Monthly Archives: December 2009

BPMA Events Programme 2010

Our 2010 Events Guide has just arrived in the office and is now available online.

As usual the BPMA are hosting an exciting programme of Exhibitions, Walks, Discover Sessions, Talks and Tours. Many of our exhibitions and events next year will also be part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps and relate to the theme of George V, the philatelist King. Highlights include:

Treasures of the Archive
An exhibition of unique treasures from the BPMA, including a sheet of penny black stamps and the original die, among many other items of unparalleled significance in UK postal history.

Empire Mail: George V and the GPO
A major exhibition looking at the passions of King George V, the ‘philatelist king’ and the extraordinary period of design and innovation in the General Post Office during his reign.

Talks
Speakers include Vice President of the National Philatelic Society Dane Garrod, designer and illustrator Ronald Maddox and Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection Michael Sefi. BPMA Curator of Philately Douglas Muir will speak on stamp designer Bertram Mackennal, and designers and authors Brian Webb and Peyton Skipworth will speak on artists who worked for the GPO, including Barnett Freedman, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravillious.

Walking Tours
This year we are introducing a shorter highlights tour, taking you through the heart of GPO London in just 90 minutes.

We hope to add new events throughout the year, so keep checking the What’s On page for more information.

If you receive our Newsletter by post you will be sent a copy of the Events Guide in the New Year. Contact us on info@postalheritage.org.uk if you’d like one sent to you, or download the pdf version from our What’s On page.

Philately is the new (Penny) black

“Czech glass, Doctor Who memorabilia and vintage fashion are all on the up, as is stamp collecting. That’s right, in 2010, philately is the new (Penny) black.”

London 2010: Festival of Stamps logoSo says the current edition of BBC Homes & Antiques magazine, and who are we to argue? 2010, of course, is when London 2010: Festival of Stamps will take place – a year long celebration of stamps, stamp design and postal heritage.

London 2010: Festival of Stamps is more than a stamp show, there will be exhibitions, talks, walking tours and events of interest to everyone, from the stamp collecting novice to the hardcore philatelist.

This blog will soon publish a full rundown of events planned for London 2010: Festival of Stamps, but in the meantime have a look at the festival’s all new website – http://www.london2010.org.uk/.

The Morten Collection at Bruce Castle

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

Greetings from Bruce Castle, Tottenham, North London – the former home of Sir Rowland Hill!

Today Tottenham is part of the thriving London Borough of Haringey and home of the famous football club Tottenham Hotspur, but over 150 years ago it was a small village and home to Sir Rowland Hill, future inventor of the postage stamp. He lived at Bruce Castle, a16th Century manor house, from 1827 where he was headmaster of a school for boys.

Today the former manor house is grade 1 listed and houses the Museum and Archive of Haringey. Among its exhibits we find many things related to the local area such as a 1930s office, World War II photographs, the history of the building, as well as a large collection of postal history objects, books and documents.

Two pages from the Visitors Book from the Hotel d'Europe, 1817-1826

Visitors Book of Mail Coach travellers staying at Hotel D’Europe between 1817-1826. The book is bound and consists of 361 pages.

This is thanks to former postal worker W.V. Morten and the Union of Communication Workers (now the Communication Worker’s Union). Very little is known about W.V. Morten himself, other than his complete devotion to the postal service, studying and collecting things on every aspect. When he died in the 1920s the Union of Communication Workers realised the importance of his collection and bought it for safekeeping and to prevent it from being broken up or going to America. As the Union had no storage or exhibition facilities, Bruce Castle with its postal connection seemed the obvious place for it to go.

Painting of mail train going past a mail bag apparatus point

Painting of mail train going past a mail bag apparatus point

In the decades following the Collection has expanded and now comprises of some 30,000 pieces including advertising posters, Victorian newspaper cuttings, mail box models, photographs, drawings, postmarks, stamps, mail coach tickets, books and even a vet’s receipt for a horse. We hold material ranging from a14th century telegram to a 1980s advertising brochure for a telephone system.

A letter from Normandy, 1397

Mail from Normandy, 1397

In recent years the museum as a whole shifted its emphasis away from postal history to the local history of Haringey. As a consequence of this the Morten Collection was somewhat neglected and when I came to work at Bruce Castle as part of Pistols, Packets and Postmen, a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involving the London Borough of Haringey, the Communication Workers Union and the British Postal Museum & Archive, I found a mountain of work waiting for me. Documents have to be catalogued and old information computerised, objects stored to modern conservation practice, digitised and sorted. The entire collection has to be brought back to life from the obscurity of the museum’s storage area through educational activities, exhibitions and talks.

