Category Archives: New Centre

What the privatisation of Royal Mail means to us

Our Director Adrian Steel gives a historical perspective on today’s announcement that Royal Mail will soon be privatised.

The human need to communicate is ever present. But to give a historical perspective on the British postal service – details of the sale of which have been announced today – the usual starting point is the creation of the office of ‘Master of the Posts’ in 1512, its endorsement in 1517, or the Royal Proclamation of 31 July 1635 which effectively saw the opening of the ‘Royal Mail’ to public use. The last of these is most frequently given as the start of what is now the Royal Mail business.

The King's Messenger A.D. 1482, artwork for poster by John Armstrong which was part of a series for schools on the history of communication. This reflects Royal Mail's origins as a messenger service for the monarch and government.

The King’s Messenger A.D. 1482, artwork for poster by John Armstrong which was part of a series for schools on the history of communication. This reflects Royal Mail’s origins as a messenger service for the monarch and government.

Throughout most of its existence the service has been the subject of public and political debate. The tension between the need for it to run as a business and turn a profit (which at times in the 17th century was paid to those who bought what was effectively the ‘farm’ of revenue for a part of the service – we have the accounts in the Royal Mail Archive), and the need for it to provide a socially necessary service, is ongoing and – as underpins Duncan Campbell-Smith’s authoritative 2011 history Masters of the Post – recurrent.

The political importance of the postal service is by and large a constant. For a good part of its early history there were two Postmasters General – (usually) one Whig and one Tory – as shown by our POST 67 archive series containing appointment Letters Patent. The 19th century expansion as a result of postal reform was a transformative national event, one that saw what had by then become known as the Post Office permeate literature from Dickens to Trollope (who was himself a Surveyor for the Post Office and credited with the creation of the pillar box). In the early 20th century the service grew to encompass the infant telephone system, saw politicians such as Austen and Neville Chamberlain and Clement Attlee cut their teeth in government as Postmaster General, and the first extended thought on whether a government department really was the right vehicle for what the Post Office did. Harold Wilson’s government – whose Postmaster Generals include the only surviving holder of this office, Roy Mason and Tony Benn – converted the Post Office into a state-owned corporation via the 1969 Post Office Act. After that, the telephone service was separated and later sold as British Telecom, and in the past 15 years two Postal Services Acts have again changed the status of the organisation. The most recent, that of 2011, is the legislation that has led to today’s announcement.

Central Telephone Exchange - telephone operators at a telegraph board (2010-0412/2). Telephones were once under the control of the General Post Office.

Central Telephone Exchange – telephone operators at a telegraph board (2010-0412/2). Telephones were once under the control of the General Post Office.

During the debates on the 2011 Act, concern was expressed across the political spectrum that Britain’s postal heritage, as cared for by the BPMA, should be safeguarded. At the time I took part in correspondence with a number of interested politicians and Ministers and we had visits from All-Party Groups, individual Peers and MPs from all parties (and none), and from Coalition ministers. Amendments were tabled and discussed and eventually a clause added to what was already in the then Bill, ensuring that the heritage of the postal service was properly cared for and reported to Parliament upon even after a privatisation such as was announced today. With this protection and support behind us, plans for our new home well advanced, and ongoing support from politicians, Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd, BPMA looks forward to providing a first class home for this great service’s history for generations to come.

Visualisation of BPMA's New Centre at Calthorpe House.

Visualisation of BPMA’s New Centre at Calthorpe House.

For more on the history of the Royal Mail see our online exhibition The Peoples Post.

Duncan Campbell-Smith, author of Masters of the Post – The Authorized History of the Royal Mail will speak on The Royal Mail Past and Present at the Guildhall Library on 24 October 2013.

Countdown to Sotheby’s: Rare and colourful – the King Edward VIII accession issue

On 11 July the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) will be selling 191 lots of surplus, duplicate philatelic material at Sotheby’s auction house. The proceeds of the sale will support the significant fundraising efforts currently being undertaken by the BPMA to deliver an important new postal museum and archive in Central London. In this blog Julia Lee, Assistant Editor at Stamp Magazine gives her thoughts on the auction.

