Monthly Archives: June 2012

Memories of a boy messenger – Part 3

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In Part 3 he tells us his progression as a Messenger.

I started delivering telegrams by easy stages firstly by delivering the addresses close to the office then as my confidence and knowledge grew to addresses further away. On occasions we were sent to more outlying places to help build up our knowledge. Not only did I have to cope with learning the area but all of us had to get used to the consequences of power cuts. (All power was cut off between 2pm and 4pm each working day.) Normal deliveries still had to be made during the period, so if you arrived at an office and the delivery had to be made to the sixth floor, you just had to walk up. I continued to learn the area until one I was asked whether I would like to become a cycling messenger. I immediately agreed and was told that I would have to pass a test first. This entailed cycling up the narrow road at the rear of the CTO and turning round without falling off. A senior messenger watched and he decided whether you had passed or failed.

Central Telegraph Office delivery room, 1947. Jim (Dusty) Miller pictured on the right. (POST 118/1788)

Central Telegraph Office delivery room, 1947. Jim (Dusty) Miller pictured on the right. (POST 118/1788)

So, I started life as a cycling messenger, we were rewarded the daily sum of 6p (2½p) for keeping our bicycles clean and “ship shape”. We had various adventures including the very bad winter of 1947. I remember when the snow started, I had just returned from my tea break and was the only messenger in the delivery room. A very apologetic Inspector explained that he had four “Death Telegrams” which had to be delivered and as I had to go out I might as well take the remainder of the telegrams for the places en route. I remember cycling along Aldersgate Street and wondering what all the fuss was about. I eventually reached Torrence Stret (the furthest point in our delivery). As I turned into St Johns Street to come back the full force of the storm hit me and I realised then that I had been cycling with the wind behind me. I delivered the remainder of the telegrams and returned to the CTO about 7.30pm. To my surprise the other boys on my shift were waiting for me. They had refused to go home until they were sure I was safe. In order to remove my overcoat they had to chip the ice away from the button holes with a bicycle spanner and when I removed the coat it was frozen it stood up in the centre of the room unaided. For almost a week after the snow fell we had to deliver all telegrams by foot as it was decided that it was too dangerous to allow us to cycle.

Messenger Boy with cycle, 1930s (2011-0443/02)

Messenger Boy with cycle, 1930s (2011-0443/02)

Although I was unaware of it at the time the Post Office was very much in a transitional period. I remember coming back from a take and was told by a variety of messengers that we were being given a rise of 18/- (90p) and we would be given our arrears before Christmas. What we didn’t know at the time was how this rise would effect our conditions of service. The first thing was that there would be no more General Exams (these exams were designed to help messengers and girl probationers decide their futures). The next exam was due to be taken in a few months time and would be the last one. It would be open to all staff below the age of 18, however only 5 telegraph operator places would be available. In future Messengers would be known as Young Postmen and would progress within the service by various exams open to all grades. Our uniforms and hats changed to that of a postman and our cap badges were altered but other than this it had little on us at this stage.

The biggest upset was when the school leaving age was raised to 15 years. We lost a steady stream of messengers either to promotion or entering the forces to complete their National Services, our complement dwindled to 11 messengers (8 on delivery duties and 3 on indoor work). This compared to the 40 plus who were available when I first arrived. Instead of taking out 10 or 12 telegrams per “take” we now had to take out between 30 and 40 messages. Apart from the strain it put on the messengers it caused unacceptable delays to the telegrams. The GPO solved the problem by diverting ex-forces personnel awaiting training as telephonists to the CTO to act as male messengers and here they remained until the GPO was able to recruit boy messengers again. In total the telephonists stayed at the CTO for about eighteen months.

I remained an outdoor Messenger until I was about 16½ (by this time I was 6ft tall) when I was given an indoor job helping mainly in the typing pool. Just before by 18th birthday I was summoned to the Chief Inspectors room and told that the day after my birthday I was to report to Eastern District Office where I would start life as a Postman. So my life as a Boy Messenger came to a rather abrupt and somewhat unexpected end.

Keep visiting this blog for more of Jim (Dusty) Miller’s memories.

Mail Rail Conservation Project Update

Some of you may remember from previous blogs, beginning with coverage of the retrieval of two of the trains from the Post Office Underground Railway tunnels below Mount Pleasant, that the BPMA are currently working on an exciting project to restore our three ‘Mail Rail’ train carriages.

