Category Archives: Exhibitions

Last Post: Remembering the First World War

The First World War was a major turning point in the history of the Post Office. To mark the year of the centenary, our First World War exhibition, Last Post, is now open at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums group.

The exhibition explores the contribution of millions of people to wartime communication and the far reaching role of thePost Office on both the battlefield and the home front.

Field Post Office

Field Post Office

An Oxo tin among other things

Demonstrating the huge variety of items that could be sent through the post in wartime, you can see on display an OXO tin posted home from the fighting front by William Cox, a former Post Office worker. He posted the OXO tin back to his brother and sister, containing a button from the tunic of a fallen soldier and a piece of shrapnel.

Cox's OXO Tin

OXO tin sent home by Cox

Battlefield will and a favourite plant

You can also view the story of Private Leonard Eldridge of the 8th London Regiment (The Post Office Rifles). Soldiers were encouraged to write battlefield wills whilst on the Front. Private Eldridge’s will is on display in the exhibition.

Eldridge writes: ‘everything I possess except the aspadastras plant of mine, I give to you. The plant, I, with my last wish, leave it, and must be given to, Miss Florence Smith… She must be treated in my absence as my lover with every respect.’

Post Office Rifles

8th London Regiment – The Post Office Rifles

Wilfred Owen

Also on display in the exhibition are two original poems written by local Shropshire-born First World War officer and poet Wilfred Owen, kindly lent to us for the exhibition by The British Library.

‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, perhaps Owen’s most iconic poem, is on display. The poem was written in October 1917 and revised a few months later, in early 1918. Owen sent the poem to his mother, Susan Owen, with the message: ‘Here is a gas poem done yesterday, (which is not private, but not final).’

Field Post Box

Soldiers waiting for post

We also fittingly have on display Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘The Letter’. The poem depicts a soldier writing a letter to his wife back home. Whilst writing the letter, the soldier is fatally hit, and a comrade finishes the letter off for him.

The poem highlights the importance of letter writing to soldiers and also the danger present at all times in the trenches. It also illustrates that the contents of letters home may not have accurately depicted the conditions of everyday life for soldiers.

 

The exhibition is open Monday to Friday, until 27th March 2015 and entrance is free.

If you are unable to visit the exhibition in person, we have launched a simultaneous online exhibition in partnership with the Google Cultural Institute.

Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

From research to panel: how my research made its way to the Last Post

Victoria Davis is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD Student who is conducting her research with the BPMA’s collections. In her first blog post for us, she talks about translating her research to two new panels for the Last Post exhibition. Last Post opens up this Friday in Ironbridge at the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron.

History PhDs have traditionally been non-collaborative based so the opportunity to work with the archive and gain practical experience within the heritage sector is something I relish. Moreover, given the First World War centenary fast approaching, it seemed fitting to be bringing the Post Office’s role during the war to the public eye.

Lieutenant-General Sir Pratap Singh and the Rajah of Ratlam, at Sir Douglas Haig’s Chateau in Montreuil, 17th June 1916. © IWM (Q 692)

Lieutenant-General Sir Pratap Singh and the Rajah of Ratlam,
at Sir Douglas Haig’s Chateau in Montreuil, 17th June 1916, as seen in Last Post panel. © IWM (Q 692)

The brief from the HLF was open to interpretation with the theme being stories of empire during the war to be displayed on two new pop-up exhibition panels. In an initial meeting, Sally (Learning Officer), Dominique (Exhibitions Officer) and I quickly came to the conclusion of ‘how long is a piece of string?’ The Post Office is a seemingly ubiquitous but often overlooked institution and during the war this was no different. With limited copy available – each panel containing a maximum of 300 words of text – the content would be something the general public could relate to. Panel one comprised the process of mail reaching the front lines.

Section of panel that Victoria contributed to for the Last Post.

Section of panel that Victoria contributed to for the Last Post.

Panel two considered the problems of shipping mail to the empire including the use of coded memos.

Section of panel on Delivering mail to the Empire.

Section of panel on Delivering mail to the Empire with research by Victoria.