I’m very excited about the Sotheby’s sale. It will be the first major sale I’ve been to since the Sir Gawaine Baillie sale, and I can’t wait to see what some of this material goes for. And, of course, to write screaming headlines about it.

The BPMA asked me to pick an item to talk about, and while the journalist in me wants to highlight the most expensive, it’s the King Edward VIII 2 1/2d registration sheet that I’d buy if I had the chance.

Lot 18: King Edward VIII registration block of 48 (2½d value, blue), estimated at £100,000-120,000.

Lot 18: King Edward VIII registration block of 48 (2½d value, blue), estimated at £100,000-120,000.

In fact, King Edward VIII helped me get the job as Assistant Editor on Stamp Magazine. ‘What happened with his stamps?’ I wondered in the interview.

Now I know the answer. A set of four stamps was issued in September 1936, at a time when, even though there was a voluntary press blackout on King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson‘s relationship, the General Post Office must have known a constitutional crisis was looming. In fact, three months later, in December, the GPO was asked by the Cabinet Office to bug the King’s phones.

The stamps’ simplicity and the very obvious break with the previous florid tradition appeals to me. They’re also very much of their time, with the clean styling of head, crown and value.

The 2½d bright blue registration sheet makes a real impact on the page. We didn’t have space to put it in our June issue, but I wish we had. It’s a great colour – far better than any bistre or olive-green!

Detail of Lot 18: King Edward VIII registration block of 48 (2½d value, blue), estimated at £100,000-120,000.

Detail of Lot 18: King Edward VIII registration block of 48 (2½d value, blue), estimated at £100,000-120,000.

And while all postal history of any kind tells a story, Edward VIII’s references a very specific period in British history. Almost anyone you show the stamps to will grasp their significance immediately and ask you whether or not they were issued.

Like all the best stamps, it provides an easy way to suck people into the historical and social stories philatelists know are lying under the surface of our hobby.

Please visit Sotheby’s sale page to find out more about the lots on offer. And don’t forget to follow Stamp Magazine on Twitter!

Historic Duplicate Stamp Sale to Benefit New Home for The British Postal Museum & Archive

  • Sotheby’s will stage an historic auction featuring duplicate stamps from the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA)
  • Important sale, estimated by Sotheby’s to bring in excess of £5 million, will support a spectacular new home for the British Postal Museum & Archive, set to open in early 2016
  • State-of-the-art centre will represent an exciting addition to London’s cultural landscape, showcasing the BPMA’s world-class collections and celebrating a unique aspect of British heritage
  • New museum will serve as a key cultural hub as part of a major regeneration scheme in Camden & Islington

On 11th July 2013 Sotheby’s will stage an historic auction featuring surplus duplicate stamps from the British Postal Museum & Archive. The auction will provide essential funds for a state-of-the-art new home for the BPMA, representing an exciting addition to London’s cultural landscape when it opens in 2016.

Visualisation of BPMA's New Centre at Calthorpe House.

Visualisation of BPMA’s New Centre at Calthorpe House.

New Home for Britain’s Postal History

Described by Mayor of London Boris Johnson as “a national treasure of global importance”, the BPMA is the leading resource for all aspects of British postal heritage. It cares for the visual and written records of 400 years of British postal, social and design history, comprising over 60,000 artefacts and 2.5 miles of archives. Together, the collections and archive tell a fascinating human story of British communication, industry and innovation, illuminating and celebrating a unique and integral part of the nation’s heritage.

Under a scheme endorsed by the Government and backed by Britain’s leading heritage organisations, the BPMA is planning a new Postal Museum and Archive to provide a first class home for its archive and collections, which are currently held in storage and largely inaccessible to the general public. The new centre will be situated in Calthorpe House, in the London Borough of Camden, adjoining the country’s oldest mail centre at Mount Pleasant.

