Category Archives: Collection

The Mystery of the Tolhurst Envelopes

We love a mystery at the British Postal Museum & Archive and the identity of the artist behind the illustrated ‘Tolhurst’ envelopes has intrigued us for years.

2014_0038_103

2014-0038/103

The first step in identifying the artist was to research the address to which the majority of the envelopes were sent: St Lawrence, Ernest Road, Hornchurch. Staff at Havering Museum, where a selection of the envelopes were recently displayed, found that the 1911 census showed the occupants as George, Amelia, Frederick and Amy Tolhurst. Frederick and George Tolhurst, father and son, were frequent recipients of the illustrated envelopes.

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

Locating the census record enabled the identification of all but one recipient: Vera. Vera received the majority of the illustrated envelopes in the collection, and the majority of Vera’s letters were sent to the Hornchurch address. However, she did not appear in the census record, nor could we find her in the birth records of the General Register Office, due to lack of information. Not put off, we used the information we had accumulated to construct a family tree.
Returning to the envelopes, we found a vital piece of information: the initials ‘FC’ or ‘FCT’ appeared in the corner of several illustrations. Using the family tree, we narrowed down the identity of the artist to Frederick Charles Tolhurst.

Tolhurst signature, 2014_0038_110

The artist’s initials

The identity of Vera continued to elude us, however. We considered whether Vera was a nickname, or perhaps an acronym, but we had no evidence to confirm either of these theories. We drew a step closer to the truth last week when we discovered a postcard which was addressed to Vera and signed ‘with love & kisses from your Mama & Papa’.

with love from mama and papa 2014_0038_112_back

The evidence that steered our search

We searched the birth index for Vera Tolhurst and identified a Vera Sylvia Tolhurst, born in 1908 in the district of Lambeth. A copy of the birth certificate arrived at the BPMA yesterday: listed as Vera’s father is Frederick Charles Tolhurst, and listed as his occupation is Lithographic Artist Journeyman. By 1911, Tolhurst’s occupation had changed to Trade Union Secretary, but his artistic talent was maintained in the mail art he frequently sent to his family.

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

I’ve been inspired by the Tolhurst envelopes to try my hand at mail art. Why don’t you have a go and let us know if they arrive by Tweeting @postalheritage using #mailart.

My attempt at mail art

My attempt at mail art

Joanna Espin, Curator

Postal Workers and Sports

There is no question about it; the daily duties of the postal worker require a considerable level of fitness. They walk for miles, repeatedly lift heavy boxes and bags, use quick reflexes to avoid over protective pets, and that is just the beginning! With this in mind, it is no surprise that social clubs especially activities surrounding sport and fitness have been a huge part of Post Office culture.

A black and white photographic lantern slide of a group of five girls holding stacks of newspapers, magazines and books.

A black and white photographic lantern slide of a group of five girls holding stacks of newspapers, magazines and books.

Throughout postal history there have been clubs for almost every sport and fitness activity imaginable including football, bowling, golf, handball, tennis, netball, gymnastics, cricket, speed walking, boxing, swimming, cycling, and the list goes on! Here at the BPMA we have amassed a collection of over 100 trophies and awards won by the athletic men and women of the Post Office.

One of our oldest trophies, the Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3, is a fantastic tri-handled tankard which dates to 1873. It was first awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex Post Office Volunteers for shooting competitions. It appears that Sergt R R Hoade had a particular skill for shooting as the trophy was awarded to him 5 times, 3 of which were consecutive wins!

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

In addition to trophies, our collection houses an assortment of objects which show how dedicated many Postal Workers were to their clubs. These objects include collection boxes, wall signs, membership books, and many more!

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

 

Tunbridge Wells Post Office Sports Club Collection Box (OB1994.111).

Tunbridge Wells Post Office Sports Club Collection Box (OB1994.111).

-Melissa Collins, Collections Management Intern

#AskaCurator: Day in the life of a BPMA Curator

This Wednesday Curator Joanna Espin will be available to answer any questions you might have on Twitter for #AskACurator day! In today’s blog, she gives us an idea about what it means to be a BPMA Curator.

The main purpose of my job is to prepare the museum collection to move to our new museum.

Opening a box

Opening a box

I arrive at about 8:30am and my first task is to check the work progress spreadsheet, which shows all of the shelves in the repository and is colour coded to mark which shelves are ready to move and which ones are yet to be completed.  We are 93% of the way through housing aisles B-F and need to be at 100% by the end of the year.

