Monthly Archives: August 2011

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Do you like what we’re doing on our website, online catalogue, podcast, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and this blog? Is there something you’d like us to do online in the future?

We’re conducting an online survey of our audiences which will help us improve our services. Those who complete the survey will go into the draw to win a voucher from Amazon worth £50.

Man writing at desk (POST 118/5388)

Man writing at desk (POST 118/5388)

Take the survey at www.postalheritage.org.uk/survey. The survey closes 19 September 2011.

Where did 19th century postmen go on their coffee break?

Nestled in between King Edward St and St Martin’s le Grand, just up the street from St. Paul’s tube station, there’s a little bit of green called Postman’s Park. It’s a quiet little park with a fountain, a beautiful memorial, lingering headstones and a variety of flower beds and greenery.

Some rain-covered flowers in the garden

Some rain-covered flowers in the garden

Centre of Postman’s Park

Centre of Postman’s Park

The park is so-named for its popularity among the postmen who worked at the 19th century GPO headquarters and central sorting office, St. Martin’s Le Grand, just south of park. When GPO headquarters moved again in 1910, they didn’t go very far: just on the other side of the park, to King Edward Building, so postmen could still flock to this green space. Today King Edward Building is the home of Merrill Lynch, but outside stands a statue of postal reformer Rowland Hill, keeping the park nestled in a bed of postal history.

King Edward Building and statue of Rowland Hill outside the west entrance to Postman’s Park

King Edward Building and statue of Rowland Hill outside the west entrance to Postman’s Park

Postman’s Park was built on the site of former burial grounds, where the severe shortage of burial space lead to bodies being piled on top of one another and covered with earth, hence the ground level of Postman’s Park is well above the street level on either side of it. You can still see some lingering headstones in the park, somewhat hidden in between the gardens. The burial grounds were converted into a public park after in the 19th century, and it was reopened after extensive work to cover the burial ground on 28 October 1880.

Headstones tucked in a corner

Headstones tucked in a corner

Its greatest claim to fame is probably George Frederick Watts’ Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. This memorial champions those ordinary people who gave their lives saving others, who might otherwise have been forgotten.

G.F. Watts’ Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

G.F. Watts’ Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

The memorials take the form of a long wall of ceramic tablets, detailing the names and cause of death of those who died in the service of others. The tablets are very personalised, detailing the circumstances in which that person sacrificed themselves. Some of these more detailed stories can be found on the park’s Wikipedia page.

Close up of one of the ceramic plates on the memorial wall

Close up of one of the ceramic plates on the memorial wall

As somewhat of a tourist myself, I feel like this site is one that is generally overlooked in the face of everything else there is to see in London, and I never would have discovered it if I hadn’t gone on the BPMA Walking Tour, From Pillar to Post: GPO London. It’s one of many lovely stops on the tour, about which you can find more information here.

Fountain and view of the east entrance of the park

Fountain and view of the east entrance of the park

- Sarah Cooper, Intern

House numbering: extended

Our most popular blog of recent times looked at when and how House numbering began in the UK. The post was inspired by one of our Twitter followers, and has been widely re-tweeted. Now here’s the follow-up, also inspired by a question via Twitter from @ZirinskyStamps who asked “So what happens when the street gets extended?” Archives Assistant Penny has an answer:

Postman delivering mail to front door of Holbeach House. (POST 118/1133)

Postman delivering mail to front door of Holbeach House. (POST 118/1133)

We don’t have a lot of information on this as numbering is decided by the local authority. A booklet titled ‘GPO Notes on Street Naming and Numbering of Premises’ January 1966 POST 17/159 states:

“The Post Office has no power to insist upon the use of house numbers and street names in postal addresses but once Local Authorities, in fulfilling their statutory authority, complete the task of naming of streets, numbering of premises and insisting upon the exhibition of numbers a great deal can be done by the Post Office in persuading users of the post to help.”

People can find information on street numbering in their local area from the local authority archive, a list of local authority archives can be found here: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archon/.

The Crown Jewels on stamps

Today Royal Mail has issued a set of eight new commemorative stamps featuring the Crown Jewels.