World-class Archive and Collections

As well as featuring a purpose-built archive repository, the new Postal Museum and Archive will feature spectacular exhibition spaces to showcase the BPMA’s archive and collections, which range from postal vehicles to pillar boxes, staff records, posters, photographs, uniforms, weapons and the world’s greatest collection of British stamps.

Poster: 79,242 Postmen, Duncan Grant, 1939.

Poster: 79,242 Postmen, Duncan Grant, 1939.

Highlights include every British stamp issued from 1840 to the present day; original evidence from the Great Train Robbery trial; the world’s first commercial Christmas card produced in 1843; a 1930s art-deco Mobile Post Office; Valentine’s Day cards dating from c. 1790; telegrams relating to the Titanic disaster; weapons used to protect the mail against theft or piracy; a digital Oral History collection recounting the personal stories of hundreds of current and retired postal staff from around Britain; a first edition of ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce, intercepted in the post for being obscene; uniforms of Victorian River Postmen; a Travelling Post Office railway coach; films produced by the iconic GPO film unit; telegrams sent by the royal family; medals awarded to Post Office Employees including a rare Victoria Cross; and posters, prints and paintings by celebrated artists including Edward Bawden, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.

Understanding and celebrating Britain’s postal heritage and wider social history

The new Postal Museum and Archive will feature a state-of-the-art education centre and extensive research facilities, designed to encourage school children, students and the wider public to learn from and be inspired by postal heritage in all its depth and context. The new education space will increase the BPMA’s annual educational engagement from 2,000 to 12,000 pupils, representing a 600% increase on its current offering.

Key examples of how the BPMA’s collections reflect Britain’s social history:

  • In 1840 the launch of the Penny Black, the world’s first prepaid stamp, encouraged people to write and became a vehicle for education, friendship and commerce
  • The opening of Post Office Savings Bank backed by the Government in 1861 encouraged people of all walks of life to save money safely and to help combat debt
  • W. Reginald Bray became the first ‘human letter’ when he posted himself, later emulated by two suffragettes who attempted to have themselves delivered to Downing Street
  • During WW1 the Post Office co-ordinated all army mail and by 1918 had 22,000 pigeons carrying messages to the front
  • In 1943 the world’s first programmable electronic computer was built by the GPO’s Tommy Flowers, helping to break many German encrypted codes during WW2

Mail Rail: London’s Best Kept Secret

As an added visitor attraction, the BPMA is exploring plans to convert a section of Mail Rail, the former underground Post Office railway network. Introduced in 1927 and operational until 2003, Mail Rail was the world’s first driverless electrified railway, which revolutionised the delivery of mail in the UK. To this day it remains the world’s only dedicated underground mail transport system, representing an important and largely unseen element of Britain’s industrial heritage.

Poster design: Post Office Tube Railway, Edward Bawden, c. 1935.

Poster design: Post Office Tube Railway, Edward Bawden, c. 1935.

Subject to sufficient funding, the Mail Rail depot at Mount Pleasant will be transformed into an immersive visitor centre, introducing a fascinating 15 minute ride on the Mail Rail network on newly-designed trains through the existing tunnels.

Benefitting the local area and contributing to an improved sense of community

Bridging the boroughs of Camden and Islington, the new Postal Museum and Archive will serve as an important cultural hub and community resource. As well as offering cultural and training opportunities for young people, the BPMA will organise out-of-school cultural opportunities and strong community outreach programmes, contributing to a vibrant Camden and Islington.

Historic Stamp Sale

The project to develop the new Postal Museum and Archive will cost approximately £22 million and a fundraising campaign is currently underway, with considerable support from Royal Mail and Post Office Limited. Other funding is in place from the Heritage Lottery Fund and from the BPMA itself.

As part of the fundraising campaign, the BPMA is pursuing two sales of surplus duplicate philatelic material currently held in its custody though not part of its accessioned collections. The historic auctions will take place at Sotheby’s, which held the first ever stamp auction in Europe in 1872. The first sale, held on 11th July 2013, will comprise 191 lots and is estimated by Sotheby’s to bring in excess of £5 million.

