Monthly Archives: June 2011

Museum Store Tours

Ever wanted to see behind the scenes of a museum, and get up close to some fascinating objects? Then book now to join one of our free Museum Store tours.

Postal vehicles at the Museum Store

Postal vehicles at the Museum Store

These tours take place once a month, with extra evening tours added during the summer months. During each tour our curators will be your guide on a journey through several hundred years of postal history. Highlights include a fleet of postal service vehicles illustrating the long history of moving the mail, and over 50 pillar boxes of different types, from one of the first boxes trialled in the UK to modern designs and prototypes.

Pillar boxes at the Museum Store

Pillar boxes at the Museum Store

Also of interest is the Museum Store itself, a working storage facility for our collection, not often experienced by members of the public.

Visit our website to find out more about our Museum Store tours, including dates and booking details.

S4C filming at the BPMA

Do you know the story of the mail coach that was attacked by a lioness?

Starting yesterday, a new TV series called Y Goets Fawr (The Mail Coach in Welsh) is being broadcast on the Welsh channel S4C. The series attempts to retrace the route of the old Irish Mail in a classic mail coach, led by a team of horses.

Filming for Y Goets Far at the BPMA

Filming for Y Goets Fawr at the BPMA

The producers conducted a lot of research at the BPMA, and last week they did some filming here for the series. They filmed a number of records and items from our extensive collection, to show how they got their research and to illustrate the programme with interesting historical facts about mail coaches.

Items from our collection being filmed

Items from our collection being filmed

For example, in 1816 a mail coach on its way from London to Exeter was attacked by a lioness that had escaped from a nearby menagerie. The two passengers of the coach fled into a nearby pub and locked themselves inside, blocking the door for anyone else, while the mail guard attempted to shoot at the animal with his blunderbuss. Read more about it here.

Mail coach material on display as part of our exhibition Treasures of the Archive are filmed

Mail coach material on display as part of our exhibition Treasures of the Archive are filmed

Along the journey, the team will visit Oswestry, Llangollen, Cerrigydrudion, Pentrefoelas, Capel Curig and Bangor before reaching the end of the line in Wales at Holyhead.

The rest of the programmes will be shown on S4C (in Welsh with English subtitles) from today until Thursday 8.30pm – 9.30pm.

Phoenix Place – the last undeveloped WW2 bomb site?

by Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)

Opposite the BPMA’s entrance in Phoenix Place is a rundown area of open space currently used as a car park for employees of the Mount Pleasant sorting office. This is how it looks on Google Street View.

There is some speculation, including on Flickr, about the car park’s significance as one of the last undeveloped World War II bomb sites in central London. Since we have lots of plans, maps and photographs in our collections relating to Post Office and Royal Mail property in London, I wanted to see if I could find any evidence that the rumour is actually true.

Immediately I discovered it isn’t. You can see from the photograph below that pre-war buildings were still standing in Phoenix Place in the 1960s.

Photograph of Phoenix Place, looking south towards what is now the BPMA on the left, c.1960

Photograph of Phoenix Place, looking south towards what is now the BPMA on the left, c.1960

The area shown is almost opposite what is now the BPMA (our Archive Search Room and Main Office are located where the tower is in the photograph). The remains of a building are also visible, and this may have been the ‘bombed site’ at No. 4 Mount Pleasant referred to in a meeting held in 1956 to discuss the possible extension of the sorting office into Phoenix Place. Google Street View shows how that area looks now.

The size, location and function of Mount Pleasant sorting office made it a likely target for German bombers, and it was struck numerous times. On 16 September 1940 Mount Pleasant was hit for the first time by incendiary bombs. The Parcel Office received further direct raids from incendiaries and high explosives in October and November 1940, and again in January and April 1941.

Surrounding areas, including Eyre Street Hill, Farringdon Road, the Daily Sketch garage at the corner of Mount Pleasant and Gough Street, and Bideford Mansions in Mount Pleasant, were bombed, causing damage to the sorting office.

Several houses in what is now the car park suffered serious damage, including those owned by the Post Office at 34-40 Gough Street. Numbers 12-26 Mount Pleasant were also bombed and subsequently cleared.

Before the war, there were two additional pubs to the current generous supply of watering holes in the Mount Pleasant area. The Two Blue Posts at 79 Mount Pleasant, and the buildings running to Laystall Street on its left, suffered extensive bomb-damage. They were replaced by the block of flats we see now.

