Monthly Archives: May 2012

New Diamond Jubilee stamps

Royal Mail is marking the culmination of Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations with eight new stamps featuring significant events over the past 60 years. The Diamond Jubilee stamps are issued today in time for the extended Jubilee Bank Holidays on 4 and 5 June.

Issued in four se-tenant ‘pairs’, the stamps use archive photographs showing The Queen performing her official duties both at home in the UK and on the world stage. These include such diverse tasks as the first televised Christmas broadcast in 1957, to Her Majesty’s inspection of the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh, as head of the UK’s Armed Forces, half a century later in 2007.

The Diamond Jubilee stamps are: 1st Class – Golden Jubilee 2002, Trooping the Colour 1967. 77p – The Royal Welsh 2007, First Christmas TV Broadcast 1957. 87p – Silver Jubilee Walkabout 1977, Garter Ceremony 1997. £1.28 – United Nations Address 1957, Commonwealth Games 1982.

The Diamond Jubilee stamps are: 1st Class – Golden Jubilee 2002, Trooping the Colour 1967. 77p – The Royal Welsh 2007, First Christmas TV Broadcast 1957. 87p – Silver Jubilee Walkabout 1977, Garter Ceremony 1997. £1.28 – United Nations Address 1957, Commonwealth Games 1982.

These stamps demonstrate The Queen’s devotion to duty since her accession to the throne on 6 February 1952. Much of this is recounted in a 24-page prestige stamp book written by Daily Mail journalist Robert Hardman that is also being issued to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.

This is the third and final Royal Mail stamp issue in 2012 to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The first was The House of Windsor issue (2 February), which featured a 1954 portrait of The Queen. The second, the Diamond Jubilee Miniature Sheet, was issued on 6 February, the same day The Queen came to the throne in 1952.

Two first day of issue postmarks are available for this issue, including one featuring a depiction of a royal coach.

Diamond Jubilee pictorial handstamps

Diamond Jubilee pictorial handstamps

A display of philatelic material celebrating the Diamond Jubilee, including an exclusive insight into the making of the stamps released to mark the occasion, can be viewed free of charge at the Royal Mail Archive, London.

Jubilee Stamps Designer Kate Stephens and Royal Mail Design Manager (Stamps & Collectibles) Catharine Brandy will discuss Designing the Diamond Jubilee Stamps at the Phoenix Centre, London on 27 September. Tickets are £3/£2.50 concession, please book online.

The stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, online and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

Our Archives are open again

The Royal Mail Archive Search Room is now open to visitors again after two weeks of stock taking. During this time members of staff have been carrying out an audit of archive files created during the 1970s and 1980s, which are currently waiting to be appraised.

Checking files

Checking files

This involves:

  • Checking files to make sure that none are missing;
  • Sorting files into reference number order to make them easier to find;
  • Re-boxing files (the old boxes have a nasty habit of splitting and spilling their contents);
  • Listing files so that they can be retrieved and appraised.

This can only be done during Stock Take when the Search Room is closed because of the amount of space required.

Sorting files in to order

Sorting files in to order

The task went extremely well (even if it was physically exhausting – no need to go to the gym!).  By the end of Stock Take, it was estimated that about 380 boxes or 4800 files were audited, almost twice the number originally anticipated.

Checking files

Checking files

Valuable shelf space has been freed up, some missing files have been found, and files will now be easier to retrieve.  We have identified files that are ready to be catalogued and which will be made available to the public at the earliest opportunity.  The audit will also speed up the appraisal process for these files, many of which will become part of The Royal Mail Archive in the future.

All in all, a job well done!

Louise Todd – Archivist

In a future blog archivist Helen Dafter will write about another stock taking task, improving our Philatelic Library. Find out more about the Royal Mail Archive on our website.

Diamond Jubilee Party

To celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the recent opening of our brand new Diamond Jubilee exhibition, we are holding a fun-filled Jubilee Party in a bright red Gazebo in Spa Fields, Clerkenwell on Friday 1 June.

We are being joined by teams from the Foundling Museum and the Museum of the Order of St John, who will both have plenty of items that illustrate their Museums as well as fantastic items to give away.

