Tag Archives: John Palmer

The Royal Mail – Past and Present

Join me, Duncan Campbell-Smith, on the 24th October at the Guildhall Library where I will be giving a fascinating talk addressing some of the great innovations of the past that have reshaped the Royal Mail. Reviewing the origins of the post as a state-owned service and subsequent moves to reform it from time to time, I will show why some of the most important postal reformers – from Ralph Allen and John Palmer to Rowland Hill himself – might have identified strongly with the logic behind this month’s privatisation.

Duncan Campbell Smith in the BPMA archive search room.

Duncan Campbell Smith in the BPMA archive search room.

Turning to the 20th century, I will look at the attempts to launch a privatisation of the Mail and examine some of the reasons why it did not come sooner. The demands of the Second World War and the security of the state postponed serious consideration of any sale until the 1960s, but it then became a recurring theme of the postal story for more than a half-century.

The talk will use the ups and downs of the privatisation debate as a way of surveying the broad trends in postal history over the centuries. As the author of the Royal Mail’s official history, Masters of the Post, I will also be sure to include some of my favourite anecdotes from the book.

- Duncan Campbell-Smith

Book for Duncan’s talk The Royal Mail – Past and Present via EventBrite. There will be a drinks reception from 6pm, following by the talk from 7pm.

Romance of the Royal Mail

It was common in the late 19th and early 20th Century for packets of cigarettes to include trading cards. Usually issued in sets of 25 or 50, cigarette cards had the dual purpose of stiffening the packaging and advertising cigarette brands. They also presumably increased sales of a brand if it issued cards which were particularly desired.

In the 1930s Royal Mail and the cigarette company W.H. & J. Woods Ltd joined forces to issue a set called Romance of the Royal Mail which depicted aspects of postal history up to the early 20th Century. Amongst the cards are some well-known stories including how John Palmer established the first regular mail coach services and the introduction of the postcard.

‘John Palmer’ cigarette card (2010-0384/04)

‘John Palmer’ cigarette card (2010-0384/04)

Less familiar is a card depicting mail deliveries to the South Pacific island of Tonga. The card explains:

As the nature of the coast of the Tonga Islands make landing difficult, the mails are delivered by the simple method of sealing them in old tea and petrol tins and throwing them into the Pacific, where they are collected by a native who swims out from the shore. The far-flung organisation of modern communications ensures dependable deliveries in remote corners of the world, where the arrival of the post is an exciting event, just as it does in the city street where the postman is seen three or four times a day.

'The Mail for the Tonga Islands' cigarette card (2010-0384/20)

‘The Mail for the Tonga Islands’ cigarette card (2010-0384/20)

Visit Flickr to see all of the Romance of the Royal Mail cigarette cards.

Morten Collection Object of the Month: September 2010 – Mail Coach jug

Each month we present an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

This month, Ian Cook, Librarian of the Communication Workers Union, has chosen an object from the collection which holds some fascination for him:

Like most schoolchildren of my generation I was aware of Rowland Hill and the Penny Black and was – almost certainly – given a toy post office as a present from an indulgent relative. However, it was not until I began working at the Union that I began to develop an interest in the wider aspects of postal history. The Library still holds its own archives and postal trade union journals from a century ago that show that the postal service was about people improving the lot of Post Office workers whilst maintaining a pride in their job and their organisation. I very quickly became acquainted with Mr. W. V. Morten and his postal history collection, as one of the first tasks I undertook was sorting postal material with the ‘WVM’ stamp which had come to light.

Mail Coach Bristol Ware jug from the Morten Collection

Mail Coach Bristol Ware jug from the Morten Collection

The object I have chosen from the collection is a Bristol Ware jug decorated with a mail coach. There is a note on the bottom, signed by Morten himself in 1913, giving the jug’s identification. Morten has no doubts, given the date (now obscured), its inscription “Quick Travelling”, the shape of the coach and the fact there are no outside seats, that this jug was made to commemorate the introduction of the Quick Travelling Mail Coaches invented by John Palmer of Bath in 1784.

