Category Archives: Talks

The Thin Red Streak: the Histories of The Times’ War Correspondents

Anne Jensen is the Archivist Assistant at News UK. This Thursday (20 February)  from 7pm-8pm, she will be giving a talk on the histories of The Times’ War Correspondents from the Crimean in 1854 to today. Tickets are still available. Here she gives a glimpse about what you can expect to hear about later on this week…

From the writing of a story in the field to its publication in the newspaper there is often a lot of drama. War correspondents have lied, smuggled, bribed and pleaded to get their dispatches to their editors by post, ship, runner, telegraph, phone, balloon, and pigeon.

The archive of The Times is full of documents telling these stories. The descriptive reports from the battlefields of the Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856) written by William Howard Russell, took weeks to reach London. An example of this was his letter reporting the arrival of the allied forces outside Sebastapol.  The letter was dated 4 October 1854 and it was published in the paper on the 23 October, almost 3 weeks later.


Letter from William Howard Russell to John Thadeus Delane, Editor of The Times, dated 23 April 1855.

The Crimea War was the first war in which the telegraph was to figure. Russell’s access to the telegraph was dictated by the military authorities and was sporadic and inconsistent and he continued to rely upon a mixture of overland mails, boat and telegraph when the opportunity allowed.

Through the Siege of Khartoum (1883-1885) it continued being difficult to get the news sent home to London. Frank le Poer Power sent messages via steamer and telegraph from Khartoum until the middle of April 1884, but then the telegraph was cut and all communication with Khartoum was lost. However, Power continued to send dispatches by runner, none were received by The Times until one runner successfully reached Musawwa in September. Three messages, written in April and July, were handed to the provincial governor, Alexander Mason, who forwarded them to Charles Moberly Bell, The Times’ Cairo correspondent. They were published in The Times on September 29, 1884 and told of an increasingly desperate situation.

An interesting postscript to this story was added in 1890, when one of Power’s despatches, dated April 14, 1884, was received by The Times. It had been delivered to Sir Evelyn Baring in Cairo. It transpired that the messenger who had been sent from Khartoum carrying the telegram had arrived in Dongola, the day before it fell to the Mahdi. The messenger was captured and imprisoned by the enemy, but not before he had successfully hidden the telegram in the wall of a house outside the town. Following his release from prison several years later he returned to the house, retrieved the telegram and took it to Cairo. As Moberly Bell had by now returned to London to become the Manager of The Times, the messenger delivered the document to Baring who forwarded it to his old friend Bell.


Handwritten telegram sent to The Times by Power on Easter Monday [April 14] 1884. This message did not reach The Times until 1890. The runner carrying the telegram arrived in Berber the day before the Dervishes captured it. On the fall of Berber he hid the messages in a house outside the town and returned to Khartoum. When Khartoum fell the runner was imprisoned for some years and subsequently returned to Berber, removed the telegram from its hiding place and delivered it to Sir Evelyn Baring, the British Agent in Cairo, who forwarded it to The Times.

The talk will also cover stories from the Siege of Ladysmith (1899-1900), where a telegram was captured by the enemy, and the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05), where The Times spent a fortune on wireless communication.

During the First World War the stories sent back from correspondents at the front were subject to strict censorship by the War Office Press Bureau.

At the beginning of the war Arthur Moore was sent to work behind the British Expeditionary Force. He found himself among the scattered remnants of the British Fourth division after the retreat from Mons, and was alarmed at what he saw.

On the 29th August 1914 he wrote, from Amiens, a dispatch and sent it to London where it arrived on Saturday evening. Both the acting Editor George Sydney Freeman and Henry Wickham Steed, the Foreign Editor, thought it unlikely that the dispatch would pass the censor. They applied their own censorship before sending it to the Press Bureau, from whence it returned two hours later.

Dispatch from Arthur Moore from Amiens. Copyright The Times.

Covering letter from The Times submitting the Amiens dispatch for censorship. Censor, F.E. Smith’s reply can be read on the covering letter.

On the covering note F.E. Smith, the head of the Press Bureau, had annotated: “I am sorry to have censored this most able and interesting message so freely but the reasons are obvious. Forgive my clumsy journalistic suggestions but I beg you to use the parts of this article which I have passed to enforce the lesson – re-enforcements and re-enforcements at once.”

A number of deletions made by Freeman and Steed had been restored by Smith and a couple of extra phrases had been added to the last paragraph in Smith’s handwriting, strengthening the dispatch’s conclusion. The annotation on the covering note was taken as an order to publish the dispatch and it was published, as amended by Smith, the next morning.

