Tag Archives: Christmas

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!

Christmas through the post

With only a few days left until Christmas Day we have been collaborating on an exciting new exhibition that explores the fundamental importance of the post at Christmas time.

Our festive exhibition, Christmas through the post, has been developed in collaboration with Beverley Art Gallery. The exhibition, now on display at Beverley Art Gallery, explores the practise of sending post at Christmas time.

Christmas advance posting notification c.1902

Christmas advance posting notification c.1902

Christmas has been celebrated through the post for 170 years. The first known Christmas card was commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843, in the same year as Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’, was published. The BPMA holds one of Cole’s 1843 cards in its collection.

Christmas through the post at Beverley Art Gallery reveals Christmas postal history through a series of images drawn from the collections of the BPMA. On display are iconic images of ‘Post Early for Christmas’ posters and images of Victorian Christmas cards within the BPMA collection.

Exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery

Exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery

Promoting early posting for Christmas is the longest running campaign in Royal Mail’s history. The images in the exhibition are taken from the iconic GPO advertising poster collection, held at the BPMA, illustrating the promotion of the services offered by the GPO and the campaign to encourage people to ‘Post Early for Christmas’. The images on display are testament to the breadth and variety of designs that have been used in the ‘Post Early’ campaign, for over 100 years.

Also on display are a small selection of Victorian Christmas cards- illustrating the naturalistic and often pagan designs of the early cards, and their very small size, compared to today’s cards. We also have on display Christmas stamp artwork facsimiles illustrating the designs and creativity of the Christmas stamps and the festive designs by children. Christmas stamps were only introduced in 1966 but remain the most popular stamp sets sold throughout the year. Following the first Christmas stamps in 1966, special Christmas stamps have continued to be issued every year- with designs of either a religious or a secular nature (largely alternating between the two).

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Festive worksheets and activities will be available to accompany the exhibition at Beverley Art Gallery. You can also download the BPMA children’s worksheet designed by Katy Holmes – http://www.katypotaty.co.uk.

Children undertake postal themed activities at Beverley Art Gallery

Children undertake postal themed activities at Beverley Art Gallery

If you are unable to make it to Beverley to see the exhibition, we are very pleased to offer here an alternative online Christmas exhibition - our second online exhibition in collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute.

An exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery features the first Christmas stamp designed by children.

An exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery features the first Christmas stamp designed by children.

Christmas through the post is on at Beverley Art Gallery until 8 February.

Beverley Art Gallery
Treasure House
Champney Road
Beverley
East Riding
HU17 8HE

Entry: Free

For more information on any of our exhibitions- we have four available for free hire- please contact Dominique on dominique.gardner@postalheritage.org.uk or on 0207 354 7287.

A very happy Christmas from everyone here at the BPMA!

- Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Victorian Christmas workshops at Westminster Abbey

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For the past two weeks I’ve been busy delivering Victorian Christmas workshops for schools in the awe-inspiring Westminster Abbey.

The Christmas workshops follow on from last year’s successful partnership with the Westminster Abbey Education team. This year we were also joined by the Dickens Museum. The three organisations worked together to develop festive workshops for primary schools across London.

Each class took part in two activities. They toured Westminster Abbey and participated in telling the Christian Nativity story by taking on the role of characters including shepherds, the three Wise people and Mary and Joseph.

The second activity was co-led by the BPMA and Dickens Museum. They found out about two famous Victorians who are both buried in Westminster Abbey – Rowland Hill, inventor of the Penny Black stamp and Charles Dickens, author of among other books, A Christmas Carol.

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Another connection is that the world’s first commercially produced Christmas card was made in 1843, the same year as A Christmas Carol was published.

To finish their visit students made a Christmas card, based on a Victorian toy shop.

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Lots of festive fun was had by all!

Christmas Stamps 2013

Since Royal Mail first issued Christmas stamps in 1966, over 17 billion Christmas stamps have been printed in Britain. The Christmas 2013 stamp issue goes on sale today, signifying the start of a dramatic increase in social mail and the sale of the most popular stamp issue of the year.

Madonna and Child Christmas stamps available from 5th November.

