Monthly Archives: May 2009

Ulysses and the detention of libellous mail

by Richard Wade, Archives Assistant

One of the more unusual items we have in the archive collection here at BPMA is a first edition copy of Ulysses by James Joyce. Joyce wrote this between 1919-1920 and when it was published in 1922 it was soon banned for obscene content. It was illegal to send these sorts of publications through the post, and this became one of many publications that the Post Office was instructed to intercept if they came across them.

There was a censorship department that was allowed to open and detain items sent through the mail if a warrant to do so was given by the Secretary of State. In all other cases, the mail was actually considered to be the property of The King or Queen and could not be tampered with under any circumstances. If a warrant was made, the decision was usually taken through correspondence with the Home Office, and in the case of a publication called The Herald of Revolt there is actually a letter within Royal Mail’s archives from the Home Office endorsing the warrant to detain the publication.

The reasons for detaining packages were generally because they were libellous in nature and it was not wished to spread around the country the type of sentiment they expressed, such as in The Indian Sociologist. This was an Indian nationalist publication produced in the early twentieth century that was fairly obviously anti-British in sentiment. In the case of this, it was also requested that the addresses it was being sent to be noted down, so this was also a way of finding out who was receiving such publications. There was another publication, The Liberator, which contained bad words and criticisms of the Royal Family and of British institutions, and it was obviously not considered wise to have lots of people reading and being influenced by these thoughts as it may have led to popular unrest. In the case of this, there had actually been complaints from the Bishops of Winchester and Wakefield to the public prosecutions about it. Another factor was that the Post Office itself did not want to seem responsible for having spread libel around the country. It was not just particular publications that were requested to be intercepted though. There was a request on 17th January 1911 to detain letters received for delivery at a particular address, this being 100 Sydney St. There were even very specific demands, such as for a letter posted at Charring Cross Post Office at 2:15pm, addressed to Donald Murrey of 61 Stanton Rd, Wimbledon, to be stopped.

To go back to Ulysses, there was a warrant issued to detain and open packages containing this, which was in force from 27th March 1933 to 13th November 1936, over which time a fair few copies were intercepted. In particular, efforts were being made to stop the importation of Ulysses into the country from publishers abroad. There was one such example sent from The Odyssey Press that had outlets in Hamburg, Paris and Bologna to a Mr E. Percy of Forest Gate, which was confiscated. The example of the book in the archive was being sent from a David Byrne in Dublin to the London bookseller Jacob Schwarz, which despite the ban being lifted, was never forwarded on to Mr Schwarz or sent back to Mr Byrne, but remained with the Post Office until eventually it was transferred across to the archive.

The copy of Ulysses sent by David Byrne to Jacob Schwarz, accompanied by a receipt and Byrnes business card.

The copy of Ulysses sent by David Byrne to Jacob Schwarz, accompanied by a receipt and Byrne’s business card.

Amusingly too, after one copy was sent from Miss Browning of Ipswich to Miss Hobman in London, Miss Browning actually wrote to the Post Office and complained that the recipient had not received it and that it had not been sent back, and asked what had happened to it. This meant that she knowingly tried to have a banned publication sent through the post and then expressed great surprise when it did not reach its destination and risked writing in to complain, resulting in a letter back informing her that she could be prosecuted for her actions. Either that, or despite the raging debate going on in the country about Ulysses, she failed to realise that it was in fact banned. The letter she sent to the Post Office and the reply they sent back are both also in the archive here.

Interestingly, there were some copies that slipped though the net. There was one sent to Bodley Head Publishing House, which apparently was clearly marked as containing a copy of Ulysses. Maybe instructions were not passed down to all sorting or postal staff or maybe they just used their own discretion about whether they followed the orders or not or decided that opening packages was just too risky.

I hope therefore that it can be seen how important the postal service was and how diverse its role could be. It had a large influence on the spread of opinion and libel around the country.

