Monthly Archives: September 2010

The General Post Office: GPO East – 1829-1912

One of the earliest sites occupied by the ‘General Post Office’ in London was in the area of Lombard Street, near the Bank of England. Since 1678, the General Post Office had been headquartered in this part of the City, purchasing more property as its work increased in volume and scope.

However in 1814 the Post Office’s piecemeal acquisition of buildings had gone as far as it could and the Post Office Architect reported that it wasn’t worth continuing to develop the site.  He recommended a new location be selected for the construction of a purpose-built headquarters building.

This engraving shows St Martins Le Grand before the construction of the Post Office.

This engraving shows St Martins Le Grand before the construction of the Post Office.

The area chosen was St Martins-le-Grand, less than half a mile away, to the north of St Paul’s cathedral. It was an area of poor repute and presumably the land was relatively cheap. In clearing space for the new headquarters over 130 houses were demolished and 1,000 inhabitants displaced.

The Post Office wanted a building that would reflect its increased national importance, so it employed Sir Robert Smirke, the architect who had designed the British Museum.

Hand-coloured engraving showing the new building around 1829.

Hand-coloured engraving showing the new building around 1829.

Construction was complete in 1829 and the entire General Post Office was relocated from Lombard Street to their imposing new premises. Known as the ‘General Post Office’, the building combined the functions of administrative headquarters, sorting office and London’s principal public Post Office.

The structure was nearly 400 feet long, with a Grecian-style frontage facing onto the east side of St Martins-le-Grand. At night, the exterior was lit by a thousand gas burners.

GPO East

GPO East

Letter Carriers Room arranged for the dispatch of newspapers.

Letter Carriers Room arranged for the dispatch of newspapers.

Running the width of the building – 130 feet from the Portico on St. Martin’s-le-Grand through to Foster Lane at the rear – was a grand public hall with a 50-foot ceiling supported by six columns of Portland Stone. Either side of the public hall were offices, with further offices on the first floor. Above those were sleeping rooms for the foreign clerks who were required to be available to receive the foreign mails that arrived at all hours. The basement of the building held the mail-guards rooms, armoury and servants quarters.

Each evening mail coaches gathered at the General Post Office to collect mail for overnight delivery to other cities around the country. The coach, horses and driver were all provided by contractors. The only Post Office employee aboard was the guard. He was heavily armed, carrying two pistols and a blunderbuss.

The nightly departure of the mail coaches, racing off in different directions, became very popular, drawing crowds of spectators.

The Royal Mails departure from The General Post Office, 1830.

The Royal Mails departure from The General Post Office, 1830.

The last London-based mail coach made its final journey in 1846, made redundant by the development of the railway.

Beginning with the Central Telegraph Office in 1874, several other Post Office buildings were constructed in the immediate vicinity and, to avoid confusion, the General Post Office became known as GPO East.

GPO East, early 20th Century

GPO East, early 20th Century

In the above photograph from the early Twentieth Century you can see the two extra storeys that were added following the huge expansion in mail volumes after postal reform in 1840 made the postal service affordable to all.

The basement was also extended but it still didn’t increase capacity sufficiently and eventually the building was declared to be too small. In 1912, after its functions were transferred to the other GPO buildings in the area, GPO East was demolished.

Pen and wash by Sir George Clausen RA, 1913, showing the demolition of GPO East

Pen and wash by Sir George Clausen RA, 1913, showing the demolition of GPO East

The demolition of such an iconic building was not without its opponents and some effort was made to preserve the portico and pediment. However no one was prepared to bear the cost of carrying it away.

Eventually all that remained was the Ionic cap from the right hand corner of the portico. This five-ton relic was presented to the Walthamstow Urban Council and can be seen today at Church End, Walthamstow Village.

Bertram Mackennal

As part of our continuing series of events on themes related to George V, the BPMA’s Curator of Philately Douglas Muir will give a free talk next month on the work of Bertram Mackennal. Mackennal was a noted sculptor who designed coins, stamps and medals during the reign of George V. Douglas Muir’s talk will include images from the Royal Philatelic Collection and the Royal Mint as well as the BPMA, together with examples of Mackennal’s work in sculpture.

The unpopular “Downey Head” (left), the frame of which was designed by Bertram Mackennal and G.W. Eve. George V disliked the three-quarter profile and the replacement “Profile Head” (right) was issued the following year. The “Profile Head” effigy of George V was designed by Mackennal and the frame by Eve.

