Monthly Archives: November 2011

Ask Pieter Huveneers

Pieter Huveneers is a designer popular amongst GPO poster enthusiasts for, amongst other things, his designs for airmail and telephones.

Send your overseas parcels by Air Mail, April 1954 (POST 110/3220)

Send your overseas parcels by Air Mail, April 1954 (POST 110/3220)

For some decades he has lived and worked in Australia where he has designed logos for national brands such as Australia Post and the Westpac bank. But as a blog published last year by Quad Royal highlighted, little is known about the man whose designs are iconic on opposite sides of the world.

Recently we made contact with Pieter Huveneers, who is currently living on Australia’s east coast. Mr Huveneers has kindly agreed to speak to us about his work for the GPO and to allow his answers to be published on this blog. If you have a question for Pieter Huveneers, please leave a comment below or e-mail it to blog@postalheritage.org.uk by Wednesday 7 December. A selection of questions and answers will be published in January.

Built for Service

Despite the importance of the post office in the lives of our communities, it has surprisingly been overlooked by architectural studies: furthermore, historians of the Post Office have by and large concentrated on its administrative history, with only passing reference to its buildings. In an attempt to redress the balance Built for Service: Post Office Architecture (published by the BPMA in 2010) chronicles the history and development of the post office building in Great Britain from the mid-19th century to the 1970s.

Derby Post Office (1870) (architect James Williams)

Derby Post Office (1870) (architect James Williams)

Southampton Post Office (1894) (architect Sir Henry Tanner)

Southampton Post Office (1894) (architect Sir Henry Tanner)

Hull Post Office (1908) (architect Walter Pott)

Hull Post Office (1908) (architect Walter Pott)

Northwich Post Office (1915) (architect Charles Wilkinson)

Northwich Post Office (1915) (architect Charles Wilkinson)

Maesteg Post Office (c.1935) (architect Henry Seccombe)

Maesteg Post Office (c.1935) (architect Henry Seccombe)

Plymouth Post Office (1957) (architect Cyril Pinfold)

Plymouth Post Office (1957) (architect Cyril Pinfold)

Hitchin Post Office (1962) (architect J.O. Stevens)

Hitchin Post Office (1962) (architect J.O. Stevens)

Although new post office buildings were commissioned by the Post Office, execution of the work was the responsibility of another Government department, the Office of Works and its successors. This duality of purpose, with the tensions that it created up until the First World War, is described in the book, and means that historians are required to research in two major repositories: for plans and contract drawings (where they have survived), the National Archives at Kew; and for the role of the Post Office, the British Postal Museum and Archive, although they are by no means mutually exclusive.

One of the joys of study in the BPMA Archive is of course working with the catalogued material, which reveals how assiduously the Post Office took its responsibilities with regard to the fitting-out of its buildings and the welfare of its staff, but also with the extensive ephemeral material in the Portfolio files. Here may be found a wealth of unique material (such as programmes of opening ceremonies), revealing details about dates of opening of new post offices, and names of architects, as well as correspondence, press cuttings, unpublished research papers and a fine selection of photographs.

Souvenir programme of the Opening of the New Post Office, Clevedon. One of many such items in the BPMA Portfolio collection.

Souvenir programme of the Opening of the New Post Office, Clevedon. One of many such items in the BPMA Portfolio collection.

The recent spate of post office closures has begged the question: what happens to redundant post office buildings? Do they still have a presence on the high street, and if so, what has happened to them?. Many Victorian and Edwardian post offices have been statutorily listed as Grade II structures. This generally means that their external appearance is protected, while the interiors can be altered to suit a new purpose. Many inter-war post offices, no longer required by the service, have also survived demolition. The nature of these buildings, featuring a large open space on the ground floor, has meant that it has been relatively easy to convert them into public houses, nightclubs, and chain restaurants. The names of many of the public houses recall the former association – “The Last Post”, “The Old Post Office”, “The Penny Black”, and so on.

“The Penny Black”, Bicester (1914) (architect Henry A. Collins)

“The Penny Black”, Bicester (1914) (architect Henry A. Collins)

“The Last Post”, Loughton (c.1930) (architect Archibald Scott)

“The Last Post”, Loughton (c.1930) (architect Archibald Scott)

“Zizzi”, Surbiton (c.1895)

“Zizzi”, Surbiton (c.1895)

In many cases, the upper floors of these buildings have been converted into residential use.

Built for Service serves as an introductory guide to the post office building, but it is supplemented by a website. This is an alphabetical illustrated guide, detailing years of opening, names of architects, archive sources for further research, bibliographical references, and current use (if no longer a post office), with links to further information available online.