All the information for this blog was gained by looking through document POST 23/9 in our collection.

GPO publicity: ‘Post early in the day’

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

In 1925 a national campaign was launched, encouraging the public to ‘Post early in the day’.  The idea was to alleviate pressure on the postal work force by avoiding a rush on letter boxes at the end of the working day. After an initial interest, the campaign proved largely unsuccessful. 

POST 122/11087: Please Post Early In The Day

POST 122/11087: Please Post Early In The Day

It wasn’t until the early 1930s that another national scheme to spread the ‘Post early’ message was considered; with two of the earliest publicity posters commissioned by Public Relations Officer: Stephen Tallents, being on this theme.

These posters, produced in 1934 and depicting postmen on their rounds: PRD 0086 (POST 110/4340) and PRD 0087 (POST 110/1439) are the only two in the collection designed by Graham Sutherland, a then up and coming artist.

POST 110/1439: Post Early

POST 110/1439: Post Early

This initial push was followed a few years later by an all out national campaign targeting businesses in particular; this was officially launched by the Assistant Postmaster General in a speech to the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce in February 1937.

A leaflet entitled ‘Post during the lunch hour’ (which became the slogan of the campaign) was published in the same month.

POST 122/10941: Post During The Lunch-Hour leaflet

POST 122/10941: Post During The Lunch-Hour leaflet

This was followed up by two posters. The first, PRD 0155 was entitled: ‘Post during lunch hour’ (POST 110/2491), it was designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer, who went on to produce a set of GPO posters for use in schools entitled ‘Outposts of Britain’ later that same year.

PRD 0155: Post during lunch hour

PRD 0155: Post during lunch hour

The second poster, PRD 0173 was entitled: ‘Post early in the day’ (POST 110/1159); it was designed by Pat Keely, who went on to produce a number of posters for the GPO throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

PRD 0173: Post early in the day

PRD 0173: Post early in the day

The campaign gathered momentum throughout the early years of the Second World War, when it was particularly important to get the message across due to extra pressure on the postal workforce brought about by conscription.  Some key artists of the era were called in to produce posters; these included Hans Schleger (Zero), who produced a set of posters (PRD 0250-0252) featuring a running chef, encouraging the public to ‘Post before lunch’ In order to achieve the best war time delivery (see POST 110/4150, POST 110/2966 and POST 110/1173). The posters were used both in post offices and on mail vans in an attempt to reach the widest possible audience.

PRD 0251: Post before lunch

PRD 0251: Post before lunch

PRD 0252: Posting before lunch enables the Post Office to give your letters the best possible war-time delivery

PRD 0252: Posting before lunch enables the Post Office to give your letters the best possible war-time delivery

Other war time artists included Jan LeWitt and George Him, who worked together on a number of inspirational poster designs between 1933 and 1954 when their partnership dissolved.  They produced some memorable posters for the ‘Post Early’ campaign, each involving the image of a cartoon postman dragging a large letter over his shoulder (PRD 0238 and PRD 0241 (POST 110/3184 and POST 110/2502)).

PRD 0238: Post your letters before noon for first delivery next morning in

PRD 0238: Post your letters before noon for first delivery next morning in

PRD 0242: Post early - And dont miss the Noon post

PRD 0242: Post early - And don't miss the "Noon" post

‘Post early’ was not the only publicity campaign to be pursued during the Second World War; posters were also produced on themes such as: ‘Save for national security’; ‘Don’t telephone or telegraph if a letter or postcard will do’ and ‘Airgraphs get priority’. I will be exploring some of these posters in my next blog.

David Gentleman’s Kew Gardens stamps

On Tuesday Royal Mail released a third set of stamps in the Action for Species series, on Endangered Plants, as well as a miniature sheet commemorating the 250th Anniversary of Kew Gardens (both of which can be seen here). However, this is not the first time Kew Gardens has appeared on stamps.

