Tag Archives: London

Students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Massachusetts visit the BPMA

We are a group of four students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. At the beginning of the summer, from May 12th to June 28th, we had the privilege of working with the British Postal Museum and Archive to develop better visitor evaluation strategies. The goal of our project was to help improve visitor evaluation within their exhibitions which primarily focused on the Last Post Exhibition.

Mail Rail

WPI Students take a tour of Mail Rail

The overall experience was fantastic, filled with opportunities and memories. We were able to visit and explore some of the most popular museums in London including the Natural History, Victorian and Albert, and Science museums. At these museums, we observed visitors to identify what they enjoyed and see how the set up can affect visitor engagement.

Nysa

Nysa at Last Post Coalbrookdale

We also had the pleasure of working with BPMA visitors. Getting to know those who enjoyed the BPMA’s work, and asking them for helpful insight into what they learned and what they think would improve the sites. Working at events and visiting the Last Post exhibition at Mansfield and Coalbrookdale was a thrilling experience; we not only learned about the exhibitions but also were able to test many different evaluation methods such as interview, surveys, creative writing/drawing activities and observations.

Shuyang

Shuyang with the postal uniform display

We gathered some informative and gratifying feedback, for example one visitor said she “…learned so much more about a city [she had] lived in for 40 years.” Others said that they “did not realize the extent of Post Office involvement in the First World War.” The feedback we gathered was helpful and greatly aided our research objectives.

Enjoying London

WPI Students enjoying London

Aside from gaining new knowledge about museum goers, as a team we were able to improve our professional writing skills, communicate with a broad range of people, and work efficiently in a group setting. This experience also enabled us to grow as young professionals; we believe this project has added to a foundation of what the working world is like.  Living in London was an experience of a lifetime; adapting and working in a different culture will enable us to adapt to all presented opportunities and continue to broaden our understanding of the world.

Thank you,

Angela, Nysa, Shuyang and George

We’re taking part in Cityread London 2014

Rhyl Primary School, image courtesy of Cityread by Rosie Angus.

Image courtesy of Cityread by Rosie Angus.

Each April Cityread  asks  people in London to pick up the same book and read it together.  The book is usually for adults, but this year there’s also a children’s book  – Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo.

As part of the month of reading Cityread are running activities across London. We were keen to get involved because part of the plot of Private Peaceful unfolds through letters sent by soldiers home to their loved ones.

I recently took part in Cityread First World War Letter Writing and Exchange workshops for local schools. Classes visited the Camden Local Studies and Archives centre to find out more about the First World War in their area and use this as inspiration to write their own letters. Their letters will be sent to a partner school in London who in turn will reply with stories about the war in their area.

Here I am talking to students from Hampstead School.

Image courtesy of Cityread by Rosie Angus.

Image courtesy of Cityread by Rosie Angus.

As well as school workshops, we’re also excited to be taking part in the Cityread Family Day at the Museum of London this Saturday. We’ll be asking visitors to write their own postcards home from the front line.

We hope to see you there!

-Sally Sculthorpe, Learning Officer

A Bloomsbury Tale

Since August we’ve been working with local communities as part of a project for the Bloomsbury Festival. Our recent work with children from the 1A Arts Centre has been filmed and will be part of A Bloomsbury Tale, made by artist Elaine Duigenan. Funded by a cooperative of Bloomsbury institutions including the Charles Dickens Museum, Holborn Community Association and BPMA, the film showcases the wonderfully diverse nature of the cultural and historical experiences the community has to offer.

A scene from A Bloomsbury Tale.

A scene from A Bloomsbury Tale.

Free tickets to a screening of the film on Sunday 20th October are now available, and you can enjoy a complimentary glass of wine as you view it in the beautiful surroundings of the Art Workers’ Guild. A limited number of tickets may be booked online, or alternatively you can simply turn up on the day.

Children from 1A Arts Centre being filmed for A Bloomsbury Tale.

Children from 1A Arts Centre being filmed for A Bloomsbury Tale.

The Bloomsbury Festival runs until 20th October 2013. BPMA is part of a number events for the Festival – see our website for full details.

Mail Rail: A Photographic Exhibition

Jonathan Bradley previews his exhibition Mail Rail: A Photographic Exhibition, which opens at the Royal Mail Archive today.

For three quarters of a century, one of the most successful underground railways in the world transported mail under the busy streets of London until its service was suspended in 2003. It remained largely unknown to the general populous aboveground.

Waiting in the dark - 1930s car in the siding. Image ©Bradley Photography, Northumberland.

Waiting in the dark – 1930s car in the siding. Image ©Bradley Photography, Northumberland.

