Tag Archives: genealogy

The Postman’s Snuffbox (Part 2)

Earlier this week, our guest blogger Kenneth Grey Wilson shared the story of a postman’s snuffbox that he came across while on holiday in London. In this post he shares the story of the snuffbox’s owner, Arthur Whittard, and his family.

Paddy put us in contact with her first cousin Sadie Evans, another of Arthur’s granddaughters. With help from Sadie and her daughter, Jane English, the story of the Dursley postman, Arthur Whittard, began to take form. My wife and I offered to return the snuffbox to the Whittard family in exchange for some details of Arthur’s story.

Arthur Whittard was born in Dursley 1866, began work as an errand boy at age 15, and later joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRR).  After his military service, Arthur was certified as a postman in 1893, and a year later he married Ada Morgan. The 1911 census reveals that the Whittard family lived on Slade Lane, and had nine children: Frederick 16, Arthur Victor 14, May 12, Maud 11, Edith 9, Valentina 8, Alfred 6, and Dorothy 2.

One family story relates the possibility that Arthur worked as a school headmaster in India.  We could not confirm this, but it is of note that in the late 1800s the Kings Royal Rifles were posted to India. Perhaps this family story relates to time that Arthur spent in India with the KRR before returning to Durlsey and beginning his work as a postman.

Dursley Postmen 1900

Dursley Postmen, circa 1900. Arthur Whittard fifth from the left back row, with the prominent mustache. Back (L-R) Unknown, Unknown, Frank Martin (?), Unknown, Arthur Whittard, Unknown, Unknown, Fred Hitchins. Front (L-R) Tom Fussell, Frank Hadley, Unknown, Unknown, ? Hitchins, Jim Fussell. Seated, Harry Trotman, Telegraph Boy. Photo and information courtesy of David Evans and Andrew Barton, Dursley

With the onset of World War I, Arthur’s eldest son, Frederick, joined his father’s old regiment as a rifleman with the King’s Royal Rifles in July 1914. In September, Arthur, age 48, re-enlisted in the military and served as a corporal-instructor with the Army Service Corps in England.  Arthur’s younger son, Victor followed his brother into the King’s Royal Rifles infantry regiment as a rifleman in January 1915.

Both of Arthur’s sons saw action in the trenches of the Western Front of France and Flanders in 1915.  Victor met the fate of so many men in the trenches, and became ill with pneumonia. He died on Boxing Day, December 26, 1915. He was only 19 years old. Victor is buried in Merville Communal Cemetery in Northern France.  His brother Frederick was wounded in Ypres during the heavy fighting of the summer of 1915, and was discharged in May 1918, with the loss of a leg. Arthur continued to serve in the ASC until he was discharged as ill, in March 1918, and he died only a few years later at age 59.

We will probably never know how the Arthur’s snuffbox traveled from Dursley, to Old Spitalfields Market in London 88 years after his death, but the little snuffbox was returned to Dursley and to Arthur’s granddaughter, Sadie Evans. With a little luck, some online research, and some trans-Atlantic sleuthing two tourists from Texas learned a bit about a British postman and the history of a family in a small market town in Gloucestershire.

“When people bury treasure nowadays they do it in the Post-Office bank.”
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

If this story inspired you to do some family history research of your own, or you just want to find out more about a family member who worked for the British postal service, the BPMA has range of records in its collection that may help you find out more.

The Postman’s Snuffbox (Part 1)

While on holiday in London Kenneth Grey Wilson and his wife found a snuffbox owned by a British postman. In trying to find the relatives of this postal worker he came across a few unexpected surprises. This week (in a two-part post), Kenneth will be sharing his story and that of the snuff box owner.

We all love a good treasure-hunting story; accounts of buried pirate booty, lost gold mines, or Roman coins found in a farmer’s meadow seem to capture the attention of nearly everyone. Most of us are not fortunate enough to discover a buccaneer’s hoard behind a chimney stone, but it seems that we all in our way do a bit of treasure hunting—keeping an eye out for a Picasso at a jumble sale, searching for bargains at Debenhams, or just looking for forgotten change in vending machines.

My wife and I are both collectors and treasure-hunters of a sort, and when traveling we look for inexpensive curios in antique shops, shop windows or flea markets—objects that seem to convey history, hold a strong visual appeal, and ideally some level of mystery. The object might be a hand-made toy, a piece of jewelry, an old postcard or a faded photograph, but it must convey a human touch or story that communicates across time. On a recent trip to London we spent hours in the British Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, and the Museum of London, but what really excited us was the prospect of discovering small treasures in the many flea markets of the city.

