Tag Archives: airmail

NEW EXHIBITION Innovation in the air: The 80th anniversary of inland airmail

20 August 2014 marks the 80th anniversary of UK inland airmail delivery. To mark this fascinating story we are hosting a new display in the BPMA Foyer and Search Room from 20 August to 20 October.

Alongside the display will be the chance to look through facsimile examples of newspaper reports from 1934; visitors can read first-hand accounts of the storm chaos that overshadowed the inaugural flight on 20 August. Evening newspaper headlines were quick to tell the public of the bumpy start to the service. Contemporary accounts from the time scream aloud ‘Britain’s Great Air-Mail Muddle’ and tell of the ‘Mail Planes In Gale Ordeal… Chairman of New Line ‘Bumped’ Through Roof’.

Airmail logo.

Airmail logo.

Alongside a discussion of the merits and limitations of the new airmail service, the display will also look at other unusual methods to deliver the post that were trialled around this time- namely the ultra-imaginative but ultimately unsuccessful rocket mail, which saw mail actually delivered in specially designed rockets.

Newspaper report and picture of Zucker’s rocket exploding on Scarp,  The Daily Telegraph, 1 August 1934.

Newspaper report and picture of Zucker’s rocket exploding on Scarp,
The Daily Telegraph, 1 August 1934.

Partly burnt items of mail, singed during the rocket explosions, can still be seen in our collection today.

‘How is the Post Office to make itself heard, to capture the interest and attention of the public, upon which there are already so many claims?’ – Sir Stephen Tallents, 1934

With the growing volume of letters sent by air came the idea of having special letter boxes for their collection. In 1930 the Post Office began painting pillar boxes to be used for airmail collections an ‘Air Force’ blue colour. The eye catching blue boxes promoted and advertised the new airmail service now available to the public. On display for the duration of the BPMA display will be a blue ‘Air Mail’ pillar box.

Our airmail pillar box.

Our airmail pillar box.

By 1934, the Post Office had become very conscious of design. A Public Relations department had been created under Sir Stephen Tallents. Theyre Lee- Elliott was commissioned to redesign labels, leaflets and posters especially for the new airmail service. Based upon stylised wings the new label was introduced on 25 July 1934. Just prior to that, on 17 May 1934, a new flag was authorised for aircraft carrying the Royal Mail.

Available alongside the display, from our Post & Go machine, will be a special commemorative Post & Go stamp, which will include a pictorial element for the first time. The underprint will incorporate the airmail logo designed by Theyre Lee-Elliott in 1934 for use on Inland Airmail posters, flyers and labels, with the text “Inland Airmail 1934”.

Check out our airmail shop range for first day covers, mugs, postcards and much more!

We will also be launching a Google Cultural Institute online exhibition on Wednesday exploring the stories of innovation in delivering the post. ‘Post Haste’ will look at the unusual and imaginative ways that have been used to transport the mail from cats to rockets and many more!

- Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Instone Airline

Postcard advertising air parcel post (POST50/36)

Postcard advertising air parcel post (POST50/36)

Although naturally the collections of the BPMA focus overwhelmingly on the historical operations and administration of the Post Office and Royal Mail, we can occasionally offer a glimpse into the history of other companies who have had a past business relationship with the postal service. A good example of this is when we recently had the pleasure of a visit from Mr. Martin Instone. He was hoping to see a notice we hold in our collection dating from 1922, advertising the Parcel Post service to Paris and Brussels operated by Instone Airline (POST 50/36, below). He also very kindly gave us a brief history of his ancestors’ company.

Instone Airline, originally the ‘Aerial Transport Department’ of S. Instone & Co., was owned by the Instone brothers (Samuel, Theodore, Alfred and Gustave). The Instones were ship owners and merchants who had interests in shipping, trading and industries such as coal mining. After World War One, communications between European countries were slow to return to pre-war standards. This led to delays in the delivery of bills of lading and other documents, which in turn meant the unloading of ships was often delayed. To solve this problem, S. Instone & Co. purchased a de Havilland DH4 plane, initially used to transport company documents, goods and employees from Cardiff via London to Brussels – the plane’s first flight was on 13th October 1919.

“The City of London” being loaded up with Royal Mail items and goods for same day delivery to Paris (image copyright © Martin Instone)

“The City of London” being loaded up with Royal Mail items and goods for same day delivery to Paris (image copyright © Martin Instone)

The Instones soon realised they had the opportunity to offer a transport facility for non-company personnel and goods, and, on purchasing two further aircraft in early 1920, formed Instone Airline. It is believed to be the first airline to introduce uniforms for its pilots and staff, and was also the first to transport a racehorse!

Instone Airlines agreed a contract with Royal Mail for the transportation of letters and parcels between London, Paris and Brussels, and also opened routes between these cities and Cologne and Prague. By 1924, the company ran a fleet of eight aircraft from the airport at Croydon.

In 1924, the British government amalgamated Instone Airline with a number of other small airlines to form Imperial Airways, of which Sir Samuel Instone was a director. Imperial became the British Oversees Airways Corporation (BOAC) in 1940, and in 1977 merged with British European Airways Corporation (BEA) to form today’s British Airways.