The dispatch caused quite a stir as it was the first time a newspaper had reported the gravity of the situation so openly.

Next morning, The Times published a sharply worded column by Freeman, which explained that Moore’s offending dispatch had been published not merely with the consent but at the request of the head of the Press Bureau. With this reply from Printing House Square attacks on The Times ceased.

Expenses claim by

Transcript of Philby’s list of the personal kit he lost on 19 May 1940 while retreating rapidly from Amiens the day before the German army captured the town.

In the very early days of the Second World War we come across a well-known name: Harold Adrian Russell Philby, better known as Kim, was appointed correspondent of The Times with the British Expeditionary Force in France on 9 October 1939. The documents held at the archives of The Times tell the story of the rapid retreat from Amiens, the main base for the British war correspondents, on 19 May 1940, the day before the Germans captured the town.

Philby lost his personal kit, when the war correspondents were taken to Boulogne and shipped back across the Channel before that town was captured on the 23 May 1940.

The expense claim which Philby wrote detailed, amongst other things a “camelhair overcoat (two years of wear)” and a “Dunhill pipe and pouch (six years old but all the better for it)”. A copy memorandum to the accountant shows that Philby was only paid £70 of the £100 16s he estimated as the value of the items lost.

-Anne Jensen, Archivist Assistant at News UK

The talk will conclude with a look at present day war correspondence and coverage of the Iraq war in 2003.

Please book your space online or simply show up at the Phoenix Centre (next door to the BPMA Search Room) for 7pm to attend.

Tickets are £3 per person, £2.50 for concessions (60+) and accompanied children under 12 free.

Curious Addresses

Curious Addresses are the name given to envelopes where the address is presented in a different format, such as a poem or a picture. These are fascinating and beautiful works of art to view, but probably less of a joy to the poor postman or postwoman who has to decipher them!

The address has been scattered across and combined within this image. (E3243.10)

The address has been scattered across and combined within this image. (E3243.10)

To mark the release of our latest podcast The Curious Culture of Letter Writing with Emma Harper, we’ve added seven curious addresses from our collection to Flickr. Can you work out the addresses? When you think you’ve got it out, click on the image to reveal the correct answer.

Read Emma Harper’s blog previewing The Curious Culture of Letter Writing.

Postal Mischief podcast

In April we invited the writer, broadcaster, artist and musician David Bramwell to the BPMA to give a talk on the history of postal mischief. This turned out to be a fascinating and highly entertaining event, looking at the work of key players in this field including the ‘King of Mail Art’ Ray Johnson, Victorian prankster Reginald Bray and musician Genesis P.Orridge, who inadvertently changed the postal laws (owing to the ‘colourful’ nature of his homemade postcards).

Colourful mail art referenced in David Bramwell's talk.

Colourful mail art referenced in David Bramwell’s talk.

David also shared his own exploits in mail art, which saw him and a friend post unusual objects to each other – much to the amusement of local Post Office and Royal Mail staff.

Post Office staff were amused when this set of false teeth came in to be posted!

Post Office staff were amused when this set of false teeth came in to be posted!

You can now listen to or download David Bramwell’s talk as a podcast via our website, iTunes or SoundCloud. And if David has inspired you to engage in some postal mischief do let us know about it!

A tropical leaf which was posted to David Bramwell.

A tropical leaf which was posted to David Bramwell.

Find out about our upcoming talks and other public events on the Events page of our website.

The Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica

In advance of our forthcoming talk on this varied, quirky and fascinating collection, I met David Rooney, Curator of Transport at the Science Museum, at Blythe House in West London to find out more about this prolific collector, Winifred Penn-Gaskell and her collections.

One of many fascinating boxes from the Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica held at the Science Museum

Some of you may already know that Blythe House is the former home of the Post Office Savings Bank, a fact which made my visit that bit more exciting as I was familiar with it from several photographs but had never seen it in the flesh or been inside.

Evidence of the Post Office Savings Bank which used to by based at Blythe House

An imposing Edwardian building of mammoth proportions and a myriad size and shape rooms inside, it stores part of the Science Museum collection, including the Penn Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica.

Imposing Blythe House which houses a large part of the Science Museum's collections

The collection was gathered over several years from 1927 onwards by Winifred Penn-Gaskell, who wanted to ensure that the ephemera relating to the advent of air travel and aerial post were preserved as well as the actual crafts themselves.
The collection is hugely varied and includes pottery, books, pamphlets, stamp albums, snuff boxes, delftware, early microfilm, photographs and more – even buoyant sugar cubes, prisoner of war post and parts of a zeppelin shot down in 1916.

