Category Archives: Ironbridge

Valentine’s at Blists Hill

In February, BPMA will be displaying a small selection of Valentine’s cards at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge. These will complement the Victorian Post Office as well as the family activities linked to the cards which will take place in the Goods Shed on the site from Saturday 11th to Sunday 19th February.

A selection of cards we may use for the display if they are in adequate condition.

A selection of cards we may use for the display if they are in adequate condition.

Despite the display being relatively small and only open for just over a week, a lot of planning and preparation is needed to make sure the items chosen are going to be interesting to the public, easy to transport and that they will be safe and secure while on the site.

This week, three of us visited Blists Hill in order to take some measurements in readiness for the arrival of the cards in February. This meant my first use of a hygrometer (sadly not the whirling variety) to test relative humidity in the display area, tests for light and UV, and taking some simpler length and width measurements of the room so that the appropriately sized case can be ordered.

Exhibitions Officer Dominique Bignall and Head of Heritage Chris Taft check levels in the Museum of the Post Office in the Community while we are on site.

Exhibitions Officer Dominique Bignall and Head of Heritage Chris Taft check levels in the Museum of the Post Office in the Community while we are on site.

It also gave us the opportunity to do some tests in the Museum of the Post Office in Community and determine which items might need to be replaced or refreshed to give them a rest from being on display.

The Post Office at Blists Hill.

The Post Office at Blists Hill.

Visits like these are really important to make sure we get more of our collection seen by more people. If you are in the area between 11 and 19 February, pop in and see the display – some unexpected interpretations of Valentine’s will be on show – and come and make a card of your own in the Goods Shed!

- Laura Dixon, Learning Officer (Events & Outreach)

The Post Office in the Community

Part of today’s episode of The Peoples Post on BBC Radio 4 was recorded at Blists Hill Victorian Town, in Shropshire. It is there back in 2009 that a reconstructed late Victorian Post Office was opened in partnership with The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA). The office itself is part of the much larger site, re-creating life in late Victorian England. On the upper floor of the office however is a much more modern exhibit for visitors. In this specially constructed gallery space is the Museum of the Post Office in the Community. The Museum was created by the BPMA and designed to tell the story of the vital role post offices have played throughout history and as a centre point of communities.

Inside the reconstructed late Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill (Photo courtesy: Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust).

Inside the reconstructed late Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill (Photo courtesy: Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust).

For towns such as Blists Hill the post office would have been a very important focal point of the community; a place not only where postal business would have taken place but also a centre for gossip and the arrival of news.

When the BPMA got the opportunity to develop a museum on this site the story of the Post Office and its community role was the obvious one to take. The exhibition space was divided down into four sections, each exploring a different aspect of the community story.

In the first part the exhibition looks at the rise and fall of the different services offered by post offices and places them in a chronology alongside other events in postal history. The next section looks at delivery methods and includes a display of the differing postal caps used throughout history, part of the iconic uniform of the postal worker. Also on display is one of the BPMA’s five-wheeled cycles, the Hen and Chicks, this remarkable machine was introduced in the 1880s when the post office took on the parcels post and it continues to catch the imagination of the visitor.

The Hen and Chicks on display at the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

The Hen and Chicks on display at the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

The third part of the museum looks at the letter box and how it has developed, brought about by the need to improve methods of using the postal service following the success of postal reform. In this section there is a rare survivor of a very early letter box, a green and gold, highly decorative roadside letter box. The final section looks at changing times and explores the more recent history of the post office and especially how that story fits with the community role.

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is proving to be an interesting method of allowing visitors to the popular Blists Hill site to explore in depth the history of something very familiar and something still at the heart of many communities.

- Chris Taft, Curator

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage A Community Hub. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.