On a damp, grey Sunday—the kind of day that makes tourists feel that they are in the London of Sherlock Holmes or Charles Dickens—we ventured out to the Old Spitalfields Market in the East End, an area of London outside the old medieval walled city that has seen buying, selling, haggling and trading of all sorts for hundreds of years. The historic market looked promising—crowded aisles between stalls filled with bits and pieces of other times and other lives.  The odors of age and dust were greatly improved by the smells of of Cornish pasties and meat pies and we eagerly took to the hunt.

While bargaining over some small metal hooks that might find use in our bathroom, I noticed a small, nickel-plated snuffbox with the words, “A. Whittard, Postman, Dursley” marked on the lid. The letters had been stamped into the metal, one at time, with hand tools. The repetition of the letter “X” turned on its side had created a border around the words.  My wife and I immediately thought that this intriguing find had enough clues to trace it to its original owner, and that mission might serve as a fun challenge. The snuffbox would be our map. The owner would be the treasure.

Snuffbox

Snuffbox

I made a cash deal with the seller for both the bathroom hooks and the snuffbox and my wife and I went happily back to our hotel room to rest up for the next day’s adventures.  A week later, back at home in Texas, I searched the Internet for Dursley, and found that it was a small market town in Gloucestershire. A search for A. Whittard, Postman, Dursley, quickly turned up a link to an online forum for past residents of Dursley and a comment by Julie Smith from Ohio, USA, about growing up in the town, along with a mention of her late brother, Alan Whittard, who had been a Dursley postman.

Parsonage St., Dursley, circa 1910. The old post office was on this street. Postcard from Kenneth's collection.

Parsonage St., Dursley, circa 1910. The old post office was on this street. Postcard from Kenneth’s collection.

It appeared that we had a win on the first spin of the wheel, but in further investigation, we recognized that Alan was too young to be our snuffbox owner, and what’s more, no one remembered him ever using snuff. Julie offered to contact a friend in Dursley, Jennifer Rennie, known as “Paddy.” As it turned out, Paddy’s maternal grandfather was Arthur Whittard, a Dursley postman at the turn of the 20th century. So, unknown to Julie, she and her “friend” Paddy were actually distant cousins…

If this story inspired you to do some family history research of your own, or you just want to find out more about a family member who worked for the British postal service, the BPMA has range of records in its collection that may help you find out more.

Discovering a Slice of London Life

After last month’s archive stocktake, I’ve returned to my ongoing cataloguing project. Today I’ll tell you about a terrific discovery I made on the repository shelves.

Matt inspects the record books in the BPMA Search Room.

Matt inspects the record books in the BPMA Search Room.

This is a set of four record books. Three are from the 1930s, while the fourth covers 1941-1956. They’re not labelled with ownership details but, after studying the contents and cross-referencing with other archives in our collections, I believe they originated from the South West (SW) London District Office, which was in Victoria Street at that time.

The books were used to keep records on the sub-post offices in the SW London District. As you may already know, there are two main kinds of post offices in Britain: crown offices directly managed by the Post Office, and sub-post offices operated by independent businesspeople under contract from the Post Office.

The books are divided into many sections, headed with each sub-post office’s address. The three 1930s volumes cover the entire District between them, while the 1940s volume is a partial continuation. Confusingly, the contents aren’t all arranged alphabetically!

Selected addresses from the record books. Clockwise from top left: 15 Gloucester Road, later number 17 (POST 22/385); 226 Wandsworth Road (POST 22/387); Victoria Station (POST 22/388); 56 Brixton Road (POST 22/386). Centre: Harrods (POST 22/385).

Selected addresses from the record books. Clockwise from top left: 15 Gloucester Road, later number 17 (POST 22/385); 226 Wandsworth Road (POST 22/387); Victoria Station (POST 22/388); 56 Brixton Road (POST 22/386). Centre: Harrods (POST 22/385).

What makes these books a treasure is the staggering amount of detail. There are notes of customer complaints, audit records, specifics of equipment installed, and particulars of disciplinary cases. Every note is dated. This is what you’d expect from the central supervision of agents carrying out work for the General Post Office. But there’s so much more.

Sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses often performed postal work alongside another business. The volumes record precise details of any interruptions in postal work. The main motivation was to monitor revenue, but the notes also reflect SW London’s changing streets. The record below is a good example:

Record of post office at 412 Brixton Road being damaged by a bomb on 16 April 1941. (POST 22/388)

Record of post office at 412 Brixton Road being damaged by a bomb on 16 April 1941. (POST 22/388)

This note states that the 412 Brixton Road office was damaged by a bomb on 16 April 1941, and reopened at new premises in the local Bon Marché store. There are also records of crimes at sub-post offices, often including dates when staff were absent to attend the ensuing identity parades and police court sessions. Take a look at the note below:

Report of a foiled break-in. (POST 22/388)

Report of a foiled break-in. (POST 22/388)

This brief report of a foiled break-in is notable for giving the full name of the lady who was living above the office! We can glimpse here the locality that the office served. Often the addresses of customers who complained are also recorded.

