‘To Warwick with Love’ – The Private Postcards of an Aristocratic Family, 1914-1917

This Thursday we welcome Aaron Manning from the Warwick Castle History Team as he gives his evening talk ‘To Warwick with Love’ – The Private Postcards of an Aristocratic Family, 1914-1917.

Upon arrival enjoy a complimentary glass of wine and experience the nostalgic music of the First World War era. Then, sit back and allow Aaron to reveal, for the first time, a century-old hidden story from the castle.

First World War era postcard

First World War era postcard.

For nearly a hundred years a box of postcards lay hidden and untouched in the living quarters of the castle. A box of postcards that would tell the tragic story of how war tore apart the family of the Earl of Warwick. These intimate messages, sent between mother, father and children during the First World War, will be shared by Aaron in this fascinating, poignant talk.

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Finish off your evening by further immersing yourself into the story through investigating first hand a selection of these copied postcards, with our speaker Aaron on hand to answer any of your questions.

To book your place:

Online at: http://postalheritage.org.uk/page/to-warwick-with-love-2
Phone us on 020 7239 2570

Event details:

Post Office Time capsule opened after 93 years

On Monday, the centenary of the First World War, the contents of a time capsule created by Dundee postal workers in 1921 were unveiled. Head of Collections Chris Taft attended the event along with representatives from Royal Mail, Post Office Ltd, the Communication Workers Union, the High School of Dundee (where the former Post Office building from 1921 is now located), The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum and The Great War Dundee Partnership.  

Inside there were documents relating to the period including publications, newspaper cuttings, letters and photographs from soldiers.

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Field Marshall Douglas Haig in Dundee 1920. (Image credit: The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum/ University of Dundee)

Group photo of Dundee Postal War Memorial Committee.

Group photo of Dundee Postal War Memorial Committee. (Image credit: The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum/University of Dundee)

Pte J Brady Black Watch showing tricycle used by collectors 1914.

Pte J Brady Black Watch showing tricycle used by collectors 1914. (Image credit: The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum/University of Dundee)

A store of photographs of local dignitaries, soldiers and postmen and scenes of Dundee, including visits by Princess Mary in 1920 and Winston Churchill in 1921 were found in the capsule.

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There is also a number of sealed envelopes including a Letter from Lord Provost Spence (1921) to the Lord Provost in 2014 and a Letter to the Postmaster of Dundee in 2014 from the Postmaster in 1921.

Letter from the Postmaster to the current Postmaster.

Letter from the Postmaster to the current Postmaster.

The capsule and its contents will be on display at the McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum, and we will be sharing more about the contents soon!

4 August 1914: Commemorating the First World War

To commemorate today, 100 years since England entered the First World War, Head of Collections Chris Taft reflects on the essential role of the Post Office and its people at home and on the front.

Exactly 100 years ago today the world descended into chaos and changed forever, as England declared war on Germany. In the words of Wilfred Owen, poet and soldier, the ‘Winter of the World’ closed in. Every person in Britain was to be impacted as was every industry. For no industry can this be truer than for the British Post Office, it touched the lives of everyone. For many it was an employer, for even more it was a part of their community and for everyone it was the primary means of communication. By 1914 the Post Office was managing postal communication, telephones and the telegraph. It was also a central point of contact with government departments where people could collect forms, licences and pensions. Any global event was to have an impact on such a key organisation, and certainly the First World War was to.

Photograph of Sergeant Thomas May (second from left on front row) of the Post Office Rifles with the rest of his company outside some tents. (2013-0021/3)

Photograph of Sergeant Thomas May (second from left on front row) of the Post Office Rifles with the rest of his company outside some tents. (2013-0021/3)

As the European or Great War as it was known at the time broke out the Post Office was immediately called up. On the day war broke the Postmaster General was instructed that the Post Office was to take charge of censorship, initially this was just for letters coming from or going to Germany but gradually this role expanded until by later in the War censorship became a major weapon in the fight.