The Post Office Railway (AKA Mail Rail) is a unique and remarkable infrastructure, being the only dedicated driverless mail haul railway in the world. It came to my attention some two years ago while surveying for another framework environment for the ongoing People : Space work. People : Space is a human spatial study and finding appropriate environments to deliver an artistic treatment to is not an easy task. However, the Mail Rail had the necessary attributes and photography began in 2011.

Descent to the Mount - Twin tunnel. Image ©Bradley Photography, Northumberland.

Descent to the Mount – Twin tunnel. Image ©Bradley Photography, Northumberland.

People : Space encourages viewers to look at spaces and areas that are or can be occupied by humans and visa-versa. Photographically capturing space is very challenging and this project often projects vistas that indirectly depict this. Frequently, the humanity element can be suggested. Within each of these pictures lies a distinct, tangible thread of humanity and though the photographs present and record a view of the railway in a quiescent state, the subtle compositional detail of the images lean the eye to regard these degrees of freedom – spaces that contained workers, movement and sound.

Relay board - 'Blue' relay board photograph. Image ©Bradley Photography, Northumberland.

Relay board – ‘Blue’ relay board photograph. Image ©Bradley Photography, Northumberland.

Consider the sound of footsteps, the noise of trains, mail being unloaded off conveyors and cherrys being clicked. Think of the people who walked the platforms, who loaded mailbags, the engineers and fitters tirelessly working in the car shed above Mount Pleasant Station, the section controllers shuffling levers and moving trains and the line crews who worked during maintenance hours who serviced the railway that is now dormant and silent. Contrast what was before with what you see today and consider these People and their Spaces.

Unable to Accept - Green and Yellow lights with acceptor panel. Image ©Bradley Photography, Northumberland.

Unable to Accept – Green and Yellow lights with acceptor panel. Image ©Bradley Photography, Northumberland.

Mail Rail: A Photographic Exhibition is on display in The Royal Mail Archive, London. Entry is free.

A selection of exclusive prints signed by Jonathan Bradley are available from the BPMA online shop.

Book now to tour our Archives or Museum Store

Bookings are now open for our ever popular tours of the Royal Mail Archive and the British Postal Museum Store. Led by our archivists and curators these tours offer a unique opportunity to see behind the scenes and get up close to some of the fascinating items in our collection.

A tour of the Royal Mail Archive.

A tour of the Royal Mail Archive.

The Royal Mail Archive is based in Freeling House, part of the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre in Clerkenwell, Central London. The Archive collection is stored in 2.5 miles of shelving, and covers social, postal, and design history from 1636 to today. Our archivists will guide you around the repository and show you some of the highlights of the collection.

The British Postal Museum Store is located on the Debden Industrial Estate, Loughton, a short walk from Debden London Underground Station. The Museum Store holds postal vehicles, letter boxes, sorting equipment, bicycles and other items. Our curators will take you on tours around the Store and offer you some complimentary refreshments.

A tour of the British Postal Museum Store.

A tour of the British Postal Museum Store.

Tours of the Archive and the Museum Store are free, but donations are welcome. Book your place online now as these tours always sell out.

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.

Historic Duplicate Stamp Sale to Benefit New Home for The British Postal Museum & Archive

  • Sotheby’s will stage an historic auction featuring duplicate stamps from the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA)
  • Important sale, estimated by Sotheby’s to bring in excess of £5 million, will support a spectacular new home for the British Postal Museum & Archive, set to open in early 2016
  • State-of-the-art centre will represent an exciting addition to London’s cultural landscape, showcasing the BPMA’s world-class collections and celebrating a unique aspect of British heritage
  • New museum will serve as a key cultural hub as part of a major regeneration scheme in Camden & Islington

On 11th July 2013 Sotheby’s will stage an historic auction featuring surplus duplicate stamps from the British Postal Museum & Archive. The auction will provide essential funds for a state-of-the-art new home for the BPMA, representing an exciting addition to London’s cultural landscape when it opens in 2016.

Visualisation of BPMA's New Centre at Calthorpe House.

Visualisation of BPMA’s New Centre at Calthorpe House.

New Home for Britain’s Postal History

Described by Mayor of London Boris Johnson as “a national treasure of global importance”, the BPMA is the leading resource for all aspects of British postal heritage. It cares for the visual and written records of 400 years of British postal, social and design history, comprising over 60,000 artefacts and 2.5 miles of archives. Together, the collections and archive tell a fascinating human story of British communication, industry and innovation, illuminating and celebrating a unique and integral part of the nation’s heritage.

Under a scheme endorsed by the Government and backed by Britain’s leading heritage organisations, the BPMA is planning a new Postal Museum and Archive to provide a first class home for its archive and collections, which are currently held in storage and largely inaccessible to the general public. The new centre will be situated in Calthorpe House, in the London Borough of Camden, adjoining the country’s oldest mail centre at Mount Pleasant.