We are pleased to report that conservation work on the first of the Mail Rail trains held by the BPMA is now almost complete. The whole train has been be closely inspected, cleaned where relevant and treated with a special wax to prevent any further deterioration.

Train prior to the majority of the conservation work taking place showing lots of the surface grease.

Train prior to the majority of the conservation work taking place showing lots of the surface grease.

A special conservation approved Renaissance Wax has been applied to all surfaces to protect them and prevent future corrosion.

A special conservation approved Renaissance Wax has been applied to all surfaces to protect them and prevent future corrosion.

A similar programme will now be commenced on the 1980s train. Like the 1930 train this will be worked on from one end to the other with much of the surface grime and grease being removed to allow the vehicle to be displayed safely. The surfaces however will not be restored to an as new condition and the trains will continue to reflect their working history.

The Post Office Railway was renamed Mail Rail in 1987 and some of the trains were branded accordingly such as the 1980 train held by the BPMA.

The Post Office Railway was renamed Mail Rail in 1987 and some of the trains were branded accordingly such as the 1980 train held by the BPMA.

The next challenge is to consider how we tackle the final train in the Store, the original 1927 rail car. This rail car is much smaller than the others and raises some interesting questions. Up until now we have very much been conserving, rather than restoring the trains. However with this train it has been heavily restored in the past with some original features removed. There is also a question as to the correct colour this train should be painted. Presently it is green but in early use it was probably a grey colour. In order to decide what level of work to do on the train we must first undertake some further research.

The 1927 four-wheeled car is now going to be given a full assessment and research undertaken to help determine the best course of action with this and whether to undertake a full restoration or simply conserve what is there.

The 1927 four-wheeled car is now going to be given a full assessment and research undertaken to help determine the best course of action with this and whether to undertake a full restoration or simply conserve what is there.

This is where the benefit of the BPMA holding the Royal Mail Archive alongside the museum collection becomes invaluable. Over the coming weeks we will be using documents in the Archive to try and gather as much information about these trains as possible. Once we have been through the research we can consider what approach to take, whether to restore the trains to something like it was in the past, or to simply conserve what we now have, much as we have done with the other two trains.

The Post Office Railway train has motive units at each end and were connected by a central main body that would have carried the mail.

The Post Office Railway train has motive units at each end and were connected by a central main body that would have carried the mail.

Once this research phase is complete we shall have a much clearer ideas of the best approach to take and will understand better the time-scales.

We would like to thank supporters of this project, Arts Council England through the PRISM Fund, the AiM Pilgrim Trust Conservation Scheme, and a number of individuals who help to make this work possible.

Chris Taft – Senior Curator

Join the Mail Rail Mailing List and be the first to know what’s going on underground! Contact our Fundraising & Development Officer, Claire English: claire.english@postalheritage.org.uk.

Supported using public funding by Arts Council England

More on our unidentified object

Thanks for all the ideas about our mystery object which comes from the former post office in King Street, Maidstone, and is believed to date from the mid 19th Century to mid 20th Century.

The mystery object

The mystery object

People have suggested via Facebook, Twitter and this blog that it could be a an ordnance survey map carrier, a fire extinguisher, or a torpedo-style document pneumatic mailing tube or ‘flying fox’, though this last suggestion has already been discounted by our curator as town post offices wouldn’t have used such a thing.

Amongst the best suggestion we think is the possibility that it’s a “blower” used for blowing dust away from postal franking machines. But we’re still not clear why it would have a grooved rubber rim around the open end. And if anyone can suggest the dates it was in use we’d be very pleased to hear from them. Here is another photograph of the object showing the internal plunger.

The mystery object's internal plunger

The mystery object’s internal plunger

Please leave your suggestion as to what this object is as a comment on this blog post.

Clare George – Archives and Records Assistant

The birth centenary of Alan Turing

Tomorrow is the birth centenary of Alan Turing the mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist who was highly influential in the development of computers and artificial intelligence.

A stamp from the Britons of Distinction issue, 23 February 2012. 1st Class – Alan Turing.

A stamp from the Britons of Distinction issue, 23 February 2012. 1st Class – Alan Turing.

Turing is perhaps most famous for his work during World War 2 at the code breaking centre in Bletchley Park. There he and others broke a number of German codes, including that of the Enigma machine.

