Monthly Archives: July 2012

Welcome to the London 2012 Olympic Games!

To commemorate the opening of the London 2012 Olympic Games this evening Royal Mail are issuing a special mini-sheet of stamps.

Welcome to the London 2012 Olympic Games miniature sheet

Welcome to the London 2012 Olympic Games miniature sheet

The sheet of four stamps features a quartet of Olympic sports: Diving, Fencing, Athletics and Cycling ‘merged’ with four iconic London landmarks: Tate Modern, Tower Bridge, the Olympic Stadium and the London Eye.

To bring out the best of these striking composite images Royal Mail is using one of its widest formats for the mini-sheet which contains two 1st class stamps and two £1.28 stamps.

The two 1st Class stamps feature a fencer’s lunge meeting the walkway of Tower Bridge, while runners powering round the curve of a track, ‘run’ into the Olympic Stadium.

Welcome to the London 2012 Olympic Games - 1st class stamps

The £1.28 stamps show a diver’s arrow-like vertical descent mirroring Tate Modern’s imposing 325 foot chimney, while the London Eye’s iconic Ferris Wheel becomes the front wheel of an Olympic racing bike.

Welcome to the London 2012 Olympic Games - £1.28 stamps

Royal Mail have already issued a number of other London 2012 Olympic Games commemorative stamps, and it was recently announced that British Olympic and Paralympic gold medal winners will appear on stamps.

The new London 2012 stamps and stamp products are available at most Post Office branches, online at and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

Visit our website to see stamps and stamp artwork from the 1948 London Olympic Games.

Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games

Opening today at the British Library is Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games, an exhibition telling the fascinating story of the past and present of the Olympic Games through the medium of postage stamps and related memorabilia. The exhibition includes stamp artwork and stamp designs from our collection related to the 1948 London Olympic Games stamp issue.

Submitted design by Harrison & Sons with 'Olympic Games' in Esperanto.

Submitted design by Harrison & Sons with ‘Olympic Games’ in Esperanto.

While no stamps were issued for the 1908 London Olympic Games, the Post Office could hardly refuse to issue stamps in 1948 as the precedent had been established by host nations in previous years. A range of designs were prepared, with four eventually chosen for issue.

London 1948 Olympic Games stamps, issued 29 July 1948

London 1948 Olympic Games stamps, issued 29 July 1948

You can see the designs and the issued stamps for the 1948 London Olympics at Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games along with more than 2,500 other Olympic Games stamps until 9 September 2012. Or visit the Stamps & Philately section of our website to see the stamp designs and stamp artwork for a number of historic British stamp issues.

BPMA Summer Sale

The BPMA Shop summer sale starts today: It’s 20% off all orders! But hurry – this amazing offer only lasts for one week. Enter SUMM3R2012 in the appropriate field at checkout (excludes P&P) and place your order by 31 July 2012.

Savings Greetings Card Set

Savings Greetings Card Set

Choose from our range of unique postal heritage gifts: Learn more about our postal history and design with our publications, let someone know they’re the best with our First Class Greetings Card, get through this British Summer with our big BPMA Umbrella, or simply smarten up your standard business dress with a Penny Black Tie.

And just in time for “the greatest show on earth” the new book by the President of the Society of Olympic Collectors, Bob Wilcock, The London 1948 Olympic Games: A Collectors’ Guide is now also available.

Visit the BPMA show at

Our paintings on Your Paintings

The BPMA is the custodian of two main collections: the archive of the Royal Mail and the BPMA Museum Collection. The vast influence the postal industry has had in shaping British society, and the world, is reflected throughout our collections. They include photographs, films, ephemera, weapons, uniforms, vehicles, trains and letterboxes – and artwork, including a number of works in oil.

The subject matter of our oil paintings includes portraits of people who had a significant impact on postal services, such as past Postmaster Generals or Secretaries of the Post Office, as well of those of unnamed postal workers.

