Category Archives: Morten Collection

Women in the Post Office

Each month we present an item from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication
Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) have been working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

In this final blog looking at the Morten Collection, former Royal Mail worker Alison Nunes looks at women postal workers from the Edward period and compares it her own experiences. Alison came to
Britain from Jamaica in 1964. She
worked as a Postwoman and
supervisor from 1967 until 1993.

“As far as I know, during my time employed in the Post Office, messengers were boys from school. They were the cream of the Post Office staff, well looked-after by too many bosses. Boy messengers were encouraged to do sports and were taken on days out. In return, the Post Office gained a trained work force. They were disciplined in time-keeping and dedication to the job, with built-in promotions.

Girl messengers were the forerunners of women working in the Post Office. They were employed on a temporary basis, on a bit less pay than male staff. Women during my time worked duties equally with men – three shifts per twenty-four hours. Some bosses and trade union representatives (all men) did not want or respect us women workers. They were always critical and looking for ways to get someone sacked. Messengers went out of fashion at the same time as apprenticeships were phased out. Recruitment of women in the Post Office started again in 1965-66. They are now a valued part of the workforce.

Female postal worker delivers to a farm, c. Mid 20th Century

Female postal worker delivers to a farm, c. Mid 20th Century

All women working for the Post Office in my time were all measured for uniforms. When they arrived about one woman out of ten had a fit. The post-woman in the picture looks well-fitted – hat, boots, and all. Mine did not look anything so special even after they were remade. They were never comfortable to wear, being made of a coarse wool material. It was warm in winter but boiling hot in summer, until a cotton one was provided. Boots or shoes were unwearable. The mail pouch/bag full of mail and packets weighed 27lbs! A lot of what I did was enjoyable, and I met lots of people.”

Telegrams

Each month we present an item from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) have been working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

In this blog, former Post Office worker Les Rawle looks back at the telegram. Les started in the Post Office as a messenger when he left school at 14 in 1939. After he was called up for the War, he returned to work as a sorting clerk in the North District Post Office. In 1948 he passed the exams to work at the counter. He remained working for the Post Office until his retirement.

Greetings Telegram

Greetings Telegram

“Seeing these telegrams has brought back memories. During the 1950s I worked in the South Tottenham Post Office. The wooden counter was L-shaped and the bottom end was used for parcels. Beyond that a door into a room which had the tele-printers which received and sent the telegrams. Beyond that a further room where the Messengers sat before going out.

For telegrams, people paid you the money, so you stuck stamps to the value of that on the forms. The forms were in a box. They wrote their telegrams and brought it to the counter. You’d count the words. I think a minimum was 1/6d and then so much a word, stick the stamps on. Then I’d take it to the tele-printer room. You’d have to allow for those stamps when you cashed up.

Both men and girls worked in the tele-printer room. Holloway and Finsbury Park had a pipe system, compressed air tubes, which sent the telegram upstairs to the tele-printer room. At South Tottenham, there was a partition between the Post Office Room and the tele-printer room. There was an opening with a vee-shape in it, and you’d put the telegram form in there, and they’d see it or hear it, take it out and type it.

They were like large typewriters, electronic, with spools of white gummed tape and as the message appeared on the tape, they’d tear it off, stick it on a form, envelope it and the Messenger would take it out. For elsewhere in the country the tele-printer room would send it electronically to the Delivery Office nearest the address.”

Postmen caricatures

Each month we present an item from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) have been working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

This month, Haringey resident Ken Gay chooses some caricatures showing postmen in uniform. Ken’s father worked as a postman in Stratford where the family then lived and these caricatures remind Ken of his father:

My father was born in 1888 and left school at 14 to work as a post office messenger boy in Whitechapel. He became a postman, mostly serving at Stratford E15 office. His brother, my uncle George, worked as a postman at Forest Gate E7 office. Born in 1923, I grew up in a post office family. My father wore a dark blue issue uniform with a red stripe along the sides of his trousers. He wore a helmet called a ‘shako’, a sort of peaked helmet. (I later learnt it was based on a Hungarian military helmet). In about 1936 the post office replaced these by a peaked cap. These smart uniforms seem to have vanished.

Caricatures of postmen from the Morten Collection

Caricatures of postmen from the Morten Collection

My father delivered letters in his round, or ‘walk’ from a white canvas sack he carried over his shoulder. Sometimes he brought one home empty after his work was finished. He worked shifts and at one time did an evening delivery, getting home about two in the afternoon. I came home from school after four and often found him asleep in his armchair. But this did not stop me waking him to ask for sixpence to go to the cinema with.

As an undergraduate I worked for two Christmases at my father’s Stratford office, working as a van boy on a hired vehicle delivering seasonal parcels. My son in his turn did this Christmas temporary work when he was a student, at Wood Green N22. So the family tradition has been kept up.

Christmas at the Post Office

Each month we present an item from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) have been working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

This month, Keith Shallcross, a retired Post Office Counters manager, chooses one of his favourite items…

Christmas time for Post Office counters was always extremely hectic and stressful. Double pensions, Christmas cards, overseas parcels, queues going out of the door from opening to closing time. Customers also needing to charge electricity and gas tokens. We were still expected to ensure that 95% of customers were served in 5 minutes – an impossible task at this particular time of year. We of course needed to make sure that every person was greeted courteously and dealt with politely at all times.