At Bletchley Park Turing worked with a number of engineers seconded from the General Post Office’s engineering department, including Gordon Radley and Tommy Flowers. Radley and Flowers were both involved in the development of Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, which broke the Nazi’s Lorenz codes and convinced General Eisenhower to go ahead with D-Day. While Alan Turing was not directly involved in the development of Colossus his work fed in to the thinking behind it.

After the war Gordon Radley returned to the Post Office where he was involved in the development of the first transatlantic submarine cable, the invention the hearing aid, and projects to mechanise post sorting which led to the development of the postcode. He eventually rose to become Director General (Secretary to the Post Office), the first engineer to do so.

Tommy Flowers also returned to the Post Office after his time as a code breaker, where he was involved in developing the pioneering electronic telephone exchange at Highgate Wood, and ERNIE, the random number generator used by Premium Bonds.

Alan Turing’s post-war work and legacy are even more significant. Until his death in 1954 Turing undertook pioneering work in computer development and programming, mathematical biology and morphogenesis. He also developed the “Turing Test” for artificial intelligence, which states that a machine can only be said to be intelligent if its behaviours are indistinguishable from that of a human being.

A stamp from The Inventors' Tale issue, 12 January 1999. 63p – Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing's work on computers).

A stamp from The Inventors’ Tale issue, 12 January 1999. 63p – Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing’s work on computers).

For this and his many achievements Alan Turing is often labelled a “genius”. A stamp from 1999, part of The Inventor’s Tale issue, is testament to this: it features E Paolozzi’s artwork Computers, portraying a computer inside a human head. It is one of many of Paolozzi’s artworks inspired by Alan Turing.

A stamp released earlier this year (pictured above) as part of the Britons of Distinction issue commemorates Turing’s work as a mathematician, computer scientist and code breaker. The stamp shows Turing’s “Bombe” code breaking machine at Bletchley Park.

2012 is Alan Turing Year, celebrating the life and work of Alan Turing.

Unidentified object

Can you help us identify this object? It was transferred to us last week from the former post office in King Street, Maidstone. It was suggested to us that it could be an air pump.

The mystery object

The mystery object

If anyone has any suggestions about what it is or what it was used for, we’d be pleased to hear from them.

Charles Dickens stamps

Mr Bumble, Mr Pickwick and Mr Micawber are all instantly recognisable creations of Charles Dickens, one of Britain’s greatest novelists. To commemorate the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth Royal Mail is celebrating his life and work of with ten new stamps issued today.

The stamps feature iconic characters from some of Dickens’ most famous novels, including Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist, Mr Micawber from David Copperfield and Captain Cuttle from Dombey and Son. Six of the stamps feature original illustrations adapted from Character Sketches from Charles Dickens, by Joseph Clayton Clarke (otherwise known as Kyd) and originally published around 1890.

2nd Class – Mr Bumble – Oliver Twist; 1st Class – Mr Pickwick – The Pickwick Papers; 77p – The Marchioness – The Old Curiosity Shop; 87p – Mrs Gamp – Martin Chuzzlewitt; £1.28 – Captain Cuttle – Dombey and Son; £1.90 – Mr Micawber – David Copperfield.

2nd Class – Mr Bumble – Oliver Twist; 1st Class – Mr Pickwick – The Pickwick Papers; 77p – The Marchioness – The Old Curiosity Shop; 87p – Mrs Gamp – Martin Chuzzlewitt; £1.28 – Captain Cuttle – Dombey and Son; £1.90 – Mr Micawber – David Copperfield.

Royal Mail is also issuing a miniature sheet of four stamps of illustrations by Hablot Knight Brown (known as Phiz), who illustrated ten books by Dickens.

1st Class - Nicholas Nickleby; 1st Class - Bleak House; 1st Class - Little Dorrit; 1st Class - A Tale of Two Cities.

1st Class – Nicholas Nickleby; 1st Class – Bleak House; 1st Class – Little Dorrit; 1st Class – A Tale of Two Cities.

The presentation pack that accompanies the issue is written by Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, who takes a look at her great, great, great grandfather’s life and works.

Charles Dickens or his work has appeared on three previous stamp issues: Literary Anniversaries (1970), Christmas (150th Anniversary of A Christmas Carol, 1993) and Musicals (Oliver! 2011).

Four stamps from the Literary Anniversaries issue, 3 June 1970. 5d – Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller – Pickwick Papers; 5d – Mr and Mrs Micawber – David Copperfield; 5d - David Copperfield and Betsy Trotwood – David Copperfield; 5d - Oliver asking for more – Oliver Twist.

