The Post Office in the Community

Part of today’s episode of The Peoples Post on BBC Radio 4 was recorded at Blists Hill Victorian Town, in Shropshire. It is there back in 2009 that a reconstructed late Victorian Post Office was opened in partnership with The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA). The office itself is part of the much larger site, re-creating life in late Victorian England. On the upper floor of the office however is a much more modern exhibit for visitors. In this specially constructed gallery space is the Museum of the Post Office in the Community. The Museum was created by the BPMA and designed to tell the story of the vital role post offices have played throughout history and as a centre point of communities.

Inside the reconstructed late Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill (Photo courtesy: Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust).

Inside the reconstructed late Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill (Photo courtesy: Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust).

For towns such as Blists Hill the post office would have been a very important focal point of the community; a place not only where postal business would have taken place but also a centre for gossip and the arrival of news.

When the BPMA got the opportunity to develop a museum on this site the story of the Post Office and its community role was the obvious one to take. The exhibition space was divided down into four sections, each exploring a different aspect of the community story.

In the first part the exhibition looks at the rise and fall of the different services offered by post offices and places them in a chronology alongside other events in postal history. The next section looks at delivery methods and includes a display of the differing postal caps used throughout history, part of the iconic uniform of the postal worker. Also on display is one of the BPMA’s five-wheeled cycles, the Hen and Chicks, this remarkable machine was introduced in the 1880s when the post office took on the parcels post and it continues to catch the imagination of the visitor.

The Hen and Chicks on display at the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

The Hen and Chicks on display at the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

The third part of the museum looks at the letter box and how it has developed, brought about by the need to improve methods of using the postal service following the success of postal reform. In this section there is a rare survivor of a very early letter box, a green and gold, highly decorative roadside letter box. The final section looks at changing times and explores the more recent history of the post office and especially how that story fits with the community role.

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is proving to be an interesting method of allowing visitors to the popular Blists Hill site to explore in depth the history of something very familiar and something still at the heart of many communities.

- Chris Taft, Curator

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage A Community Hub. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.

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