Some of the albums which form parts of the Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica

Winifred herself was a fascinating character – living alone 1000 feet up in the wilds of Dartmoor but also a globe trotter who travelled far and wide and was committed to chronicling the swift changes to air travel as they unfolded. Her collecting was all in the service of recording the heroic feats of the pioneer aviators for posterity.
David will be revealing much more about the collection and the collector next Thursday 10th May 2012 at 7pm at the Phoenix Centre, next to the Royal Mail Archive. Find out more information and book your ticket for his talk on our website.

- Laura Dixon, BPMA Learning Officer (Events & Outreach) -

Bertram Mackennal podcast

New to our podcast is a recent talk given by our Curator of Philately Douglas Muir, on the stamps, medals and coins of Bertram Mackennal.

Bertram Mackennal was an Australian sculptor who, amongst other things, worked on all definitive stamps issued during the reign of King George V. Douglas Muir’s talk gives an in-depth insight into the design and production process for these issues, and also looks at Mackennal’s work on coins and medals.

The podcast is free to download from or iTunes

Douglas Muir’s book George V and the GPO: Stamps, Conflict and Creativity, can be purchased from our online shop.

Grandpa England – The Public and Private Life of George V 100 Years On

On 21 October PhD candidate Matthew Glencross, who is working in the Royal Archives on the role of monarchy in the early 20th Century, will speak at the BPMA about King George V. Matthew kindly sent us the following preview of his talk.

King George V

King George V

Grandpa England, the name which the young Princess Elizabeth affectionately called her elderly grandfather in her younger years, in many ways sums up the man. In a twenty five year reign George V looked over Great Britain and the British Empire with an almost paternal instinct as the 458 million people who looked to him as King/Emperor went through much change.

His accession saw the pinnacle of Imperial Pomp and ceremony with the Delhi Durbar in 1911, when he became the only British monarch to be crowned Emperor of India, whilst the closing years of his reign saw the Empire begin its transformation into the Commonwealth with the Statute of Westminster in 1931.

At home George saw women being given the vote in the UK for the first time as well as the establishment of the Irish Free State. He also welcomed in Britain’s first Labour government, which although reluctant at first, he would later confess to his diary that Ramsay Macdonald was his favourite Prime Minister.

However, his reign is arguably most famed for the bloodshed of the First World War to which he uttered this simple line to the troops in the frontline, “I cannot share your hardships, but my heart is with you every hour of the day.” A sentiment he supported with regular visits to the soldiers in the trenches.

Therefore, Grandpa England makes a fitting title to this talk which will sweep over the late King’s life from his younger days as a carefree Sailor Prince to his final years in the shadow of an approaching European conflict. A man who watched over Britain as she passed through some of the most difficult times of the early 20th century, one hundred years since his accession we remember him.

Booking details for Grandpa England can be found on our website.

Secret Subterranean London

Arts organisation Illumini have curated Secret Subterranean London, a week of events exploring the labyrinth below the streets of London, which starts next Friday. As part of the season our Curator Chris Taft will give a free talk on the Post Office Underground Railway which was used to carry post through central London.

Loading carriages on the Post Office Underground Railway with mail bags

Loading carriages on the Post Office Underground Railway with mail bags

In the early 20th Century mail traffic through London was overwhelming and congested city streets caused many delays. The Post Office’s solution was to build a dedicated railway located underground which would avoid these problems.

Construction of the railway began in 1914 but was delayed due to the First World War, although the tunnels which had been completed were used to store precious artworks during Zeppelin raids.

The route of the Post Office Underground Railway

The route of the Post Office Underground Railway

The railway finally opened in 1927, and ran from Paddington Station to Whitechapel delivery office via a number of Post Office buildings in central London. The trains on the railway were driverless – a world first – and controlled by levers in switch cabins at each station.

Post Office Underground Railway switching desk

Post Office Underground Railway switching desk

Later re-branded as Mail Rail, the railway remained in use until 2003.

In his talk Chris Taft’s will cover the history and operations of the railway, and show rare images and footage of Mail Rail from our collection.

One of the trains with Mail Rail livery

One of the trains with Mail Rail livery

Other events taking place as part of Secret Subterranean London include a tour of the subterranean amphitheatre The Grand Entrance Hall (which once echoed to the sound of fairground entertainers but lay forgotten for 140 years), and live shows and interventions from artists and performers.