Christmas 2013 Madonna and Child stamps available from 5th November.

The 2013 designs are of a religious nature, following a long standing tradition of alternating between religious and secular themes. Royal Mail’s objective was to create an issue reflecting different artistic representations of the Madonna and Child across the widest possible timespan, and emphasise diversity in Britain. To emphasise Britain’s diversity, Fadi Mikhail was commissioned to create a Neo-Coptic inspired design, which is featured on the £1.88 stamp.

Christmas 2013 presentation pack available from the Royal Mail shop.

Christmas 2013 presentation pack available from the Royal Mail shop.

The design brief is reminiscent of the 2005 Christmas stamp issue, which illustrated artistic interpretations of the Madonna and Child in different cultures. A striking image printed on the £1.12 stamp was created in coloured sand by Aboriginal Australian artist Dianne Tchumut.

Additional handstamps available with the 2013 Christmas stamps.

Additional handstamps available with the 2013 Christmas stamps.

This year, alongside the religious stamps, two stamp designs have been created by school children. 239,374 school children aged between four and eleven responded to the question “what does Christmas mean to you?” and their entries can be viewed in an online gallery at www.royalmailstampcompetition.com. One entry, by Charlie Miller; age five, depicts a pillar box in the snow, which is one of my personal favourites.

The two national winners, whose designs are printed on 1st and 2nd class stamps, were selected by a panel including The Prince of Wales and Tasveer Shemza. Shemza, when she was six years old, designed a winning stamp portraying King Wenceslas for the first Christmas stamp issue.

1966 3d Christmas stamp designed by Tasveer Shemza

1966 3d Christmas stamp designed by Tasveer Shemza.

The winning designs also needed the approval of The Queen, as with all stamp issues.

Christmas stamp 2013

‘Santa’, designed by Molly Robson aged 7 from West Sussex is to be featured on the first class Christmas stamps from 5th November 2013.

Christmas stamp 2013

‘Singing Angels’, by Rosie Hargreaves aged 10 from Devon, is to feature on the second class Christmas stamp from 5th November 2013.

Read more about the first British Christmas stamps here http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/page/christmas-stamps

Read more about the Christmas 2013 stamp competition here
http://postalheritage.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/2013-christmas-stamp-design-competition-winners-announced/

2013 marks only the third occasion that a British Christmas stamp has been selected from competition entrants. This stamp, designed by Samantha Brown; age five, was a winner in the second national competition, held in 1981, and depicts Santa Clause with a rather charming smile.

1981 11½p Christmas Stamp designed by Samantha Brown

1981 11½p Christmas Stamp designed by Samantha Brown.

Christmas stamps have featured the work of renowned artists including Axel Scheffler in 2012, Quentin Blake in 1993 and, memorably in 2010, the team behind Wallace and Gromit.

2012 Christmas stamps designed by Axel Scheffler

2012 Christmas stamps designed by Axel Scheffler.

Christmas stamps from 1993 designed by Quentin Blake

Christmas stamps from 1993 designed by Quentin Blake.

2010 Christmas Stamps featuring Wallace and Grommit

2010 Christmas Stamps featuring Wallace and Gromit.

While rehousing sheets of stamps from the 1960s, I came across the wonderful Christmas 1969 4d stamp, which features an angel in a floor length, colourfully patterned dress with contrasting patterned wings and headband. The style is highly evocative of late 1960s counter culture fashion, which drew influences from Eastern cultures. These fashions were championed by the hippie movement who, widely involved in anti-war protests, utilised the style to demonstrate a rejection of the establishment. The Christmas 1969 stamp is a window into this era and its aesthetics.

Christmas 1969 4d stamp - a window onto 1960s sensibilities.

Christmas 1969 4d stamp – a window on to 1960s sensibilities.

Christmas stamps symbolise the important role of communication in the festive period and map the national run up to Christmas. The build-up of excitement begins alongside the sale of the first Christmas stamps as people ponder Christmas card lists, invitations to parties are sent and letters to Santa composed. The post-before deadline marks the crescendo of preparations, as parcels are rushed to the Post Office and internet shopping cut off dates are frantically met. The distinctive, red pillar box, often capped in snow, is a common feature on all kinds of Christmas illustration including cards, stamps and wrapping paper; demonstrating the intrinsic connection between Christmas and the post in cultural memory.