Four stamps from the Literary Anniversaries issue, 3 June 1970. 5d – Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller – Pickwick Papers; 5d – Mr and Mrs Micawber – David Copperfield; 5d – David Copperfield and Betsy Trotwood – David Copperfield; 5d – Oliver asking for more – Oliver Twist.

150th Anniversary of Publication of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens issue, 9 November 2011. 19p – Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim; 25p – Mr and Mrs Fezziwig; 30p – Scrooge; 35p – The Prize Turkey; 41p – Mr Scrooge’s Nephew.

150th Anniversary of Publication of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens issue, 9 November 2011. 19p – Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim; 25p – Mr and Mrs Fezziwig; 30p – Scrooge; 35p – The Prize Turkey; 41p – Mr Scrooge’s Nephew.

A stamp from the Stage Musicals issue, 22 February 2011. 1st Class - Oliver!

A stamp from the Stage Musicals issue, 22 February 2011. 1st Class – Oliver!

Two first day of issue handstamps are available with the new Charles Dickens stamps. One features Dickens’ initials and Dickens’ sometime pseudonym “Boz”, the other features a book design.

Charles Dickens first day of issue handstamps.

Charles Dickens first day of issue handstamps.

The Charles Dickens 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.

Two Charles Dickens Coaching Prints from our collection can be viewed on Flickr.

Memories of a boy messenger – Part 2

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In Part 2 he tells us what it was like to work as a Messenger.

The delivery room was a fairly large room with some of its windows still bricked up following the war. It had three large desks in the corner set in an L shape. The Inspectors in charge sat at two of them, one was responsible for sending the boys out on deliveries. He worked out the time it took to deliver the telegrams by allotting a time for the farthest point of call then adding 2 minutes for each other telegram. The other one booked you back in and decided when you should have your meal break, etc.

A London telegraph messengers' despatch room - artwork for a poster by Grace Golden, 1948 (POST 109/183)

A London telegraph messengers’ despatch room – artwork for a poster by Grace Golden, 1948 (POST 109/183)

He also had the responsibility to make sure that messengers who were being punished by being given “full time” did not have any of the privileges given to the other messengers, such as going home early or having an extra give minutes to their meal breaks. Full time could be given for a variety of reasons, such as not wearing your hat when on a delivery, answering the Inspector back, or taking too long to deliver the messages without a valid reason.

The room also contained a number of wooden forms where messengers sat between deliveries, and it also contained a number of bicycles. These were the heavy old red bicycles used by the Post Office at the time. Each bicycle had a number painted on the frame just below the saddle and was allocated to a particular messenger. The room next door was responsible for enveloping and addressing the envelopes for dispatch. They would then be sent to the delivery room via a conveyer belt.

A group of telegram messenger boys sat in rows on wooden benches in the L.P.S. Boy Messengers Retiring Room, c. 1930-40 (2012-0049/05)

A group of telegram messenger boys sat in rows on wooden benches in the L.P.S. Boy Messengers Retiring Room, c. 1930-40 (2012-0049/05)

The area covered by the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) was broken into 10 walks (or “takes” as we called them); nine of these consisted of the local streets whilst the 10th was for internal mail. It was the Inspectors’ responsibility to see that the walks were cleared every 10 minutes thus no telegram would be delayed by more than 10 minutes in the delivery room. It was common practice to send more than one walk out with a Messenger at one time. The walking Messengers usually got walks 1 to 4 whilst the cycling messengers took the deliveries further away.

Before the war the CTO was designated a “walking office” this meant that because of the small area involved plus the fact that a lot of the deliveries had to be made in small alley ways it was thought to be quicker to walk. However the war changed all that because as various local offices were bombed and had to be closed down the CTO delivery area grew in size. Despite this and the fact that bicycles had to be supplied in order to cover the distances involved the Post Office still refused to supply the correct cycling equipment. As a result we had to supply our own gloves and had to shorten our long overcoats to prevent them catching in the wheels.

When I arrived in the delivery room I was allocated to a Senior Messenger whose job it was to teach me the walking part of the area. I was told that I would be taught by him for two weeks then I would go to a School in Chelsea for a two day course to learn about the forms we were expected to use then I would be sent out on my own (a daunting prospect).

