Category Archives: Talks

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

 

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.

Russell

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.

Khartoum

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 www.postalheritage.org.uk/podcast 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 www.illuminievent.co.uk.