Museum of the Post Office in the Community Receives Accreditation

by Chris Taft, Curator

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community, which is managed by The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA), has been awarded full Accreditation status. The Museum is situated on the Blists Hill Victorian Town site, at Ironbridge near Telford. This is a major achievement for the BPMA and one which all involved should feel justly proud of. The Museum is now an Accredited Museum, this is a reflection of the fact that the museum and its collections are cared for and the organisation governed to national standards set by the government agency for museums, the Museums Libraries and Archives council (MLA).

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge

To become an Accredited Museum applicants must demonstrate good practice across a number of areas including access to the collections, visitor services, collections management and documentation, museum governance and good forward planning. The BPMA had to demonstrate it met these standards when applying to the scheme and the application was followed up by two site visits, one to Freeling House where the BPMA are based and one to the Museum at Blists Hill. The assessor looks closely at the management of the museum and ensures staff have a good awareness of best practice and use this when managing the collections. The application is then studied and considered by a panel made up of experience museum professionals. Ultimately the panel can award provisional status and recommend areas for improvement to allow full Accreditation to be achieved but for the BPMA the panel agreed that full Accreditation could be awarded. This is not something all museums can achieve.

For those that have been with us at the BPMA since the closure of the National Postal Museum this achievement comes on the back of something started back then. When the Museum closed it had provisional Registration status (Registration was the forerunner of Accreditation). This it held till earlier this year. Until the opening of the Museum of the Post office in the Community in October 2009 the BPMA were unable to demonstrate full achievement of the standard as it did not have the public facing museum. The Museum at Blists Hill answered this and it is through this site the Accreditation has been achieved.

The BPMA can use this achievement to help support funding applications and to show to potential sponsors that it can run an Accredited Museum.

Since its opening in October 2009 the Museum has proved very successful with over 100,000 visitors going through the door. Into 2011 the BPMA plans to capitalise on Accreditation and seek ways of running events in partnership with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust who runs Blists Hill. The BPMA also plans to run some evaluation of the exhibition and seek ways to better promote the Museum.

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community – official launch

On 4th December 2009, BPMA staff and guests made their way up to Blists Hill for the official launch of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

Among the guests were David Wright, MP for Telford, and members of the local postal history society.

Guests enjoy festive food and mulled wine before the speeches

Guests enjoy festive food and mulled wine before the speeches

Roger Green from Royal Mail using a special cancellation mark to commemorate the occasion.

Roger Green from Royal Mail using a special cancellation mark to commemorate the occasion.

The event started with mulled wine and speeches, and the opportunity to send a special cover marking the occasion. This was followed by tours of the Blists Hill site, and BPMA curator Chris Taft then gave more detailed tours of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

Speeches from Adrian Steel (BPMA Director), Barrie Williams (Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Chairman of Trustees), and Brian Goodey (BPMA Chairman of Trustees).

Speeches from Adrian Steel (BPMA Director), Barrie Williams (Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Chairman of Trustees), and Brian Goodey (BPMA Chairman of Trustees).

Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust staff give tours of the Blists Hill site.

Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust staff give tours of the Blists Hill site.

Chris Taft gives tours of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

Chris Taft gives tours of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

We were also joined by Colin and Margaret Bedford, members of the March Veteran and Vintage Cycle Club, who came dressed as a period postman and postwoman, complete with Hen & Chicks and parcels!

Colin and Maragret Bedford dressed as a Victorian postman and postwoman, with the Hen & Chicks pentacycle.

Colin and Maragret Bedford

Colin Bedford riding his Hen & Chicks outside the Blists Hill Post Office

Colin Bedford riding his Hen & Chicks outside the Blists Hill Post Office

The launch was a success, and the exhibition will now be open permanently to the public. To find out more please go to http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/visiting/ironbridge

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community opens

After several years work by our Curatorial team, The Museum of the Post Office in the Community opened to the public yesterday. The launch of the Museum was the final stage in our project at Blists Hill Victorian Town, which saw the BPMA collaborate with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust to build a replica Victorian Post Office and a permanent exhibition exploring the history of the British postal service.

The replica Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill. The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is located above the post office.

The replica Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill. The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is located above the Post Office.