A beautifully functional object, would these jugs have been available in coaching inns along the way for passengers, drivers and guards to assuage their thirst with water? Or maybe something stronger? How many people have handled it and drank from it over the last 200 years? How has a fragile object, presumably in daily use, survived in such good condition so that we can appreciate it today? Partly it is because of the efforts of collectors like W. V. Morten, who saw them worthy of collection and therefore salvation.

Morten Collection Object of the Month: June 2010 – London to Glasgow mail coach ledger

Each month, for ten months, we’ll be presenting an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

If you have any comments on the objects or the Collection we’d be grateful to hear them. At the end of the ten months we hope we’ll have given you an overview of the Collection, highlighting individual items but also emphasising the diverse nature of the material. For further information on the Morten Collection, please see our blog of 16th December 2009.

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

In the 21st Century travelling has become part of our everyday lives. Most people will have been abroad at some point, even if just on a day trip to Calais, and almost everyone will have been on a bus, plane or train to a place away from where they live. Travelling has become relatively comfortable, easy and very fast.

This has not always been the case. In previous centuries very few people travelled. For the entire year of 1780 for example we have 15 English tourists in France. Travelling was slow, dangerous and burdensome. It was mainly the upper classes that travelled and the three most common reasons were health, religion and work. People often made their will before they went on a journey. Coaches could travel 7mph in the summer and 5mph hour in the winter. When going up hill passengers had to get off and walk, unless they were rich enough to be carried by their servants.

Between 1660 and 1840 it was customary for upper class boys to take the Grand Tour through Europe after leaving Oxford or Cambridge. As they were young and poorly supervised that often provided opportunities for their first encounters with members of the opposite sex.

Apart from owning your own horse and or coach, the two main ways to travel where either by mail or stage coach. Mail coaches were quicker, but not geared towards passenger travel, and sometimes passengers had to break off halfway through their meal as the coach was rearing to continue its journey. Stage coaches on the other hand were designed for passengers’ comfort, but slower, as they would stop frequently.

Prior to the existence of mail coaches, letters would have been conveyed by postboys on horses riding between posts that were placed in 20 mile intervals. John Palmer realised their inefficiency and started the mail coach service during the 18th Century. The delivery of mail from Bristol to London was reduced from 38 hours to 16 hours. Early mail coaches were not owned by the post office and were contracted out. The only post office official on board of a mail coach was a heavily armed guard who was needed to ward off the mail robbers.

In the Morten Collection we hold hundreds of items relating to roads, travelling and mail coaches. The item featured in this month object of the month is a ledger giving details for the accounts of the London to Glasgow mail coach.

London to Glasglow mail coach ledger, from the Morten Collection

London to Glasglow mail coach ledger, from the Morten Collection

James Pollard and The Age of the Coach

by Freya Folåsen, Cataloguer (Collections)

James Pollard was an artist and engraver working during the first half of the 19th Century. Pollard created prints of various sporting events such as fishing and racing, but he is perhaps best remembered for his many wonderful coaching prints, several of which are held in the BPMA’s prints and engravings collection. Pollard’s artistic career and the great coaching era coincided nearly perfectly and resulted in some of the finest depictions of that time in history.