Aisle F

Aisle F

This is my first job as a Curator and it is a fantastic opportunity to handle and house an amazingly diverse collection. I have re-housed so many interesting objects, including original evidence from the Great Train Robbery. I follow a strict procedure for auditing the collection, re-housing objects and updating their location.

Before it has been prepared for the move.

Before it has been prepared for the move.

As I am still quite new to the role, a part of the day may be dedicated to training. I have recently received manual handling training, and can proudly say that I can move a telephone kiosk when called to do so!

I moved to my current role from the BPMA Philatelic team and I spend one day a week with the Philatelic department, assisting with preparations to move the stamp artwork collection to a new storage facility. Our next task is to tie approximately 600 boxes with pink archival tape, to ensure the security of the boxes during the move.

I finish work at about 5pm. At the weekend I go home to Yorkshire and spend some time in the countryside with my border terrier.

Chester outside of the BPMA

Chester outside of the BPMA

Have any questions for me or the rest of the curatorial team? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below and we will answer you on Wednesday.

-Joanna Espin, Curator

#MuseumCats Day: “Industrial chaos in the Post Office cat world’

For #MuseumCats day, we wanted to share the history of cats in post offices from the first three probationary, rodent-killer to the famous 23-lb goliath Tibs in the 1950s and 60s. Sadly the last Post Office Headquarters official cat, Blackie, died in 1984. Since then there have been no more employed cats, but their 100+ years history is not to be fur-gotten.

Cats were first officially appointed by the Post Office to catch rodents in September 1868 (although there had undoubtedly been cats in post offices before). Three cats worked on probation at the Money Order Office in London, with an allowance of one shilling a week. They were given 6 months by the Secretary of the Post Office to reduce the mouse problem or they would be cut.

Tibs the Official Post Office Headquarters Cat

Tibs the Official Post Office Headquarters Cat

Luckily the cats did ‘their duty very efficiently’ and in 1873 they were awarded an increase of 6d per week. The official use of cats soon spread to other post offices with the cost of maintaining them varying.

Letter requesting a cat (POST 121/206).

Letter requesting expenditure for cat (POST 121/206).

Fast forward 80 years to 1952, when there was public outrage at the fact that Post Office cats hadn’t received a raise since 1873! The following year a question was raised in the House of Commons asking the Assistant Postmaster General, Mr L D Gammans, “when the allowance payable for the maintenance of cats in his department was last raised…”

Mr Gammans replied that “There is, I am afraid, a certain amount of industrial chaos in The Post Office cat world. Allowances vary in different places, possibly according to the alleged efficiency of the animals and other factors. It has proved impossible to organise any scheme for payment by results or output bonus…there has been a general wage freeze since July 1918, but there have been no complaints!”

The most popular cat of all, however, was named Tibs, who was born in November 1950. At his biggest, Tibs weighed 23lbs and lived in the Headquarters’ refreshment club in the basement of the building. He not only kept Post Office Headquarters completely mouse-free during his 14 years’ service, but found time to appear at a ‘cats and film stars’ party and have his portrait included in a 1953 book Cockney Cats. Tibs worked diligently until his death in November 1964.

Tibs' obituary from Post Office Magazine 1965.

Tibs’ obituary from Post Office Magazine 1965.

The last Post Office HQ cat, Blackie, died in June 1984, since when there have been no more cats employed at Post Office Headquarters.

Find out more about the role of cats, dogs and horses in the postal service.

 

Royal Mail Archive added to UNESCO Memories of the World Register

Recently the BPMA has received some exciting news. The Royal Mail Archive, which we look after, has been added to UNESCO’s Memories of the World Register. The archive spans the years 1636 to 1969 and covers a wide range of items from promotional posters to the Penny Black and employment records to telegrams about the Titanic.

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Telegram telling of the sinking of the Titanic

UNESCO was impressed by the unique insight the archive offers into the development of communication within the UK and abroad and the way it reflects the social and personal impact that the postal service has had upon people across the country.

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GPO poster

Head of Archives Vicky Parkinson tells us about being added to this year’s list of inscriptions:

“Back in 2011 my colleagues attended that year’s inscription reception following the successful nomination of the work of the GPO film unit, which was a joint application with our colleagues in the BFI and BT. On the back of that success we felt that the Royal Mail Archive was worthy of inscription and the nomination paperwork was submitted in January of this year.