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

This is not a one-person job, and I’m relying on the help of volunteers. A retired union worker is helping with the re-housing of the collection and an aspiring librarian catalogued large sections of the postal history books. A retired postal worker says: “I love coming to the museum as it gets me out of the house and makes use of my knowledge of the postal service. I have met some nice people too!”

A poster advertisement for accomodation at the Lion Hotel, Clumber Street, Nottingham, and a new mail coach called Little John, leaving every day at 1 O'Clock (except Sundays) and travelling to Mansfield, Warsop, Cuckney, Worksop, Retford, Tickhill, Doncaster and Sheffield.

Poster advertisement for accommodation at the Lion Hotel, Nottingham and a new Mail Coach

Whether you are an aspiring archivist or museum professional, a postal heritage enthusiast or just a retired person seeking a challenge, Bruce Castle wants to hear from you! At present we have opportunities for volunteers to help with re-housing, digitisation and basic cataloguing. No experience or PC skills are needed, just enthusiasm and the willingness to learn new skills.

If you are interested send me an email at: Bettina.Trabant@haringey.gov.uk or ring me on 02088088772.

Over the next few months we’ll be giving BPMA blog readers a glimpse of the Morten Collection through a series of Object of the Month articles as part of Pistols, Packets and Postmen – keep visiting!

The first Christmas card

With Royal Mail’s last posting day fast approaching many people are hurriedly finishing off their Christmas cards. For despite the growing popularity of Christmas greetings sent online, cards are still popular, with Royal Mail delivering 750 million Christmas cards every year. Perhaps it is the personal touch of a handwritten card that keeps this tradition alive.

Like many Christmas traditions, Christmas cards date from the Victorian era. Queen Victoria sent the first official Christmas card, and Sir Henry Cole, who amongst other things was an assistant to Sir Rowland Hill in the introduction of the penny post and the first Director of the V&A, commissioned the first commercial Christmas card in 1843. 1000 of the cards designed by painter John Callcott Horsley were printed lithographically and then hand-coloured by the professional colourer Mason. Cole used as many of these cards as he required and sold the rest for one shilling each under the pseudonym Felix Summerly. An advert in the Athenaeum paper for the cards read “Just published. A Christmas Congratulation Card: or picture emblematical of Old English Festivity to Perpetuate kind recollections between Dear Friends.”

An example of the first Christmas card from our collection, sent by Leonore A N Bell to Annette Caroline Ramsden

An example of the first Christmas card from our collection, sent by Leonore A N Bell to Annette Caroline Ramsden

Horsley’s design depicts two acts of charity – “feeding the hungry” and “clothing the naked” – and a family party scene, in which three generations are drinking wine to celebrate the season. The depiction of children drinking wine proved to be controversial, for this was an era when the temperance movement was gaining in popularity in the UK, but this did not stop people buying the cards and more were printed to satisfy demand.

Very few of the first Christmas cards remain in existence. Four years ago one was sold at auction for £8,500, while another is part of our collection of postal ephemera. In 1993 the V&A re-printed the design, to celebrate 150 years of the Christmas card; we also have an example of this in our collection.

For more on Christmas traditions and the post see our online exhibition The Post of Christmas Past.

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community – official launch

On 4th December 2009, BPMA staff and guests made their way up to Blists Hill for the official launch of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

Among the guests were David Wright, MP for Telford, and members of the local postal history society.

Guests enjoy festive food and mulled wine before the speeches

Guests enjoy festive food and mulled wine before the speeches

Roger Green from Royal Mail using a special cancellation mark to commemorate the occasion.

Roger Green from Royal Mail using a special cancellation mark to commemorate the occasion.

The event started with mulled wine and speeches, and the opportunity to send a special cover marking the occasion. This was followed by tours of the Blists Hill site, and BPMA curator Chris Taft then gave more detailed tours of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

Speeches from Adrian Steel (BPMA Director), Barrie Williams (Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Chairman of Trustees), and Brian Goodey (BPMA Chairman of Trustees).

Speeches from Adrian Steel (BPMA Director), Barrie Williams (Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Chairman of Trustees), and Brian Goodey (BPMA Chairman of Trustees).

Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust staff give tours of the Blists Hill site.

Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust staff give tours of the Blists Hill site.

Chris Taft gives tours of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

Chris Taft gives tours of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

We were also joined by Colin and Margaret Bedford, members of the March Veteran and Vintage Cycle Club, who came dressed as a period postman and postwoman, complete with Hen & Chicks and parcels!