A commemorative set released in 1990 marked the 150th anniversary of Kew Gardens being adopted as a national botanical garden. The stamps were designed by Paul Leith and showed four pairs of notable trees and buildings in the gardens.

Paul Leiths Kew Gardens stamps (1990)

Paul Leith’s Kew Gardens stamps (1990)

The BPMA holds Leith’s original artwork for these stamps as well as a number of unadopted designs by Leith and the other artists who were invited to submit ideas for the set: Jane Human, Siobhan Russell, graphic designer company Silk Pearce and David Gentleman. A retrospective exhibition of stamp design work by David Gentleman is currently on display at the BPMA and includes a number of unadopted designs, but none are from the 1990 Kew Gardens set.

David Gentleman submitted 5 sets of designs and four alternative designs for the Kew Gardens set. Below is a list of these designs accompanied by the artist’s descriptions, and some (low quality) scans of selected artworks.

Set A
4 watercolour paintings, dated 01/11/88
A1 – Spring: Sophora japonica (Pagoda tree) planted 1760.
A2 – Summer: Robinia pseud acacia (false acacia), planted 1762.
A3 – Autumn: Platanus orientalis (Oriental plane), planted c.1762.
A4 – Winter: Quercus hispanica lucombeaua (Lucombe’s oak), planted 1760.

A2 - David Gentlemans unadopted False Acacia design

A2 – David Gentleman’s unadopted False Acacia design

Set B
4 watercolour paintings, dated 01/11/88
B1 – Encephelartos longifolia; the oldest glasshouse plant in Kew; with the Palm House to which it will shortly return.
B2 – The Pagoda Tree (sophora japonica), part of the original planting of c.1760 with the Orangery, designed by Sir William Chambers and built in 1761.
B3 – Platanus orientalis (Oriental plane) – original planting of c.1762; with Kew Palace.
B4 – Robina pseudacacia or false acacia, (original planting, c.1762) with the Aroid House, by John Nash; moved to Kew from Buckingham Palace, 1836.

B1 - David Gentlemans unadopted Encephelartos longifolia design

B1 – David Gentleman’s unadopted Encephelartos longifolia design

Set C
4 watercolour paintings, dated 01/11/88
C1 – Encephelartos longifolia; the oldest glasshouse plant in Kew; with the Palm House to which it will shortly return.
C2 – Platanus orientalis (Oriental plane) – original planting of c.1762; with Kew Palace.
C3 – Quercus Lucombeaua (Lucombe’s oak), original planting of the 1760s; with the Avoid House.
C4 – Robina pseudacacia; original planting of c1762; with Orangery, designed by Sir William Chambers and built in 1761.

C2 - David Gentlemans unadopted Oriental Plane design

C2 – David Gentleman’s unadopted Oriental Plane design

C1 (ii) – Encephelartos longifolia; the oldest glasshouse plant in Kew; with the Palm House to which it will shortly return.
C1 (iii) – Encephelartos longifolia; the oldest glasshouse plant in Kew; with the Palm House to which it will shortly return.

C1 (ii) - David Gentlemans unadopted Encephelartos longifolia design (alternate)

C1 (ii) – David Gentleman’s unadopted Encephelartos longifolia design (alternate)

Set D
3 watercolour paintings (D1-3) and 1 illustration (D4), dated 15/03/89
D1 – Spring: Robinia pseudacacia (false acacia). Planted in 1762 as part of the original planting.
D2 – Summer: Quercus hisparica lucombeaua (Oriental Plane). Part of the original 1760s planting. (sic)
D3: Autumn: Plantanus orientalis (Oriental Plane). Part of the original 1760s planting.
D4: Winter: Sophora japonica (Pagoda Tree). Planted c1760 as part of the original planting.