The Crown Jewels stamps

The Crown Jewels stamps

Charles II as he appeared on a stamp

Charles II as he appeared on a stamp

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the making of many of the items featured on the stamps, which were created for the coronation of King Charles II in 1661, following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

Among these were the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross and St Edward’s Crown (both 1st Class), Rod and Sceptre with Doves (68p) and the Sovereign’s Orb (76p).

The 12th century Coronation Spoon (£1.10) was the only piece of medieval state regalia to escape destruction under the orders of Oliver Cromwell. Other Crown Jewels featured are the Queen Mary’s Crown (68p), Jewelled Sword of Offering (76p) and the Imperial State Crown (£1.10).

Over the years the Crown Jewels have been added to and remodelled for various members of the royal family and royal occasions, but they still remain, as they have done since the initial collection was established in 1303, in the Tower of London.

The Tower of London on a stamp

The Tower of London on a stamp

Crowns, tiaras and regalia have been a feature of many previous commemorative and definitive stamps, notably the stamps issued in 1978 to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. On these stamps the St Edward’s Crown, the Sovereign’s Orb and the Imperial State Crown appeared, although not in dazzling full colour as on the new stamps.

Stamps from 25th Anniversary of the Coronation, 1978

Stamps from 25th Anniversary of the Coronation, 1978

First day of issue handstamps are available showing the Sovereign’s Orb and the Coronation Ring. The Coronation Ring was made for the coronation of William IV in 1831; it features five rubies set on a large sapphire in the form of a cross. You can see a photograph of it on the Royal Exhibitions website.

The Crown Jewels handstamps

The Crown Jewels handstamps

The stamps, first day covers and other products are available from the Royal Mail website.

Photography Competition: the entries so far

There are less than three weeks to go until entries for our Photography Competition close. For those who are considering entering but haven’t submitted their photo yet, we thought we’d provide a little inspiration by giving you a taste of some of the images received so far.

Peter, who presumably works for Royal Mail, took this photo out of the back of a post van. You can see the famous Pashley Mailstar delivery bicycle leaning against the sorting office wall.

View from the Back of a Post Van by Peter

View from the Back of a Post Van by Peter

Letter boxes and telephone kiosks in picturesque settings have been a popular theme. This entry from Marfin shows a wall box in countryside.

Post Boxed in Stone by Marfin

Post Boxed in Stone by Marfin

We’ve also received several photographs of interesting rural Post Offices. Below is Gail’s photo of Jemimaville Post Office in the Scottish Highlands. Wikipedia tells us that the village of Jemimaville “has 18 houses and around 50 inhabitants, and a small Post Office which is open Mondays and Thursdays”.

Jemimaville Post Office by Gail

Jemimaville Post Office by Gail

And finally, here’s an amusing entry from Jack, taken inside a Post Office.

Counter Revolutionary by Jack

Counter Revolutionary by Jack

Entries for our Photography Competition close at 5pm on 9 September 2011. To find out more and read the terms and conditions please visit http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/photocomp. Prizes courtesy of Sight2Sound.

The Post Office in Chesham

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

As part of our commitment to providing access to Britain’s postal heritage, BPMA occasionally loans objects from its collection to other museums in order to help support displays relating to the social history of the Post Office across the country, and ensure as many people as possible are able to enjoy and learn from them.

Postal van postcard (2009-0081/671).

Postal van postcard (2009-0081/671).

Chesham Museum currently has an exhibition about ‘The Post Office in Chesham’ which uses photographs and objects to examine the history of Chesham post office and its place within the community. Followers of our blog may remember that the Wilkinson collection, which was catalogued in 2009, is a collection of postal ephemera, primarily model letter boxes and vehicles collected by one Ian Wilkinson, resident of Chesham. The exhibition at Chesham Museum features a section on Ian Wilkinson as ‘Chesham’s little known collector of Post Office memorabilia’ and BPMA has leant a few objects from the Wilkinson collection to help tell this story.

Chesham model letter box (2009-0081/035).
Chesham model letter box (2009-0081/035).

Amongst these is a model letter box with the Chesham coat of arms on the front which is thought to be one of the first items collected by Ian Wilkinson. Also on loan is a postcard in the shape of a postal van (pictured above) and one of my favourite items from the Wilkinson collection, a ceramic letter rack in the shape of an envelope addressed to Ian Wilkinson at his Chesham address in ‘Germaines Close’ [now Germains] not far from Chesham Museum. The letter rack was made around 1985 either by, or for, Ian Wilkinson and is typical of the quirky individual nature of the collection. BPMA has also leant some handstamps from our collection relating to places within Chesham such as Ashley Green and Great Hivings to illustrate the wider history of Chesham post office.