Finally, there’s genealogical information. Dated records were kept of sickness absence and compassionate leave taken by sub-postmasters and sub-post mistresses. Whenever an office transferred to a new sub-postmaster, the exact handover date and the departing sub-postmaster’s new home address were recorded. There are also family stories:

Note recording the date and time of the death of the Streatham Hill sub-postmaster's death. (POST 22/386)

Note recording the date and time of the death of the Streatham Hill sub-postmaster’s death. (POST 22/386)

This note records the date (and time!) of the Streatham Hill sub-postmaster’s death. His son was acting sub-postmaster for a few months, then his widow took over the business. All these records were kept for purely business reasons, but the research uses are so much wider than that.

Hopefully, similar records for other areas will be discovered. As I catalogued the record books, I wrote a searchable index of all the sub-offices listed in the notes, with their respective sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses. This will appear on our online catalogue in the coming months.

Royal Mail’s Paralympics Hero

Much has been written about how Paralympians have overcome adversity to achieve sporting success. It is also notable that many Paralympians compete in more than one discipline. Team GB’s first London 2012 Paralympics Gold Medal winner Sarah Storey has overcame her disability to win multiple medals in several sports. The same is true with Royal Mail’s Paralympics hero Ian Hayden.

Royal Mail's Gold Medal Winner stamp issued today commemorating Sarah Storey's gold medal win in the Cycling: Track Women's C5 Pursuit.

Royal Mail’s Gold Medal Winner stamp issued today commemorating Sarah Storey’s gold medal win in the Cycling: Track Women’s C5 Pursuit.

Ian Hayden joined the Army in 1970 but suffered injuries to his back, legs and shoulders after being attacked on guard duty in 1974. While this ended his Army career, Ian Hayden was obviously not a man to rest on his laurels – within two years he had started a business and formed the charity All About Ability. He also became active in a variety of sports after leaving the Army, including horse riding, cycling, golf and athletics.

After being asked to open the new disabled entrance to a local Post Office, Ian became an Equal Opportunities Officer and Employment Consultant at Royal Mail Oxford.

Royal Mail’s staff magazine Courier reported in January 1992 that Ian Hayden had been selected for the Barcelona Paralympics. He had previously won two Gold Medals and one Silver Medal at the Seoul Paralympics in 1988, and was also the World Record holder in javelin, discus and shot in the standing position.

Ian Hayden with his medals from the Seoul Paralympics and other championships, with Royal Mail managing director Bill Cockburn. (Courier, January 1992)

Ian Hayden with his medals from the Seoul Paralympics and other championships, with Royal Mail managing director Bill Cockburn. (Courier, January 1992)

Later that year, in the July issue of Courier, it was reported that Ian had been forced to switch from competing in the standing position to competing from a wheelchair. But this proved not to be a problem, as he then went on to break three new records at the national championships, and to break two of them again in international competition.

At the Barcelona Olympics itself Ian Hayden won two Silver Medals, despite injuring his arm whilst getting out of the bath at the Olympic village. The October 1992 issue of Courier reported that this injury caused Ian a great deal of pain, as apart from his physical disabilities Ian was also a haemophilic. Reporter Graham Harvey wrote that Ian “ignored the pain to take silver in the shot and javelin”. Ian himself said of his experience at Barcelona “I was beginning to bleed pretty badly after competing so I had no choice but to withdraw from the discus”, the implication being that had he been able to compete he may have medalled in that event too.

Ian Hayden with his two Barcelona Paralympics Silver Medals, which he won despite an arm injury. (Courier, October 1992)

Ian Hayden with his two Barcelona Paralympics Silver Medals, which he won despite an arm injury. (Courier, October 1992)

Ian Hayden had hoped to go to the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics but injured his back during qualifying. However, in 1995 he completed a sponsored ride from John O Grots to Lands End on a hand-powered bicycle, which raised £100,000 for the British Paralympics Association, so he still managed to contribute to British Paralympics success in Atlanta.

Ian Hayden (front left) with fellow Paralympian Tanni Grey (later Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson), receiving a cheque for £200,000 from postman Brian Burnham (top left) on TV-am in 1992. Also pictured is TV-am presenter Katharyn Holloway. The money was raised for the British Paralympic Team by Royal Mail employees. At this time Royal Mail was the only sponsor of both the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. (Courier, September 1992)

Ian Hayden (front left) with fellow Paralympian Tanni Grey (later Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson), receiving a cheque for £200,000 from postman Brian Burnham (top left) on TV-am in 1992. Also pictured is TV-am presenter Katharyn Holloway. The money was raised for the British Paralympic Team by Royal Mail employees. At this time Royal Mail was the only sponsor of both the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. (Courier, September 1992)

Ian Hayden died aged 64 in 2011, and his obituary appeared in the Oxford Times. The obituary notes that Ian was awarded the MBE in 1994 for services to equal opportunities. His family reflected that “Ian led an amazing life.”