What I love most about research is the jigsaw puzzle element, of just choosing documents to see what they offer and this project was no different. I was given free rein to find the most suitable sources for the two panels and the somewhat tricky task of finding an image that linked war, post and empire, in a timeframe of a mere six working days fitted in around my own research. The BPMA has a wealth of documents and I quickly established using the catalogue how much related to the transportation of mail. Armed with my list of catalogue references, I called up those that appeared to the most relevant. This is akin to a game of Russian roulette – you are never quite sure what will happen. Some were less than informative, the shipping contracts had little reference to the routes and problems faced. Others contained vast amounts of detailed information and statistics relating to mail services between 1914 and 1919. Whilst detailed sources are great, I did not have the space of thousands of words to do so in (unlike a thesis) and managed to contain the research to 5000 words. This may seem small – less than half a thesis chapter – but producing concise text to be used as copy with limited editing was a hard task.  Newspapers and periodicals were delivered only a mere 24 hours after publication at the height of the war!

My favourite two documents were POST 33/1211A and POST 56/5. The former contains statistic lists showing the amount of mail posted to the front lines between 1914 and 1919. Shamefully, I had never considered the volume of mail that the Army Postal Service handled. Moreover, I never thought stats would excite me but I spent one evening making a spreadsheet to show the weekly, monthly and yearly averages.

Map of Postal services in the Calais area, March 1918 (POST 56/5).

Map of Postal services in the Calais area, March 1918 (POST 56/5).

Between 1st October and 31st December of 1914, 1.2 million letters were delivered to troops (on top of the 3,477,800,000 letters and 132,700,000 parcels being handled as normal mail in 1914[1]).  POST 56/5 is a leather bound volume offering a detailed history of the Army Postal Service including hand drawn maps of how post was transferred once in France, complete with delivery times and mode of transport. Once my research had been emailed over, my part of the process had finished. I saw one version of the approved panel copy to double check facts and figures but the look, design and images used were to be a surprise. I felt quite nervous walking into the V&A that Friday evening, not knowing what to the expect. Seeing the panels and the full exhibition was a surreal moment. It was my research being read by the general public, something I will not forget. I am thankful that the BPMA gave me the opportunity and keeping me involved from start to finish. PhD students rarely see their research used publicly and it has spurred me on to widen the audience of my thesis research. -Victoria Davis, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD Student


[1]House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1913-1914 [Cd. 7573] Postmaster General Report of 1913-1914 p.1

Centenary of the introduction of Postage Dues

2014 marks the centenary of postage due stamps first being introduced by the Post Office. Uncollected revenue has always been a concern of the Post Office. If an item was posted without sufficient prepayment it was surcharged and the excess collected by the postman on delivery. However the system in place originally was complicated and open to abuse. In March 1912 a conference looked at possible reforms.

1911 Sketch design for the coupon for the Post Office Savings Bank with a Downey Head example

The conference proposed the introduction of “Postage Due” labels – to be affixed to all mail that had not been fully paid for. Postage Due labels would be accounted for in the same way as postage stamps and therefore a direct check could be maintained on each item of mail.

George W. Eve, the bookplate designer, was invited to create a design along the lines of existing postage due labels of other countries, without the monarch’s head.

1911 Sketch design for the coupon for the Post Office Savings Bank with a Downey Head example (above). Both designed by George Eve.

1911 Sketch design for the coupon for the Post Office Savings Bank with a Downey Head example (above). Both designed by George Eve.

Denominations

There were to be four denominations of Postage Due labels (½d, 1d, 2d, and 5d) initially, all in the same design and in landscape format. Eve was offered, and accepted, a fee of 30 guineas (£31 10s) to undertake this work. He produced a design in the style of a bookplate, using leaves and national symbols, and the words POSTAGE DUE.

Further denominations were added later, with higher values being used to collect customs dues. For these the wording was therefore changed to TO PAY.

14 April 1914 Post Office notice for the introduction of Postage Due labels

14 April 1914 Post Office notice for the introduction of Postage Due labels

Different watermarked paper and different colours were used over the years. Despite changes in the colours and increases in the denominations, it is significant that George Eve’s design of Postage Due labels remained the same for over 50 years, until 1970.