- Julian Osley

BPMA Open Afternoon

Join the staff and Friends of the British Postal Museum & Archive at our annual Open Afternoon on Tuesday 6 December 2011.

Interior of Travelling Post Office

Interior of Travelling Post Office, 1935 (POST 109/375)

See a showcase of our fascinating collections, take part in a range of activities, talks and tours, and find out more about who we are, what we do and what we’ve been up to in the last year. Events will run from 1pm until 8pm, and everyone is welcome to drop in at any time and share a mince pie with us!

Activities include…

Hands-On Family Research: Was your ancestor a postie? Our Archive Search Room Team will show you how to research your family tree.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition - for the first time in London! View the iconic photographs of the Post Office at work in the community sourced from the BPMA Archive.

Behind the Scenes Tours: Discover the treasures of the Archive – from GPO Posters to philatelic gems – led by our Archive & Curatorial Teams.

Tour of our Archive collections which fill over 2.5 miles of shelving and cover social, postal and design history from 1636 to today – at 2pm, 4pm and 5.30pm.

Tour of the Philatelic Studio led my our Curator, Philately at 3.30pm.

Booking welcome; subject to availability.

The History of the Christmas Card: Learn more about the origin of this custom with material provided by our Cataloguing team.

Preservation Surgery: Ask for advice from our conservator on caring for your own collection of family history records, postal history, stamps or photographs – bookings welcome!

Learning Activities Sample Sessions: Find out how our Access & Learning team engage school children and young people in our postal heritage with a range of activities and resources.

Mail Trains: Watch the classic Auden-Britten film production Night Mail (1936), talk to our curators about the Travelling Post Office and join a talk about the history of delivering the mail by rail at 7pm.

Still from Night Mail

Still from Night Mail

For more information and for booking a place on a tour or the Preservation Surgery, please call 020 7239 2037.

The History of the Christmas Card

A talk I am giving at London Metropolitan Archives on December 1st on ‘The History of the Christmas Card’ gives me an excellent opportunity to highlight our most festively appropriate museum collection.

Dating from 1843 up to the present day, our Christmas card collection incorporates a large number of Victorian and Edwardian cards, as well as wartime, National Savings, and General Post Office departmental cards. We also have an original copy of the earliest known surviving British Christmas card, and the first believed to have been sold commercially, which is that commissioned in 1843 by Henry Cole, the first Director of what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum. I will provide more details about the origins of Christmas card-giving, and other contenders for the first card, in my talk.

Winifred M. Ackroyd Christmas card, c.1920 (OB1994.298/3)

Winifred M. Ackroyd Christmas card, c.1920 (OB1994.298/3)

Universal Postal Union Christmas card, 1889-1890 (Acc. No. 0353)

Universal Postal Union Christmas card, 1889-1890 (Acc. No. 0353)

Cards were produced for all tastes and none, and few in the collection display the Christian themes we often see on cards today. Instead, traditional pagan imagery was a popular feature, and ivy, holly, and robins feature on many nineteenth and early twentieth century cards.

St Nicholas Christmas card, 1891-1892 (E1502.20)

St Nicholas Christmas card, 1891-1892 (E1502.20)

Victorian and Edwardian cards were often exchanged between lovers, who covertly conveyed their feelings through the language of flowers to deceive the prying eyes of their elders.

Embossed Christmas card, c.1880 (OB1995.27/5/02)

Embossed Christmas card, c.1880 (OB1995.27/5/02)

The Christmas card became a fashionable and affordable luxury indulged in by those who could afford to spend as little as a halfpenny or as much as five guineas. Aware of the charm of novelty cards, some manufacturers produced designs to appeal particularly to feminine fancies, and we have some very pretty, and well-preserved, examples.

Embossed fan-shaped Christmas card, c. 1880 (OB1995.27/1)

Embossed fan-shaped Christmas card, c. 1880 (OB1995.27/1)

If we are to judge by the quality of the cards alone, their recipients must have been held in high esteem by the senders. Embroidery, paper-lace, gilding and silk adorn several cards, and one wonders which lucky lady was on the receiving end of a Rimmel perfumed card!

Perfume sachet Christmas card with paper-lace and silk, c.1860-1880 (OB1995.27/8/01)

Perfume sachet Christmas card with paper-lace and silk, c.1860-1880 (OB1995.27/8/01)

The seminar, organised by the group ‘Archives for London’, will provide a detailed history of the custom of giving Christmas cards, and their design, production and sale. For more details, and to book a place, please email Jeff Gerhardt at Jeff.Gerhardt@cityoflondon.gov.uk, or telephone 020 7332 3816.