Original artwork for the 12.5p 1983 Christmas stamp.

Original artwork for the 12.5p Christmas 1983 stamp.

The British Postal Museum and Archive is holding an exhibition at The Treasure House in Beverley from 7 December 2013 until the second week in February 2014 entitled Christmas through the Post; exploring the rise and importance of the post at Christmas time. An accompanying online exhibition, hosted by the Google Cultural Institute, is planned for the future. Keep checking our website for more details and for the final closing date of the exhibition.

- Joanna Espin, Philatelic Assistant

Following the issue of the new Christmas Robin stamp on 5th November 2013, the BPMA have produced official limited edition first day covers featuring the new stamp designs issued by the machine. These first day covers feature the new stamp design with the unique overprint for the BPMA machine (reads “The B.P.M.A.”) and have been produced on official BPMA covers and cancelled with the official British Postal Museum & Archive cancellation stamp dated for the first day of issue.

Visit www.postalheritage.org.uk/robin2013 to purchase a first day cover. Limited edition of 50 available.

2013 Christmas stamp design competition : Winners announced

The winners of the 2013 Christmas stamp design competition have been announced today.

Christmas stamp 2013

‘Santa’, designed by Molly Robson aged 7 from West Sussex is to be featured on the first class Christmas stamps from 5th November 2013.

‘Santa’, designed by Molly Robson aged 7, from West Sussex, will be the 1st Class Christmas Stamp, and ‘Singing Angels’, by Rosie Hargreaves aged 10, from Devon, is to feature on the 2nd Class Christmas stamp. The winners will attend a prize-giving at Clarence House with His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and Royal Mail Chief Executive Officer, Moya Greene. The winning designs were chosen from over 240,000 entries received from children aged between four and eleven across the UK in response to the question ‘What does the Christmas season mean to you?’

This is only the third time in Royal Mail’s near 500-year history that children have designed the Christmas Stamps. The Prince of Wales led the judging panel that chose the winning designs. A new website has been launched for children, parents and teachers to view the entries submitted to the competition: www.royalmailstampcompetition.com.

Christmas stamp 2013

‘Singing Angels’, by Rosie Hargreaves aged 10 from Devon, is to feature on the second class Christmas stamp from 5th November 2013.

You can also find out more about the first ever Christmas stamps (which were also designed by children) at our website.

Christmas mail for HM Forces

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, 1974. (POST 110/0079)

Poster advertising final posting dates, 1974. (POST 110/0079)

Military personnel are constantly on the move, so spare a thought for the British Forces Post Office which has the unenviable task of getting mail to them. In 1974, as now, the families of those serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force had to be very organised to ensure their loved ones received their Christmas cards and parcels. Mail from home is a great morale boost to servicemen and women on operations far from home, especially at Christmas time.

Use your postcode at Christmas

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 promoting the use of postal codes when sending Christmas mail, 1968 (POST 110/1550)

Poster promoting the use of postal codes when sending Christmas mail, 1968 (POST 110/1550)

In the 1960s when this poster was produced most mail was still sorted by hand but the Post Office was hatching an ambitious plan to reshape the entire network and it needed the public to change with them. A new breed of sorting office was being developed, filled with “coding desks” at which staff would operate keyboards in order to register the mail as it entered the system. Postcodes, which compressed the information in every address were key to making this new type of sorting office work.

A line of postmen operating coding desks at Croydon Head Post Office, 1969. (POST 118/5424)

A line of postmen operating coding desks at Croydon Head Post Office, 1969. (POST 118/5424)

Between 1966 and 1974 every address in the United Kingdom was given a postcode and this poster from 1968 was part of the accompanying publicity campaign. Royal Mail was still promoting the postcode using posters and other methods as recently as the 1990s, a reflection of how long it takes to effect major change. You can read more about postcoding in our blog post Publicising the postcode or in our article on Postcodes on our website.