2014 marks the centenary of the introduction of Postage Due labels.  Their use ceased in 2000.

The BPMA will be introducing a new commemorative stamp issue to its Post & Go machine at Freeling House on Wednesday 19 February 2014 to mark the centenary of the introduction of Postage Due labels. These will be available until Saturday 5 April 2014.

1902 Design for the Lord Mayor’s invitation

Earlier examples of illustrations by George Eve. 1902 Design for the Lord Mayor’s invitation.

Both the existing Machin and the Union Flag designs will bear the underprint “The B.P.M.A./ Postage Due 1914”.  A limited number of BPMA specific first day covers will be available for purchase both at Freeling House and through the online shop.

The new commemorative stamp issue will also be marked through a small two panel display in the BPMA’s Search Room Foyer, from Wednesday 19 February until Saturday 5 April.

BPMA at the V&A – First World War: Stories of the Empire event

This Friday (24 January), from 6-9pm, the BPMA are taking part in the free drop-in event: First World War: Stories of the Empire. The event has been organised by the Heritage Lottery Fund in collaboration with the V&A and is being held at the V&A’s Sackler Gallery.

A large number of museums and organisations are taking part with a variety of engaging  stands and displays. The purpose of the evening is to encourage greater understanding of the First World War and the role of Black and Asian soldiers from the Empire.

Lieutenant-General Sir Pratap Singh and the Rajah of Ratlam, at Sir Douglas Haig’s Chateau in Montreuil, 17th June 1916 © IWM (Q 692)

Lieutenant-General Sir Pratap Singh and the Rajah of Ratlam, at Sir Douglas Haig’s Chateau in Montreuil, 17th June 1916 © IWM (Q 692)

Volumes of mail in the First World War were huge. Exceptional organisation and logistical control was required to ensure mail reached the front lines as quickly as possible. From October to December 1914 alone, over 1.2 million parcels were sent to the troops. All troops were able to send letters home free of charge.

Australian mail storage in Kew (POST 56/6)

Australian mail storage in Kew (POST 56/6)

The BPMA stand will consist of the touring version of Last Post: Remembering the First World War, plus two new additional panels focusing on the wider delivery of mail across the world during the First World War. Panel research for the new panels was undertaken by AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD student Victoria Davis. Additional research has been completed by Dr Pete Sutton. We will have plenty of other material available on the night and also have a number of First World War handling items available for visitors.

The shipping of mails (POST 56/6)

The shipping of mails (POST 56/6)

The evening is a drop-in event and begins with a drinks reception at 6pm, open to all. Activities and stands will be available throughout the evening. A panel discussion begins in the auditorium at 7.45pm.

The BPMA stand will be situated downstairs in the V&A Sackler Centre, directly behind the Sackler Centre Reception desk.  We look forward to seeing you on the night!

Check out our Flickr set on the First World War. We will be updating it regularly with images from our archive relating to postal history and the war.

-Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Two BPMA touring exhibitions open in Aberystwyth

Two of our touring exhibitions (Designs on Delivery and The Post Office in Pictures) are both on display at Aberystwyth Arts Centre starting tomorrow (18 January) until early March.

Designs on Delivery

Design played a crucial role in promoting social progress and technological change across Britain between 1930 and 1960. General Post Office (GPO) posters were commissioned in the context of specific channels of communication. Posters were designed for Post Office walls, pillar boxes and transport vehicles.

POST1103184

Post your letters before noon, Jan Lewitt and George Him, 1941 (POST 110/3184).

The exhibition posters offer a variety of visual language adopted to meet these different needs. GPO posters included work by those associated with both fine art and graphic design, demonstrating the blurring of the boundaries between high art and popular culture that poster design encouraged.

This exhibition showcases 25 of the best of these posters.

POST110_3177

Air Mail Routes, Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1937 (POST 110/3177) .

The Post Office in Pictures

The Post Office in Pictures is an exhibition showcasing a selection of inspiring images sourced from the BPMA’s vast collections.