The Bedford Times. Changing of Horses at the Old White Lion (1830)

The Bedford Times. Changing of Horses at the Old White Lion (1830)

The great coaching era lasted only a short time, from the early days of the 1800s until around 1840, but the history of travel by coach and of the mail coach in England goes back much further. In 1580 the first coaches were introduced to England from abroad. These coaches were without springs and made travel both slow and uncomfortable. The poor condition of the roads further reduced the comfort and speed, so in 1685 toll-gates appeared on English roads. These were to raise funds for road improvements and although they were an annoyance to coaching proprietors they were a necessary step in setting the stage for faster and more efficient road travel. Another 100 years passed before, in 1784, the first mail coaches were put on the road, an initiative started by John Palmer, Member of Parliament for Bath. Still, travel by coach would be tedious and tiresome for a few more decades, but by 1825 road improvements had made it possible for lighter and faster coaches to be made, significantly increasing the speed of coach travel. To fully take advantage of the new, faster coaches, mail terminals and coaching stations grew and needed to be tightly organised. Some terminals grew to resemble small towns, with coaching inns accommodating several 100 horses at one time. Important coaching inns sprang up in and around London, including the ‘Gloucester Coffee House’ in Piccadilly, portrayed by Pollard in ‘West Country Mails at the Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly’ from 1828.

West Country Mails at the Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly

West Country Mails at the Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly

It was during these thriving years Pollard made his most famous prints. He travelled along the routes of the mail coaches and showed both the dangers of the countryside and the hustle and bustle of the London mail coaches.

The Mail Coach in a Thunder Storm on Newmarket Heath

The Mail Coach in a Thunder Storm on Newmarket Heath

In ‘The Elephant and Castle on the Brighton Road’ he shows what was probably the busiest calling point for coaches in England.

The Elephant and Castle on the Brighton Road

The Elephant and Castle on the Brighton Road

The 1820s can be regarded as the high point for both James Pollard’s career and for the coaching days, but it would be short lived. The 1830s saw the introduction of the railway and with it, the decline of the stage coaches. For the mail it was the 1838 Act of Parliament authorizing the conveyance of mails by rail that ended the reign of the mail coach. In Pollard’s case, after the death of his wife and daughter in 1840 only one important print of his work was published and he spent the latter part of his life in relative obscurity. Regardless of this, Pollard and his coaching prints show us many different aspects of how the coaching and mail system once worked, and brings to life an era gone by.

Sources: Selway, N. C., 1957. The Regency Road: The Coaching Prints of James Pollard. London: Faber and Faber Limited.

Moving the Mail: From Horses to Horsepower

You’ve probably noticed the feed from our Flickr account on the right side of this blog. We’re using Flickr as a way of enabling more people to see our exhibitions, such as Moving the Mail: Horses to Horsepower.

Moving the Mail explores the history of road transport and the Post Office, showing how technology and innovation, from Mail Coaches to motorised transport, enabled Royal Mail to increase the speed of mail delivery.

Royal Mail Coach circa 1800

Royal Mail Coach circa 1800

Prior to the introduction of Mail Coaches, Post Boys delivered mail by horse. Post Boys were vulnerable to adverse weather conditions and attacks from highwaymen, and the system was considered slow.

In the late 18th Century, John Palmer, a theatre manager from Bath, proposed an alternative system whereby horse-drawn Coaches would be used. To ensure the maximum speed was maintain the horses would be swiftly changed every 10 miles. When this system was trialled in 1784 it took just 16 hours for the Coach to travel from Bristol to London: a speed considered remarkable at the time. By the end of 1785 Mail Coaches were in use all over England.

Mail Coach Guards carried a blunderbuss and a brace of pistols to protect them from attack. The first recorded hold-up of a Mail Coach took place in 1786; it was unsuccessful as the Guard shot the highwayman dead. This action by the Guard appears to have deterred other highwaymen as no further hold-ups were recorded (unless you count the on a Mail Coach by a lioness, as mentioned previously on this blog).

With the coming of the railways in the 19th Century and other technological advances, Royal Mail began to use vans, motorcycles, push bikes and other vehicles to deliver mail. A range of these are on display at the venues below or can be viewed on Flickr. For more information on road transport and the Post Office see the Moving the Mail: Horses to Horsepower Online Exhibition.

Exhibition Tour Dates

Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton, until 27th September 2009

Grampion Transport Museum, until end October 2009

Bradford Industrial Museum, 18th July – 12th September 2009