I remember we were asked some funny things by our customers too at this busy time. One Christmas Eve I was asked if it was possible for a card to reach the USA by Christmas Day!

Poster advising on final Christmas postal dates, 1981.

Poster advising on final Christmas postal dates, 1981.

As the poster says, ‘post a little happiness’. Happiness for us workers was closing at 12.30pm on Christmas Eve after having endured four weeks of Christmas pressure, and then retiring to the pub!

Return to Sender

Each month we present an item from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) have been working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

This month, Bettina Trabant, the curator who worked on Bruce Castle’s postal history collection, chooses one of her favourite items…

As a qualified Curator I have worked in a variety of national, independent and specialist museums before coming to Bruce Castle. Prior to starting as Postal Heritage Officer, I wasn’t very aware of postal history at all. I had collected stamps as a child, but that hobby didn’t last very long as I only knew one other stamp collector, a boy from my school whom I didn’t like at all.

Since working at Bruce Castle I have developed a fascination for postal history and discovered the wide variety of topics that fall under its banner. Roads and travelling, art and design, labour history, military history, telephones, letter writing and Christmas are only some of the many themes.

Over the years the postal service has served as inspiration to artist, poets and musicians. Most notably Elvis Presley’s: ‘Return to Sender’ which became an instant hit.

A misaddressed airmail letter from 1941

A misaddressed airmail letter from 1941

Here at Bruce Castle we hold a large number of wrongly or strangely addressed envelopes and many bearing the ‘Return to Sender’ stamp. We have several envelopes that show a picture rather than a written address, including one of a large bull. Letters addressed solely to a town without a street are also very common.

The Post Office had a special section called ‘Dead Letter Office’ where it dealt with post that could not be delivered. Postal workers had to be very resourceful at times which caused the Post Office to produce a poster campaign advertising clear and correct addressing.

Cruchley’s Postal District Map, 1859

Each month we present an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

This month, Bruce Robertson, a retired town planner from East London, who has been a volunteer working on the postal history collections at Bruce Castle Museum, chooses his favourite object:

Cruchley's Postal District Map, 1859

Cruchley's Postal District Map, 1859

“As a town planner interested in postal history, one of the postal maps was always going to be my favourite object.

Cruchley’s Postal District Map of 1859 was produced when Queen Victoria was on the throne. Rowland Hill’s postal reform, postage stamps, the Penny Black and universal Penny Postage – and District Post Offices – were all part of everyday life. The use of ‘the post’ had grown so much, and there used to be three or four deliveries a day. To aid the sorting of the mail, London had been divided into postal districts – the start of the post-code system we use today”.

Morten Collection Object of the Month: September 2010 – Mail Coach jug

Each month we present an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

This month, Ian Cook, Librarian of the Communication Workers Union, has chosen an object from the collection which holds some fascination for him:

Like most schoolchildren of my generation I was aware of Rowland Hill and the Penny Black and was – almost certainly – given a toy post office as a present from an indulgent relative. However, it was not until I began working at the Union that I began to develop an interest in the wider aspects of postal history. The Library still holds its own archives and postal trade union journals from a century ago that show that the postal service was about people improving the lot of Post Office workers whilst maintaining a pride in their job and their organisation. I very quickly became acquainted with Mr. W. V. Morten and his postal history collection, as one of the first tasks I undertook was sorting postal material with the ‘WVM’ stamp which had come to light.

Mail Coach Bristol Ware jug from the Morten Collection

Mail Coach Bristol Ware jug from the Morten Collection

The object I have chosen from the collection is a Bristol Ware jug decorated with a mail coach. There is a note on the bottom, signed by Morten himself in 1913, giving the jug’s identification. Morten has no doubts, given the date (now obscured), its inscription “Quick Travelling”, the shape of the coach and the fact there are no outside seats, that this jug was made to commemorate the introduction of the Quick Travelling Mail Coaches invented by John Palmer of Bath in 1784.

A beautifully functional object, would these jugs have been available in coaching inns along the way for passengers, drivers and guards to assuage their thirst with water? Or maybe something stronger? How many people have handled it and drank from it over the last 200 years? How has a fragile object, presumably in daily use, survived in such good condition so that we can appreciate it today? Partly it is because of the efforts of collectors like W. V. Morten, who saw them worthy of collection and therefore salvation.

‘Postal People’ at Bruce Castle Museum, Tottenham

The exhibition space at Bruce Castle

The exhibition space at Bruce Castle

by Adrian Steel, Director

Last week I visited Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham, North London, to see their ‘Postal People’ exhibition which runs until the end of the year.

Bruce Castle has been a museum since 1906, but is strongly connected with postal reformer Rowland Hill whose family ran a progressive school for boys there during the Victorian period.