Photography was one of the key tools used by the GPO PR Department (est. 1934) to reach and engage with the general public. In order to supply its fledgling Post Office Magazine with professionally-produced photographs, members of the GPO Photographic Unit began to accompany the magazine’s journalists.

Down Wapping Way, 1935 (POST 118/252).

Down Wapping Way, 1935 (POST 118/252).

The exhibition showcases 30 outstanding photographs from the 1930’s to the 1980’s. Also available to read alongside the exhibitions will be copies of the Post Office Magazines, from which many of these photographs are drawn.

The Post Office in Pictures and Designs on Delivery both open on Saturday 18 January at Aberystwyth Arts Centre and run until Saturday 8 March. Entry is free of charge and open to all.

Please let us know if you do visit the exhibitions, on dominique.gardner@postalheritage.org.uk, 0207 354 7287, or @postalheritage. We hope you enjoy your visit!

– Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Christmas through the post

With only a few days left until Christmas Day we have been collaborating on an exciting new exhibition that explores the fundamental importance of the post at Christmas time.

Our festive exhibition, Christmas through the post, has been developed in collaboration with Beverley Art Gallery. The exhibition, now on display at Beverley Art Gallery, explores the practise of sending post at Christmas time.

Christmas advance posting notification c.1902

Christmas advance posting notification c.1902

Christmas has been celebrated through the post for 170 years. The first known Christmas card was commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843, in the same year as Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’, was published. The BPMA holds one of Cole’s 1843 cards in its collection.

Christmas through the post at Beverley Art Gallery reveals Christmas postal history through a series of images drawn from the collections of the BPMA. On display are iconic images of ‘Post Early for Christmas’ posters and images of Victorian Christmas cards within the BPMA collection.

Exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery

Exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery

Promoting early posting for Christmas is the longest running campaign in Royal Mail’s history. The images in the exhibition are taken from the iconic GPO advertising poster collection, held at the BPMA, illustrating the promotion of the services offered by the GPO and the campaign to encourage people to ‘Post Early for Christmas’. The images on display are testament to the breadth and variety of designs that have been used in the ‘Post Early’ campaign, for over 100 years.

Also on display are a small selection of Victorian Christmas cards- illustrating the naturalistic and often pagan designs of the early cards, and their very small size, compared to today’s cards. We also have on display Christmas stamp artwork facsimiles illustrating the designs and creativity of the Christmas stamps and the festive designs by children. Christmas stamps were only introduced in 1966 but remain the most popular stamp sets sold throughout the year. Following the first Christmas stamps in 1966, special Christmas stamps have continued to be issued every year- with designs of either a religious or a secular nature (largely alternating between the two).

DSC_3125

Festive worksheets and activities will be available to accompany the exhibition at Beverley Art Gallery. You can also download the BPMA children’s worksheet designed by Katy Holmes – http://www.katypotaty.co.uk.

Children undertake postal themed activities at Beverley Art Gallery

Children undertake postal themed activities at Beverley Art Gallery

If you are unable to make it to Beverley to see the exhibition, we are very pleased to offer here an alternative online Christmas exhibition - our second online exhibition in collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute.

An exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery features the first Christmas stamp designed by children.

An exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery features the first Christmas stamp designed by children.

Christmas through the post is on at Beverley Art Gallery until 8 February.

Beverley Art Gallery
Treasure House
Champney Road
Beverley
East Riding
HU17 8HE

Entry: Free

For more information on any of our exhibitions- we have four available for free hire- please contact Dominique on dominique.gardner@postalheritage.org.uk or on 0207 354 7287.

A very happy Christmas from everyone here at the BPMA!

- Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

World War I exhibition on tour

Last Post: Remembering the First World War, an exhibition curated by the BPMA and the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms, is once again on tour. The exhibition explores the vital role played by the Post Office during the First World War, telling the stories of postal workers at war and on the Home Front, and examining the essential role played by postal communications.

Last Post is currently on display at two venues, the Museum of Army Flying, Hampshire, and the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in Fife, Scotland. Later this year it will travel to the Guildhall Library, London, and Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.

