Travelling Post Offices (or TPOs) were railway carriages specially adapted for Post Office workers to sort mail in whilst it was being carried to its destination. They were introduced in 1838, a mere eight years after the first public railway (which ran between Liverpool to Manchester) was opened and proved to be a faster and more efficient method of delivering mail than Mail Coaches.
The layout of TPOs evolved very early on, driven by the unique nature of the work involved. The sorting frames were normally on the right looking towards the engine with a well table (sunken recess to hold mail) below for emptying mailbags into. Opposite this were metal pegs with destination bag labels attached in readiness to hang mail bags for sorted mail.
Early TPOs were quite primitive in their facilities with oil lighting, low, flat roofs and no heating or toilets! In the 1860s, gradual improvements were made as ventilators and better lights were installed and arched roofs introduced along with floor matting, padding and seats.
The TPO service ran until early 2004. It had been in a gradual decline since World War 2, with Dr Beeching’s 1963 report on the railways having a particular impact on the service. Transport technology was changing too, with it becoming more economical to move mail by road or air. Problems with service level agreements and concern for the health and safety of staff were the final nails in the coffin.
In 1999 the BPMA purchased a TPO dating from 1908, which was restored at the London & North West Railway (LNWR) workshop at Crewe. It is on display at The Crewe Heritage Centre, which is open on weekends and bank holidays from Easter to the last weekend in September.
For more information on TPOs please see our Online Exhibition The Travelling Post Office.