The Two Brewers at 32 Gough Street also suffered considerable damage during the war, but was still standing in 1947 as it received a special licence for the Royal Wedding. You can see from the photograph below that the bomb-damaged neighbouring building had been cleared.

Gough Street, looking south towards Mount Pleasant, c.1960

Gough Street, looking south towards Mount Pleasant, c.1960

References on Flickr suggesting the car park area was home to the Parcel Office during the war are incorrect. The Parcel Office was actually located on the current Mount Pleasant site, and was moved to the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington after a direct hit on 18 June 1943. This created a ‘raging inferno’ that left the building a ‘shapeless mass of twisted girders and smouldering ruins’ (see photograph below) and resulted in two fatalities.

Photograph of the bomb damaged Parcel Office at Mount Pleasant, 1943 (POST 118 -1448)

Photograph of the bomb damaged Parcel Office at Mount Pleasant, 1943 (POST 118 -1448)

After the war, discussions were held about the possible rebuilding and extension of the Parcel Office on the site now occupied by the car park. The area still contained a number of properties, despite being damaged during the war. The map below, from 1952, shows the layout of buildings in the area bordered by Mount Pleasant, Phoenix Place, Gough Street and Calthorpe Street (the red area was Post Office property).

Map showing ownership of property in Phoenix Place c.1952 (POST 122-222)

Map showing ownership of property in Phoenix Place c.1952 (POST 122-222)

In 1956, the Planning Authorities recommended that the Post Office acquire the land now occupied by the car park. The London Postal Region was intending to use this site to provide a new Parcel Section, and the map below shows the dates for the proposed acquisition of the remaining properties. The yellow area was already Post Office freehold whilst the red area, incorporating a food suppliers, and Kemsleys Newspapers, which owned the Sunday Times, The Daily Sketch and The Sunday Graphic, was to be acquired in 1958.

Map showing proposed Post Office acquisition of Phoenix Place properties c.1958 (POST 122-222)

Map showing proposed Post Office acquisition of Phoenix Place properties c.1958 (POST 122-222)

However, the Parcel Section was never rebuilt on this land and it seems that it has remained empty since, with the crumbling remnants of buildings giving the impression that the whole area has remained a bomb-site.


POST 122/222 – ‘Buildings: rebuilding/extension of Mt Pleasant Parcel Office’,

– ‘ARP arrangements and incidents at Mt Pleasant during the Second World War, 1939-1945’

– ‘Mount Pleasant Parcels Office, air raid damage’ (1943-1946) (24/05/11)

Stamp Registration or “Imprimatur” sheets in the BPMA Collections

One of the most important parts of the philatelic collections of the BPMA is the series of registration sheets of stamps from the Penny Black to the present day. All are public records and part of the Royal Mail Archive. These sheets are in the process of being catalogued and made available online. However, the size of the sheets is such that they cannot at the moment be scanned so images available are rather restricted. Anyone wishing to view the original sheets must make an appointment with the Curator, Philately. The following is a summary of what is
available to customers at present.

Queen Victoria (1840-c.1870)

All Victorian registration sheets (sometimes called “imprimatur” sheets by collectors) are imperforate, are catalogued and details can be seen on our online catalogue. There are no scans of any part of the original sheets. Included in this are, of course, all sheets of Penny Blacks in the collection (10 in total, though not every plate is represented) and all sheets of Twopenny Blues from the 1841 and 1858 types. No registration sheets exist for plates 1 and 2 of the original Twopenny Blue. Also included are those Penny Red sheets from 1841 onwards which exist (from plate 12 onwards – 206 in total) and the new series of Penny Reds from 1855 (a total of 106, but excluding plate 77) There are also a very small number of other values.

During the 19th century examples were officially cut from these sheets by the Inland Revenue for official purposes, so none of them is complete. Details of which stamps are missing are given in the catalogue.

Although none of these sheets is scanned we do have high quality, same-size, black and white photographs of all of the above which are available for purchase for private study. Each photograph costs £31.50 (including VAT). A “Request for Reprographic Services” form needs to be completed and signed by the applicant. As external developing studios are used and a minimum batch for processing is required, if the photograph requested is not in stock then there may be a delay of three or four weeks before completion of the order. However, payment is not required until the order is sent for processing.

If you would be interested in this service please contact the Administrator on or telephone 020 7239 2577.

Queen Victoria (1870-1901)

All other Victorian registration sheets are catalogued and
details can be seen in the online catalogue. However, none have been photographed and the illustrations in the catalogue are not taken from the actual sheets. Rather they come from the Phillips Collection, as with the earlier sheets. These sheets are also imperforate. There are also a few sheets of overprints on Victorian GB stamps for use by some British government departments (termed “Departmental Overprints”). All such overprinted sheets were already perforated.

