northern District Office on nearby Upper Street to the Gilbey Hall. This was due to space constraints that the Northern District Office which were made worse by the census of Prisoner of War parcels at this time. Gilbey Hall was regarded as being particularly suitable for this work because of its proximity to Mount Pleasant sorting office. It was also conveniently located for railway termini and had sufficient space to store parcels if onward routes were suspended.

By August 1916 concerns were expressed over the other demands on the RAH. Horse shows required the full use of the complex, including Gilbey Hall. The RAH were keen to know the Post Office’s intentions with regard to this building. A letter written at this time states ‘It is a pity that if the part is wanted the whole should not have been taken, as I understand this was contemplated. Instead of which the authorities chose to build a great place in Regents Park at enormous expense.’ (POST 56/245). The ‘great place’ referred to was the Home Depot.

A captured German Albatross fighter plane being paraded at Ludgate Circus. This was possible the same aircraft exhibited at the Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington, in November 1918. Courtesy of Islington Local History Centre.

A captured German Albatross fighter plane being paraded at Ludgate Circus. This was possible the same aircraft exhibited at the Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington, in November 1918. Courtesy of Islington Local History Centre.

Livestock, dairy and horse shows continued to take place at the RAH throughout the early years of the First World War. In October 1914, the British Dairy Farmers Association held its 39th annual show at the hall, at which King George V won a silver medal in the pigeon section. Two months later, the King was awarded prizes for cattle breeds at the hall’s Smithfield Club Show. December that year also witnessed a horse show and the World’s Fair, which featured a circus, a fun-fair and animal shows. The next few years followed in similar fashion: livestock and horse shows, trade and business fairs and entertainments, with the ever-popular World Fair continuing to attract huge crowds.

On 15 November 1918, just four days after the armistice, the aftermath of the war came to the RAH with an exhibition of German military aircraft. For a one shilling (5p) entrance fee, the public could view what the newspapers described as ‘samples’ of enemy aircraft, not ‘trophies’.  Upon its opening by Lord Weir, Secretary of State for the Air, six airships and an entire squadron of Handley Page bombers flew in formation over the RAH, while all day an observation balloon hovered above the exhibition.

Among the ‘samples’ on show was a twin-engine Gotha that was “brought down” recently during a raid on London.  In fact, the aeroplane was created from parts from a number of shot down aircraft. Other planes included a AEG reconnaissance aircraft, a Friedrichshafen bomber, the latter accompanied by three metre long bomb weighing over half a ton, and a red, single seat Fokker bi-plane, once belonging to the ‘Richthofen’ circus. One of the main attractions was an Albatross fighter plane in which Prince Charles of Prussia was forced down and captured in March 1917.

Horn family of Islington at a fair at the Royal Agricultural Hall in 1916. Frederick (father) with children, Eva, Alice and Harry. Frederick was on leave from the front. He survived the war. Courtesy of Islington Local History Centre.

Horn family of Islington at a fair at the Royal Agricultural Hall in 1916. Frederick (father) with children, Eva, Alice and Harry. Frederick was on leave from the front. He survived the war. Courtesy of Islington Local History Centre.

A military presence continued at the hall in 1919 with a series of auctions of government service motor vehicles and accessories. And, in true RAH style, the event was hailed as the “largest auction sale of motor accessories ever held!”

Islington Local History Centre holds the archive of the Royal Agricultural Hall Company Limited, which contains deeds and maintenance records, correspondence, ledgers, cash books, letting agreements and exhibition programmes and posters (c1861-1999).

From research to panel: how my research made its way to the Last Post

Victoria Davis is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD Student who is conducting her research with the BPMA’s collections. In her first blog post for us, she talks about translating her research to two new panels for the Last Post exhibition. Last Post opens up this Friday in Ironbridge at the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron.

History PhDs have traditionally been non-collaborative based so the opportunity to work with the archive and gain practical experience within the heritage sector is something I relish. Moreover, given the First World War centenary fast approaching, it seemed fitting to be bringing the Post Office’s role during the war to the public eye.

Lieutenant-General Sir Pratap Singh and the Rajah of Ratlam, at Sir Douglas Haig’s Chateau in Montreuil, 17th June 1916. © IWM (Q 692)

Lieutenant-General Sir Pratap Singh and the Rajah of Ratlam,
at Sir Douglas Haig’s Chateau in Montreuil, 17th June 1916, as seen in Last Post panel. © IWM (Q 692)

The brief from the HLF was open to interpretation with the theme being stories of empire during the war to be displayed on two new pop-up exhibition panels. In an initial meeting, Sally (Learning Officer), Dominique (Exhibitions Officer) and I quickly came to the conclusion of ‘how long is a piece of string?’ The Post Office is a seemingly ubiquitous but often overlooked institution and during the war this was no different. With limited copy available – each panel containing a maximum of 300 words of text – the content would be something the general public could relate to. Panel one comprised the process of mail reaching the front lines.

Section of panel that Victoria contributed to for the Last Post.

Section of panel that Victoria contributed to for the Last Post.

Panel two considered the problems of shipping mail to the empire including the use of coded memos.

Section of panel on Delivering mail to the Empire.

Section of panel on Delivering mail to the Empire with research by Victoria.