You can read all about the process of the project on this blog or by visiting our website. And for those unable to visit Blists Hills we have also produced an online version of the Post Office in the Community exhibition.

Below are some photos of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community, which is located above the Blists Hill Post Office.

The stairwell leading up to The Post Office in the Community exhibition

The stairwell leading up to The Post Office in the Community exhibition

The Counter Services display with GPO2 model and Hen & Chicks

The Counter Services display with GPO2 model and Hen & Chicks

Counter Services display

Counter Services display

Counter Services display with BSA Bantam motorcycle

Counter Services display with BSA Bantam motorcycle

Delivering the Mail display

Delivering the Mail display

Letter Boxes display

Letter Boxes display

The Hen & Chicks pentacycle, which was trailed for mail delivery in Horsham, Sussex in 1882

The Hen & Chicks pentacycle, which was trailed for mail delivery in Horsham, Sussex in 1882

Changing Times display

Changing Times display

Autumn Stampex 2009

The recreated Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill

The recreated Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill

This year’s Autumn Stampex starts next Wednesday and if you’re going make sure you look out for the BPMA. There will be displays on our re-created Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill, Ironbridge, as well as London 2010: Festival of Stamps. You will also be able to find a stall run by the Friends of the BPMA amongst the dealers. The Friends will be selling some of the products available in our Shop and can give you general information about BPMA activities and events. See you there!

Blists Hill: Construction has started!

by Alison Norris, Ironbridge Project Assistant

Exhibition building work has now started above the Post Office at Blists Hill, which signals the start of the most exciting part of the project as everything comes together.

It is anticipated that the BPMA curatorial staff will be able to start placing objects within their new display cases at the end of the month.

During a recent BPMA visit to the workshops of fit-out contractors the Hub, we saw a number of prototypes of elements of the exhibition. In particular we saw a large display case which will house a model of the GPO3 (Mobile Post Office), and also a wall panel which has to have various removable sections to allow for access to windows and the hanging of images and text panels.

Prototype of wall display panel

Prototype of wall display panel

Prototype display case for Blists Hill

Prototype display case for GPO3 mobile post office model

The BPMA, the Hub, and the design team also made a site visit at the end of August before construction started to iron out any final decisions on elements such as lighting and health and safety. On the day we were pleased to see large queues of people waiting to get in to the site – which bodes well for lots of people seeing our exhibition when it opens!

Queues to get in to Blists Hill

Queues to get in to Blists Hill

Work has also begun between Blists Hill staff and the BPMA on events that the BPMA can be involved with in the future. The two largest events in the Blists Hill calendar are Queen Victoria’s 81st birthday celebrations in May, and weekend events in the lead up to Christmas.

Please see the July blog update for more information on how to get there.

Exhibition Interactive

Three Penfolds pillar boxes in the collection of the BPMA

Three Penfolds pillar boxes in the collection of the BPMA

As part of the exhibition, an interactive section has been developed based around Penfold pillar boxes. Through a series of turning paddles, the interactive will show the visitor that the basic design of the Penfold did not change over time, but the arrangement of the key elements did.

The photograph left shows three Penfold pillar boxes in the BPMA collection, each with four elements in their design that changed position. These are the royal coat of arms, the posting aperture, the collection plate, and the ‘VR’ symbol of Victoria Regina. The visitor will be able to choose where they think each of these elements is best placed on a Penfold by turning the paddles.

The BPMA at Blists Hill – July update

by Alison Norris, Ironbridge Project Assistant

Following a great deal of work by BPMA staff, the contemporary BPMA museum at Blists Hill Victorian town, Shropshire is due to open in late September. Blists Hill is one of ten sites run by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (IGMT), and receives around 200,000 visitors a year. This means that the BPMA will now be able to show parts of its unique collection to a great many more people.