Instone Air Line service timetable (image copyright © Martin Instone)

Instone Airline service timetable (image copyright © Martin Instone)

As I’ve shown, even if you’re not undertaking direct research into postal history, it may be worth checking out our catalogue which may throw up something of interest. Along with all the postal history records you’d expect us to hold, there is information on BOAC, British Telecom (until BT separated from the Post Office in the 1980s, telecommunications came under the remit of the PO), Unilever, Vodafone, the Co-operative and many other businesses and organisations that had a relationship with the UK’s postal services. Have a look at our catalogue at http://www.postalheritage.org.uk to see what you can find.

- Robin Sampson, Archives & Records Assistant (with thanks to Martin Instone).

The inaugural regular air mail service from England to Australia, December 1934

The following article was written by John Crowe, who recently visited the Royal Mail Archive to research the inaugural regular weekly service from England to Australia, and in particular the ceremony which took place at Croydon Aerodrome on Saturday 8th December 1934…

The ceremony took place in front of the HP 42 “Hengist” and was presided over by the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Londonderry. He had received mail for despatch to Australia from their majesties the King and Queen and HRH the Prince of Wales. He handed the mail to the Postmaster General, Sir Kingsley Wood, who stamped it with a special Croydon Aerodrome steel date stamp with an ivory and silver handle. This special date-stamp is slightly smaller than the normal Croydon Aerodrome cancel with a diameter of 24 mm, compared with 26 mm for the normal date-stamp. The royal letters were then put in a blue silk bag which was handed to Sir Eric Geddes, the chairman of Imperial Airways, and he in turn handed it to the pilot of the aircraft.

Tractors towing Hengist out of the Imperial Airways’ hangar at Croydon, prior to the first service to Australia. (POST 118/201)

Tractors towing Hengist out of the Imperial Airways’ hangar at Croydon, prior to the first service to Australia. (POST 118/201)

A cover addressed to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Rt. Hon. J.A. Lyons, received the same treatment as the royal letters with the special date-stamp. The cover has an Air Ministry cachet and beneath it the cachet PRIME MINISTER.

Another cover which received the royal treatment together with the letter which was enclosed, are below. The letter is from the Postmaster General, Sir Kingsley Wood, to his opposite number in Australia. The Commonwealth Postmaster General at the time was Senator the Hon. Alexander John McLachlan.

Cover addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Cover addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Letter addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Letter addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

I purchased the letter and cover in 2002 from Maurice Porter. I do not know how it first came into the public domain. Presumably, the Commonwealth Postmaster retained it as a personal item and disposed of it at some later date. Maurice has told me that he purchased it in the Harmer’s sale of the late Alex Newall’s collection. He thinks Alex might have acquired it through one of his FISA connections.

Below is a cover which was carried on the inaugural flight and which was cancelled with the normal Croydon Aerodrome date-stamp. It was signed later (January 1935) by the Postmaster General, Sir Kingsley Wood.

A cover carried on the inaugural flight.

A cover carried on the inaugural flight.

This is the special steel, Croydon Aerodrome datestamp with an ivory and silver handle.

Special Croydon Aerodrome datestamp.

Special Croydon Aerodrome datestamp.

The story of the ivory and silver hand-stamp is an interesting one. It appears that after Sir Kingsley Wood had stamped the VIP mail the hand-stamp was sent with the mail to the Postmaster General of Australia, probably in the blue silk bag, to be retained as a souvenir.

First Australian Air Mail Bag, Dec 1934 (POST 118/205)

First Australian Air Mail Bag, Dec 1934 (POST 118/205)

The hand-stamp remained in Australia, presumably in the possession of the Australian postal archive in Melbourne, until 1984. In that year the curator of the National Postal Museum, as it then was, visited Melbourne to attend the philatelic exhibition known as “Ausipex”. As a result of his visit the hand-stamp was returned to the UK where it can be viewed, by appointment, at the Royal Mail Archive. The silver band around the middle of the hand-stamp reads “First England to Australia/ Air Mail/ 8th Dec 1934” and the metal plate on the top of the box reads “FIRST/ENGLAND TO AUSTRALIA/AIR MAIL/ 8TH DECEMBER 1934”.

John Crowe examines the handstamp during his visit to the Royal Mail Archive.

John Crowe examines the handstamp during his visit to the Royal Mail Archive.

The handstamp.

The handstamp.

Go to Flickr to see images of the First Australian Air Mail.

Acknowledgements

John Crowe thanks Julian Stray (Curator) and Barry Attoe (Search Room Manager) of the BPMA for their help in viewing the hand-stamp; also Stan Wheatcroft whose earlier work is the basis for much of this article.

BPMA thanks John Crowe and Peter Winget for allowing us to publish this article on our blog.

Overseas mails

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster advertising final posting dates for overseas Christmas mail, designed by Tilley, September 1966. (POST 110/3034)

Poster advertising final posting dates for overseas Christmas mail, designed by Tilley, September 1966. (POST 110/3034)

This poster first appeared in September 1966 and as with other long, landscape posters would have been displayed on to the side of small Morris post vans. The designer Tilley has created a colourful scene to promote the list of Christmas posting dates available at post offices. A dolphin representing sea (or surface) mail holds a copy of the list in its mouth, while a bird representing airmail holds a copy in its beak.