What I love most about research is the jigsaw puzzle element, of just choosing documents to see what they offer and this project was no different. I was given free rein to find the most suitable sources for the two panels and the somewhat tricky task of finding an image that linked war, post and empire, in a timeframe of a mere six working days fitted in around my own research. The BPMA has a wealth of documents and I quickly established using the catalogue how much related to the transportation of mail. Armed with my list of catalogue references, I called up those that appeared to the most relevant. This is akin to a game of Russian roulette – you are never quite sure what will happen. Some were less than informative, the shipping contracts had little reference to the routes and problems faced. Others contained vast amounts of detailed information and statistics relating to mail services between 1914 and 1919. Whilst detailed sources are great, I did not have the space of thousands of words to do so in (unlike a thesis) and managed to contain the research to 5000 words. This may seem small – less than half a thesis chapter – but producing concise text to be used as copy with limited editing was a hard task.  Newspapers and periodicals were delivered only a mere 24 hours after publication at the height of the war!

My favourite two documents were POST 33/1211A and POST 56/5. The former contains statistic lists showing the amount of mail posted to the front lines between 1914 and 1919. Shamefully, I had never considered the volume of mail that the Army Postal Service handled. Moreover, I never thought stats would excite me but I spent one evening making a spreadsheet to show the weekly, monthly and yearly averages.

Map of Postal services in the Calais area, March 1918 (POST 56/5).

Map of Postal services in the Calais area, March 1918 (POST 56/5).

Between 1st October and 31st December of 1914, 1.2 million letters were delivered to troops (on top of the 3,477,800,000 letters and 132,700,000 parcels being handled as normal mail in 1914[1]).  POST 56/5 is a leather bound volume offering a detailed history of the Army Postal Service including hand drawn maps of how post was transferred once in France, complete with delivery times and mode of transport. Once my research had been emailed over, my part of the process had finished. I saw one version of the approved panel copy to double check facts and figures but the look, design and images used were to be a surprise. I felt quite nervous walking into the V&A that Friday evening, not knowing what to the expect. Seeing the panels and the full exhibition was a surreal moment. It was my research being read by the general public, something I will not forget. I am thankful that the BPMA gave me the opportunity and keeping me involved from start to finish. PhD students rarely see their research used publicly and it has spurred me on to widen the audience of my thesis research. -Victoria Davis, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD Student


[1]House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1913-1914 [Cd. 7573] Postmaster General Report of 1913-1914 p.1

We’re taking part in Cityread London 2014

Rhyl Primary School, image courtesy of Cityread by Rosie Angus.

Image courtesy of Cityread by Rosie Angus.

Each April Cityread  asks  people in London to pick up the same book and read it together.  The book is usually for adults, but this year there’s also a children’s book  – Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo.

As part of the month of reading Cityread are running activities across London. We were keen to get involved because part of the plot of Private Peaceful unfolds through letters sent by soldiers home to their loved ones.

I recently took part in Cityread First World War Letter Writing and Exchange workshops for local schools. Classes visited the Camden Local Studies and Archives centre to find out more about the First World War in their area and use this as inspiration to write their own letters. Their letters will be sent to a partner school in London who in turn will reply with stories about the war in their area.

Here I am talking to students from Hampstead School.

Image courtesy of Cityread by Rosie Angus.

Image courtesy of Cityread by Rosie Angus.

As well as school workshops, we’re also excited to be taking part in the Cityread Family Day at the Museum of London this Saturday. We’ll be asking visitors to write their own postcards home from the front line.

We hope to see you there!

-Sally Sculthorpe, Learning Officer

The BPMA turns 10!

Tomorrow the BPMA turns 10 years old. Director Adrian Steel reflects on the last ten years in today’s post.

In the next couple of weeks we will be celebrating a couple of major milestones. On 9 April I will be marking five years at the helm of the good ship BPMA, and even more excitingly on 29 March, BPMA itself will be 10 years old.

GPO Greetings Telegram. James Matwuss-Judd. 1962

GPO Greetings Telegram. James Matwuss-Judd. 1962

Back in 2004 there was a great deal of work being done to set up what was then a very new idea: an independent charity to manage the heritage services of a larger institution. This is now more commonplace but was then pioneering.

Catalogue team meeting back in 2006. Recognise any familiar faces?

Catalogue team meeting back in 2006. Recognise any familiar faces?

Looking back over the ten years, BPMA’s achievement is not one of big bangs but stage-by-stage advance. Under the leadership of Tony Conder, BPMA’s first CEO, we established our independence from Royal Mail through a series of partnerships, exhibitions and ventures culminating in the opening of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community at Ironbridge in 2009. For the first time BPMA had its own exhibition space and its own visitors, over 100,000 in the first year. Other exhibitions such as ‘Moving the Mail’ at the Coventry Transport Museum also began to draw the crowds.

There were also attempts at pursuing our core mission – giving Britain’s postal heritage a new home – but these seemed to come unstuck for a whole series of reasons, much to BPMA’s great regret. In the end, 2011 proved to be the year when things started to go right for us on this score. The Postal Services Act affirmed the importance of securing Britain’s postal heritage and that same year Royal Mail offered us a building in London, plus core funding, to make the museum happen.

Stocktake back in 2007.

Stocktake back in 2007.

Planning permission was granted in 2012, along with a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Round One pass and grant for our project. There have been bumps along the way, a lot of media interest of late, and a phenomenal effort from BPMA colleagues past and present for which I am very grateful. At the time of writing, ten years after our foundation, we await only the HLF’s grant verdict before we can literally begin to build our future.

Our vision for the next ten years is to secure and open this first class new home, the Postal Museum & Mail Rail, in 2016; cement our place as a sustainable, national, cultural attraction; grow the BPMA’s services nationally and internationally; and, from the base we will have, to grow digitally, grow our funding and build for the future. Based on our record to date I am sure that we will successfully deliver on this.

Here’s to the next ten years of BPMA! 

-Adrian Steel, Director