Stamps featuring all Great Britain’s Paralympics gold medal winners will be issued within 24 hours of victory. Visit your Post Office today to buy the stamps, or buy online at www.royalmail.com/goldmedalstamps.

The Royal Mail Archive in London holds back issues of Post Office and Royal Mail staff magazines, which are an invaluable resource for family historians and researchers. Find out more at www.postalheritage.org.uk/genealogy.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live

On 24-26 February we will be attending Who Do You Think You Are? Live at London Olympia. This is the largest family history show in the world and is a great opportunity to meet lots of family history organisations under one roof.

BPMA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

BPMA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

This will be the sixth year that the BPMA has attended this event and we have always enjoyed meeting new people and telling them about our family history sources. Last year we had over 550 people visit our stand over the weekend and this year we would love to meet even more.

BPMA resources at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

BPMA resources at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

As well as having our usual stand in the Society of Genealogists section of the show (tables 116-117), we will also be participating in the new ‘Our Working Past’ area. This area examines the working lives of people in the past. We will have historic uniforms, photographs of postal workers on duty, and staff magazines available for handling and consultation. The staff magazines, in particular, provide a fascinating insight into life in the Post Office and include accounts of social events, stories and jokes.

We look forward to seeing you there!

- Helen Dafter, Archivist

See the Family History Research section of our website to find out how we can help you search for your postal ancestors.

Job in a Million

Today’s episode of The Peoples Post focused on the life of postal workers in the 1930s. Included were extracts from the film Job in a Million, made in 1937 by the GPO Film Unit.

The paternalist air of Job in a Million seems patronising to us today, but it reflected the public service ethos of the time. As well as boys and men, girls, women and disabled people were all employed in large numbers by the Post Office, particularly during and after the First and Second World Wars.

At the start of the First World War the Post Office was once of the largest employers in the world (employing 249,606 people), and in 1934 it was the second largest employer in Britain (employing 227,882 people). Even today Royal Mail Group employs 185,602 people, putting it amongst the UK’s largest employers.

With this history it unsurprising that the majority of the UK population have either worked for or have an ancestor who worked for the Post Office or Royal Mail. Here at the BPMA we receive enquiries every day from family historians wanting information on the working lives of their ancestors. Find out how we can help with your search at www.postalheritage.org.uk/genealogy, or for information on working lives in the Post Office see www.postalheritage.org.uk/history.

- Alison Bean, Web Officer

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage A Job in a Million. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.

BPMA Open Afternoon

Join the staff and Friends of the British Postal Museum & Archive at our annual Open Afternoon on Tuesday 6 December 2011.

Interior of Travelling Post Office

Interior of Travelling Post Office, 1935 (POST 109/375)

See a showcase of our fascinating collections, take part in a range of activities, talks and tours, and find out more about who we are, what we do and what we’ve been up to in the last year. Events will run from 1pm until 8pm, and everyone is welcome to drop in at any time and share a mince pie with us!

Activities include…

Hands-On Family Research: Was your ancestor a postie? Our Archive Search Room Team will show you how to research your family tree.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition - for the first time in London! View the iconic photographs of the Post Office at work in the community sourced from the BPMA Archive.

Behind the Scenes Tours: Discover the treasures of the Archive – from GPO Posters to philatelic gems – led by our Archive & Curatorial Teams.

Tour of our Archive collections which fill over 2.5 miles of shelving and cover social, postal and design history from 1636 to today – at 2pm, 4pm and 5.30pm.

Tour of the Philatelic Studio led my our Curator, Philately at 3.30pm.

Booking welcome; subject to availability.

The History of the Christmas Card: Learn more about the origin of this custom with material provided by our Cataloguing team.

Preservation Surgery: Ask for advice from our conservator on caring for your own collection of family history records, postal history, stamps or photographs – bookings welcome!

Learning Activities Sample Sessions: Find out how our Access & Learning team engage school children and young people in our postal heritage with a range of activities and resources.

Mail Trains: Watch the classic Auden-Britten film production Night Mail (1936), talk to our curators about the Travelling Post Office and join a talk about the history of delivering the mail by rail at 7pm.

Still from Night Mail

Still from Night Mail

For more information and for booking a place on a tour or the Preservation Surgery, please call 020 7239 2037.