The Blists Hill Post Office

The Blists Hill Post Office

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community can be found above the Blists Hill Victorian Post Office on Canal Street. Canal Street was carefully constructed earlier this year, with some buildings being moved brick by brick from original locations, others recreated using the IGMT archive, and each has been fitted out to show a selection of trades, industries and professions from the Victorian era. Many of these buildings are manned by staff in period costume that interpret the contents and demonstrate their functions.

The BPMA Museum of the Post Office in the Community

The museum will be split in to four different sections, each exploring a different theme around the Post Office in the Community.

As well as images and objects, there will also be three audio booths throughout the museum. In each booth, visitors will be able to listen to many different types of people who have either worked at, or used the Post Office, and their thoughts on how it has affected them and those around them.

Post Office Counter Services

A timeline will tell the story of the wide range of services that have been offered over the counter at the Post Office. It will cover services such as pensions, Postal Orders, National Savings Bank, telegrams, telephones and TV licences. A display case will hold objects such as home safes, Post Office Savings Bank books and an early telegram, all of which will help bring depth to the timeline.

Delivering the Mail

The story of the delivery of mail in the community will be made up of three sub-sections. These will cover the local ‘postie’ and their role in the community, delivery equipment such as carts and cycles, and the Post Bus service. 

The Letter Carrier

This section will outline the history of the delivery of letters in the community and the evolution of the letter carrier of the early 18th century to the postman / woman of today. A display of hats will demonstrate changes that took place in the uniforms of letter carriers and postmen.

Delivery Equipment

The Hen & Chicks is one of the key objects on display, and will be in this section. Visitors will also be able to see a BSA Bantam motorcycle, fondly remembered by many messenger boys that rode them. More modern electric vehicle trials by Royal Mail will also be looked at. 

Stour Valley Post Bus

Stour Valley Post Bus

The Post Bus

Introduced in 1967, the Post Bus can provide a vital service to rural communities. Here, its influence and decline will be explored.

Letter Boxes

In this section visitors will be able to see a number of types of letter boxes, all of which have, or still do, provide an important service to the community. When pillar boxes were introduced in 1852, they provided convenient and easy posting facilities but only served large towns and cities. In 1857 a cheaper type of box was introduced to serve more rural communities, this was called the wall box.  Lamp boxes were originally introduced in 1896 in fashionable London squares for residents who wanted late night posting facilities but are now more commonly seen in rural areas.

Pillar Box. Moor Park, Hertfordshire

Pillar Box. Moor Park, Hertfordshire

Changing Times

The final section will conclude the exhibition by telling the story of the UK postal service today and the loss of Royal Mail’s monopoly and rise of competitor mail companies.

Building the Exhibition

Following a competitive tender process, the BPMA appointed the Hub as the fit-out contractors for the Blists Hill exhibition.

Based in Birmingham, the Hub was established four years ago and has been involved in a number of well-known exhibitions and projects. Most recently they have worked on elements of the Ceramics Galleries at the V&A, which will open in September 2009.

Further information and how to get there

Blists Hill is part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust. The Ironbridge Gorge is on the River Severn, 5 miles (8km) south of Telford town centre in Shropshire.

Take junction 4 from the M54. Follow brown and white signs to Ironbridge Gorge.

Once on the A442 follow signs for Blists Hill Museums.

Please remember that the BPMA exhibition will not be opening until late September 2009.

Contact details

For more information on directions, or the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust, please go to www.ironbridge.org.uk

To find out more about the exhibition itself, please visit our website www.postalheritage.org.uk/ironbridge. Or contact Alison Norris (Ironbridge Project Assistant) at alison.norris@postalheritage.org.uk or 020 7239 5174.

The BPMA at Blists Hill, Shropshire

by Alison Norris, Ironbridge Project Assistant
Canal Street

Canal Street

Over the last year the BPMA has been working with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust (IGMT) on developing a replica Victorian Post Office and contemporary exhibition, The Post Office in the Community, at the Blists Hill Victorian Town site in Shropshire.

In 2008 the BPMA and IGMT were awarded a £126k grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Wolfson Foundation to help fund the joint venture.