The unpopular “Downey Head” (left), the frame of which was designed by Bertram Mackennal and G.W. Eve. George V disliked the three-quarter profile and the replacement “Profile Head” (right) was issued the following year. The “Profile Head” effigy of George V was designed by Mackennal and the frame by Eve.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1863, Edgar Bertram Mackennal received his early training in sculpture from his Scottish immigrant father John Simpson Mackennal and at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School. At age 19 Mackennal left for Europe, where he undertook further study in London and Paris and began to be commissioned to produce reliefs, figures and busts.

Having completed a number of significant works in England, Australia and India, including statues of monarchs and other notable persons, Mackennal was commissioned to design the medals for the 1908 London Olympic Games. Two years later, when George V ascended the throne, Mackennal was commissioned to prepare an effigy of the King for coins and medals. The Post Office was also keen to employ Mackennal to work on the new definitive stamps, and although initially reluctant, Mackennal agreed.

The popular Seahorses design depicts Britannia being driven through the sea on a chariot pulled by three horses. In her hands are a trident and a shield bearing the Union Jack. Mackennal took inspiration from Greek and Roman depictions of chariot races for this design.

The popular Seahorses design depicts Britannia being driven through the sea on a chariot pulled by three horses. In her hands are a trident and a shield bearing the Union Jack. Mackennal took inspiration from Greek and Roman depictions of chariot races for this design.

Mackennal was involved in the design of all definitive stamp issues during the reign of George V, including the much-loved Seahorses design. Originally issued by the Post Office on 30th June 1913 this design was seen as revolutionary for its time, being the first British stamp to bear a pictorial illustration alongside the monarch’s head and the value. In many ways it can be said to be the pre-cursor to the first British commemorative stamp, issued to celebrate the opening of the British Empire Exhibition 11 years later.

Douglas Muir’s talk on Bertram Mackennal will take place on Thursday 7 October at the BPMA. Information on how to book can be found on our website. Tickets are free.

Douglas Muir’s book George V and the GPO: Stamps, Conflict & Creativity is available from the BPMA online shop.

The Lord Mayor’s Show 2010

The British Postal Museum & Archive are proud to announce that the 13th November 2010 will see one of the largest road vehicles in the BPMA collection, the Mobile Post Office GPO2 taking to the streets of London as part of the BPMA’s contribution to one of the longest established and best known annual events in London, the Lord Mayor’s Show. This contribution is in partnership with the Postal History Society who celebrate their 75th anniversary next year.

GPO publicity for the 1930s Mobile Post Office

GPO publicity for the 1930s Mobile Post Office

With over 6,000 participants, 200 vehicles, 21 carriages, 71 floats, 150 horses and 20 marching bands, the Lord Mayor’s Show is the largest parade of its kind with half a million people turning up to watch the parade and millions more watching on the BBC. It will provide the perfect opportunity to publicly showcase what we do here at the BPMA.

The parade will begin with a military flypast over Mansion House at 11am to celebrate the inaugural outing of the 683rd Lord Mayor of the City of London. The procession will then travel from Mansion House to St Paul’s Cathedral, where the new Lord Mayor is blessed by the Dean of St Paul’s before the procession carries on to the Royal Courts of Justice where the Lord Mayor swears an oath of allegiance to the sovereign before the Lord Chief Justice and Judges of the Queen’s Bench Division, as enshrined in the charter of King John (the original of which can be viewed at the Museum of London).

Ian Lider, Lord Mayor of London for the year 2008/9, waves from the State Coach on his way to swear loyalty to the Crown.

Ian Lider, Lord Mayor of London for the year 2008/9, waves from the State Coach on his way to swear loyalty to the Crown.

The procession then sets off at 1pm on the return journey along Victoria Embankment to Mansion House, where the newly sworn-in Lord Mayor arrives to be greeted by the City Aldermen and Livery Company Masters in their colourful gowns.

The day culminates in a fireworks extravaganza between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges on the Thames from 5pm.

If you would like to see an important piece of postal history make a striking addition to this historical event you can get a good view from anywhere on the processional route. For visitor advice, useful maps and timetables, tips on how to get to the parade and where to stand, details of the procession and lots of information about the history of the Show please see the Lord Mayor’s Show website.

Commemorative postcard

Handstamp created for use on the commemorative cover postcard based on the original GPO2 cancellation

Handstamp created for use on the commemorative cover postcard based on the original GPO2 cancellation

To celebrate taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Show, the BPMA has developed a limited edition commemorative full colour postcard which features the 1930s GPO2 publicity image above. These postcards will travel in the parade onboard GPO2 and later be cancelled by a special handstamp created by Adrian Bradbury, based on the original GPO2 cancellation design. The postcard will also bear a specially designed GPO2 cachet and a 47p Blackfriars Bridge stamp (2002 issue).