Items from the BPMA’s Christmas card collection can be viewed by appointment. Please contact info@postalheritage.org.uk for details.

- Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)

Christmas stamps 2011

Each Christmas Royal Mail processes 2 billion items of post; many sent this year will feature the new Christmas stamps issued today.

Christmas 2011 minisheet

Christmas 2011 minisheet

Royal Mail’s policy for Christmas stamps is to alternate non-secular and secular themes. The 2010 stamps featured children’s characters Wallace and Gromit, and this year the Nativity is the theme. The seven new stamps are inspired by verses from the Gospels of Mathew and Luke, and recognise that 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

2nd Class – Joseph visited by the Angel
Inspired by Matthew 1:21 where the angel tells the sleeping Joseph: ‘And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins’

1st Class – Madonna and Child
Inspired by Matthew 1:23, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us’

2nd Class Large – Joseph visited by the Angel
Inspired by Matthew 1:21 where the angel tells the sleeping Joseph: ‘And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins’

1st Class Large – Madonna and Child
Inspired by Matthew 1:23, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us’
The wider format of the Large stamp reveals the stable in the background.

68p – Baby Jesus in the Manger
Inspired by Luke 2:7, ‘And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn’.

£1.10 – Shepherds visited by the Angel
Inspired by Luke 2:10, ‘And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people’.

£1.65 Wise Men and Star
Inspired by Matthew 2:10: ‘When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy’.

Two first day of issue postmarks, also inspired by the King James Bible, are available.

Christmas 2011 postmarks

Christmas 2011 postmarks

Stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/stamps and the Royal Mail eBay shop, and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

Masters of the Post – Video

Economic journalist and researcher Duncan Campbell Smith discusses how he researched his book Masters of the Post – the Authorized History of the Royal Mail at The British Postal Museum & Archive.

Masters of the Post is the first complete history of the Royal Mail up to the present day. It presents the whole story of Britain’s postal service — how it was built, how it led the world for two hundred years and how it has struggled to survive in the face of mounting odds since the arrival of the internet.

Purchase your copy from our online shop.

Masters of the Post

As the author of a new history of the Royal Mail (Masters of the Post, published by Penguin Allen Lane today), I have to say that no book could possibly capture more than a fraction of the riches to be found in the archives held by the BPMA. Just penning this blog on my own experience in the archive has left me feeling only too aware of all the extraordinary records to which I could only devote the tiniest amount of space.

Duncan Campbell Smith in the BPMA archive search room.

Duncan Campbell Smith in the BPMA archive search room.

What marvellous tales, for example, must still lie undiscovered in those 1,185 volumes of the Treasury Letter Books (all in POST 1)! What charming stories have yet to be extracted, from the wonderful Peover Papers – the letters of Colonel Whitley written to postmasters all over the country in 1672-7, and so conveniently for us turned into modern typescripts by the Post Office in 1902 (see POST 94/12-24)! And what a chronicle of the First World War yet remains to be written, on the basis of the thirteen confidential reports on the work of the Royal Engineers Postal Service units (see POST 33/5506)!

Photo of letter to Mr Watts from the Peover Papers

Photo of letter to Mr Watts from the Peover Papers

My challenge in attempting a general history, of course, was always about how to make extensive use of the postal records without drowning in them. Step One was to take full advantage of the BPMA’s comprehensive library of secondary sources, to assemble a broad outline of each historical episode as I came to it – then to draw on the generous help of the BPMA’s staff in compiling lists of the archive files most likely to bear on the narrative of that episode. And in reading through those files, I always tried to leave myself plenty of time to call up other, perhaps only loosely related papers that might just harbour surprises. Pot luck accounted for some of my happiest discoveries.

Photo of a REPS unit on the Western Front in WW1 (POST 56/6)

Photo of a REPS unit on the Western Front in WW1 (POST 56/6)

I hope the resulting book will, at the very least, provide a useful chronology of postal history for those approaching the archive in future. Those with very specific family queries might appreciate a bit of wider context. And those in search of their own narrative may find Masters of the Post can help them define the broad questions they want to answer. The scale and depth of the BPMA’s archive is all very well. But for those with less than a single lifetime to explore it, productive research needs to start with an outline agenda. That’s what converts an open ocean, merely to swim in, into a river that can be fished.

- Duncan Campbell Smith

Images from the BPMA collection which appear in Masters of the Post can be seen on Flickr. Charts and statistics which illustrate the fluctuating fortunes of the Post Office and Royal Mail over the past 170 years can be found on our website.