The duties expected of the postal service were many, from censorship already mentioned to managing the separation allowances, relief fund, war bonds and ration books. All this on top of the ordinary duty of delivering mail, as well as the massively expanded task of delivering mail to a World at war.

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The role the Post Office was to play in the First World War is explored on our online exhibition Last Post: Remembering the First World War. The story is also told in the Last Post Exhibition which is currently on at the Coalbrookdale Gallery at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum and touring at venues around the country.

The biggest impact however was to be in respect of the people. Over 75,000 men of the Post Office went off to fight. Over 8,000 of these men were to never return. After the war, memorials began to be erected up and down the country to colleagues who lost their lives, today there are over 350 such memorials to postal and telecommunication workers.

Home Depot, Armistice Dat 11 November 1918 (POST 56/6)

Home Depot, Armistice Dat 11 November 1918 (POST 56/6)

As the men left to fight tens of thousands of women took on new role helping to keep the communications lines open both by delivering mail at home and helping to sort the mail for the troops in sorting offices in Britain and in Northern France and Belgium. Their contribution was immense.

As we remember the dawning of the ‘Winter of the World’ we must most of all remember all those people who played their part in the war that was meant to end all wars.

-Chris Taft, Head of Collections

To commemorate the beginning of the First World War, we have added all new content to our online exhibition, Last Post.

#MuseumCats Day: “Industrial chaos in the Post Office cat world’

For #MuseumCats day, we wanted to share the history of cats in post offices from the first three probationary, rodent-killer to the famous 23-lb goliath Tibs in the 1950s and 60s. Sadly the last Post Office Headquarters official cat, Blackie, died in 1984. Since then there have been no more employed cats, but their 100+ years history is not to be fur-gotten.

Cats were first officially appointed by the Post Office to catch rodents in September 1868 (although there had undoubtedly been cats in post offices before). Three cats worked on probation at the Money Order Office in London, with an allowance of one shilling a week. They were given 6 months by the Secretary of the Post Office to reduce the mouse problem or they would be cut.

Tibs the Official Post Office Headquarters Cat

Tibs the Official Post Office Headquarters Cat

Luckily the cats did ‘their duty very efficiently’ and in 1873 they were awarded an increase of 6d per week. The official use of cats soon spread to other post offices with the cost of maintaining them varying.

Letter requesting a cat (POST 121/206).

Letter requesting expenditure for cat (POST 121/206).

Fast forward 80 years to 1952, when there was public outrage at the fact that Post Office cats hadn’t received a raise since 1873! The following year a question was raised in the House of Commons asking the Assistant Postmaster General, Mr L D Gammans, “when the allowance payable for the maintenance of cats in his department was last raised…”

Mr Gammans replied that “There is, I am afraid, a certain amount of industrial chaos in The Post Office cat world. Allowances vary in different places, possibly according to the alleged efficiency of the animals and other factors. It has proved impossible to organise any scheme for payment by results or output bonus…there has been a general wage freeze since July 1918, but there have been no complaints!”

The most popular cat of all, however, was named Tibs, who was born in November 1950. At his biggest, Tibs weighed 23lbs and lived in the Headquarters’ refreshment club in the basement of the building. He not only kept Post Office Headquarters completely mouse-free during his 14 years’ service, but found time to appear at a ‘cats and film stars’ party and have his portrait included in a 1953 book Cockney Cats. Tibs worked diligently until his death in November 1964.

Tibs' obituary from Post Office Magazine 1965.

Tibs’ obituary from Post Office Magazine 1965.

The last Post Office HQ cat, Blackie, died in June 1984, since when there have been no more cats employed at Post Office Headquarters.

Find out more about the role of cats, dogs and horses in the postal service.

 

New First World War stamps released

This is the first set in a five part landmark series that commemorates the First World War. This series will explore stories from the individuals who served as well as key art and poetry from the years.