Telegraph lines in the trenches. (POST 56/6)

Telegraph lines in the trenches. (POST 56/6)

The Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum is a particularly apt venue for this exhibition on wartime communications. While Andrew Carnegie is best known for using his huge fortune to build libraries and cultural venues, and found the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in his early years he worked as a telegraph messenger.

At the aged of 13 Carnegie emigrated from Scotland to Pennsylvania with his family, securing a job two years later as a telegraph messenger boy at the Ohio Telegraph Company. Carnegie was quickly promoted to telegraph operator, but left aged 18 to work at the Pennsylvania Rail Road Company. By the time he was 20 Carnegie was investing in railway companies and learning about how they were managed; he was later to become rich through investments in the oil and steel industries.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries telegraphy was an important – and the fastest – means of communication, and Post Office telegraphists were vital to wartime communications. Last Post: Remembering the First World War examines the impact of telegraphy on the war, and includes rarely-seen images of frontline telecommunications from the BPMA and Imperial War Museum’s collections.

Mobile telegraph machine. (POST 56/6)

Mobile telegraph machine. (POST 56/6)

Visit our website to see the tour dates for Last Post: Remembering the First World War.

Andrew Carnegie’s life was commemorated on a United States postage stamp in 1960 – see it on Flickr.

The Great Train Robbery exhibition on tour

On the weekend of 10-11 August, the BPMA took part in the Moving the Mail weekend at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre. We also mounted our new touring exhibition The Great Train Robbery, the aftermath and the investigations: A Story from the Archive.

The exhibition was particularly appropriate as it was nearly 50 years to the day since the robbery had occurred – on 8 August 1963; the robbery had also taken place very close to the site of Buckinghamshire Railway Centre. Many visitors engaged with the exhibition, looking through facsimiles of files held at the BPMA relating to the investigation carried out by the Post Office Investigation Branch in the wake of the robbery. Files included observation reports, mugshot images of suspects, and images of the interior of the suspects’ hideaway Leatherslade Farm.

The public looking at the exhibition.

The public looking at the exhibition.

We met many visitors who had direct memories of the night of the robbery- from the Travelling Post Office (TPO) workers who had waited in vain for the hijacked train, to policemen stationed at Aylesbury – and to the locals who lived through the search and investigation in the days that followed. There were lots of other events happening over the weekend too: Postman Pat visited and was clearly impressed with our exhibition! There were also rides on steam trains and the opportunity to see inside a TPO carriage. Our Senior Curator, Julian Stray, was amongst those giving talks; there is a chance to hear his horse-drawn mails talk again on Thursday 19 September, 7pm, at the Phoenix Centre.

Postman Pat visits the exhibition.

Postman Pat visits the exhibition.

Our thanks go to Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, particularly Cyril Parsons and Sheila Lobley.

- Emma Harper, Curator and Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

The Great Train Robbery exhibition is now on tour and can shortly be seen at various venues across the country. It is also available for free hire. Please contact Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer, for more information, on 0207 354 7287 or at dominique.gardner@postalheritage.org.uk.

An online version of our Great Train Robbery exhibition can be seen on the Google Cultural Institute website.

The Great Train Robbery exhibitions

If you visit the Royal Mail Archive today you can see our special exhibition The Great Train Robbery, the aftermath and the Investigations: A Story from the Archive. It marks the 50th anniversary of the robbery, and is presented in conjunction with a talk to given by author Andrew Cook tonight.

Around 3am on 8th August 1963, £2.6 million (£45 million in today’s money) was stolen from a Travelling Post Office (TPO) en route from Glasgow to London. The audacity and violence of the crime, which later became known as The Great Train Robbery, stunned the general public and made international celebrities of some of the robbers.

Ronnie Biggs mugshot. (POST 120/100, pg1-2)

Ronnie Biggs mugshot. (POST 120/100, pg1-2)

Our exhibition tells the story of the investigations that followed, particularly the key role The Post Office Investigations Department (POID) played in helping police uncover the events of the robbery. The exhibition also looks more widely at the effects the robbery had on the role of the TPO and the security changes brought in by the GPO, as well as exploring the history and work of the POID both then and now.

