Over the last year the BPMA has been working with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust (IGMT) on developing a replica Victorian Post Office and contemporary exhibition, The Post Office in the Community, at the Blists Hill Victorian Town site in Shropshire.
In 2008 the BPMA and IGMT were awarded a £126k grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Wolfson Foundation to help fund the joint venture.
Blists Hill is a popular visitor attraction set in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage site, the birth place of the Industrial Revolution. It is one of ten sites run by the IGMT, and over the past few months has undertaken a huge new development project, building an entire new street from scratch. This street, Canal Street, opened to the public on 4th April 2009 and features a Drapers, Fried Fish Dealers (they were not called Fish & Chip shops until later!), Sweet Shop, Photographers and the Blists Hill Post Office. A new artisans’ quarter has also been recreated with a Plasterer, Tinsmith and Plumber all practising traditional ways of working. Other streets and shops already existed on the site, and include a Bakers, Bank, Chemist and Printers. Each of the businesses are reconstructed to appear as they might have done in the late Victorian or Edwardian period, and traditional goods are sold by costumed staff from the premises. These demonstrators are also able to answer any questions visitors may have both about the various shops and life between 1890 and 1910.
All of the buildings and shop interiors on Canal Street have been carefully researched to ensure that they represent authentic buildings from the local area. The Royal Mail Archive holds a file on the Post Office that was once in Shifnal, a nearby market town. This file has been used to help recreate the Blists Hill Post Office, which will also share its premises with a stationers, as was common practice for the time .
Attention to detail has been paramount throughout the Canal Street project, and has been enthusiastically undertaken by Michael Vanns, Interpretation Project Manager. Bricks have been specially made, as have window frames and other architectural features. Period shop fittings have been sourced from around the country, and the Post Office sorting office will soon have a de-accessioned sorting frame, donated from the BPMA museum collection.
As well as the new Postmaster, a Postman will also be welcomed to Blists Hill. This ‘postie’ will be based on a real worker identified from the records of The Royal Mail Archive, and his uniform will be created using references from both the Archive and the BPMA museum collection.
The Post Office in the Community
Above the Blists Hill Post Office there will be a contemporary exhibition produced by the BPMA, which will examine the role of the Post Office in the community. Moving away from the Victorian era, this will be a contemporary exhibition looking at all periods of history, and will use many objects from the extensive BPMA collection. This exhibition will broadly look at four different areas: Counter Services Over Time, Delivering the Mail, Letter Boxes and Changing Times. The exhibition will open later in 2009.
This will be a unique opportunity to see so many pieces from the BPMA collection in one place. These will include a Hen & Chicks centre-cycle, originally invented and patented by Edward Burstow, an architect from Horsham, Sussex in 1882. Postal officials at Horsham tried out these cycles for both postal and telegraph delivery work. Although the centre-cycle did not prove popular elsewhere, the Horsham postal workers wrote a letter of appreciation to Mr Burstow, praising the cycle.
The exhibition promises to be a unique addition to Canal Street, offering visitors a greater insight to the effect the Post Office has had on our communities during its history.
If you would like any further information about the Blists Hill Post Office or the forthcoming BPMA exhibition, please contact Alison Norris, Ironbridge Project Assistant, on 0207 239 5174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.