Only 150 commemorative postcards will be produced and these can now be pre-ordered. Each postcard costs £3.99 and is available by telephoning 020 7239 5125 or sending a cheque made payable to Postal Heritage Services Limited to Product Sales, BPMA, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL.

Post and Go pictorial stamps – Garden Birds

Now available from the Post and Go terminals in 30 Crown Post Offices are six illustrated stamps featuring Garden Birds. The birds chosen are some of the most commonly seen in gardens in the UK, the Robin, Starling, House Sparrow, Blue Tit, Goldfinch and Wood Pigeon.

Post and Go Garden Birds stamps

Post and Go Garden Birds stamps

The stamps are designed by Kate Stephens, the UK’s most prolific female stamp designer, and illustrated by wildlife artist and ornithologist Robert Gillmor. Gillmor’s bird images were made using the linocut method and an old printing press. Speaking to Eastern Daily Press recently, Gillmor said:

It is very interesting that my stamps will appear on people’s letters and parcels using the latest technology, especially as my artwork was created using a 161-year-old printing press.

Post and Go terminals are a self service facility which allows customers to weigh their letters and packets, and pay for and print postage labels. While the Garden Birds stamps are only available in 30 Post Offices (see the list below), a second set in the Birds of Britain series will be available from all Post and Go terminals from next year.

Two pictorial First Day of Issue postmarks are available, one with a map of the British Isles and the other with a speckled egg.

Post and Go Garden Birds First Day of Issue postmarks

Post and Go Garden Birds First Day of Issue postmarks

Unstamped Royal Mail First Day Cover envelopes (price 30p) are only available from the 30 Post Offices selling the Garden Birds Post and Go stamps. Alternatively, collectors may send stamped covers for the first day of issue to Royal Mail, Tallents House, 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh EH12 9PB, quoting reference FD10 39 (Tallents House) or to any Special Handstamp Centre quoting reference FD10 40 (BRISTOL pictorial postmark) or FD10 40NP (non-pictorial).

Location of Post & Go machines selling Garden Birds pictorial stamps

East of England
Stevenage – 22-23 Westgate, Stevenage, SG1 1QR
Cambridge – 9-11 St Andrew Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AA
Southend-on-Sea – 199-201 High Street, Southend-On-Sea, SS1 1LL
Colchester – 68-70 North Hill, Colchester, CO1 1PX
Castle Mall, Norwich – 84-85 Castle Meadow Walk, Castle Mall, Norwich, NR1 3DD
Milton Keynes – 17-19 Crown Walk, Milton Keynes, MK9 3AH
Luton – The Arndale Centre, 42-44 Smith Lane, Luton, LU1 2LP

London
Old St – 205 Old Street, London, EC1V 9QN
Trafalgar Sq – 24-28 William IV Street, London, WC2N 4DL
Croydon – 10 High Street, Croydon, CR9 1HT
City of London – 12 Eastcheap, London, EC3M 1AJ
Baker St – 111 Baker Street, London, W1U 6SG
Paddington Quay – Unit 6, West End Quay, 4 Praed Street, London, W2 1JE

Midlands
Nottingham – Queen Street, Nottingham, NG1 2BN
Walsall – Darwall Street, Walsall, WS1 1AA
Birmingham – 1 Pinfold Street, Birmingham, B2 4AA

North
Durham – 33 Silver Street, Durham, DH1 3RE
York – 22 Lendal, York, YO1 8DA
Grimsby – 67-71 Victoria Street, Grimsby, DN31 1AA
Harrogate – 11 Cambridge Road, Harrogate, HG1 1AA
Corn Exchange, Liverpool – India Building, ‘Water Street, Liverpool, L2 0RR

Northern Ireland
Belfast – 12 – 16 Bridge Street, Belfast  BT1 1LT

Scotland
Glasgow – 47 St Vincent Street, Glasgow, G2 5QX
Edinburgh – 8-10 St James Centre, Edinburgh, EH1 3SR

South West
Portsmouth – Slindon Street, Portsmouth, PO1 1AB
Truro – High Cross, Truro, TR1 2AP
Plymouth – 5 St Andrews Cross, St Andrews Cross, Plymouth, PL1 1AB
The Galleries, Bristol – Castle Gallery, Broadmead, Bristol  BS1 3XX
Exeter – 28 Bedford Street, Exeter, EX1 1GJ

Wales
Cardiff – 45-46 Queens Arcade, Queen Street, Cardiff, CF10 2BY

The Post and Go stamps are also available from Stampex.