D4 - David Gentlemans unadopted Pagoda Tree design

D4 – David Gentleman’s unadopted Pagoda Tree design

Set E
4 illustrations, dated 15/03/89
E1 – Spring: Robina pseudacacia (false acacia). Planted in 1762, as part of the original planting. In the background, the Orangery, designed by Sir William Chambers and built in 1761.
E2 – Summer: Quercus hispanica lucombeaua (Lucombe’s oak). Part of the original planting of in 1760s. In the distance, the Pagoda. (sic)
E3 – Autumn: Plantanus orientalis (Oriental plane). Part of the original 1760s planting. In the background, the Temperate House.
E4 – Winter: Sophora japonica (Pagoda Tree). Planted c1760 as part of the original planting. The Palm House.

E4 - David Gentlemans unadopted Pagoda Tree design (winter)

E4 – David Gentleman’s unadopted Pagoda Tree design (winter)

Additional designs
There is no artist’s description for these designs; they are described on the reverse as presentation visuals.
1 – Oak Tree (green illustration).
2 – Oak Tree (computer image).

Additional design 2 - David Gentlemans unadopted Oak Tree design

Additional design 2 – David Gentleman’s unadopted Oak Tree design

For more previously unseen stamp artwork by David Gentleman, please see our online exhibition Gentleman on Stamps. Some of the heritage trees which appeared in Gentleman’s designs can be seen on the Kew Gardens website; False Acacia, Lucombe Oak, Oriental Pane, Pagoda Tree.

A Visit to Swindon

By Anne Jensen, Project Officer (Royal Mail Stamps)

Recently I joined a small group of staff from the BPMA on a visit to Swindon, to view the proposed site for the new BPMA Centre. Our very capable guide was Jo Sullivan, New Centre Project Assistant, who told us about the history of the site and its surrounds.

The proposed site for the New Centre is the former chain-testing works in the old Great Western Railway (GWR) locomotive works, a short walk from Swindon Station. On the walk we passed Brunel’s Railway Village, built to house GWR workers, and went through a tunnel which was constructed so that those workers would not have to walk over the railway lines to get to work.

Some of the group who visited Swindon

Some of the group who visited Swindon

The former works area, now known as Churchward Village, is currently being developed by Thomas Homes. Chris Brotherton from Thomas Homes, together with Jo, showed us around the site and explained the vision for the various part of the site.

Having looked at the plans before our visit, I found it difficult to imagine the size of the building the BPMA intended to move into, but once on site it became clear why it had been chosen. At the moment it doesn’t look of much, of course, but when the pigeons have been evicted and the site has been renovated it will provide a suitable space for showcasing and providing full access to the BPMA’s collection.

After our tour of the proposed BPMA site we walked towards the Swindon Designer Outlet, passing the National Trust’s headquarters, Heelis. The use of solar panels on the later building turned our conversation to whether or not it would be possible for the BPMA to do the same or whether, considering the very brisk breeze on the day of our visit, it would be better to invest in a couple of wind turbines.

This memorial sited in the Designer Outlet Shopping Centre commemorates the GWR workers who served in armed conflicts of the period.

This memorial sited in the Designer Outlet Shopping Centre commemorates the GWR workers who served in armed conflicts of the period.

Reaching the Designer Outlet Shopping Centre we were immediately struck by how the existing buildings had been adapted to suit their new purpose, and how the old railway machinery within those buildings had been made a feature of, something the BPMA intends to do in the New Centre.

We then made our way to the English Heritage National Monument Record Centre, next door to proposed new BPMA Centre, where we could see how the windows in the roof provided natural light in their search room (similar to what is planned for the BPMA site) and where we enjoyed looking up photos of places of interest to us.

Having seen how other buildings on the Churchward Village site have been developed, I am looking forward to seeing what happens to the proposed BPMA site in the future.

The Wilkinson Collection – Model china letter boxes.

By Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

A large part of the Wilkinson Collection consists of model china letter boxes and it is these that I have been cataloguing over the past weeks. Although many of the objects collected by Ian Wilkinson were collected for their visual interest – the fact that they depicted a letter box in some way – they were normally manufactured as partly functional objects, such as money boxes. However, the model china letter boxes are unusual, in that they are purely decorative.

Plate 1: Chesham model letter box

Plate 1: Chesham model letter box

One of the main jobs of a cataloguer is to describe each object as well as possible without spending a day on each object! The main aspects that are recorded are the size, material, colour and condition of the object as well as any distinguishing features such as inscriptions. This information helps to identify objects and allows potential researchers to judge whether an object is of relevance or interest to their research. This also prolongs the life of the objects, as it decreases handling, which can affect an object’s condition.

Plate 2: Good Luck from Worthing

Plate 2: Good Luck from Worthing

The object in plate 1 shows the standard form these models take. They are usually, but not always, white, with some form of decoration and motto on them. Many of them celebrate a particular town or county and it is easy to see how they would be attractive to residents as well as holiday momentos for tourists. The two common mottos found on these letter boxes – ‘I can’t get a letter from you so send you the box’ and ‘If you haven’t time to post a line, here’s the letter box’ – also suggest that these were bought almost as 3D holiday postcards. Indeed, the letter box in plate 2 says ‘Good Luck from Worthing’ on the top.

Plate 3: Rugby model letter box

Plate 3: Rugby model letter box

The letter box in plate 1 celebrates the town of Chesham, where Ian Wilkinson lived. As is the case here, a lot of the model china letter boxes show a coat of arms for the town or county in question. These can be useful for dating the objects as for some places their coats of arms were granted relatively recently. For example, plate 3 shows a letter box with the coat of arms for Rugby, which was granted in 1932. However, in the mid 1970s the borough was enlarged and a new coat of arms was granted in 1976. As a result it is likely that this letter box (bearing the old coat of arms) was produced sometime between 1932 and 1976. However, dating objects using this method is not always reliable as the coat of arms shown on Chesham letter box (plate 1) is a different coat of arms than the official one used by Chesham.

Having said that these model china letter boxes take a standard form this is not to say that they are all the same. As plate 4 shows they come in different shapes, some have apertures (letter slots) on the front, some have inscriptions on the top, some on the back, some are quite elaborate, others quite plain. As with the Wilkinson collection as a whole, variety is the spice of life!

Plate 4: Different model china letter boxes from the Wilkinson Collection

Plate 4: Different model china letter boxes from the Wilkinson Collection

Top 10 Stamps Blogs

The Philatelic Database has named the BPMA blog as one of its Top 10 Stamp Blogs. The Philatelic Database is the leading online resource for philatelists, stamp collectors and postal historians. It features articles by eminent philatelists and specialists in their fields. The site is a veritable cornucopia of philatelic knowledge where you will also find maps, videos, crosswords, dictionaries and directories.

After only two and half months blogging we’re thrilled to appear on this list alongside several blogs we enjoy, like Keijo Kortelainen’s Stamp Collecting Blog and Don Schilling’s Stamp Collecting Round-Up, as well as a number we haven’t heard of but will start reading.

This blog is written by BPMA staff and guest contributors and we’ve got plenty of exciting articles coming up. Over the next week or so we’ll have more on the proposed New Centre for the BPMA in Swindon, an update on The Wilkinson Collection, another article on GPO posters, and in celebration of the release next week of stamps celebrating the 250th Anniversary of Kew Gardens we’ll take a look at a previous stamp issue featuring Kew Gardens and show some artwork by renowned British stamp designer David Gentleman which has never been seen before. Stay tuned!

What does the Post Office mean to you?

by Julian Stray, Assistant Curator

What does the Post Office mean to you? An interesting question and probably not one that we often consider. Is it the loss of our favourite local post office, or is it the continued success of this everyday resource with a friendly face behind the counter, where a single stamp is provided with the same enthusiasm as a bulk dispatch of eBay packages? What do you think of when a holiday postcard is dropped onto your doormat? It is unlikely that any of us spare a thought to the process that bought it from a resort to our house for the modest cost of a stamp. It is also unlikely that we view with such warmth the steady stream of monthly bills or ‘junk’ mail that invades our homes on a far too regular basis!