One of the duplicate items for sale: Seahorse ‘Registration’ sheets, 1923, one of only two such sheets in existence.

One of the duplicate items for sale: Seahorse ‘Registration’ sheets, 1923, one of only two such sheets in existence.

Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA, said:

Since we first announced our project to open a new first class home for Britain’s postal heritage in London last year we have received widespread support, and following last month’s announcement of this sale it has been great to receive encouragement from those who want to play their part in our fundraising campaign by participating in the auction. The BPMA’s collections are of the utmost richness in iconic British heritage and engaging personal stories, and from family historians to families who want to immerse themselves in something new as part of a day out in London, our new centre offers something sparkling with fascination and enjoyment for everyone. It will safeguard all our collections into the future, and by taking up the chance to own the rare philatelic specimens on offer at Sotheby’s, all potential buyers can feel proud that they are helping to safeguard the originals, and all our world class collections, from Penny Blacks to packet ship records, for the nation and the world to enjoy.

Put Your Stamp on the New Centre Exhibition Space

We have been working hard with our appointed creative designers Haley Sharpe Design on early plans for the main exhibition space of the Calthorpe House New Centre. The 500m2 gallery will be split into five zones, each covering an era of postal history.

Zone 1 will look at the early days of the Royal Mail, with the BPMA’s 18th Century Mail Coach as its centrepiece, whilst in Zone 2 visitors will meet Rowland Hill – a visionary Victorian, who devised solutions to the short-comings of the postal service in its early days. On display visitors will find a variety of objects and records related to the design of the Penny Black, the world’s first postage, as well as other examples of great Victorian inventions that facilitated the sending and receiving of mail.

Visualisation of Zone 2: "Reform and Innovation".

Visualisation of Zone 2: “Reform and Innovation”.

Between Zones 2 and 3, visitors can read profound and moving stories reflecting events from postal history during the early 20th Century, such as the story of the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic, the suffragettes who posted themselves to the Prime Minister, and the role of the Post Office during WWI.

Visualisation of Zone 3: "The Post Office in Conflict".

Visualisation of Zone 3: “The Post Office in Conflict”.

In Zone 3, visitors will step into a reconstruction of life in WWII London, whilst Zone 4, by contrast, will present a bright, visual feast, vividly demonstrating the time from the 1930s to the 1960s when the Post Office was a leader in style and design in Britain.

Visualisation of Zone 4: "Style and Design".

Visualisation of Zone 4: “Style and Design”.

Zone 5 will consider the modern Post Office, including the competition and challenges of 21st Century Communications, as well as the role of the service at the heart of isolated rural communities.

Work is currently underway to work up a long-list of objects and records from the Museum and Archive collections to populate the exhibition and illustrate the stories and themes outlined above. Whilst the ‘usual suspects’ (such as items from early Mail Coach Guards and the many photos and posters held in the Archive) are, of course, under consideration, the BPMA are keen to include ‘hidden gems’ that may not have been seen in previous exhibitions – something for which we would like your help…

Tell us which artefacts from the BPMA collections you would like to see on display in the new exhibition!

Blog readers are invited to suggest a museum object or archive record that they would like to see included in the new gallery displays, with an explanation as to why you have chosen that particular item. The best suggestion, as selected by the BPMA Access and Learning Team, will win a signed copy of Julian Stray’s book Mail Trains. Results announced in January.

Please send your suggestions by 30 November 2012 to: Andy Richmond – BPMA Access & Learning Manager, andy.richmond@postalheritage.org.uk.

Initial HLF support for new Postal Museum & Archive secured

The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) is delighted to announce that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has confirmed a first-round pass as part of a two stage application process to help move its world-class collections into a new, accessible and permanent home. Initial HLF support has been awarded for an application of £4.25m and development funding of £250,000 has been awarded. The new Postal Museum & Archive will be situated in Calthorpe House on London’s Mount Pleasant site, where the country’s oldest mail centre is located.