Greetings telegram artwork

Greetings telegram artwork

‘Postal People’ is the result of a partnership project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and BPMA, and supported by Bruce Castle Museum, BPMA and the Communication Workers Union, who own the Morten Collection of postal history material kept at Bruce Castle. This project, called ‘Pistols, Packets and Postmen’, saw the cataloguing and proper preservation of postal history material stored at Bruce Castle, with educational events provided for all and volunteer participation helping the project along.

Stamps and postal history on display

Stamps and postal history on display

Bruce Castle is a very interesting place to visit and a superb facility for the people of Tottenham and beyond. ‘Postal People’ is in a light and airy room on the first floor and provides interesting commentary from ten people who have looked through the postal history material held at Bruce Castle and chosen their favourite objects.

Postal People can also be found online.

Morten Collection Object of the Month: June 2010 – London to Glasgow mail coach ledger

Each month, for ten months, we’ll be presenting an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

If you have any comments on the objects or the Collection we’d be grateful to hear them. At the end of the ten months we hope we’ll have given you an overview of the Collection, highlighting individual items but also emphasising the diverse nature of the material. For further information on the Morten Collection, please see our blog of 16th December 2009.

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

In the 21st Century travelling has become part of our everyday lives. Most people will have been abroad at some point, even if just on a day trip to Calais, and almost everyone will have been on a bus, plane or train to a place away from where they live. Travelling has become relatively comfortable, easy and very fast.

This has not always been the case. In previous centuries very few people travelled. For the entire year of 1780 for example we have 15 English tourists in France. Travelling was slow, dangerous and burdensome. It was mainly the upper classes that travelled and the three most common reasons were health, religion and work. People often made their will before they went on a journey. Coaches could travel 7mph in the summer and 5mph hour in the winter. When going up hill passengers had to get off and walk, unless they were rich enough to be carried by their servants.

Between 1660 and 1840 it was customary for upper class boys to take the Grand Tour through Europe after leaving Oxford or Cambridge. As they were young and poorly supervised that often provided opportunities for their first encounters with members of the opposite sex.

Apart from owning your own horse and or coach, the two main ways to travel where either by mail or stage coach. Mail coaches were quicker, but not geared towards passenger travel, and sometimes passengers had to break off halfway through their meal as the coach was rearing to continue its journey. Stage coaches on the other hand were designed for passengers’ comfort, but slower, as they would stop frequently.

Prior to the existence of mail coaches, letters would have been conveyed by postboys on horses riding between posts that were placed in 20 mile intervals. John Palmer realised their inefficiency and started the mail coach service during the 18th Century. The delivery of mail from Bristol to London was reduced from 38 hours to 16 hours. Early mail coaches were not owned by the post office and were contracted out. The only post office official on board of a mail coach was a heavily armed guard who was needed to ward off the mail robbers.

In the Morten Collection we hold hundreds of items relating to roads, travelling and mail coaches. The item featured in this month object of the month is a ledger giving details for the accounts of the London to Glasgow mail coach.

London to Glasglow mail coach ledger, from the Morten Collection

London to Glasglow mail coach ledger, from the Morten Collection

Morten Collection Object of the Month: May 2010 – Stamps from Weimar Germany

Each month, for ten months, we’ll be presenting an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

If you have any comments on the objects or the Collection we’d be grateful to hear them. At the end of the ten months we hope we’ll have given you an overview of the Collection, highlighting individual items but also emphasising the diverse nature of the material. For further information on the Morten Collection, please see our blog of 16th December 2009.

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

The Weimar Republic is the period in German history between the end of WWI and the coming to power of Hitler in 1933. Weimar society was characterised by great political instability, violence and strikes. There were eight elections in its short 15 year life span, and over 16 different political parties, including five different liberal parties, standing for parliament.

Inflation was extremely high due to an increase in money since the start of WWI and reparation payments agreed with the Allies (as part of the Treaty of Versailles) after the war ended. By 1923 the German Mark was practically worthless due to new credits that were taken out in order to continue making reparations payments and to provide social security benefits for striking workers. Compounding the problem was that due to the strike Germany had no goods to trade with.

In 1922, 1000 Marks was the highest bank note, but by 1923 the highest bank note was One Billion Marks. People would be paid daily and go shopping daily as money became worthless the next day. The crisis ended in November 1923 when Germany underwent currency reform and introduced the Rentenmark.

In our collection at Bruce Castle we have an example of how the German Post Office dealt with the inflation crisis. A window printed envelope from the Portugisisches Handeskontor in Hamburg from 1923 contains five 400 Mark stamps on the front, overprinted to valued them at 800,000 Marks, and twenty 100 Mark stamps on the reverse, overprinted to value them at 100,000 Marks.

Envelope from Weimar Germany with five 400 Mark stamps on the front overprinted to valued them at 800,000 Marks

Envelope from Weimar Germany with five 400 Mark stamps on the front overprinted to valued them at 800,000 Marks

Envelope from Weimar Germany with twenty 100 Mark stamps on the reverse, overprinted to value them at 100,000 Marks

Envelope from Weimar Germany with twenty 100 Mark stamps on the reverse, overprinted to value them at 100,000 Marks

Overprinting to change the value of stamps is not unique to Weimar Germany, it has happened in many other parts of the world, including some British colonies.