Horses have been used to carry messages from the very early days, when post boys would deliver messages by horse. In the 18th Century horse-drawn mail coaches were introduced, which cut mail delivery times by more than half.
But while efficient, mail coaches suffered many tragic accidents. In a previous blog we recounted the sad tale of a mail coach caught in a snow drift in Southern Scotland. We also found a lantern slide showing a coach in difficulty on a broken bridge. This and other images of horse-drawn mail from the Royal Mail Archive can now be seen on Flickr.
Accident, Lanark. Detail of a lantern slide showing a scene of a broken bridge where there central portion of the span has fallen into the river below. A coach is hanging off the right hand edge with two horses dangling in their harness. (2012-0139/1)
The advent of the railways in the 19th Century further sped-up mail delivery, and mail coaches were withdrawn from use. However there was still work at the Post Office for a good horse, and horses were used to pull carts, carriages and vans until at least the mid-20th Century.
Interestingly, horses were also entitled to sick leave. A note held in the Archives from 1898 states that:
Mr T C Poppleton’s horse of The Post Office is suffering from sore shoulders and unable to perform his official duties.
Horse’s sick note, 27 October 1898.
Horses were not employed directly by the Post Office but were provided by contractors. A number of the images we have put on Flickr show scenes from the stables of McNamara and Co, who provided horses for postal duties in London.
Horse in the stables of Messers McNamara and Co., 1949. (POST 118/1988)
By the late 1930s horses had largely been replaced by motorised vehicles, although they were used in remote areas on a limited basis. The last London post horse, Peter, left Post Office headquarters in the City of London on 23 September 1949.
The last horse drawn mail used in London leaves on delivery. (POST 118/1982)
View our images of Horse-drawn Mail on Flickr.
I have recently been working on a project to scan and catalogue BPMA’s collection of lantern slides. Lantern slides were used in magic lanterns and were the predecessors of modern slides for projectors. They were first invented in the mid 16th Century, originally using candles or oil lamps to throw the images. As time progressed brighter light sources such as limelight were discovered making the devices much more efficient at projecting.
The lantern slides were made out of two pieces of glass coated with a photographic emulsion resulting in the image appearing in-between the plates. The slides could then be hand tinted if required or left black and white.
Lantern slides came into popular use in the 19th and 20th Centuries and the BPMA’s collection of over 500 also date to this period. The Post Office used them extensively, with a variety of purposes from staff training to documenting what the organisation was doing.
A large part of the collection focuses on postal transport, and unsurprisingly horses feature in many of the earlier slides – in the form of drawings and photographic images, of either the animals or artwork of them. I have selected some of these to share with you today.
Tickets used to hire post horses from postmasters or innkeepers. (2010-0411/08)
The image above shows a photograph of tickets used to hire post horses from postmasters or innkeepers. As the title states, surviving examples are rare so the record in the form of a lantern slide to document this process is highly valuable.
Australian telegraph worker riding a horse. (2010-0450)
This next slide, shows a late 19th Century drawing of an Australian telegraph worker, distinguished by his different uniform, riding on a horse. This could possibly have been used to educate British staff of postal practices around the world.
Postal worker with his horse. (2011-0443/08)
A much more human touch in this next image shows an older postal worker with his horse or pony. The familiarity in the shot is endearing and shows a more informal side to the use of the slides.
More catalogue records complete with images will shortly be available on our online catalogue so do look out for them soon.
Laura Snowling - Volunteer
Posted in Catalogue, Collection, Postal History
Tagged Australian postal service, General Post Office, GPO, horse, horses, lantern slide, magic lantern, Post Office, Royal Mail, telegraph worker, tickets, transport, uniform