Telegram messenger boys on the steps outside of a main entrance (possibly the London Postal School), c.1930-40 (2012/0049-03)

Telegram messenger boys on the steps outside of a main entrance (possibly the London Postal School), c.1930-40 (2012/0049-03)

To be fair, because of the bomb damage it was probably easier to learn the area than it would be now. For instance, it was possible to walk from Newgate Street to Ludgate Hill across flattened area caused by the bombing; the area now occupied by the Barbican and Museum of London complexes were completely raised to the ground. The only three buildings left standing were the Redcross Street Fire Station, the Golden Lane theatre and the Morgue, just opposite the Theatre. The remainder of the area was non existent. The authorities built small brick walls between the pavement and the bombed basements to prevent people falling into them.

A boy messenger walks through a bomb-damaged area, c. 1940s (POST 118/1361)

A boy messenger walks through a bomb-damaged area, c. 1940s (POST 118/1361)

Keep visiting this blog for more of Jim (Dusty) Miller’s memories.

New features on our website

Recently we introduced some new features on our website, built for us by Mind Unit.

Timeline of Key Dates

The first recorded examples of letter delivery in Great Britain date back to the 1st Century AD, when the Romans under Claudius introduced their messenger system. Navigate through postal history with our Timeline of Key Dates and discover how Britain’s postal system changed and expanded.

The Timeline looks not only at the history of postal delivery in the United Kingdom but charts the development of the telegraph, the evolution of the General Post Office and the Royal Mail, and the ways in which ordinary people have used the postal service. The Timeline is illustrated with stamp artwork and items from our collections, and there are links to other parts of our website which can tell you more about some of the topics covered.

The Timeline of Key Dates

The Timeline of Key Dates

Find the Timeline of Key Dates at http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/timeline

British Postal History

The British Postal History section of our website is a popular resource, consisting of articles giving overviews on a number of postal history topics. Subjects covered include Rowland Hill’s Postal Reforms, Postcodes, Women in the Post Office and Stamp Design. These articles are now illustrated by a greater number of images than before. All the images come from our collections, and you can make them larger by using the magnifying glass function. You can also scroll through the images as a slideshow using the NEXT and PREV buttons.

Make images larger in the British Postal History section

Make images larger in the British Postal History section

Find the British Postal History articles at http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/history

What would you like to see next?

We’re always interested in what you think of our website and social media offerings. Leave your suggestions as a comment below or fill in the Site Feedback form on our website.

Alison Bean – Web Officer

Memories of a boy messenger – Part 1

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In Part 1 he tells us about his first day on the job.

I remember how excited I was to receive the letter that told me to report for duty at the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) on 15 May 1946, having passed the medical and scraping in a half inch above the minimum height required of four feet ten and a half inches.

The Central Telegraph Office, c.1930s-40s (POST 118/1379)

The Central Telegraph Office, c.1930s-40s (POST 118/1379)

Despite the good advice I received from my parents I still managed to get lost and arrived later than I intended. As I approached the main door located in St Martin’s Le Grand, I was stopped by the doorman who told me that in future as a Boy Messenger I should use the back door. I was then taken to a man, who seemed to be in charge of most of the telegraph work.

After a brief welcome I was passed from office to office, signing and filling in various forms. I was also given my weekly allocation of meal vouchers each worth 1/- (5p). The restaurant that catered for the CTO staff was open from 8am to 6pm; it provided hot food from 11am to 2.30pm. Despite the rationing it was possible to buy a good hot meal and a sweet for less than 1/-.

Finally, I was taken to the Chief Inspector of Messengers. I remember there were three people in the room, an Assistant Inspector, Inspector and the Chief Inspector. I was passed from one to the other each one telling me about the job and conditions.

My duties would consist of 6 eight hour shifts which could start as early as 7am and finish as late as 7pm. I would be allowed a 40 minute meal break each day plus a breakfast or tea break of 20 minutes at the Inspectors’ discretion. Once thought suitable I would be expected to work 4 hours compulsory overtime every third Sunday increasing to 10 hours a day when I reached 16 (the CTO was required to deliver all telegrams on Sundays with an EC or WC address).

My starting pay would be 21/6 (£1 07½) per week); when you allow for fares to work of about 35p, plus either a morning or afternoon snack at a weekly cost of 15p, I had very little money to spare. However, my pay would rise by yearly increments to 41/- (£2-05p) per week at 18 years. In addition to my pay I would receive 6 meal vouchers per week free until I reached 16 when I would be expected to pay half the cost of the vouchers. They would automatically stop when I reached 18 years.