An oral history drop-in session in progress.

An oral history drop-in session in progress.

Many of us have spent a few weeks, possibly as a student, working as a ‘casual’ over the busy Christmas period. Or possibly you may have completed ten, twenty, thirty, even forty years service for the Post Office, Royal Mail, Parcelforce or Romec. These days, with a changing mails market, increasing numbers of people are actually employed by competitors within the mail business; employed by TNT, DHL, Business Post, City Link or one of the many others vying for space. How do you feel about these changes in the home mail market?

If you have an opinion on any of the above or other associated matters, The British Postal Museum & Archive are interested in your views. We will be hosting two ‘drop-in’ sessions in 2009 where the one big question will be asked: “What does the Post Office mean to you?” Speaking to one of the BPMA curators, we are offering the opportunity for anyone to have their view recorded, be it a three minute rant or a longer discourse on a fondly remembered service. It is the BPMA’s aim to capture a snap-shot of people’s views and opinions during the most radical shake-up of the domestic mail market seen in over 150 years.

The first of these sessions will be held at the BPMA Museum Store on 21 stMay 2009 (full details below). No booking is necessary; simply turn up to have your views recorded for posterity. Please note that some recordings may be closed from public access for a period of years if deemed necessary. So if you are an employee of Royal Mail, or of one of its competitors or simply an interested member of the public, come and tell us… ‘What does the Post Office mean to you?”

BPMA Oral History Drop-In Sessions 2009
May Drop-In Session – Thursday 21st May, 10am-3pm at the BPMA Museum Store
October Drop-In Session
- Tuesday 20th October, 10am-3pm at The British Postal Museum & Archive

Slogan dies

By Claire McHugh, Cataloguer (Collections)

At present I am waist deep sorting through and cataloguing slogan dies ready to go onto the online catalogue in a couple of months.

Postal slogans were first applied (by hand) to mail some 300 years ago. However, the majority of collectors think of slogans as the special dies which replace the normal wavy-line obliterators in stamp cancelling machines.

The accepted thought is that the British Post Office was late in adopting the use of slogan dies and it wasn’t until 1917 it agreed reluctantly to assist the War Savings Campaign by authorising the ‘Buy National War Bonds Now’ slogan. This established a precedent for using slogans as an alternative to the wavy-line stamp cancellation marks.

Though strictly not a slogan die, it should be noted that the BPMA does hold a Victoria Jubilee obliterator dating from 1896. The obliterator was sent by the Imperial Marking Machine Company (the Canadian subsidiary of The American Postal Machine Company established by Martin Van Buren Ethridge) and offered to the Post Office along with their Imperial Cancelling Machine for trials in July 1896, although it wasn’t until 1897 that the Post Office would trial the machine. It is believed no mail was processed during the trial, so contemporary examples of this postmark are rare, if non existent (though it is thought that this die was used in Canada for a time).

Postmark of Victoria Jubilee Obliterator, (Postal History Society Bulletin [1964] No. 126)

Postmark of Victoria Jubilee Obliterator, (Postal History Society Bulletin {1964} No. 126)

Not all slogans and obliterators have been patriotic; some have unintentionally done the opposite. In 1960, Dame Laura Knight designed a slogan cancellation for the World Refugee Campaign. The die’s design showed a hand raised in supplication. Unfortunately the thumb tended to point to the Queen’s nose if stamps were fixed in a certain way. The slogan was withdrawn on the account of causing offense, but prior to this the postmaster of Halifax had the hand filed from the slogan die used at his office. Examples of the defaced Halifax slogans are now scarce.