Portrait of a Postman (Alex Buchanan) by Thomas Patterson (2004-0077)

Portrait of a Postman (Alex Buchanan) by Thomas Patterson (2004-0077)

Specific historical events are depicted, such as the bombing of Mount Pleasant Parcel depot in the Second World War, while others are more general scenes of times past, including extensive representations of the Mail Coach era.

The Halfway House: A Mail Coach outside the 'Greyhounds Inn' by James Pollard (OB1995.519)

The Halfway House: A Mail Coach outside the ‘Greyhounds Inn’ by James Pollard (OB1995.519)

Changing transport methods, from the seas to the skies, and road to rails, is also captured in these works.

Mobile Post Office, Henley by Adrian Keith Graham Hill (POST 109/203)

Mobile Post Office, Henley by Adrian Keith Graham Hill (POST 109/203)

Landmark buildings – such as the GPO Tower and the old GPO building in the City of London – sit next to depictions of local post offices and more domestic scenes; the excitement of receiving a letter is portrayed more than once.

The Postman by Thomas Liddall Armitage (OBB 1997.5)

The Postman by Thomas Liddall Armitage (OBB 1997.5)

Recently our collection of oil paintings was made available on the Your Paintings website, a partnership between the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation which aims to show the entire UK national collection of oil paintings. Paintings from thousands of museums and other public institutions appear on the site.

Visit the BPMA page on Your Paintings to see our collection of works in oil, or search the site to view postal-themed paintings from other institutions. We like Army Post Office 3, Boulogne by John Lavery from the Imperial War Museum, and Post Office, Port Sunlightby Keith Gardner from The Port Sunlight Museum. What’s your favourite?

The Post Office in Pictures: Free Family Fun

As part of our photo exhibition The Post Office in Pictures at the Lumen URC, Bloomsbury, we will be running activities for families from Wednesday 25 July until Wednesday 29 August. Join us for free afternoons of fun doing, making and playing all things postal!

Free craft activities for families

Free craft activities for families

No is booking required, just drop in to take part in any of the following:

Wednesday 25 July, 2-5pm
Create your own magazine cover with you as the star!

Create your own magazine cover

Create your own magazine cover

Wednesday 1 August, 2-5pm
Find out all about animals in the Post Office and make and take home your own toy animal.

Make your own Post Office animal

Make your own Post Office animal

Wednesday 8 August, 2-5pm
Create your own terrific telegram – special messages for special people.

Create your own telegram

Create your own telegram

Wednesday 15 August, 2-5pm
Sunshine Super Stencilling! Using special photographic paper, design a picture based on the exhibition and then use the sun to develop it.

The Post Office Magazine, November 1938

The Post Office Magazine, November 1938

Wednesday 22 August, 2-5pm
First Class Card Making: design your own greetings card and post it with a free stamp in our Victorian post box!

Wednesday 29 August, 2-5pm
Make your own mini photo album or scrap book to take home for your favourite keepsakes.

The Post Office Magazine, June 1934

The Post Office Magazine, June 1934

All activities are suitable for children aged 5 and above.

Visit the BPMA website for more information on these events.

London Postal Service School

Continuing the recent lantern slide theme on our blog, I thought I would share one of my favourite slides we have in our collection relating to the London Postal Service School (LPS).

This is one of my favourite slides from this group partly for the atmosphere of the picture, not to mention the man in the bowler hat who seems to have been momentarily distracted from his duty. One of the more surprising elements perhaps is the use of a ‘creeper’ – a series of rollers – for transporting mail, now more commonly associated with airport security, but which is likely to have been a very ‘modern’ method of transport at the time.

Mails being conveyed by "Creeper" from the Landing Stage to Customs Baggage Room', c.1930-c.1940 (2012-0049/40)

Mails being conveyed by “Creeper” from the Landing Stage to Customs Baggage Room’, c.1930-c.1940 (2012-0049/40)

If this image looks familiar, it may be because many of these slides also appear as photographs in the Royal Mail Archive. Lantern slides were used extensively by the Post Office during the 19th and 20th Centuries, for a variety of purposes including staff training. It is likely that many of the images were used as lantern slides as a means of instructing new recruits.