Throughout the day the brilliant Guy Atkins of Postcardese will be giving quick talks and workshops on the Forgotten Art of Writing Postcards, and the startling hidden histories behind the positioning of stamps.

Clerkenwell Tales bookstore will be with us all day, with plenty of great books and products.

The Big Wheel Theatre Company will also be running games and activities for everyone.

Lorna Giezot will be creating free stamp portraits for visitors to take away with them.

We will have Jubilee-themed cakes to give away and also a tombola with fantastic prizes including The World’s Smallest Post Service, letter writing sets, stamps, books, playing cards and games.

This is the perfect way to start the Diamond Jubilee bank holiday weekend, and it’s free – we hope to see you there!

BPMA Diamond Jubilee Party, Friday 1st June, 11am- 4pm
at Spa Fields, off Exmouth Market, EC1R 08B (Map)

Archive stock-take 2012: Transfer of material to BT Archives

Our annual stock-take is a necessary period of spring-cleaning for our archive service and collections, allowing us to tackle important jobs we don’t otherwise get time for.

My task this year was to identify, pull together and check off records that have been awaiting transfer to their more rightful home at BT Archives.

Telegram and telephonist posters which will be transfered to the BT Archives

Telegram and telephonist posters which will be transfered to the BT Archives

As a consequence of the British Telecommunications Act, 1981, which transferred the responsibility for telecommunications services from the Post Office to British Telecom, a lot of material has been transferred by us to BT Archives since they were established in 1986. They have their own collecting policy, which essentially concerns historical material reflecting the development and operations of BT and its predecessors.

The records set aside for transfer to BT during stock-take clearly fall under this remit, including some wonderful posters dating from the 1930s to the 1950s promoting telephonist jobs, advising on wartime telephone usage, and advertising overseas telegrams and radiotelegrams to ships at sea. The material also includes telegraph training manuals for the early twentieth century, telephone service instructions for the 1930s, and a large number of files relating to a gas explosion in the telegram-conveying pneumatic tube line beneath Holborn in 1928. There are numerous interesting claims files submitted by local residents, plus one for Fred Astaire and his sister, who were starring in a production of Funny Face at the Princes Theatre (now Shaftesbury Theatre), which was suspended for several weeks as a result of the explosion.

Vital paperwork needs to be completed before a transfer of archive material can take place to ensure accountability and good house-keeping. A complete list of all the records was compiled on a spreadsheet, which was then approved by the BPMA’s Head of Archives and Records Management. This material can then be copied into an Exit/Receipt form, which will then be signed by myself, our Head of Archives and Records Management and the Heritage Collections Manager at BT Archives, a copy of which I will place in a registered file for safekeeping at the BPMA.

All the listing and transfer approval has been dealt with in advance of stock-take to allow sufficient time for any hitches. So what’s left to do now? Essentially carefully packaging and boxing up the material ready for a short taxi ride down to the old Holborn telephone exchange (where the BT Archives are houses), and then updating our records (including those on our catalogue where necessary) to show that the material has been transferred.

Material ready for transfer.

Material ready for transfer.

The transfer of material to BT is by no means a finite process, as our uncatalogued records may well contain telecoms material that will only appear as we work through our backlog. However, as we attempt to get our house in order prior to our big move to Calthorpe House, this upcoming transfer will help to make sure we only take with us material designated for long-term preservation at the BPMA, whilst clearing some much needed space in our repository.

Although I’m sorry to see those lovely telephonist and telegram posters go, at least they will be going to a very good home! Keep your eyes peeled for them on the BT catalogue!

The telephonist has an interesting job - poster by Dorrit Dekk

The telephonist has an interesting job – poster by Dorrit Dekk

Anna Flood – Archivist (Cataloguing)

For an overview of Telecommunications in our collection please visit our website.

The great unsolved crime

This month sees the 60th anniversary of a daring robbery from the Post Office mail van. This attack occurred in the early hours of the morning of 21st May 1952, when a mail van carrying High Value Packets (HVPs) was ambushed in Eastcastle Street, London.