Colin and Maragret Bedford dressed as a Victorian postman and postwoman, with the Hen & Chicks pentacycle.

Colin and Maragret Bedford

Colin Bedford riding his Hen & Chicks outside the Blists Hill Post Office

Colin Bedford riding his Hen & Chicks outside the Blists Hill Post Office

The launch was a success, and the exhibition will now be open permanently to the public. To find out more please go to http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/visiting/ironbridge

Civil Uniform Collection

by Claire McHugh, Cataloguer (Collections)

Searching the online catalogue you may have noticed an omission from The British Postal Museum & Archive’s collection; uniforms. This absence doesn’t mean The BPMA doesn’t hold such material; indeed we have about 1000 items such as ties, protective clothing, waistcoats, jackets, skirts and trousers to name but a few items.

A Postwoman's overcoat, 1918. The coat is dark blue with red detailing on the edges, gold buttons and T5 in gold on the collar.

Close up of Postwoman’s overcoat, 1918. This is an example of the first standard uniform for Postwomen. Before WW1 postwomen had only been supplied with waterproofs.

To rectify this, a project has recently begun to bring The BPMA’s uniform catalogue records up to date and review the collection with regard to our museum collection review policy and facilitate the decision as to what is to be accessioned (the formal, legal process of accepting an object into a museum collection) permanently into the collection. Once accessioned, the uniform records can then be uploaded onto the online catalogue.

While cataloguing the collection, photographic images of the vast majority of the collection have been created. This means digital images (such as the ones illustrating this blog) can accompany the online catalogue record making the collection more accessible to the public.

Postman’s long-sleeved waistcoat, 1908. The waistcoat is black with gold buttons. The sleeves are dark grey.

Postman’s long-sleeved waistcoat, 1908.

So far the project has unearthed a number of intriguing items including a Tangier postman’s uniform dated 1905-1914, Ministry of Civil Aviation uniforms and early experiments in acid resistant material. It has also unearthed what appears to be one of the earliest garments in the collection, a frock coat from the 1860s.

A red Mail guard's frock coat, with gold trim and buttons, and black collar, cuffs and pocket flaps.

Mail guard’s frock coat introduced as part of the new range of uniform of 1861. It retains Dr Merritt’s medical gussets for ventilation.

1861 marked the introduction of a new uniform for letter-carriers, mail-guards and drivers designed by the army contractors Tait Brothers & Co. These new uniform marked the change from red being the dominant colour in letter carriers uniform to dark blue.

Letter carriers uniform now consisted of a blue frock coat with a scarlet collar, cuffs, and facings with initials G.P.O. and wearer’s number underneath being embroidered in white on each sided. The waistcoat was made to match the coat in colour, facings, and buttons. The mail-driver’s frock coat was similar to the letter carrier’s, with the exception of a gold-lace trimming and gold-embroidered initials. The mail-guard’s coat retained the use of the fine scarlet cloth and is a double breasted frock, richly braided with gold lace; and the collar is blue with the initials G.P.O. embroidered in gold on each side. All the garments were fitted with the intriguingly titled Dr. Merritt’s medical gussets for ventilation.

Black and white engraving of three men wearing the new uniforms for letter-carriers, mail-drivers and guards

Illustration of the new uniform designed by Tait Brothers & Co for letter-carriers, mail-drivers and guards from The Illustrated London News, 29 December 1860 (POST 111/99).

This blog marks only the beginning of the project, but it is hoped that the resulting online collection will form an invaluable resource for researchers interested in the histories of civil service uniforms, postal history, buttons, gender and a host of other areas.

The Wilkinson Collection on Flickr

Model letter box cigarette holder

A model letter box made of metal and brown leather. Quite decorative in style, it may well have been used to hold cigarettes.

Today we added some photos of items from the Wilkinson Collection to Flickr. The Wilkinson Collection is named after the late Ian Wilkinson, who collected over 3000 objects related to post boxes and the postal service. Amongst the items are money boxes, model letter boxes and model vehicles; some feature characters such as Snoopy, Mickey Mouse or Postman Pat, or were manufactured by companies such as Lego, Fisher Price or Dinky.

The BPMA’s predecessor, the National Postal Museum, received the Wilkinson Collection in 1989, but it is only in the past year that it has been catalogued by Collections Cataloguer Emma Harper, and made available on our online catalogue (read more about this in Emma’s blogs).

The photos we’ve put on Flickr today show some of the Collection’s highlights and oddities, from a Mickey Mouse money box to a letter box cigarette holder. There really is something for everyone in the Wilkinson Collection!