The centenary of this conflict is being marked by Royal Mail with a series of 30 stamps to be released over the next five years. Each year of the war will be commemorated by a set of six stamps, exploring six themes: poppy, poetry, portraits, war art, memorials and artefacts.

Front of Prestige Stamp Book.

Front of Prestige Stamp Book.

A fragment from Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’ carved by stonemason Gary Breeze, 1st class.

A fragment from Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’ carved by stonemason Gary Breeze, 1st class.

The Response, otherwise known as the Renwick Memorial, 1st class.

The Response, otherwise known as the Renwick Memorial, 1st class.

Private Tickle, an underage soldier who was killed during the Battle of the Somme, 1sr class.

Private Tickle, an underage soldier who was killed during the Battle of the Somme, 1st class.

Images of Princess Mary’s Gift Fund box, 1st class.

Images of Princess Mary’s Gift Fund box, 1st class.

Painting of a poppy by botanical artist Fiona Strickland, 1st class.

Painting of a poppy by botanical artist Fiona Strickland, 1st class.

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson’s painting A Star Shell, 1st class.

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson’s painting A Star Shell, 1st class.

The First World War stamps are available from 28 July online at http://www.royalmail.com/personal/stamps-collectibles-gifts, by phone on 08457 641 641 and and in 10,000 Post Offices throughout the UK.

Stories from the Archive: ‘Beauty Blackwood’

In this week’s post, Archives Assistant Robin shares the interesting life of Sir Arthur Blackwood, Secretary of the Post Office from 1880-1893, from a recent Search Room enquiry.

Whilst the Post Office employment records held by the BPMA can provide crucial information for family historians, helping to fill in the gaps of an ancestor’s career and whereabouts, it is often quite difficult to get a true sense of an employee’s personality from them. However, for certain senior employees we hold a number of biographies, obituaries and personal portraits that can really help to flesh out their characters.

I found this out for myself when answering an email enquiry from an academic researching the life of Stevenson Arthur Blackwood, later Sir Arthur Blackwood. I had previously not known anything about him, and his entry in the Establishment Books (below) didn’t give me much to go on, but a search of our catalogue made me aware of a number of interesting sources of information we hold (including a biography by H Buxton Forman and an obituary in the staff magazines) that really brought him back to life.

Print. Caption: “Black and white print of S. A. Blackwood, c.1890, object ref no. 2011-0008”

Sir Arthur Blackwood’s entry in the Establishment Book for 1893, the year of his death, with the name of his replacement added in pencil. POST 59/126

Sir Arthur, had apparently been somewhat dandyish in his youth (he was nicknamed “Beauty Blackwood”), but underwent a religious conversion whilst serving in the Crimean War and became a committed Evangelist, renouncing all worldly pleasures and taking up the study of Hebrew.[1] He had a reputation as a philanthropist, and was heavily involved with a number of Post Office charities and societies. He was the president of the Post Office Total Abstinence Society, which had almost 3,000 members and branches in 31 towns, and wrote a pamphlet advocating abstinence entitled “For the Good of the Service” (a copy of this Pamphlet is held at the Bruce Castle Museum in Haringey).[2] He was a patron of the Post Office Orphan Home, was the first president of the Post Office Musical Society, and was involved in promoting Boy Telegraph Messenger Institutes for a number of London districts. His biographer quotes one Messenger, a Barnardo’s boy, as saying Sir Arthur was “such a gentleman, and spoke to me as if he was my brother”[3]. His biography also notes that he took a great interest in the formation of the Post Office Athletics and Cricket Clubs, and having served in the army was also a keen supporter of the Post Office Rifles, distributing prizes in their annual ceremonies.[4]

Despite his towering 6ft3 height and sixteen stone frame, Sir Arthur was in poor health for much of his life, and his final years as Secretary were hampered by illness – he was delayed from attending the 1891 postal congress in Vienna due to ill health and took extended leave shortly before his death in 1893 from pneumonia.[5]