The mail van had collected its consignment from the Travelling Post Office at Paddington Station and was returning to the Eastern Central Delivery Office when the attack took place. The usual route travelled along Oxford Street, but due to traffic works a diversion was in place taking traffic along Berners Street and Eastcastle Street. At this point a car pulled in front of the van preventing its progress, while another vehicle pulled up behind it. The staff (a driver, guard and a sorter) were forcibly pulled from the van and attacked. The van was then driven away by the gang and later abandoned in Augustus Street, about one mile away. A total of £236,748 10s had been stolen.

The scale of the robbery and precision with which it was executed led to suspicion that a Post Office employee had acted as a contact for the gang;

There must inevitably be grave suspicion that a Post Office servant is implicated in the theft. It is considered doubtful whether an operation so well planned could (or would) have been executed without an up to date knowledge of the internal arrangements.

(POST 120/88)

Those staff on board the mail van came under particular suspicion. There were several anomalies which gave cause for concern; firstly the siren which the van was fitted with and which should be used in case of attack was not deployed and was found to be deactivated when the van was recovered, secondly the driver had not handed the keys to the guard as was protocol but instead left them on the seat, and thirdly one of the doors was not secured properly. The driver was responsible for these omissions, and was also largely uninjured in the attack caused suspicion. However the police decided that none of the staff on the mail van at the time of the attack were involved in its organisation.

The number of Post Office staff who had some knowledge of the operation of the HVP mail vans was significant. There were 800 Postmen Higher Grade, and 2300 Postmen working in the Eastern Central Delivery Office at the time. A further 680 Postmen Higher Grade, and 375 Postmen worked in the Foreign Section, located in the same building. Several hundred more staff were involved with administrative, supervising and clerical duties and many motor mail van drivers also had access to the site. This combined with the high turnover of temporary staff meant that a large number of people could potentially have leaked information. Therefore the police and the Post Office Investigations Department focussed their attentions on those staff with direct involvement with the mail vans at the time of the attack, and those with criminal records.

William (Billy) Hill, a notorious gangster was suspected of orchestrating the attack. It was believed that the robbery was planned weeks beforehand. Once the mail van was seized and taken to Augustus Street, the mail bags were transferred to a ‘railer’ (a lorry with railed sides) and concealed with apple boxes.

Billy Hill photo

Billy Hill photo

In July 1952 Robert Kingshott and Edward Noble were arrested in connection with receiving stolen money in relation to the Eastcastle Street robbery. Noble had previously been dismissed from the Post Office for larceny. However after much deliberation the jury found them both not guilty. No one else was ever charged or convicted in connection with this robbery.

Edward Noble’s police record (POST 120/90)

Edward Noble’s police record (POST 120/90)

In the aftermath of the attack the Post Office worked closely with the police to review their security procedures. There was some discussion of the possibility of the police providing additional protection for HVP vans operating to and from London stations. Due to the limited resources of the police this was not felt to be feasible. However the Assistant Commissioner did advise;

He saw no objection, and in fact he advocated the provision of a common weapon i.e. (truncheons) to the Post Office staff travelling on these vans. He further indicated that the staff so provided should be instructed to have no hesitation in using them if they were attacked.

(POST 120/93)

In spite of all investigations into Post Office employees, and the review of security procedures an Inspector in the Investigations Department summed the situation up when he pointed out;

whatever protective or preventative measures are suggested in the matter of HVP Mail Vans, none will be of the slightest use unless supervising officers ensure that they are carried out

(POST 120/93)

This remains a valid consideration for any organisation considering security measures today.

Information from this blog was drawn from the records of the Post Office Investigations Department, available in POST 120.

Helen Dafter – Archivist

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition opens in London

Our fantastic photo exhibition The Post Office in Pictures is opening tomorrow evening, Friday, 18 May 2012, at its brand new London venue – The Lumen Church. The Post Office in Pictures showcases a selection of inspiring images sourced from the vast photographic collections of The British Postal Museum & Archive. From strange creatures sent through the post, to the daily deliveries by land, sea and air… the photos feature a fascinating series of windows on Britain from the 1930s to 1980s – including the unusual, the unseen and the quite unexpected.

Belfast – Post Office Exhibition: A group of telegram boys holding letters, May 1935 (Post 118/331)

After the opening night on Friday the exhibition will be open until 31 August 2012– right through the summer – and throughout the exhibition run we are hosting a programme of brand new events for everyone. To celebrate the exhibition’s opening night and in conjunction with the Museums At Night weekend, we have an exciting evening of activities on Friday 18 May, from 7.30pm till 10.00pm, followed by a completely free family fun day on Saturday, 19 May from 10.00am to 5.00pm.