We were delighted to hear that the UNESCO committee agreed with us and on the 19 June 2014 Helen Forde, Chair of our Board of Trustees, and I travelled to Edinburgh to attend the award ceremony, along with the other successful nominees.

Vicky and Helen

Vicky and Helen at the reception. Photo by Lesley Ann Ercolano

The reception, hosted by Lloyds Banking Group at their iconic site on the Mound in Edinburgh, was about celebrating the UK’s outstanding history and raising awareness about some of the country’s documentary riches. For me it was a wonderful reminder of how the archive, and the work we do to look after it and make it available, fits into the bigger picture of how history, and more importantly the original records, still play a vital role in today’s society.

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One of the thousands of photos in the collection – women mending parcels at the Home Depot during the First World War

For those of us lucky enough to work with the archive on a day to day basis it’s easy to see just how significant the collection is, documenting the vital role the postal service has played in the UK. Having that importance recognised by schemes such as UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register and the Arts Council’s Designation scheme is a vital way of spreading awareness of the riches we have in our custody.”

It is these stories and more that will be told in The Postal Museum when it opens in 2016. To hear some of these fantastic stories, and see the wealth of objects all of our collections hold, before then keep an eye on the blog. Over the coming months BPMA staff will be telling you all their favourite stories and showing you all manner of intriguing and enticing objects.

Students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Massachusetts visit the BPMA

We are a group of four students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. At the beginning of the summer, from May 12th to June 28th, we had the privilege of working with the British Postal Museum and Archive to develop better visitor evaluation strategies. The goal of our project was to help improve visitor evaluation within their exhibitions which primarily focused on the Last Post Exhibition.

Mail Rail

WPI Students take a tour of Mail Rail

The overall experience was fantastic, filled with opportunities and memories. We were able to visit and explore some of the most popular museums in London including the Natural History, Victorian and Albert, and Science museums. At these museums, we observed visitors to identify what they enjoyed and see how the set up can affect visitor engagement.

Nysa

Nysa at Last Post Coalbrookdale

We also had the pleasure of working with BPMA visitors. Getting to know those who enjoyed the BPMA’s work, and asking them for helpful insight into what they learned and what they think would improve the sites. Working at events and visiting the Last Post exhibition at Mansfield and Coalbrookdale was a thrilling experience; we not only learned about the exhibitions but also were able to test many different evaluation methods such as interview, surveys, creative writing/drawing activities and observations.

Shuyang

Shuyang with the postal uniform display

We gathered some informative and gratifying feedback, for example one visitor said she “…learned so much more about a city [she had] lived in for 40 years.” Others said that they “did not realize the extent of Post Office involvement in the First World War.” The feedback we gathered was helpful and greatly aided our research objectives.

Enjoying London

WPI Students enjoying London

Aside from gaining new knowledge about museum goers, as a team we were able to improve our professional writing skills, communicate with a broad range of people, and work efficiently in a group setting. This experience also enabled us to grow as young professionals; we believe this project has added to a foundation of what the working world is like.  Living in London was an experience of a lifetime; adapting and working in a different culture will enable us to adapt to all presented opportunities and continue to broaden our understanding of the world.

Thank you,

Angela, Nysa, Shuyang and George

Davy Byrne’s Ulysses for Bloomsday

One of the more unusual items we have in The Royal Mail Archive stored here at the BPMA is a first edition copy of Ulysses by James Joyce. Joyce wrote the novel between 1919 and 1920 and when it was published in 1922 it was soon banned in the UK for obscene content.

It was illegal to send these sorts of publications through the post, and this became one of the many publications that the Post Office was instructed to intercept if they came across them. Here the Post Office was acting under section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876 which directed: such goods shall be forfeited, and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the Commissioners of Customs may direct.

A warrant issued to detain and open packages containing Ulysses was in force from 27 March 1933 to 13 November 1936, over which time a fair few copies were intercepted. A note from early 1934 in a file (POST 23/9, ‘Seditious, obscene and libellous publications sent through the post’) suggests ‘no more than 50’ copies had been stopped since the warrant came into force (as against a newspaper suggestion that 2,000 copies had been seized and destroyed). In particular, efforts were being made to stop the importation of Ulysses into the country from publishers abroad.

Ulysses first edition in its original box, POST 23/220.

Ulysses first edition in its original box, POST 23/220.