I would be given two uniforms a year, one winter and one summer weight. I would also receive one pair of shoes and one pair of boots a year, plus overcoat and walking cape (to be replaced when I outgrew them), and a pill box-type hat with badge that was unique to me. My number was TS228 (only the messengers at the CTO and their sister office at Threadneedle Street were allowed to wear the Tube Service or TS motif on their cap badges).

Messenger boy (POST 118/126)

Messenger boy (POST 118/126)

My holiday entitlement was 12 days a year to be taken between May and October. The senior boys had first choice so junior messengers like me had to take our holidays in either May or October.

Having been told all the terms and conditions I was whisked away to the Inspector in charge of the stores in a small office at the rear of Angel Street. Here I was measured for my uniform, given my pouch belt and armband (these had to suffice until my uniform was ready) and walking cape. I was then taken to the delivery room which was located at the rear of the CTO.

Keep visiting this blog for more of Jim (Dusty) Miller’s memories.

The GPO Solicitor’s Department: cheating MPs, rabid dogs and pirates

Wrangles over MP’s expenses are nothing new. The records of the General Post Office (GPO) Solicitor’s Department reveal members of both Houses of Parliament looking for ways to circumvent postage charges throughout the early 19th century. Mr Hume, MP (1812-55), seems to have been particularly bold. Not satisfied with limitations on his parliamentary privilege (to send 10 and receive 15 letters per day free of charge – this was in the days when it cost money to receive a letter), he asked for his allowance to be doubled on a Monday, to compensate for the lack of delivery on a Sunday. When this was denied he tried a different tact, opening and reading his letters before sending them back to the GPO as refused, with a request that ‘unjust’ postage charges be refunded. Sadly this too was refused, but his creativity is certainly to be admired.

This was just one of the fascinating stories I uncovered in the case and opinion files of the Solicitor’s Department, while on a two-week student cataloguing placement at the British Postal Museum and Archive. At first I thought the records would be full of technical jargon and might prove a challenge. Fortunately, the formulaic nature of legal records makes it easy for anyone to understand them. Within a day or two it became clear that ‘delivering the mails’ could prove dangerous; from rabid dogs attacking mail coaches all over England to pirates commandeering package ships , the life of a letter carrier was unpredictable on land and on sea.

Typical example of cases and opinions files from the GPO Solicitor’s Department – On establishing posts in the Australian Colonies (POST 74)

Typical example of cases and opinions files from the GPO Solicitor’s Department – On establishing posts in the Australian Colonies (POST 74)

Beneath the legal language lies a wealth of human interest stories which resonate today. In 1843 independent publishers wrote to the GPO complaining that foreign publishers were breaking copyright legislation and mislabelling cargo to flood the British market with cheap literature. Their concerns closely echo high street booksellers discussing internet commerce in recent years. Several cases involved letters being delayed as a result of the multitude of road and bridge tolls in the UK and Ireland. In recent weeks, the news has involved public speculation about the potential re-emergence of road tolls in debate about increased road privatisation.

Many of the files included letters from members of the public who felt they had been charged the wrong postage rates. Often these calculations could be incredibly complex with different rates for newspapers and letters, confusion about whether deliveries by circuitous route should be charged by actual distance travelled and the existence of postal towns meaning that the cost of delivery to a street just outside its borders incurred a separate ‘suburban rate’. It seems likely this public discontent acted as a rallying call, encouraging the introduction of uniform minimum penny postage, regardless of distance travelled in 1840.

Most of the records I worked with during my placement were from the 1820s to 1840s. In my last few days at the BPMA, I did some research into the administrative history of the Solicitor’s Department to provide context for these records. I came across an internal brochure produced by the department in the 1981 for business units across Royal Mail Group plc. Although the legal team had expanded in size, it was interesting to note that the functions of the department in the 1830 remained largely unchanged 150 years later: conveyance; civil litigation; prosecution; commercial affairs; and employment, postal and planning matters.

Solicitor’s Department team photo, 1981 (POST 74)

Solicitor’s Department team photo, 1981 (POST 74)

Natalya Kusel – UCL archive cataloguing placement student

Looking for a volunteer opportunity or student placement at The British Postal Museum & Archive? Find out more on our website.