Visualisation of Calthorpe House (Feildon Clegg Bradley Studios).

Visualisation of Calthorpe House (Feildon Clegg Bradley Studios).

The first-round pass means that the BPMA can now progress to the feasibility stage of its development and work up detailed proposals ahead of a round two application in 2013 to secure the remaining £4m. Further activities to generate funding to create a state of the art museum and visitor facility are taking place throughout 2012-13. The opening of the new museum is planned for late 2014.

The new Postal Museum will provide access to the BPMA’s unique collections of 400 years of postal, social and design history. The collections, which include iconic objects such as red pillar boxes and postal vehicles, as well as every British stamp issued since the Penny Black, original design artwork, posters and photographs, are currently stored in cramped and inaccessible conditions. The new centre will also enable a vast expansion of its educational programme and engagement with young visitors.

Visualisation of exhibition space.

Visualisation of exhibition space.

The fascinating story of the Post Office Underground Railway will form part of the exhibition, together with other captivating stories from social, postal and design history.

Sue Bowers, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund London, said:

The British Postal Museum and Archive’s collection gives us a fascinating insight into 400 years of postal history and how it has shaped our world today. We’re pleased to be giving initial support for this exciting project to regenerate the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant site and give an internationally important collection a permanent home in the heart of London. We will be working closely with the Postal Heritage Trust over the coming months as they progress plans to secure a full Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said:

The British Postal Museum & Archive is a national treasure of global importance. London plays a central role in its rich history so it is entirely fitting that this city would house a suitable showcase for the collection, creating a fantastic new visitor attraction to boot. I am thrilled that money from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been awarded to enable this exciting project to progress to the next important stage.

Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA commented:

We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given such a strong indication of its support for a new Postal Museum & Archive. HLF initial investment of £250,000, together with public recognition from such a prestigious funder, is a ringing endorsement of our work to preserve Britain’s postal heritage. It allows us to embark on the next stage of this exciting project to bring the human story of communication, industry and innovation to everyone.

Join The British Postal Museum & Archive mailing list to receive updates on our New Centre project and other activities.

Archivists and Academics

Last month I attended the Teaching History in Higher Education Conference at Senate House. As an archivist, rather than an academic, I was a little nervous. However I am pleased to say that I was made very welcome and came away with a range of ideas for activities that could be adapted to our future work plans at BPMA.

Alongside considering the logistics of moving our collections and the content of our new exhibition space, we are also planning the types of activities we will undertake in our New Centre, including our involvement with formal education.

A life long learning group visits our Museum Store.

A life long learning group visits our Museum Store.

We are already involved in a range of formal and informal learning activities, including collaborative PhDs and teacher placement schemes, but are keen to expand this offer in future. As such the conference provided an interesting insight into the key concerns of the higher education sector and inspiration for potential future activities.

The sessions on workplace learning were particularly relevant. The BPMA’s engagement in this area has been minimal to date, due to both limited staff resources and difficulty in designing activities which are mutually beneficial to both parties. However the presentations on this area gave an insight into the types of projects that could be undertaken and provided ideas for possible future development.

A group of student teachers tours the Royal Mail Archive.

A group of student teachers tours the Royal Mail Archive.

Allannah Tomkins’ paper on the use of creative writing was also useful. Creative writing is an area that the BPMA has explored in our work with school groups. The Post Office itself also has a strong literary tradition with former staff including Edward Capern (the Poet Postman), Flora Thompson (famous for Lark Rise to Candleford), and most notably Anthony Trollope. Therefore there is plenty of scope for exploring historical and literary links in more detail.

The conference provided some interesting ideas, and also some useful contacts. Over the coming months the BPMA will be considering if and how we can embed these ideas into our plans for the future. Watch our website for information on forthcoming activities.

Helen Dafter – Archivist

Volunteer re-housing project

As part of our preparations to move to our new site at Calthorpe House, work has recently begun on ensuring our collections are in a fit condition to move. There are three areas of work already underway, and more will start over the coming months.