Medical Breakthroughs

Today Royal Mail has issued a new set of stamps commemorating British achievement in medical research and technology. There has been a long tradition of cutting-edge medical research in the United Kingdom and several previous stamp issues have focused on this topic; these new stamps mark achievements since the Victorian era.

The six stamps are as follows:

Medical Breakthroughs stamp issue (designer: Howard Brown)

Medical Breakthroughs stamp issue (designer: Howard Brown)

1st (First Class inland letter rate): Heart-regulating beta-blockers synthesised by Sir James Black 1962

58p (Basic Rate World Wide Surface): Antibiotic properties of penicillin discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming 1928

60p (Europe up to 20gm): Total hip replacement operation pioneered by Sir John Charnley 1962

67p (Basic airmail rate up to 10gm): Artificial lens implant surgery pioneered by Sir Harold Ridley 1949

88p (Europe up to 40 gm): Malaria parasite transmitted by mosquitoes proved by Sir Ronald Ross 1897

97p (Rest of World airmail up to 20gm) Computed tomography scanner invented by Sir Godfrey Hounsfield 1971

Penicillin notatum from British Discovery and Invention issue, 1967 (designer: Clive Abbott)

Penicillin notatum from British Discovery and Invention issue, 1967 (designer: Clive Abbott)

Penicillin mould (Fleming’s discovery of penicillin) from Millenium Series. The Patients’ Tale issue, 1999 (designer: Mike Dempsey)

Penicillin mould (Fleming’s discovery of penicillin) from Millenium Series. The Patients’ Tale issue, 1999 (designer: Mike Dempsey)

As with many previous science-themed issues, designer Howard Brown has used scans, x-rays and microscopy images to illustrate the themes of these stamps. They compliment issues such as 150th Anniversary of Royal Microscopical Society and Medical Discoveries, as well as the two previous stamps which commemorated the discovery of penicillin.

150th Anniversary of Royal Microscopical Society issue, 1989 (designer: Keith Bassford)

150th Anniversary of Royal Microscopical Society issue, 1989 (designer: Keith Bassford)

Europa. Medical Discoveries issue, 1994 (designers: Pierre Vermeir and Jean-Paul Tibbles)

Europa. Medical Discoveries issue, 1994 (designers: Pierre Vermeir and Jean-Paul Tibbles)

A full range of Medical Breakthroughs products are available from Royal Mail Stamps & Collecting.

New records available on the online catalogue

Further records were added to our online catalogue last Friday, bringing the amount of searchable records available to over 90,000.

Records added to the catalogue include:

KEVIII 3d postage due labels, registration sheet, imperforate, 1937

KEVIII 3d postage due labels, registration sheet, imperforate, 1937 (POST 150/KEVIII/PL/1160)

A fleet of commercial vans in the yard at King Edward Building, 1931

A fleet of commercial vans in the yard at King Edward Building, 1931 (POST 118/5089)

A Scammell mail van, 1956 (POST 118/5239)

A Scammell mail van, 1956 (POST 118/5239)

Search the catalogue at http://catalogue.postalheritage.org.uk/

Upcoming stamp shows in Edinburgh and Newcastle

Autumn Stampex isn’t the only stamp show taking place this month; for those in Scotland and the North of England member Federations of the Association of British Philatelic Societies have organised two shows as part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps.

Festival of Stamps & Postcards in Edinburgh & Lothians

Organised by the Association of Scottish Philatelic Societies – Edinburgh Group, the show takes place this Saturday afternoon at St John’s Church Hall, 140 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4BJ. There will be displays from Edinburgh Philatelic Society, Edinburgh Stamp Group, Lothian Postcard Club and the Scottish Philatelic Society, stamps and postcards for sale, and experts on hand to give advice.

A postman delivers mail at Holyrood House, Edinburgh, 1934.

A postman delivers mail at Holyrood House, Edinburgh, 1934.

Nephilex 2010

Organised by the North-East of England Philatelic Federation this show will take place on Saturday 25 September at The Royal Station Hotel, Neville Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 5DH. Highlights include dealers stands, competitive and non-competitive displays, activities for young people and those wishing to start a collection, valuations and society meetings. Other events, will take place between 5pm on 24 September and 1pm on 26 September, including the awards dinner on Saturday night. The full programme is available from www.nephilex2010.org.uk.