Blists Hill Post Office

Blists Hill Post Office

Blists Hill is a popular visitor attraction set in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage site, the birth place of the Industrial Revolution. It is one of ten sites run by the IGMT, and over the past few months has undertaken a huge new development project, building an entire new street from scratch. This street, Canal Street, opened to the public on 4th April 2009 and features a Drapers, Fried Fish Dealers (they were not called Fish & Chip shops until later!), Sweet Shop, Photographers and the Blists Hill Post Office. A new artisans’ quarter has also been recreated with a Plasterer, Tinsmith and Plumber all practising traditional ways of working. Other streets and shops already existed on the site, and include a Bakers, Bank, Chemist and Printers. Each of the businesses are reconstructed to appear as they might have done in the late Victorian or Edwardian period, and traditional goods are sold by costumed staff from the premises. These demonstrators are also able to answer any questions visitors may have both about the various shops and life between 1890 and 1910.

Goods for sale in the stationers

Goods for sale in the stationers

All of the buildings and shop interiors on Canal Street have been carefully researched to ensure that they represent authentic buildings from the local area. The Royal Mail Archive holds a file on the Post Office that was once in Shifnal, a nearby market town. This file has been used to help recreate the Blists Hill Post Office, which will also share its premises with a stationers, as was common practice for the time .

Attention to detail has been paramount throughout the Canal Street project, and has been enthusiastically undertaken by Michael Vanns, Interpretation Project Manager. Bricks have been specially made, as have window frames and other architectural features. Period shop fittings have been sourced from around the country, and the Post Office sorting office will soon have a de-accessioned sorting frame, donated from the BPMA museum collection.

The Blists Hill Postmaster

The Blists Hill Postmaster

As well as the new Postmaster, a Postman will also be welcomed to Blists Hill. This ‘postie’ will be based on a real worker identified from the records of The Royal Mail Archive, and his uniform will be created using references from both the Archive and the BPMA museum collection.

The Post Office in the Community

Above the Blists Hill Post Office there will be a contemporary exhibition produced by the BPMA, which will examine the role of the Post Office in the community. Moving away from the Victorian era, this will be a contemporary exhibition looking at all periods of history, and will use many objects from the extensive BPMA collection. This exhibition will broadly look at four different areas: Counter Services Over Time, Delivering the Mail, Letter Boxes and Changing Times. The exhibition will open later in 2009.

Hen & Chicks, circa 1882

Hen & Chicks, circa 1882

This will be a unique opportunity to see so many pieces from the BPMA collection in one place. These will include a Hen & Chicks centre-cycle, originally invented and patented by Edward Burstow, an architect from Horsham, Sussex in 1882. Postal officials at Horsham tried out these cycles for both postal and telegraph delivery work. Although the centre-cycle did not prove popular elsewhere, the Horsham postal workers wrote a letter of appreciation to Mr Burstow, praising the cycle.

The exhibition promises to be a unique addition to Canal Street, offering visitors a greater insight to the effect the Post Office has had on our communities during its history.

Further information

If you would like any further information about the Blists Hill Post Office or the forthcoming BPMA exhibition, please contact Alison Norris, Ironbridge Project Assistant, on 0207 239 5174 or alison.norris@postalheritage.org.uk.

Pioneers of the Industrial Revolution

Pioneers of the Industrial Revolution

Pioneers of the Industrial Revolution

On 31st March graphic designer Brian Webb will be speaking at the BPMA about Royal Mail’s latest stamp issue Pioneers of the Industrial Revolution. Brian is the Director of Webb and Webb, who have designed these and many other stamps for Royal Mail.

Pioneers of the Industrial Revolution celebrates the work of eight individuals whose innovations and inventions changed society forever:

Brian Webb’s talk ties in with the development of a reconstructed Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill Victorian Village by the BPMA and the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust.

For further information on the talk Pioneers of the Industrial Revolution, and for booking details, please visit the event page.