Slogans I have so far catalogued range from the eye opening ’12th World Naturist Congress Orpington (North Kent) 10-14 August’ to proud local claims such as ‘See Bath In Bloom/ Britain’s Top Floral City’. To the attention-grabbing slogan of ‘Recycle Yourself Be A Kidney Donor’ to the more familiar everyday brands such as ‘Quality Street/ Magic Moments’ and ‘W H Smith 200 Years’. The various slogans also consist of names that have not always stood the test of time (anyone remember ‘Leave Him To Heaven/ New Rock Musical…’?) to names that are now recognised as classics ‘A Steven Spielberg Film/ E.T.The Extra-Terrestrial is coming home on video on Oct 28th’. These are just a taster of the some 2000 varieties of slogan dies I have catalogued so far.

The Post Office Home Guard in the Second World War

To mark VE Day Ph.D Research Student Mark J Crowley looks at The Post Office Home Guard.

The Post Office Home Guard was created in 1939 under the instruction of the Postmaster General. Its purpose was to defend the Post Office from enemy attack. Whilst its initial membership predominantly comprised men, it also accepted women, but their roles initially were confined to duties such as fire-watching. This was to change by the end of 1940, when women performed all of the duties previously undertaken by men. Considerable enthusiasm was expressed by Post Office staff for this initiative. They could volunteer their services to the Post Office Home Guard provided that they did not spend more than 40 hours per month performing these duties.

Post Office Home Guard

Post Office Home Guard

The Post Office Home Guard formed part of what became known as the ‘Factory Home Guard’. They were created as a ‘spin off’ to the National Home Guard. For the Post Office, and for the nation, the defence of communications, essential services and industry were covered by this group. The best defence would be achieved with cooperation between the Factory Home Guard units and the national Home Guard.[1]

Five major roles and responsibilities were identified for the Post Office Home Guard.[2] First, they would work to defend their local Post Office. A small proportion of Telephonists in the exchanges classified as ‘vulnerable’ by a government-appointed Vulnerable Points Officer would then be recruited to the Post Office Home Guard, and trained to operate selected exchanges in the event of an invasion. Second, the Post Office Home Guard would be responsible for providing telecommunications for the Army, Navy, air force as well as civil defence, government and industry. Its main task was to protect vital communications. Third, the POHG members would be exempt from the fire watching duties covered under separate arrangements within the Essential Work Order. Fourth, there were three classifications to Post Office premises, and members of the POHG were expected to defend all three, but the priorities attached to all three were different. Buildings were classified as: key points of national importance; important centres; and finally, premises of lesser importance. Also the POHG were given points in which a constant presence should be maintained. Areas with large sorting offices and telephone exchanges (major cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester) were afforded the highest level of protection by both the National Home Guard and the Post Office Home Guard, in the interest of protecting and maintaining their services in the event of an enemy attack. 

Towards the end of the war, senior Post Office managers and Treasury officials claimed that men over 60 were not fit for Home Guard duties, and neither should they be expected to perform these or any other duties involving defending the country.[3] Others on the committee argued that the biggest problem for the Post Office was that it had its own Home Guard. They believed that if its staff joined the outside Home Guard, then their claims of irksome duties and hours would receive more attention from the government. However, the Post Office Management assured the staff that if there was evidence that their duties in the Post Office Home Guard was detrimentally affecting their Post Office duties, then they would be relieved of this.[4] This possibly explains why all Post Office Home Guard sections had been disbanded by 1946.

[1] BPMA, Post 56/108, Letter from P J Grigg, War Office, July 1941

[2] BPMA, Post 56/108,  F Reid POHG commander to regional directors, 18 April, 1941

[3] Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick (hereafter MRC), MSS.148/UCW/2/1/28, Quarterly Meeting the Executive Council, 12-14 July, 1944, p. 34.

[4] Ibid, p. 34.