Phase boxing

Many of our archive volumes have weakened or damaged bindings. These require additional support in the form of phase boxes prior to moving. We currently have two volunteers involved in this project, Eric Hearn and Colette Bush. Over the past few months they have received training on how to create the boxes, which require careful measurements of the volumes and often need final adjustments to fit comfortably.

Volunteer Eric at work.

Volunteer Eric at work.

Volumes prior to phase boxing.

Volumes prior to phase boxing.

The phase boxed volumes.

The phase boxed volumes.

Rolled plans

Following the work began in February 2012 on re-housing plans of furniture, fixtures and fittings (archive class POST 91) we have very recently extended this to other rolled plans. The plans being re-housed were previously stored in large rolls in map bags or mail sacks. These storage conditions offered little protection to the rolls in situ, and were entirely inadequate for moving this material. We now have two conservation volunteers (Cristina Rico Liria and Ana Paula Hirata Tanaka) working together our Conservation Assistant (Collections Move) to improve the storage conditions for these vulnerable items.

Volunteers at work.

Volunteers at work.

Rolls prior to rehousing.

Rolls prior to rehousing.

The rehoused rolls.

The rehoused rolls.

Slogan dies

Work has also begun on auditing and packing the museum collection, specifically our slogan die collection. Slogan dies are made from metal and our collection of around 2,000 reflects a huge variety of slogans used on postmarks throughout the 20th century. These items required re-housing for several reasons: metal items are very susceptible to handling, the grease on our hands can permanently damage them, they are currently stored in non conservation materials and often hundreds to a box, making them very heavy to move and hard to quickly locate individual items.

As such, Cyril Parsons and Fahema Begum are working on a project to re-house the dies using conservation materials so that the dies can be seen and handled whilst being protected from any damage. They are also updating our database, entering any additional information about the objects and ensuring their location is noted to the fullest extent possible. This is important as a major aspect of the move will be ensuring tight location and movement control so that we always know where an object is at any given time.

Volunteer Fahema at work.

Volunteer Fahema at work.

Slogan dies before rehousing.

Slogan dies before rehousing.

Slogan dies after rehousing.

Slogan dies after rehousing.

Over the coming months we will continue to work to bring the housing of the collections up to safe standards to move. There is a significant amount of work still to be done, and we would not be able to achieve this without the time and dedication of our volunteers. If you are interested in being involved with this work please contact Helen Dafter on helen.dafter@postalheritage.org.uk or 020 7239 5119.

- Helen Dafter, Archivist and Emma Harper, Curator (Move Planning)

New Postal Museum

NEWS RELEASE

Plans for a new home for a new home for The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) were announced today by the BPMA, Royal Mail Group and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The new Postal Museum will provide access to the BPMA’s unique collections of 400 years of postal, social and design history, including photographs, posters, vehicles, pillar boxes, employment records of millions of people and a world-class stamp collection.

Under a plan endorsed by the Government, the new centre will be established at Calthorpe House, on London’s Mount Pleasant site, where the country’s oldest mail centre is located. It is close to the existing home of the BPMA at Freeling House, which has very limited space for exhibitions and displays.

Calthorpe House

Calthorpe House

Royal Mail Group will grant a lease of 999 years for Calthorpe House, a property which will provide a secure foundation for the BPMA once redeveloped and extended. Agreements have been signed with Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd (POL) for a £6m long term, low interest loan to fund the conversion of Calthorpe House to meet the basic needs of the organisation. In addition, Royal Mail and POL are providing other support, including a £500,000 grant.

A fundraising campaign by the BPMA will be launched shortly to raise the remaining funds required to create a state of the art museum and visitor facility. The BPMA is an independent charity set up in 2004 to care for two significant collections: The Royal Mail Archive and the collections of the former National Postal Museum. It is the BPMA’s mission to increase public access to these collections, making the story they tell of communication, industry and innovation accessible to everyone.