King Edward VII (1901-1910)

With the registration sheets of King Edward VII the online catalogue shows a small scanned section or part of the actual sheets. These include special formats for booklets for the first time as well as Departmental overprints, and overprints on British stamps for use in the Levant, Bechuanaland and Morocco Agencies. None of the sheets is available photographed or scanned.

King George V (1910-1936) & King Edward VIII (1936)

Again, all registration sheets are catalogued and details can be found in the online catalogue together with a scan of a small part of each sheet (click here for King George V and here for King Edward VIII). Included are sheets for booklets, rolls, commemoratives and all overprints for overseas territories including Morocco Agencies, Nauru and the Levant. The last are all perforated while the former are imperforate.

George V registration sheet

George V registration sheet

Also catalogued, with a small part illustrated, are a large number of black plate proof sheets from the Royal Mint, as well as the registration sheets for postage due labels.

The gravure sheets of King Edward VIII, together with all varieties of sheet format for booklets and rolls, and all overseas overprints are also available online, again with a small part of each sheet illustrated.

Later Sheets

Work is continuing on the cataloguing of later registration sheets of the reigns of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. These will appear progressively in the online catalogue.

Find out more about our collection of Stamps and Postal History on our website.

Women in the Post Office

Each month we present an item from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication
Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) have been working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

In this final blog looking at the Morten Collection, former Royal Mail worker Alison Nunes looks at women postal workers from the Edward period and compares it her own experiences. Alison came to
Britain from Jamaica in 1964. She
worked as a Postwoman and
supervisor from 1967 until 1993.

“As far as I know, during my time employed in the Post Office, messengers were boys from school. They were the cream of the Post Office staff, well looked-after by too many bosses. Boy messengers were encouraged to do sports and were taken on days out. In return, the Post Office gained a trained work force. They were disciplined in time-keeping and dedication to the job, with built-in promotions.

Girl messengers were the forerunners of women working in the Post Office. They were employed on a temporary basis, on a bit less pay than male staff. Women during my time worked duties equally with men – three shifts per twenty-four hours. Some bosses and trade union representatives (all men) did not want or respect us women workers. They were always critical and looking for ways to get someone sacked. Messengers went out of fashion at the same time as apprenticeships were phased out. Recruitment of women in the Post Office started again in 1965-66. They are now a valued part of the workforce.

Female postal worker delivers to a farm, c. Mid 20th Century

Female postal worker delivers to a farm, c. Mid 20th Century

All women working for the Post Office in my time were all measured for uniforms. When they arrived about one woman out of ten had a fit. The post-woman in the picture looks well-fitted – hat, boots, and all. Mine did not look anything so special even after they were remade. They were never comfortable to wear, being made of a coarse wool material. It was warm in winter but boiling hot in summer, until a cotton one was provided. Boots or shoes were unwearable. The mail pouch/bag full of mail and packets weighed 27lbs! A lot of what I did was enjoyable, and I met lots of people.”

What does the BPMA have about…India?

Today is International Archive Day. As part of the celebrations of this event our Archivists will be highlighting some of our records relating to overseas postal services on Twitter as part of #AskArchivists Day.

Staff load mail into large cargo nets at the platform of Calais Station.

Staff load mail into large cargo nets at the platform of Calais Station (POST 118/419).

Among the holdings of the BPMA are various records relating to postal services to India in the nineteenth century. In the 1820s Thomas Waghorn established an overland route between Alexandria and Suez. This resulted in a significant reduction in the time taken for mail to travel between England and India. Mails which had previously taken up to three months to reach India now arrived in just 35 days.

Detail of letter showing 'Carried by Waghorn' cachet, c. 1850 (POST 118/1017)

Detail of letter showing 'Carried by Waghorn' cachet, c. 1850 (POST 118/1017)

There was also a special India Mail Service for diplomatic mail between the countries. This involved specially appointed Post Office staff of higher grades accompanying the mail from London to Marseilles where responsibility was transferred to the P&O purser of a ship bound for India. These staff were known as India Mail Officers. They carried out three trips a year, and were expected to be on stand by for a further three.