We spent the beginning of this week installing the exhibition: BPMA Education & Events Officer Laura Dixon aligns the images correctly along the wall. Hours of measuring and using spirit levels have paid off as the exhibition begins to take shape!

Throughout Friday evening the exhibition will be available to preview. Artist and writer Guy Atkins will give a talk on The Forgotten Art of Writing Postcards. Guy will be asking if you are tired of texting, or bored of Facebook? Or if you want to make your life a bit less virtual? We promise after Guy’s talk you’ll never look at a postcard again in the same way. The postcard and stamp are free… but Guy will be writing your message. What will you make him write? And to whom will you send your card?

Also available on the night will be a ‘ludicrously brilliant photo booth’, supplied by The Mighty Booth. This bespoke photo booth fits up to nine people at a time, and with a pile of postal uniforms available to try on to create fantastic photo opportunities – the photos can be as imaginative as you would like!
We will also be screening Night Mail throughout the evening – with its iconic soundtrack from Benjamin Britten running to the mesmerising poem of W.H. Auden. – Surely a night to remember!

Great Yarmouth – Fish Wharf Post Office, Nov 1936 (Post 118/598)

Join us again on Saturday, 19 May 2012, for a fantastic family day full of fun hands on activities with Artist Lorna Giézot : story hand printing, interpreting difficult and dangerous deliveries, and creating your own image using the power of the sun.  Come along and create your own on Saturday in the beautiful garden space of The Lumen. If it’s raining we will be doing just as much but under cover instead!

Preview to the Family Fun Day: how to make ‘solar-powered images’ – leave in the sun and soak in cold water…

The iconic images from The Post Office in Pictures exhibition are available from our online Print-on-Demand service. Many of the black/white photographs also feature on our beautiful greetings cards and postcards. Buy them from our online shop, at the exhibition venue or at our Search Room.

Archive Stock Take 2012

This week begins our two week Archive Stock Take 2012. This annual spring-clean is a chance to carry out tasks that we wouldn’t otherwise have the time or space for. This is something many archives carry out and is a great way of making sure everything is where it is supposed to be!

The BPMA Search Room is closed since 14 May until 25 May 2012 during our annual stock take

This year our focus is very much on the  BPMA’s planned move to Calthorpe House.  As you can imagine there is a lot of work that needs to be done before an archive is moved, the work we do in this Stock Take will help us get there.

In the Archive Repository: Loose registered files in the process of being boxed up.

To this end, many of this year’s stock take tasks are geared towards these aims. For example we’ll be removing duplicate material from the collections where this exists, we’re boxing loose files so that they are well protected for moving, we’ll be sending records to the BT Archives, we’re carrying out an audit of specific parts of our collections and we’re doing a spot of office filing.

Confidential waste in the search room ready to be taken away.

All these tasks and more will be taking place over this week and next and we’ll be keeping you up to date here through a series of blog entries, a few members of the team will details of their specific tasks and how they’re getting on.

Adam Hillhouse , Archivist

Great British Fashion Stamps

Today Royal Mail is showcasing Britain’s world famous fashion designers and their iconic designs on ten new stamps. Great British Fashion, issued today, brings together some of the very best of post-war fashion, featuring the innovative fashion houses which have put Britain in the top rank of world fashion design.

The ten new Great British Fashion stamps issued today, 15 May 2012.

Each stamp features a prime example of each selected designer’s work, including Tommy Nutter’s suit for Beatle Ringo Starr and Vivienne Westwood’s 1993 Harlequin dress, famously modeled by Naomi Campbell.

The idea for the issue came from the British Design Classics stamps of 2009, which featured the stylish chic of Mary Quant’s daring mini skirt. This proved to be one of the most popular of the ten stamps featured in the issue, prompting the decision to dedicate an entire issue to our world-class designers.

Since 1945, British fashion has grown to become a major national industry. Today it employs about a million people and contributes directly some £21 billion to the UK economy.

The stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/fashion and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.
Visit the Stamps & Philately pages on our website and find out more about caring for your philatelic collection.

Diamond Jubilee Exhibition opens

Tomorrow, 10 May 2012 a new exhibition featuring material celebrating the Diamond Jubilee will open in the BPMA Search Room. The display includes an exclusive insight into the making of the stamps released to mark this special occasion.

An early proposal by Sedley Place for the Diamond Jubilee miniature sheet layout

Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne on 6 February 1952 on the death of her father King George VI. In 2012, she celebrates 60 years on the throne, her Diamond Jubilee. This exhibition shows how the two stamp issues from Royal Mail marking the Jubilee came about. The first was a miniature sheet issued in February featuring six definitives with iconic portraits from stamps, coins and banknotes. For the second special issue a series of photographs were chosen by Kate Stephens of the Queen’s life “in action” as monarch.

Both stamps from banknotes – the 1960 version by Robert Austin and the 1970 version by Harry Eccleston

The monarch, or ruler, has been the symbol of the country since at least Roman times. Alone, he or she has always represented the United Kingdom on coins and postage stamps, without any other indication of country name. For stamps, this is unique in the world. On Bank of England banknotes, however, the use of the monarch’s head is much more recent, only dating from 1960. How each of the six portraits came about is the subject of the main exhibition case. The original source photograph or sketch is followed by the origination or artwork (in the case of coins plaster casts) and an example of the item – such as Specimen banknotes from the Bank of England or coins from the Royal Mint Museum. You can then see how this has translated into the modern stamp. An accompanying brochure gives more details.

August 2011 essays with wrong values of Diamond Jubilee designs showing Her Majesty The Queen “in action”, by Kate Stephens

The Queen “in action”
Kate Stephens has been successful in designing several royal and non-royal related stamp issues. It was therefore natural to turn to her when considering images for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. How she created the commemorative issue (based on her previous research) is described in the third display case and in the brochure.

- Douglas N. Muir, Curator (Philately) -

SPECIAL DIAMOND JUBILEE OFFER: Celebrate this year’s Diamond Jubilee with a beautiful Wedgwood Jasperware plate in Portland Blue featuring one of the most well-known portraits of Queen Elizabeth II: the ‘Machin head’ – the white cameo relief created by Arnold Machin as the definitive stamp design. The dish is available in our online shop. The BPMA offer 10% discount on this wonderful souvenir – simply enter the discount code JU81L33 at checkout until 6 June 2012.

The Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica

In advance of our forthcoming talk on this varied, quirky and fascinating collection, I met David Rooney, Curator of Transport at the Science Museum, at Blythe House in West London to find out more about this prolific collector, Winifred Penn-Gaskell and her collections.

One of many fascinating boxes from the Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica held at the Science Museum

Some of you may already know that Blythe House is the former home of the Post Office Savings Bank, a fact which made my visit that bit more exciting as I was familiar with it from several photographs but had never seen it in the flesh or been inside.

Evidence of the Post Office Savings Bank which used to by based at Blythe House

An imposing Edwardian building of mammoth proportions and a myriad size and shape rooms inside, it stores part of the Science Museum collection, including the Penn Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica.

Imposing Blythe House which houses a large part of the Science Museum's collections

The collection was gathered over several years from 1927 onwards by Winifred Penn-Gaskell, who wanted to ensure that the ephemera relating to the advent of air travel and aerial post were preserved as well as the actual crafts themselves.
The collection is hugely varied and includes pottery, books, pamphlets, stamp albums, snuff boxes, delftware, early microfilm, photographs and more – even buoyant sugar cubes, prisoner of war post and parts of a zeppelin shot down in 1916.

Some of the albums which form parts of the Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica

Winifred herself was a fascinating character – living alone 1000 feet up in the wilds of Dartmoor but also a globe trotter who travelled far and wide and was committed to chronicling the swift changes to air travel as they unfolded. Her collecting was all in the service of recording the heroic feats of the pioneer aviators for posterity.
David will be revealing much more about the collection and the collector next Thursday 10th May 2012 at 7pm at the Phoenix Centre, next to the Royal Mail Archive. Find out more information and book your ticket for his talk on our website.

- Laura Dixon, BPMA Learning Officer (Events & Outreach) -