These days the public are more likely to use the internet to find out the last posting dates. The Royal Mail website lists the dates for 2012 here: http://www.royalmail.com/greetings.

Get your Christmas presents from our online shop. Order before 18 December for delivery within the UK.

Christmas airmail

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster advertising Christmas air mail services; featuring a flying Father Christmas with wings made out of Air Mail stickers, designed by Dick Negus and Philip Sharland, 1962. (POST 110/4254)

Poster advertising Christmas air mail services; featuring a flying Father Christmas with wings made out of Air Mail stickers, designed by Dick Negus and Philip Sharland, 1962. (POST 110/4254)

This poster from 1962 gives the last posting dates for Christmas mail sent by airmail in that year. Airmail is usually associated with international mail services but after the Second World War the Post Office began to use scheduled inland flights to carry mail between major centres.

Since 1979 Royal Mail has developed an inland network of nightly flights between provincial centres. Its national air network, Skynet, ensures millions of letters reach their destination the day after posting. Thanks to Skynet some of your Christmas cards and parcels will have gone by air for part of their journey without the need for an airmail sticker.

If Skynet sounds a bit Terminator and not as fun as this Father Christmas with angel wings of airmail stickers, we can only apologise.

Christmas Airgraphs

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, 1944 poster by Leonard Beaumont. (PRD0392)

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, 1944 poster by Leonard Beaumont. (PRD0392)

This poster designed by Leonard Beaumont in 1944 promotes the airgraph service, a method of sending messages to servicemen by airmail during the Second World War. Messages were written onto a special form that was then given an identification number and photographed onto microfilm. The microfilm was flown to its destination, developed into a full size print, and posted to the recipient.

Airgraph form, Christmas 1943 (POST 52/692)

Airgraph form, Christmas 1943 (POST 52/692)

Sending 1600 airgraphs on microfilm weighed just 5oz compared to 50lbs for the same number of letters. Copies of the microfilm were kept so that if they were shot down the messages could be re-sent.

Christmas time is often the most difficult for serving military personnel and airgraphs were eagerly anticipated by troops. Today, the British Forces Post Office (BFPO) uses an electronic system called eBlueys – read more about it in this blog about our visit to the BFPO in 2009.

Visit our website for more on the Airgraph Service – did you know that Queen Elizabeth (later The Queen Mother) sent the first airgraph?

Queen Elizabeth taking a look at an airgraph film. The Queen sent the first airgraph to launch the service in 1941.

Queen Elizabeth taking a look at an airgraph film. The Queen sent the first airgraph to launch the service in 1941.

The London Postal School

Regular readers of this blog will have seen our recent post about the digitised lantern slides of Foreign Postal Workers we recently added to Flickr. We have now added more digitised lantern slides to Flickr, this time related to the London Postal School (LPS).

'London Postal School. Postmens Retiring Room. Tea Time' - Lantern Slide (2012-0049/13)

‘London Postal School. Postmens Retiring Room. Tea Time’ – Lantern Slide (2012-0049/13)

The London Postal School was, as the name suggests, the General Post Office’s training facility for postal workers. The School taught trainees how to perform a variety of tasks and functions, from serving on a Post Office counter to sorting and delivering the mail.

As in today’s workplace training sessions students at the London Postal School attended illustrated presentations related to their work, but this being the first half of the 20th Century the students viewed lantern slide shows rather than PowerPoint presentations. The slides from these shows are now part of our Museum Collection, and they give an interesting insight into postal operations of the period.

One lantern slide shows the Post Office branch at Charing Cross, which is described as “very old”. With its ornate exterior and cramped interior it is markedly less modern than the Post Offices at Kentish Town and Albemarle Street.

'London Postal School. Very old P.O. Charing Cross B.O. Exterior' - Lantern Slide (2012-0049/17)

‘London Postal School. Very old P.O. Charing Cross B.O. Exterior’ – Lantern Slide (2012-0049/17)

There are also a number of slides showing airmail operations, then a new and groundbreaking mode of postal delivery, and some showing the mail bag exchange system used on the Travelling Post Offices, rail services on which mail was collected, sorted and dispatched on the move.

'London Postal School. T.P.O. Bags in Position. Net down' - Lantern Slide (2012-0049-27)

‘London Postal School. T.P.O. Bags in Position. Net down’ – Lantern Slide (2012-0049-27)

Finally, there are a variety of slides showing sorting offices and the various technologies employed there such as chutes, the “Creeper” conveyor belt system (below), and the stamping machine and facing table. What the trainees made of all this we’ll never know!

'London Postal School. Mails being conveyed by ''Creeper'' from/ the Landing Stage to Customs Baggage Room' - Lantern Slide (2012-0049/40)

‘London Postal School. Mails being conveyed by ”Creeper” from/ the Landing Stage to Customs Baggage Room’ – Lantern Slide (2012-0049/40)

Visit our Flickr site to see the London Postal School lantern slides.