Our edition is one of 1,000 numbered editions produced by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris. 100 were produced using Dutch handmade paper signed by the author, a further 150 on Vergé d’Arches paper. The remainder on handmade paper were numbered, 251 to 1000. Our copy is numbered 895.

Inside page of Ulysses in The Royal Mail Archive.

Inside page of Ulysses in The Royal Mail Archive.

As well as the book itself we have a small number of items accompanying it. There is a printed business card for a David Byrne of 21 Duke Street, Dublin and a handwritten note which reads:

Jacob Schwartz, Bookseller, 20 Bloomsbury St.
Sold to Ulysses Bookshop
James Joyce – Ulysses – 1922
Price £3 – 0 – 0.

Business card and note accompanying Ulysses.

Business card and note accompanying Ulysses.

These introduce two interesting historical figures.

On a recent visit to the BPMA Dan Mulhall, Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK, pointed out that the David Byrne on the card would have been the proprietor of Davy Byrne’s pub at that address on Duke Street and furthermore features in Ulysses, in the pub, something we were alas not aware of (I have to admit here that my two attempts at reading Joyce’s wonderful but exacting work have failed around page 100). Davy Byrne’s pub also features in Joyce’s short story Counterparts which was published in his collection Dubliners.

The pub and Byrne come into Ulysses from page 163:

He [protagonist Leopold Bloom] entered Davy Byrne’s. Moral pub. He doesn’t chat. Stands a drink now and then. But in leapyear once in four. Cashed a cheque for me once.

….

—Have you a cheese sandwich?

—Yes, sir.

Like a few olives too if they had them. Italian I prefer. Good glass of burgundy take away that. Lubricate. A nice salad, cool as a cucumber, Tom Kernan can dress. Puts gusto into it. Pure olive oil. Milly served me that cutlet with a sprig of parsley. Take one Spanish onion. God made food, the devil the cooks. Devilled crab.

—Wife well?

—Quite well, thanks … A cheese sandwich, then. Gorgonzola, have you?

—Yes, sir.

Davy Byrne came forward from the hindbar in tuckstitched shirtsleeves, cleaning his lips with two wipes of his napkin. Herring’s blush. Whose smile upon each feature plays with such and such replete. Too much fat on the parsnips.

—And here’s himself and pepper on him, Nosey Flynn said. Can you give us a good one for the Gold cup?

—I’m off that, Mr Flynn, Davy Byrne answered. I never put anything on a horse.

—You’re right there, Nosey Flynn said.

Mr Bloom ate his strips of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust, pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese. Sips of his wine soothed his palate. Not logwood that. Tastes fuller this weather with the chill off.

Nice quiet bar. Nice piece of wood in that counter. Nicely planed. Like the way it curves there.

—–

The pub is now part of the route followed by those re-enacting Bloom’s journey each year on 16 June (Bloomsday).

Davy Byrne, originally from County Wicklow, bought the pub at 21 Duke Street, Dublin in 1889. Coincidentally Joyce had previously been granted leasehold interest in the lodging rooms above 20 and 21 Duke Street. The pub has been famously visited by many literary and political figures including Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan, Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. Byrne retired in 1939 but the pub goes strong to this day.

Jacob Schwartz is also a very interesting character. He practiced as a dentist in New York in the 1920s. By the 1930s he had established Ulysses Bookshop in Bloomsbury, London. He later worked in Paris, London and Brighton. Later among others he acquired manuscripts from Samuel Beckett who referred to the ex-dentist Schwartz as ‘The Great Extractor’.

So it looks like Davy Byrne attempted to sell his book to Bernard Schwartz in London presumably in the early to mid 1930s. Unlike in the UK and the US, Ulysses was never banned in Ireland. It has even been suggested that the copy could have come to Byrne directly from Joyce. Unfortunately we have nothing further material in our collection to tell us more.

So Jake the Dentist didn’t get the copy of the book he paid three pounds for. Or Byrne didn’t get payment for the book if this is an unpaid invoice. The mystery continues but one thing is for sure. It will move to a new and prestigious home when The Postal Museum opens in 2016.

Further sources for this blog:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davy_Byrne%27s_pub
http://www.davybyrnes.com/history/
http://ashrarebooks.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/the-great-extractor/
http://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/06/books/ed-the-collector-jake-the-dentist-and-beckett-a-tale-that-ends-in-texas.html

-Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue & Project Manager