Gentleman on Stamps

by Sue Barnard, Exhibitions and Learning Manager

Every year we mount a new exhibition in our Search Room on a philatelic theme. This year’s exhibition will feature the work of one of the most prolific contributors to British stamp design, David Gentleman.

David Gentleman’s association with the Post Office and Royal Mail dates back to 1962, when his designs to mark National Productivity Year were selected. His contribution to pictorial stamp design during the 1960s is described by Douglas Muir, Curator of Philately at the BPMA as “supremely important”.

Keen to address the visual limitations imposed by the inclusion of the monarch’s head on British commemorative stamps, it was during that decade that David Gentleman wrote to Tony Benn, then Postmaster General, about the possibilities of alternative approaches. The resulting “Essays in Stamp Design” proposed new commemorative stamp subjects such as birds, transport, architecture and regional landscapes.

The proposals also included a single sheet of se tenant stamps featuring each of the eighteen rulers of Britain since the Anglo Scottish Union of 1603, which David Gentleman describes as one of the most interesting subjects to design.

Some of the 100 essays that comprise what became known as “The Gentleman Album” will be on display. For Douglas Muir, this early work demonstrates how David Gentleman was responsible for revolutionising the concept, format and extent of pictorial design.

David Gentlemans stamp celebrating the social reforms of Lord Shaftesbury

David Gentleman's stamp celebrating the social reforms of Lord Shaftesbury

The British Pioneers of Social Reform stamps of 1976 will be exhibited to illustrate the processes worked through from the design stage into print. The series comprises four stamps commemorating the work of important nineteenth century reformers. Rather than take a traditional approach to representing individual achievement through portraiture, David Gentleman chose to use strong imagery to convey the very essence of what it was each campaigner wanted to reform.

Thomas Hepburn, the pioneer of the first miners union is represented by the hewing of coal, the visionary cotton mill owner Robert Owen by the pulley-wheels and belts of the textile factory, Lord Shaftesbury, the campaigner for improved working conditions, is represented by the brush of a chimney sweep, and Elizabeth Fry, champion of women prisoners, by the bars of a cell.

A visual theme running throughout all four is the symbolic use of hands, representing the shared suffering endured by many of the underprivileged in nineteenth century society. The display will include artwork showing some of the stages through which the design of the Robert Owen stamp developed.

It is an understanding of the possibilities and limitations of specific printing techniques that Douglas Muir believes marks David Gentleman out from other designers. The 1994 Regional Definitives exemplify this, and examples of the same scene depicted in wood engraving, lithography and watercolour will be on display.

David Gentleman describes how he found the deliberate, well-thought-out aspects of design attractive quite early in his career. This encouraged him to take up wood engraving, often working on a small scale.

One of David Gentlemans unadopted Ulster paintings

One of David Gentleman's unadopted Ulster paintings

When designing stamps later on it was this need to focus on an idea and to exclude everything non-essential that was important. Douglas Muir highlights the 1971 Ulster Paintings as demonstrating this ability to think and work stamp size. A selection of these rapid sketches will be included in the exhibition.

Focusing on stamps previously unseen, this section of the exhibition will also include examples from the 2001 English Definitives. In these, various buildings and landscapes are used to represent English culture and identity. Ranging from the pictorial to the abstract, designs in this series incorporate natural and man-made features, such as chalk down, cornfield and white horse, as well as formal architectural elements.

Gentleman on Stamps can be seen in BPMA’s Search Room from 7th May. On display will be the artwork behind some of Gentleman’s issued stamps as well as unadopted designs and issues previously unseen by the public. As stamp design is but one element of Gentleman’s work the exhibition will also include a selection of posters from his own collection. In addition a 1968 GPO film Picture to Post, featuring the work of David Gentleman, will be screened.

An online version of Gentleman on Stamps, including a downloadable pdf on The David Gentleman Album, can be viewed on our website. David Gentleman will deliver a talk entitled Design Into Print at the BPMA on 14th May 2009.