The new centre will allow the BPMA to exhibit objects from its fascinating museum collection, which is currently held in storage. It will also include educational facilities for visiting schools.

Visualisation of the new museum and archive, Calthorpe House (Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

Visualisation of the new museum and archive, Calthorpe House (Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

Donald Brydon, Royal Mail Group’s Chairman said: “These plans will give our postal heritage a world-class home. The history of Royal Mail is a key part of the history of postal services worldwide. I am delighted, therefore, the Group’s Board has agreed to support the BPMA’s ambitious plan to provide a new, permanent home for its unique collection of postal artefacts, stamps and equipment, as well as allowing greater access to the archive”

Dr Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA, said: “We are aiming to create a state-of-the-art, sustainable home for a unique part of our national heritage. The new centre will showcase the UK’s pioneering role in developing postal communications, which has shaped the world we live in.”

Norman Lamb, Postal Affairs Minister, said: “This exciting new home for the British Postal Museum and Archive is a great initiative, to which I hope people will lend their support. Celebrating the history of Royal Mail in this way will bring to life a key part of our nation’s cultural heritage. The many and varied items in the archives will show how Royal Mail has been at the heart of British life for centuries, and it is great news that the museum will contain an educational facility to allow young people to engage with the history of our postal services in an innovative way.”

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Statement on our New Centre project

After undertaking extensive feasibility work, the Trustees of The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) have decided not to continue with plans to develop a new base in Swindon, Wiltshire.

The decision comes despite the BPMA receiving an HLF Round One pass for the project early last year and is in response to significant changes to funding expectations, particularly from corporate supporters, during the past six months. Like other cultural organisations, the BPMA attributes difficulties in meeting fundraising targets to the current challenging economic climate.

The BPMA retains its commitment to securing an accessible future home, and its staff will continue working to achieve the best possible outcome for the BPMA and its unique collections.

The BPMA also continues to work with communities in Swindon, where it will be staging an exhibition of iconic post office photographs in the autumn.

BPMA New Centre project receives grant from Heritage Lottery Fund

by Jo Sullivan, Project Officer: New Centre Project 

BPMA’s project to create a new Postal Museum & Archive on the Churchward Village site in Swindon recently received a piece of exciting news as the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) confirmed our first round pass for a grant of £2,617,800, including development funding of £117,800.

Architect's design for the New Centre main entrance

Architect's design for the New Centre main entrance

The first-round pass means that we can begin the development stage of the project and work up detailed proposals ahead of a round two application in 2011. In a tough funding climate, and against unprecedented competition, our project to move our fascinating collections into a new, accessible and permanent home has taken a step closer to becoming a reality.

The HLF was established in the United Kingdom under the National Lottery Act 1993. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, the natural environment and cultural traditions, the HLF provides grants to support all aspects of the UK’s diverse heritage. Since 1994 the HLF has supported more than 33,900 projects allocating £4.4billion across the UK.

What the New Centre gallery might look like

What the New Centre gallery might look like

The BPMA is in good company in the South West. In March this year the HLF gave the green light to Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum to work up plans to create a new gallery revealing the history and archaeology of the Salisbury and surrounding area.

Over the years other grants in the South West have varied in size and scope from the £17 million awarded to the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth, to £295,000 awarded to the University of Bristol to ‘release’ Britain’s oldest dinosaur after 210 million years of being entombed in rock.

Chain Testing Machinery from the railway era within the proposed New Centre building

Chain Testing Machinery from the railway era within the proposed New Centre building

Whilst Swindon has been recognised by the HLF as being a priority area it is certainly not lacking in culturally rich attractions. We look forward to developing mutually beneficial relationships with the existing group of cultural organisations based on the Churchward Village site: English Heritage, the National Trust and STEAM, Museum of the Great Western Railway.

Also it’s not just museums moving to Swindon as on 24th March 2010 it was announced that Swindon is now headquarters for Britain’s first national space agency. As well as the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA), Swindon is also home to the two main space funding bodies — the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Natural Environment Research Council.

Find out more about the New Centre project on our website.