The Post Office Underground Railway talk will take place at The Basement, Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LT on Sunday 12th September at 11am. Tickets are free. For more information please visit

Illustrating Britain and Stamp Design

Designer and illustrator Ronald Maddox has worked extensively for the Post Office and Royal Mail, designing stamps, stamp book covers, first day covers, presentation packs, posters and charts. On 27th May Ronald Maddox will speak at the BPMA about the design process, and many of the designs and artworks he has completed over the years.

After studying at London College of Printing and Graphic Art, and Regents Street Polytechnic School of Art, Ronald Maddox joined the RAF for National Service as a Designer/Artist in the Air Ministry Design Unit. Since then he has been working as a freelance artist, designer, consultant and illustrator. Maddox is President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours and a specialist in this medium, and has exhibited regularly in London and provincial exhibitions, including at the Royal Academy and the Mall Galleries, and has had several one-man shows.

Ronald Maddox’s stamps and posters typically feature British architecture, rural life and countryside. A 1964 Post Office recruitment poster designed by Maddox shows Post Office vans driving through a rural village and a modern city centre.

A 1964 Post Office recruitment poster

A 1964 Post Office recruitment poster designed by Ronald Maddox

Two years later Maddox illustrated a poster on the importance of correct addressing with a painting of Capel Curig, in rural North Wales.

Poster advising on correct addressing designed by Ronald Maddox

Poster advising on correct addressing designed by Ronald Maddox

In 1971 both Maddox and Nicholas Jenkins were asked to submit designs for a stamp issue on Modern University Buildings. While Jenkins was the successful designer for these stamps, the Post Office was impressed with the quality of Maddox’s drawings and his meticulous research, and he was invited to design the 1972 stamp issue Village Churches, as well as the poster and first day cover for Modern University Buildings.

A poster advertising the Modern University Buildings stamp issue

A poster designed by Ronald Maddox advertising the Modern University Buildings stamp issue

For the Village Churches issue, Maddox originally presented more than 20 designs of rural churches, ensuring a wide range of architectural styles were represented. Eventually, five churches were selected for the set. Stuart Rose, Post Office Design Advisor at the time noted that “to condense six or seven hundred years of ecclesiastical architecture into five little stamps is no mean feat and Ronald Maddox has good reason to be proud of his achievement”. The Village Churches stamps became the first ever prints to receive a Design Council Award.

Village Churches stamp issue, 1972

Village Churches stamp issue, 1972

Other stamp issues designed by Ronald Maddox include British Architecture (1978), Urban Renewal (1984) and Industrial Archaeology (1989).

Further information and booking details for Illustrating Britain and Stamp Design can be found on our website.

Ten Collections – One Collector

A social-thematic philatelic display and talk by Dane Garrod

There are so very many themes, countries and periods that any philatelist, stamp-collector, or even social historian, can collect and research, that we are spoilt for choice.  One can marvel at those who are determined to place all their energies and time in having interest in just one area or theme.  However, diversity brings its own rewards by allowing a constant return to a collection that has been temporarily put aside, but to which one can return with fresh enthusiasm and retained knowledge.

My upcoming display and talk at the BPMA will cover ten such diverse collecting interests – there should be something for everyone here – and a brief resumé follows concerning some of what will be shown and alluded to.  Many will include stories of the people who shaped their time, and their country.

The unused 1kr orange of 1850

The unused 1kr orange of 1850

Austria – 19th and early 20th century: To begin, a very early stamp-issuing country in Europe, the first letter of the alphabet, and the first item is their first stamp from some 160 years ago – catalogued as S.G. No.1, it is the unused 1kr orange of 1850.  The sheets in this section continue with the design work of J.F. Renner, who designed all the stamps for Austria from mid-1919 to mid-1921.  Beautifully written-up in Gothic script, but not by this presenter.  Research has failed to find who this illustrious Austrian collector was, but he has left his philatelic legacy in this format. 

Avis de Réception – 21st century: Covers/envelopes from many countries requesting acknowledgement of receipt, with the returning cards prepared for despatch.  This began in the early 19th century in Austria, and spread worldwide in later years.  Now much in decline, it served as a procedure for confirming receipt of letter, package or parcel.  These items shown are from very recent years.

Avis de Réception cover and receipt from Syria

Avis de Réception cover and receipt from Syria

£1 George VI stamp from Kenya, Uganda & Tanganyika

£1 George VI stamp from Kenya, Uganda & Tanganyika

British Commonwealth – King George VI issues:  A display of covers and stamps, with stamps from Ceylon, Mauritius, and Kenya, Uganda & Tanganyika, as examples of diversity of design and colour shades.  The covers have stories to tell, which is revealed in the PowerPoint display.

