Category Archives: Talks

TALK: Glad Tidings: A history of the Christmas card

For our annual Christmas talk, we are welcoming Curator Steph Mastoris of the National Waterfront Museum. As a social history curator he has been fascinated for over two decades by the custom of sending Christmas greetings to family and friends, and the billions of cards that are produced. Get a sneak peak at what to expect from his Christmas talk next Tuesday.

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The Christmas card has been very close to the heart of the British postal service from just after the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840. Moreover, the Half-Penny Post of 1870 was an important catalyst for the widespread popularity of the Christmas card. Starting as a wealthy middle class novelty, the tradition of sending Christmas cards became and still is a massive activity.

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In my talk I will discuss how very recent research is suggesting that the first published Christmas cards were produced some years before the famous one commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843.

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As the history of the Christmas card is fundamentally about how people have used them, I will talk about projects that look into how we use the postal service over the holiday season. One of the current projects, People’s Post, gives you the chance to share your memories of receiving cards and gifts in the post. After the talk, there will be an opportunity for the audience to contribute their stories. The information provided may well get built into the interpretation of the new Postal Museum when it opens in 2016!

Join us next Tuesday (2 December) at 7pm at the Phoenix Centre to find out more!

Hounded from Pillar to Post: The Experiences of FWW Conscientious Objectors

This Thursday join Ben Copsey, Manager of the “Objecting to War” Project at the Peace Pledge Union, as he explores the lives and experiences of the 20,000 British Conscientious Objectors during the First World War. In today’s post we give you a sneak peak at a relatively unknown topic.

With the introduction of Conscription in 1916, men who believed they could not fight in the war were left with a difficult choice. Abandon their principles and take up arms, or face ridicule, arrest, assault and prison as Conscientious Objectors.

First World War conscientious objectors. Courtesy of the Peace Pledge Union.

First World War conscientious objectors. Courtesy of the Peace Pledge Union.

Over three hundred Post Office workers from around the country made the difficult decision to refuse to fight and kill in the First World War. Whether religious, political or ethical men, each one made a stand on the principle that noone should be forced into the army – a stand that for many would lead to years in prison, ostracism, and for some, death. Their motivations, experiences and opinions make a fascinating collection of sometimes odd, often passionate and always interesting stories of resistance and dissent. Post Office COs came from every area and community – from Jewish Sorters in the East end and Anarchist Postmen in Glasgow to Quaker Telegraphists in Liverpool – and experienced everything that could happen to an objector during the war, whether working with an ambulance service, going on the run or stubbornly refusing to compromise from the inside of Wormwood Scrubs, the men of the Post Office who stood up to say “No” to war provide a perfect snapshot of Conscientious Objection.

Many of their experiences are coming to light for the first time, telling a fascinating tale of courage, resistance and conviction of men standing up for their principles and the right to refuse to kill. While myths of Conscientious Objection still paint them as cowards and traitors, this talk will discuss why ordinary men
made an extraordinarily brave decision – and what happened to them as a result.

Join us this Thursday (6 November) from 7pm-8pm at the Phoenix Centre to find out more. Book your ticket online today to avoid missing out!

A War of Letters: Understanding WWI through letters

On Thursday 16th October Curator Emma Harper is giving a talk at the Guildhall Library entitled ‘A War of Letters’, here’s a little preview of what you can expect. 

Every aspect of the war was communicated by letter and, for many, letters were a way of maintaining some semblance of normality. Whilst accurate figures for the amounts of mail sent during the war are hard to pin point, we know that at its peak over 12 million letters a week passed through the Post Office’s temporary sorting office – the Home Depot.

Embroidered postcard. (OB1995-64)

Embroidered postcard. (OB1995-64)

 

Some survive in the BPMA’s collection and reflect the range of subjects that were written about. The weather, health and letter writing itself, or lack of it, were spoken about rather than the war itself, the effects of which were often played down as in this postcard from ‘Fred’ to his mother:

A postcard from a soldier to his mother. (OB1995.64/1)

A postcard from a soldier to his mother. (OB1995.64/1)

‘Just a few lines hoping that you are in the very best of health Dear. I hope that you are not offended with me for not writing to you before now, but I knowed the one letter would do for the two of you. I am not very sound myself but you need not worry over me.’

Receipt of a letter was a huge boost to morale both for those at home and at the Front, the maintenance of that link was of vital importance and recognised as such by the Post Office. By writing ‘On Active Service’ at the top of their correspondence soldiers could write home for free.

One of the most common ‘letters’ received from the Front was the Field Service Postcard. These postcards only allowed soldiers to give basic details to family back home as rather than writing their own sentiments they had to pick from a list, deleting those that didn’t apply. This was a form of censorship as the limited space for personal expression meant that there was less risk of divulging confidential information or of tales that may reduce morale reaching the Home Front. Despite the fact that nothing else was meant to be written on the postcard there were always exceptions and some of them did get through the censor, such as this harmless Christmas message [also 2014-0062].