The training schools were established to train staff in Post Office procedures and to ensure standardisation of service. The first was the London Postal Service Counter School in Roman Bath Street, London for the training of counter clerks and telegraphists, with other departments later opening schools with specific areas of training.

The emphasis in the schools was on practical training and classrooms were equipped to resemble real-life post office counters. Students took part in role-play were provided with copies of example documents, which were also displayed around the room.

I am particularly fond of the London Postal Service School slides as they convey not only the scale of the Post Office operations, but give a sense of the people behind the post – many of whom can be seen enjoying a well earned tea break in the picture below!

L.P.S. Postmens’ Retiring Room, Tea Time, c.1930-c.1940 (2012-0049/13)

L.P.S. Postmens’ Retiring Room, Tea Time, c.1930-c.1940 (2012-0049/13)

More of these slides will soon be available on our online catalogue.

Sarah Jenkins – Assistant Cataloguer

Miss Walton – Post Office Heroine

Over the past few months, I have been cataloguing many of the lantern slides in the BPMA’s collection as part of our documentation backlog project and scanning the slides ready to be added to our online catalogue. The slides cover a wide range of subjects, from Post Office buildings around the world to the hustle and bustle of the Sorting Offices, providing a snapshot of a variety of postal activities. Many also contain some interesting and surprising stories, such of that of Miss Walton, a ‘P.O. Heroine’.

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide with a oval portrait of a woman in a high collar in the top half of the image, with the caption 'MISS WALTON' underneath. (2012-0157)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide with a oval portrait of a woman in a high collar in the top half of the image, with the caption ‘MISS WALTON’ underneath. (2012-0157)

This unassuming hand-coloured slide shows a single storey building below the portrait of a woman in Victorian dress. Curious to know who Miss Walton was and what she had done to earn the title of ‘P.O Heroine’, I started to investigate a bit further. Miss Walton was Postmistress at Van Wyk Vlei, in the Northern Cape of South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and bravely refused to hand over the keys to the Post Office when armed rebels arrived in the village.

Her account of the incident on 13th March 1900 states:

I was told it was of no avail trying to stand against the force, and commanded to hand over the keys of the offices and safe. I placed myself against the door to guard it, whereupon one of the party pointed a rifle at me and exclaimed “I will shoot you dead!“ I replied, “Shoot, coward, and kill me; then you can have the keys, not otherwise”.

The rebels broke down the door of the Post Office, cut the telegraph wires and took the telegraph equipment but left Miss Walton unharmed. She recovered the office valuables and travelled safely with them to the town of Carnarvon two days later.

Miss Walton – Post Office Heroine (detail) (2012-0157)

Miss Walton – Post Office Heroine (detail) (2012-0157)

Miss Walton’s plucky conduct was honoured in a song in Punch magazine later the same month:

This is the song of a heroine,
Mid the heroes of the war
The song of a maid, who was not afraid,

But stood to her trust as a man should stay,
Who scorned the threats of the rebel raid,

And looked down the rifle without dismay,
British born! True to the core!

I’m not sure many employers today would expect such commitment from their employees!

Sarah Jenkins – Assistant Cataloguer

The Central Telegraph Office as I knew it

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 this, his final article, he tells us what he remembers of the Central Telegraph Office.

The Central Telegraph Office (CTO) was located on the corner of Newgate Street and St Martin’s Le Grand. It was originally five stories high but was reduced to one as a result of the bombing during the 1940 blitz. A second, brick built, story was added in 1946/7. This floor was used to re-house much of the admin staff such as the typing pool, Chief Inspector of Messengers, etc.