Germany – The Third Reich:  With additional supporting items such as a postcard from the set sold on the ill-fated Hindenburg airship, and a voting slip for the 1932 Presidential election, the philatelic material includes stories and examples of a forged German postcard, a Red Cross transmitted item from occupied Guernsey, and the use of the Olympic Stadium postmark of 1936.

A cover sent in 1938 from Stuttgart

A cover sent in 1938 from Stuttgart

Great Britain – Parliamentary:  One of the oldest item shown in this display was written by Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, dated 1714 – her parliamentary involvement is well known.  There is an envelope and letter to Willy Sax in Zurich, paint supplier to Churchill – items connected with John Stonehouse and with David Cameron (not to be mentioned together, of course) –  and part of an undated petition to Parliament from the Lady Howard and her daughters, which would have been transmitted by messenger at some date in perhaps the late 1500s.

Christmas card from David and Samantha Cameron, 2004

2004 Christmas card from the current leader of the Conversative party David Cameron and his wife Samantha.

WWI Prisoner of War mail to Kopenhagen:  World War One prisoner-of-war envelopes/covers, despatched to the Danish Red Cross in Kopenhagen, from Russian prisoners in Germany or Poland.  They show the full details of the sender, prison camp, and even the barrack block, and would have contained letters in cyrillic that were sent onwards to their families and loved ones.  The display shows how the covers changed in their pre-printing over the five years of use.

World War One prisoner-of-war mail

World War One prisoner-of-war mail

Revenues:  A field of collecting now returning with a measure of revival in recent years.  Shown are Saar revenue stamps, and British revenue items including vehicle tax discs from the 1950s, a TV licence when it was just £3, and various Motor Ration Books from the 1973 oil crisis – prepared and issued, but fortunately not required.

A TV licence issued in 1960

A TV licence issued in 1960

Württemberg – Stuttgart Privat Post & other stories:  One of the highlights in this section is the postal stationery produced by Wilhelm Leopold for Stuttgart city post from 1888, in competition with the official German post.  Leopold’s attractive postcards were popular with the city inhabitants who were prepared to pay 3 pfennig for them instead of the usual 2 pfennig. When the German postal authorities decided to increase their rate to 3 pfennig, Leopold reduced his to 2 pfennig!

Stuttgart Privat Post postcard

Stuttgart Privat Post postcard

British Commonwealth – Queen Elizabeth II issues:  Mint stamps from Gambia, Sierra Leone and Swaziland are featured, the last two countries showing the use, or even over-use, of overprints on definitives sets.  A few covers to compete this section, including an air-mail letter from independent Rhodesia that was surcharged upon entry to Britain, as the Rhodesian independence was declared illegal.

A surcharged air-mail letter from independent Rhodesia

A surcharged air-mail letter from independent Rhodesia

Great Britain – Social/Open class & other stories:  Perhaps the most interesting and diverse area of philatelic and related material, most with a story to tell.  Included are items from a forced 5-year honeymoon, begun in June 1940 in Guernsey – a letter-card from the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic – hand-drawn Edwardian covers – and finally, a much-loved acrostic.   If like the writer originally was, you are unsure what an acrostic is, then I urge you to come to this PowerPoint talk and display on 22nd April and enjoy being well-informed and much entertained…

British prisoner of war post from Germany

British prisoner of war post from Germany

Dane Garrod will speak at the BPMA on 22nd April. For further information and booking details please visit our website.

Britain’s Postal Heritage

Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer at Bruce Castle Museum, will speak at the BPMA on 8th April. The focus of her talk will be Bruce Castle’s postal history collection, some of which has been highlighted on this blog in recent months.

An embroidered Valentines Day card from Bruce Castle's postal history collection

An embroidered Valentines Day card from Bruce Castle's postal history collection

The BPMA is currently working with Bruce Castle and the Communications Worker’s Union (CWU) to widen access to the Morten Collection, collected by former postal worker W.V. Morten. When Morten died in the 1920’s the Union of Communication Workers (now the CWU) recognised the importance of the collection and purchased it. Since then it has been housed at Bruce Castle, expanding from 8,000 items to more than 30,000.

Highlights of the Bruce Castle Museum Postal History Collection include material related to the TPO (Travelling Post Office), mail coaches, trade union history, stamps, Valentines cards, and Sir Rowland Hill, who at one point lived at Bruce Castle where he was headmaster of a school. The oldest object in the collection is a letter from Normandy sent in 1397.

Bettina Trabant’s talk is free and booking details can be found on our website.