Field Service Postcard signed from George Sidebottom. 2014-0062)

Field Service Postcard signed from George Sidebottom. (2014-0062)

Many of the letters received however did not bring such happy messages and some of the most poignant of the war are those last letters ever written, a selection of which I’ll be sharing in my talk. One of the letters in BPMA’s collection informs Mrs Peel of the death of her husband, Captain Home Peel of the Post Office’s own regiment, the Post Office Rifles [OB1997.212/46]. Unusually it was written by a German soldier, E.F. Gaylor [OB1997.212/37]. He writes: Although enemy and sometimes deeply hurt by the ridiculous tone of your horrid press, I feel it as a human duty to communicate you these sad news. Capt Peel was killed in action near Longueval & died, as it seems by the wounds received, without suffering.’

Captain Home Peel. OB1997.212/46)

Captain Home Peel. (OB1997.212/46)

Letter from German solider to Home Peels wife. OB1997.212/37)

Letter from German solider to Home Peels wife. (OB1997.212/37)

The fact that Peel carried his letters round with him and that Gaylor still felt it his duty to communicate the news to Peel’s loved ones, his enemies, shows the strength of feeling and importance given to letter writing in the war. These letters now also play a vital role in deepening our understanding and remembrance of the war.

To find out more please do come along to Guildhall Library on Thursday 16th October at 6pm. You can still book your tickets online!

Postal Censorship: An evening talk with Graham Mark

Tomorrow we welcome Graham Mark as he presents Postal Censorship and the Additional Mail Services of the First World War. In today’s blog Graham gives us a sneak peak as he shares insight into the censorship of foreign mails.

Cancelled with Army Post Office cancellation and with triangular censor mark. (PH12/05)

Cancelled with Army Post Office cancellation and with triangular censor mark. (PH12/05)

Censorship of foreign mails got off to a shaky start in London in 1914, but by slowly gathering staff with the required skills they were ‘in gear’ by the late Autumn.  The scope of their operations expanded in 1914-15, but was somewhat curtailed by the nervousness of the Foreign Office, which feared upsetting neutrals.  Censorship did that but the War Office was responsible for the censorship and defended its position.

American terminal and transit mails came under censorship in 1915, firstly on an experimental basis, which showed the need to establish regular examination of those mails.  For American mails a new office was set up at Liverpool in December 1915, which was logical as that was where the mail ships docked.  Transit and all other terminal mails were still handled in London.

Complaints arose that the censors were delaying the mails, so some schemes were set up to reduce this possibility. Banks and other businesses in London got into the habit of taking their mails direct to the censors, but this became a nuisance and was forbidden when an ‘Express Censorship’ was introduced in July 1915 for a fee of 2s/6d plus the usual postage costs.

An ‘honour envelope’ used during the First World War. These envelopes would not be opened and read by the censor if the sender signed the declaration that there was no war information being conveyed. This example however was not signed and so was opened by the censor. (PH32/27)

An ‘honour envelope’ used during the First World War. These envelopes would not be opened and read by the censor if the sender signed the declaration that there was no war information being conveyed. This example however was not signed and so was opened by the censor. (PH32/27)

Shipping documents are needed at the port of discharge so delay was reduced by a scheme set up in 1916 through the British Post Office and their counterparts overseas.  Packets appropriately marked were bagged separately and when the ship called at a British port those mails were examined at that port then returned to the ship, rather then being sent to London for censorship with the rest of the mails.

Under a third arrangement, of May 1917, the Post Office guaranteed for a fee of 6d plus treble registration, to send original and duplicate letters by different vessels in view of the danger to ships being attacked by the enemy.  These mails also had to be censored.

The percentage of mails examined was reduced by stages in 1919 and with minor exceptions the censorship ceased with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June.  By September 1919 the items detained by the censors over the previous five years had been disposed of and the last of the censorships was terminated.

- Graham Mark

Postal Censorship and the Additional Mail Services of the First World War with Graham Mark. 7.00pm-8.00pm at the Phoenix Centre. Book your place online or call 020 7239 2570.

The Role of the Post Office in the First World War

Join us this Thursday from 7pm-8pm to learn more about the vital role of the Post Office during the First World War from delivering mail to setting up quick forms of communication through telgraph lines. In this quick post, Head of Collections, Chris Taft introduces what you can expect. You can book your place online.

Sorting mail in the Home Depot at Regents Park, London (POST 56/6).

Sorting mail in the Home Depot at Regents Park, London (POST 56/6).

At the outbreak of the First World War postal communication was a vital way of troops keeping in touch with loved ones at home. The British Post Office’s role in the war effort was therefore essential. Its role however was far broader than just delivering mail. Over 75,000 men of the Post Office went off to serve in the armed forces throughout the war years and the postal service at home had to carry on as well as expanding to deliver mail to a world at war. The contribution however went far beyond this and with the loss of men to the war effort the Post Office was employing thousands of temporary workers, including women taking on roles previously the reserve of men for the first-time.