Central Telegraph Office - bomb damaged interior, 1941 (POST 118/5169)

Central Telegraph Office – bomb damaged interior, 1941 (POST 118/5169)

The Central Telegraph Office exterior, decorated for King George V Silver Jubilee, 1935 (POST 118/1130)

The Central Telegraph Office exterior, decorated for King George V Silver Jubilee, 1935 (POST 118/1130)

The function of the CTO was to act as a clearing house for both inland and overseas telegrams. It was connected to most major cities in the world by teleprinter (the forerunner of the fax machine). It was also linked to almost all of the central London post offices by a pneumatic tube. By placing a telegram awaiting despatch into a container, that resembled a 25lb shell case covered in felt like material, it was possible to send the telegram via an underground tube direct to the CTO or the smaller tube officer located in the basement of King Edward Building, for despatch. Alas most of this system was destroyed during the war, although a large part was reinstated when the roads were repaired during the rebuilding of inner London.

Plaque giving instructions for operating Pneumatic Tubes (2002-0376)

Plaque giving instructions for operating Pneumatic Tubes (2002-0376)

Just across the road from the CTO was another building. This building was almost as big as the CTO and was known as Angel Street. This building was connected to the CTO by a bridge built at the second floor level. The function of this building was to provide rest rooms, locker rooms and a restaurant for the many staff employed at the CTO. These facilities were needed as many of the staff worked split shifts and were required to work, say, from 7am to 11am, then they would be required again until 2pm when they would work until 6pm. This building was also badly damaged at the same time as the CTO. The surviving part was used to provide a ground floor restaurant whilst the upper two floors were used as locker/rest rooms for the messengers and girl probationers (the equivalent of the boy messengers). The remaining areas, because it contained undamaged basements and sub basements was asphalted over and used as air raid shelters. It was locked-up when the war ended and never re-opened.

The CTO was connected to the other three local buildings by underground passages and despite the damage suffered during the war it was still possible to use this method of contact.

The CTO was finally demolished in 1967. When the site was being prepared for redevelopment a large Roman mosaic floor was discovered. During the subsequent excavation a Roman burial ground was also uncovered. The Romans wrapped the bodies in a form of straw matting and placed them into slots in the wall as their final resting place…

I thought at the time how ironical it was that people should shelter from the bombs in a burial ground.

Mystery solved?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about an unidentified object which had been transferred to us from the former post office in King Street, Maidstone. This blog prompted numerous suggestions as to what the object was.

The mystery object

The mystery object

In a follow-up blog I added further detail on the object, and we received a few more suggestions.

The mystery object's internal plunger

The mystery object’s internal plunger

Thank you again for all your suggestions, and for all the extra details of when it might have been used and in which department – it’s been really helpful. Together with our curator we seem to have reached a consensus that this object is probably a blower used for removing dust, so thanks goes especially to those who put forward that idea.

We’re going to make a note in our records that this is the likely identity of the object, and we’ll also be recording the fact that this conclusion was reached out of a discussion with our blog, Facebook and Twitter users.

Clare George – Archives Assistant

Disaster at Sea!

We have recently uploaded a new podcast, a recording of our Curator Julian Stray’s recent talk Disaster at Sea! In his talk Julian Strays looks at the handful of mail ships (and one mail train) which never reached their destination.

Amongst the famous maritime disasters discussed are:

HMS Lutine, a naval ship lost in a storm which had a large quantity of gold bullion on board

The Antelope, a packet ship operating in the West Indies which surrendered to the French and had to sink the mail it was carrying

RMS Leinster, a mail boat torpedoed in the Irish Sea by the Germans at the end of World War I

RMS Titanic, the famous passenger liner whose mailroom staff all died when she sank in the Atlantic on her maiden voyage

Also discussed is the Tay Bridge Disaster, in which a railway bridge collapsed during a storm while a train carrying mail was crossing it.

A print representing the Perilous situation of the Crew of his Majesty's Packet Lady Hobart (2009-0014)

A print representing the Perilous situation of the Crew of his Majesty’s Packet Lady Hobart (2009-0014)

You can listen to Disaster at Sea! on the BPMA podcast webpage, or subscribe to the BPMA podcast with iTunes. BPMA podcasts are available free of charge.