An obituary run by the January 1894 issue of St. Martins-Le-Grand, the Post Office Staff Magazine (available in POST 92 in the BPMA search room) calls him a “splendid specimen of manhood”.[6] However, elsewhere I learnt that Sir Arthur’s son, the fantasy and horror writer Algernon Blackwood, felt that his father’s Evangelism had led him to have a repressive and unhappy upbringing.[7] Sir Arthur could also be severe in the line of duty. His obituary tells the story of how in 1890 Sir Arthur quelled strike action at Mount Pleasant by “[speaking] to the assembled staff in the most earnest, severe, and appropriate manner, and in the name of the Postmaster General expelled them from the premises as well as from the Service.[8]” It is fascinating that we can get such a rounded portrait of Sir Arthur’s character from these various sources.

Perhaps the best example of the material we hold on Sir Arthur is a fantastic black and white print of him in his prime (object reference 2011-0008, below), which really gives an indication of his stern but genial character. I hope I have shown in this blog that even the collection of a business archive such as the BPMA can bring the personality of historical figures to life and are a fantastic source for genealogists and biographers alike.

Print. Caption: “Black and white print of S. A. Blackwood, c.1890, object ref no. 2011-0008”

Black and white print of S. A. Blackwood, c.1890, object ref no. 2011-0008

-Robin Sampson, Archives Assistant

Special Offer: Get your very own limited edition Victorian Innovation Cover for only £1.99

[1] J. S. Reynolds, ‘Blackwood, Sir (Stevenson) Arthur (1832–1893)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/46635, accessed 23 July 2014]

[2] Blackwood, Mrs. (ed.), Some Records of the Life of Stevenson Arthur Blackwood, Hodder & Stoughton, 1896. p396

[3] Ibid. p397

[4] Ibid. p395

[5] St. Martins-Le-Grand Magazine Volume IV, General Post Office, January 1894 p9

[6] Ibid. p1

[7] George Malcolm Johnson, ‘Blackwood, Algernon Henry (1869–1951)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/31913, accessed 23 July 2014]

[8] St. Martins-Le-Grand Magazine Volume IV, General Post Office, January p7

Pop-Up Author event with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school

Yesterday we were delighted to host a Pop-Up Education Author Event. Pop Up Education connect authors with schools through inspirational educational programmes.

We welcomed Cathy Brett, author and illustrator of Everything is Fine (and other lies I tell myself) and a class of year nine students from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school to our archive.

Students from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School meet author Cathy Brett.

The plot of Everything is Fine revolves around the First World War letters the protagonist Esther uncovers through peeling back the wall paper in her bedroom. Finding the letters sets Esther on a journey of discovery into the past. Our Author Event linked Cathy’s fictional story with the real First World War material in our collection.

In our archive the students saw original First World War letters, postcards and photographs. Through exploring this material they found out about the postmen and women who sorted, censored and delivered letters like those found by Esther in the book.

Following that, Cathy led a masterclass where she talked about how she became an author and illustrator. She introduced them to the character of Amelia, a First World War nurse and demonstrated her fantastic creative skills.

The students wrote letters that they imagined would be sent to Amelia through the Post Box Time Machine.

Students illustrate their letters to the past.

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Here’s a little selection of what the students had to say about the Author event:

‘I liked seeing letters from over 100 years ago and learning about peoples experiences’ (Ladan)
‘Now I know what women did in the Post Office when the men went to war’ (Tashika)
‘I liked doing the letter to Amelia from the Time Machine’ (Tashika)
‘I enjoyed seeing actual pictures of the postal workers back then’ (Ahlaam)
‘I enjoyed writing letters to each other and that we can actually send them’ (Abida)

We’d like to say thank you to Pop Up Education for arranging this event. We had a great time hosting Cathy and the students.

-Sally Sculthorpe, Learning Officer