Human Ladder For Telephone'. Two men in uniform, one standing on the other's shoulders.

Human Ladder For Telephone’. Two men in uniform, one standing on the other’s shoulders.

The Post Office was also managing the Separations Allowance and Relief Fund and of course managing the parcel traffic. This talk will explore the variety of these roles and the contribution the Post Office made as well as touching on the commemoration of the war that still plays a role in the modern Royal Mail.

-Chris Taft, Head of Collections

£3 per person. £2.50 for concessions*

* Concessions 60+ (accompanied children under 12 free)

Book online or via phone 020 7239 2570

Limited number of tickets available on the night.

A “Painful Duty”: sneak peak at this week’s talk

This Thursday, 12 June 2014, Kathleen McIlvenna will be giving a talk on the changing attitudes and procedures seen in the Home Front Post Office as its workers adapted to change and continued to do their duty. Tickets are still available. In this post, Kathleen introduces what you can expect from her talk.

Researching the First World War is hard. Like all research it’s a matter of countless catalogue searches, digging in archives and endless reading. But as a social historian it doesn’t take long to realise what a difficult time this must have been to live through.

It could be easy to imagine the Post Office was an idyll of bureaucracy consumed by forms and logistics, and in many ways it was, but dig a little deeper and you uncover a workforce.

Women mending parcels (POST 56/6)

Women mending parcels (POST 56/6)

In my research I have uncovered diaries and oral histories of some of the remarkable employees of the Post Office during the First World War. From Amy Grace Rose, the temporary postwomen in a Cambridgeshire village supporting her daughter and disabled husband, to Edwin Purkiss, postman for London’s South-Western District and avid fundraiser. Using these sources with the records of local offices and reports produced after the War a rich picture of life on the home front is created, a mix of pain and happiness, as well as logistics and experience.

This was a time that saw the decrease in deliveries and collections, notably the end of Sunday deliveries and collections, something that one hundred years later may now return, but also saw the increase in the financial service provided by the Post Office, including separation allowance. The building of new post offices and projects were delayed, but the telephone network was developed as an air raid alarm system. New temporary staff were taken on, discovering a new world, whilst current staff tried to adapt to it. Politics found its way into post office corridors through suffragettes and consciousness objectors. But for the public if often came down to letters, paper that could either be welcome news from a loved one, or the worst news possible, starting ‘It is my painful duty to inform you’.

A 'Women on War Work' Black Cat cigarette card giving information about the jobs being done by women during the war (2010-0535)

A ‘Women on War Work’ Black Cat cigarette card giving information about the jobs being done by women during the war (2010-0535)

In my talk this week I hope to explore what it was like to work for the Post Office during this extraordinary time and discover how this government department tailored its operations and inevitably touched the lives of many.

Kathleen’s talk, ‘A Painful Duty to Inform’, will take place from 7-8pm this Thursday at the Phoenix Centre. Book your tickets today! 

Loughton Festival comes to the BPMA

It’s that time of the year again when Loughton, Essex celebrates its amazing cultural heritage at the Loughton Festival. Once more we’ll be opening the doors to our museum store in Debden to take part in this fantastic community event. There will be a range of great activities on offer over the two days providing entertainment for adults and children alike…

Vehicles, telephone boxes and more all at our Museum Store

Vehicles, telephone boxes and more all at our Museum Store!

Saturday – Adult Event

On Saturday come and take part in an artist-led workshop, where you will have the opportunity to design your own post-card or letter. From there take a self-guided tour exploring the highlights of our museum collection. From the iconic red telephone kiosks and post boxes to the Morris van, Mail Coach and ingenious Victorian pneumatic rail cars – they all tell the captivating story of communication past and present.

Letters with unusual addresses

Letters with unusual addresses.

We’ll also be joined by BPMA curator, Emma Harper, who will be giving a fascinating talk revealing some hidden gems from the collection. Relax with some drinks and nibbles, while Emma to takes you on a journey through over two centuries of “the curious culture of letter writing.”

When: Saturday 10 May 2014, Drop in from 10.00am-4.00pm, Evening talk and refreshments 4.00pm-5.00pm
Where: 
The British Postal Museum Store, Essex
Book in advance for the evening talk

Sunday – Family Event

Drop in on Sunday where you will find an array of family friendly activities. Have a go at discovering mystery objects in our trail and win a prize if you succeed in your task.

For when you are feeling creative there will be craft activities on offer, including design and send your own post card – which you can send to family or friends for free! After that, try designing and building your own mini letter box.

There will also be the opportunity to find out what it was like be a postie from the past through trying on old uniforms and handling some real museum objects – remember to bring your camera!

When: Sunday 11 May 2014, Drop in from 10.00am-4.00pm
Where: 
The British Postal Museum Store, Essex

-Hannah Clipson, Community Learning Officer