If any of you wish to see these objects and many more from Chesham’s own collection, the exhibition continues until Wednesday 19 October and can be visited on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 11am until 3pm. Please see Chesham Museum’s website for further details.

House numbering in the UK

We often receive questions about the history of the postal service via our Facebook page or Twitter. Yesterday @jamespurdon asked “anybody know when house numbering begins in UK?” We asked Archives Assistant Penny to find out, and as so often with these questions the answer is a bit complicated.

A postman delivers mail to cottages in North Street in Brighstone, Isle of Wight, 1937.

A postman delivers mail to cottages in North Street in Brighstone, Isle of Wight, 1937.

The first recorded instance of a street being numbered is Prescot Street in Goodmans Fields in 1708. By the end of the century, the numbering of houses had become well established, and seems to have been done on the consecutive rather than the odd and even principle which we have now become familiar.

None of this was regulated and numbering systems varied even in the same street. For example about 1780, Craven Street in the Strand had three sets of numbers. There were irregularities everywhere, and the naming of streets and parts of streets was left to the idiosyncrasy or whim of the owner.

Regulation did not take place until 1855 with the passing of the Metropolitan Management Act. For the first time the power to control and regulate the naming and numbering of streets and houses was provided for and given to the new Board of Works. Under pressure from the Post Office the Board started work in 1857 on the simplification of street names and numbering by working through a hit list of the most confusing streets given to the Board by the Post Office.

Do you have a question for us? Don’t forget to join us on Twitter on 24 August when you can tweet our Director.

Tweet the Director

What does the privatisation of Royal Mail mean for the Royal Mail Archive?

How do I get a job in Museums and Archives?

What’s the best thing in the BPMA collection?

Twitter

All these questions and many more could be answered on Wednesday 24 August when our Director Dr Adrian Steel takes over the BPMA Twitter account (@postalheritage). Join the conversation from 2.30pm and ask Adrian anything you like.

Adrian Steel is a Political Historian and Archivist with a PhD in 1920s London Politics. He has been employed at the BPMA in a number of roles since 2003, notably as New Centre Project Manager, and most recently as Director.

If you don’t use Twitter you can also post questions for Adrian on the BPMA Facebook page or send them to blog@postalheritage.org.uk. Otherwise, join us on Twitter on 24 August to see the best questions answered – prizes may be awarded too!

Holiday camps

Amongst the numerous photographs in our collection are a small number documenting postal deliveries to holiday camps, dated October 1937. These appeared in the March 1938 edition of The Post Office Magazine (the General Post Office’s magazine, published between 1933 and 1966) accompanying a story on holiday camps by reporter Martin Grand (a punning pseudonym on the location of the GPO’s then Headquarters on St Martin’s Le Grand, London).

A postman delivering mail at Hemsby holiday camp. (POST 118/681)

A postman delivering mail at Hemsby holiday camp. (POST 118/681)

Grand’s article looks at some of the 10 holiday camps then located on the Norfolk coast and within the administration of the Postmaster of Great Yarmouth. “The management of the so-called camps is in the hands of men who are obviously determined to make this type of holiday a permanent and increasingly popular feature of the national life” he observes, describing the chalet accommodation, modern sanitation, wide range of activities and convivial atmosphere.

A postman delivers mail to members of the public at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. (POST 118/677)

A postman delivers mail to members of the public at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. (POST 118/677)

Camps such as those in Norfolk were an inexpensive and increasingly popular holiday destination for working people in the 1930s. While Butlin’s camps became the most famous, there were also a number of independent camps at the time. Editions of The Post Office Magazine featured advertisements for camps such as Caister, so many postal workers would have holidayed in them.

The photographs and the article show that even as they relaxed holiday-makers looked forward to the arrival of the postman. “The little red [postal] van is a welcome visitor two or three times a day” writes Grand “and the postman enjoys his all too brief and of course strictly official conversations with dainty damsels in attractive shorts and ‘kerchief”.