Travelling Post Office. (POST 118/5743)

Travelling Post Office. (POST 118/5743)

Some of the images in the exhibition come from the Thames Valley Police Museum and these show several of the crime scenes, including one of the train carriages.

The carriage following the robbery. © Thames Valley Police

The carriage following the robbery. © Thames Valley Police

Also on display in the Royal Mail Archive today are original objects from our collections which are directly linked to the Great Train Robbery and the POID. After today a touring version of the exhibition will be on show at venues around the country – see our website for further details.

In addition, we have partnered with the Google Cultural Institute (GCI) to make the exhibition available on their website. This enables anyone, anywhere in the world, to discover the truth behind the Great Train Robbery legend through original material from our collection.

The Great Train Robbery exhibition on the Google Cultural Institute website.

The Great Train Robbery exhibition on the Google Cultural Institute website.

The Google Cultural Institute, created in May 2011, is a platform that provides access to works of art, landmarks and archive exhibits with just a few clicks of the mouse. All the content is chosen by Google’s 290 partners, which include museums as well as cultural institutions and associations. The purpose of the Cultural Institute is to preserve and highlight a variety of cultural heritage by providing free and simple access to all visitors through the use of web technology.

- Alison Bean, Web Officer

View our Great Train Robbery exhibition online at the Google Cultural Institute.

Venture to our Museum Store on 24th August to find out more about Mail Rail…

On Saturday 24th August we will be holding an open day at our Museum Store in Debden, just 20 minutes from the hub of Stratford, London.

Behind its unassuming façade, the Museum Store houses a wonderful collection of the BPMA’s larger exhibits, each with a story to tell. As part of the Hidden Treasures 2013 event come and find out about a hidden strand of postal history – the Post Office Underground Railway.

Loading a Mail Rail locomotive at the platform, taken from the tunnel, 1969. (POST 118/CT00357)

Loading a Mail Rail locomotive at the platform, taken from the tunnel, 1969. (POST 118/CT00357)

The Post Office Underground (London) Railway, or Mail Rail as it was later called, opened on 5 December 1927 and ran under the streets of London transporting mail across the capital from sorting offices to railway stations, 22 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Postmen loading bags from conveyor into containers to use on the Post Office underground railway. (POST 118/381)

Postmen loading bags from conveyor into containers to use on the Post Office underground railway. (POST 118/381)

One of many unique features of the system is that it was driverless and as such was hailed by the press as a ‘Robot Railway’. The railway played a pivotal role in the transportation of mail in London and continued, rarely interrupted, until 2003. This was due in no small part to the great skill and knowledge of the engineering and maintenance teams. The BPMA holds three rail cars in its collection, one being the only known complete example of the original car used in 1927.

1930s Mail Rail train after conservation.

1930s Mail Rail train after conservation.

Visitors will have a chance to see these and other objects relating to the railway and hear about the history of the Post Office Underground (London) Railway through our short Curator-led tours. Throughout the day you can also explore the rest of our stored collection, as well as take part in activities, enjoy some refreshments in the form of tea and biscuits, and watch film footage all connected to the fascinating Post Office underground railway (except perhaps the biscuits…).

There will also be a chance to see the BPMA’s most recent touring exhibition on The Great Train Robbery, which took place on a Travelling Post Office 50 years ago this August. The exhibition looks at the events of the robbery itself, as well as the vital role played by the Post Office Investigation Branch in the subsequent investigations, as reflected in our Archive.

Travelling Post Office bag apparatus. (POST 118/5744)

Travelling Post Office bag apparatus. (POST 118/5744)

There’s plenty for all the family and the event is free for all, so please do drop in throughout the day between 10am and 4pm. Full details of the event are available on our website.

- Emma Harper, Curator and Hannah Clipson, Community Learning Officer

Mail Rail: A Photographic Exhibition is currently showing at Royal Mail Archive, Clerkenwell, London. Entry is free.