Prior to the independence of India in 1947, the British Post Office also played a role in the operation of postal services within India. Mail services in the country were opened to the public in 1774 by Warren Hastings, the Governor General of British India. In 1850 a report was commissioned into the working of the Post Office in India. This report introduced uniform postage rates for letters based on weight, mirroring developments in England. In also recommended a Manual of Instructions to be issued to postmasters to encourage uniformity of practice. The reforms had mixed results with old practices continuing in many areas.

Poster promoting airmail routes to India, c. 1938 (POST 110/1167)

Poster promoting airmail routes to India, c. 1938 (POST 110/1167)

More information on the Postal History of India can be found
on our website:
We will also be highlighting details of our international collections on Twitter today – follow us on @postalheritage.

Last Post at the Royal Engineers Museum

by Amy Adam, Assistant Curator, Royal Engineers Museum

Today Last Post: Remembering the First World War opens at the Royal Engineers Museum in Gillingham Kent. This temporary exhibition has been curated by The British Postal Museum & Archive and the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms and features objects from the Royal Engineers Museum Postal and Courier Archive.

Letters sent by Royal Engineers during the war

Letters sent by Royal Engineers during the war

The exhibition tells the stories of postal workers at war and on the Home Front. But this is not just an exhibition about stamps! Learn about the Post Office Rifles, the Post Office’s own battalion or hear about the tens of thousands of women who joined the Post office workforce temporarily. The role played by the Royal Engineers Postal and Courier Section is brought to life through the objects on display and you can even have a go at writing your very own trench post card.

Write a postcard from the trenches

Write a postcard from the trenches

A key object of the exhibition is a biscuit that was posted from the trenches back to Great Yarmouth. This hardtack biscuit was delivered in tact despite the fact it was sent with no wrapping, it just had the address and stamped fixed straight onto the item of food!

Hardtack biscuit posted from the trenches.

Hardtack biscuit posted from the trenches.

Also on display are some of the original postal distribution maps used on the Western Front. These beautifully drawn maps show the routes that the mails took to get to those on the Front Line and are displayed alongside photographs of the men who distributed the post.

An original postal distribution map used on the Western Front

An original postal distribution map used on the Western Front

Last Post opens today, Wednesday 8 June 2011 and runs through ‘til Thursday September 1 2011.

The Royal Engineers Museum is open every day except Mondays. For further information on the Royal Engineers Museum please visit, or our Facebook page ‘Royal Engineers Museum’. You can also email us at or call 01634 822312.

Our new website launches

Our new website is now live at The new website, designed by Mind Unit, boasts a new, more attractive design, and improved presentation of text and images. Content from the old website has been revised, and there are a number of new webpages to discover.

Image Galleries

Many pages on the new website include galleries which offer large display of images. Look out for pages which have square images at the bottom.

Click on any square image to see that image pop-out and appear in full.

Scrolling through image galleries is easy. Move your mouse over the image to reveal the PREV and NEXT buttons. Click these buttons to see the previous or next image in the gallery.

The Collections & Catalogue section of the website boasts a number of pages featuring image galleries. Philatelists and postal historians can view unique stamp artwork and postal markings from our collection in the Stamps & Philately section.

Many of our Online Exhibitions (find these in the Exhibitions & Events section of the website) make use of image galleries too. The Designs on Delivery online exhibition displays a number of GPO posters from 1930-1960 in this way.

British Postal History

A number of articles about aspects of our collection are available in the British Postal History section (under the History & Learning heading). Written by our archivists, curators, cataloguers and expert volunteers, these articles cover topics as diverse as Stamp Design, Internal Postage & Parcel Rates, The Great Train Robbery and Uniforms.

The Uniforms article includes a separate image gallery displaying a variety of illustrations, photographs, coats and hats from our collection.

Online Catalogue

As before, you can still search our Catalogue online. With over 95,000 records available there’s bound to be something of interest. Click the Online Catalogue button on the Collections & Catalogue page to start searching.

The Collections & Catalogue section also allows you to browse a number of topic areas and view selected examples from our collections.

Share the Website

Want to share something you’ve seen on the new BPMA website? Click on the “Forward To A Friend” button (in the menu on the right) to e-mail the page to a contact, or share the page with friends on Facebook, Twitter or Buzz using the buttons at the bottom of the page.

Future Development

Web technology changes rapidly – and your expectations do too! We’d like to hear your thoughts on how we can make the BPMA website even better.

At the bottom of each page on our website you will find a link to our Site Feedback Form. This easy-to-use form allows you to send your comments to us at any time.

Finally, we’d like to thank those of you who participated in our user testing programme. We received some extremely helpful feedback which will guide the website’s future development.