A postman delivers mail to a large group of people at Caister holiday camp. (POST 118/683)

A postman delivers mail to a large group of people at Caister holiday camp. (POST 118/683)

Another camp featured in the article, located at Gorleston-on-Sea, is described as “New-built on luxury lines”. “In design and decoration the buildings are reminiscent of the Queen Mary” Grand says, with facilities including “round lawns and gardens on gently sloping uplands overlooking the sea”.

A 1930’s brochure advertising the camp, which appears on the Gorleston Super Holiday Camp website, lists activities as including tournaments, games, dancing, whist, tennis, bowls, putting, croquet, deck-tennis, cricket and bathing. The brochure also describes Gorleston as “The ‘Queen Mary’ of Holiday Camps”, although it is impossible to establish whether it is The Post Office Magazine that is being quoted here.

A postman delivers mail at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. He hands a letter to an employee at the camp. (POST 118/679)

A postman delivers mail at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. He hands a letter to an employee at the camp. (POST 118/679)

Either way, the services provided by the Post Office were clearly much-used by those who stayed in the camps: “Outside the main gate [at Caister] stands a most cheerful looking pillar-box, his aperture grinning broadly and his enamelled eye twinkling in the sun” writes Grand. “No wonder he looks so pleased, for hundreds of jolly people in holiday garb fuss around him all day long, consulting the information displayed on his broad chest and slipping picturesque postcards into his capacious tummy.”

A boy is stood on bench posting a letter into a postbox outside Caister Holiday Camp. (POST 118/1188)

A boy is stood on bench posting a letter into a postbox outside Caister Holiday Camp. (POST 118/1188)

Editions of The Post Office Magazine can be consulted in our Archive Search Room in London. You can view hundreds of photographs from our collection on Flickr.

Royal Mail Group Security: Keeping Your Mail Safe since 1683

You probably think of the post office in terms of stamps and rush deliveries, rather than undercover police investigations and exciting arrests—but funnily enough, both conceptions are very much a part of the modern (and ancient) post office thanks to Royal Mail Group Security, the internal crime-fighting department that remains relatively unknown. Despite its anonymity, internal security has been alive and kicking in the post office since 1683. It began in the form of the Solicitor to the General Post Office, Attorney Richard Swift, who was appointed the salary of £200 per annum.

By the end of the 18th century, the reports of the apprehension and sentencing of Post Office offenders appeared regularly in the newspaper during this time, and the sentences were often very extreme: capital punishment was a common sentence for stealing a single letter. These punishments were outlined by an act of parliament in 1765: ‘Death as a Felon’ was the sentence for theft of mail, secretion, embezzlement, or destruction of mail. In 1820 it was recorded that for obstructing a mail coach, you got off lightly with a sentence of six months imprisonment. The last postman hanged for theft of the post was in 1832, and shortly after they abolished capital punishment for these offences in an Act of 1835, replacing it with transportation sentences of between seven years and life.

However, before the repeal of capital punishment for post office offences, the investigative duties within the post office changed hands: until 1816, it had been the sole responsibility of the Solicitor, but after this date an additional Clerk was appointed, while a team who eventually became known as the Missing Letter Branch dealt with complaints and other routine enquiries. Members of the Bow Street Runners, London’s first professional police force, were often called on to assist with investigations, and within three months of the foundation of the Metropolitan Police by Robert Peel in 1829 the first police officers were seconded to the Post Office. Little did they know that this expanded team of investigators would become invaluable with the introduction of the Penny Black in 1840, which caused crime levels to greatly increase—so much so that in 1848 they created the post of Post Office Inspector General and an office whose duties were specifically focused in investigation.

Throughout the late 19th and 20th century, this department underwent much reorganization and many name-changes, eventually resulting in today’s Royal Mail Group Security with a department comprised of around 280 investigators and security managers. For more detailed accounts of some of the post-1960 changes (and some thrilling chase-and-arrest stories) within post office security, keep an eye out for a full range of oral history interviews with acting and retired members of Group Security coming to the BPMA online catalogue soon!

For a more detailed history of Royal Mail Security, feel free to check out ‘Investigations, Prosecutions and Security in the Royal Mail: A Brief History’ (PDF, 107KB).

We are indebted to Alan Baxter for his assistance with this article.