World-class Archive and Collections

As well as featuring a purpose-built archive repository, the new Postal Museum and Archive will feature spectacular exhibition spaces to showcase the BPMA’s archive and collections, which range from postal vehicles to pillar boxes, staff records, posters, photographs, uniforms, weapons and the world’s greatest collection of British stamps.

Poster: 79,242 Postmen, Duncan Grant, 1939.

Poster: 79,242 Postmen, Duncan Grant, 1939.

Highlights include every British stamp issued from 1840 to the present day; original evidence from the Great Train Robbery trial; the world’s first commercial Christmas card produced in 1843; a 1930s art-deco Mobile Post Office; Valentine’s Day cards dating from c. 1790; telegrams relating to the Titanic disaster; weapons used to protect the mail against theft or piracy; a digital Oral History collection recounting the personal stories of hundreds of current and retired postal staff from around Britain; a first edition of ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce, intercepted in the post for being obscene; uniforms of Victorian River Postmen; a Travelling Post Office railway coach; films produced by the iconic GPO film unit; telegrams sent by the royal family; medals awarded to Post Office Employees including a rare Victoria Cross; and posters, prints and paintings by celebrated artists including Edward Bawden, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.

Understanding and celebrating Britain’s postal heritage and wider social history

The new Postal Museum and Archive will feature a state-of-the-art education centre and extensive research facilities, designed to encourage school children, students and the wider public to learn from and be inspired by postal heritage in all its depth and context. The new education space will increase the BPMA’s annual educational engagement from 2,000 to 12,000 pupils, representing a 600% increase on its current offering.

Key examples of how the BPMA’s collections reflect Britain’s social history:

  • In 1840 the launch of the Penny Black, the world’s first prepaid stamp, encouraged people to write and became a vehicle for education, friendship and commerce
  • The opening of Post Office Savings Bank backed by the Government in 1861 encouraged people of all walks of life to save money safely and to help combat debt
  • W. Reginald Bray became the first ‘human letter’ when he posted himself, later emulated by two suffragettes who attempted to have themselves delivered to Downing Street
  • During WW1 the Post Office co-ordinated all army mail and by 1918 had 22,000 pigeons carrying messages to the front
  • In 1943 the world’s first programmable electronic computer was built by the GPO’s Tommy Flowers, helping to break many German encrypted codes during WW2

Mail Rail: London’s Best Kept Secret

As an added visitor attraction, the BPMA is exploring plans to convert a section of Mail Rail, the former underground Post Office railway network. Introduced in 1927 and operational until 2003, Mail Rail was the world’s first driverless electrified railway, which revolutionised the delivery of mail in the UK. To this day it remains the world’s only dedicated underground mail transport system, representing an important and largely unseen element of Britain’s industrial heritage.

Poster design: Post Office Tube Railway, Edward Bawden, c. 1935.

Poster design: Post Office Tube Railway, Edward Bawden, c. 1935.

Subject to sufficient funding, the Mail Rail depot at Mount Pleasant will be transformed into an immersive visitor centre, introducing a fascinating 15 minute ride on the Mail Rail network on newly-designed trains through the existing tunnels.

Benefitting the local area and contributing to an improved sense of community

Bridging the boroughs of Camden and Islington, the new Postal Museum and Archive will serve as an important cultural hub and community resource. As well as offering cultural and training opportunities for young people, the BPMA will organise out-of-school cultural opportunities and strong community outreach programmes, contributing to a vibrant Camden and Islington.

Historic Stamp Sale

The project to develop the new Postal Museum and Archive will cost approximately £22 million and a fundraising campaign is currently underway, with considerable support from Royal Mail and Post Office Limited. Other funding is in place from the Heritage Lottery Fund and from the BPMA itself.

As part of the fundraising campaign, the BPMA is pursuing two sales of surplus duplicate philatelic material currently held in its custody though not part of its accessioned collections. The historic auctions will take place at Sotheby’s, which held the first ever stamp auction in Europe in 1872. The first sale, held on 11th July 2013, will comprise 191 lots and is estimated by Sotheby’s to bring in excess of £5 million.

One of the duplicate items for sale: Seahorse ‘Registration’ sheets, 1923, one of only two such sheets in existence.

One of the duplicate items for sale: Seahorse ‘Registration’ sheets, 1923, one of only two such sheets in existence.

Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA, said:

Since we first announced our project to open a new first class home for Britain’s postal heritage in London last year we have received widespread support, and following last month’s announcement of this sale it has been great to receive encouragement from those who want to play their part in our fundraising campaign by participating in the auction. The BPMA’s collections are of the utmost richness in iconic British heritage and engaging personal stories, and from family historians to families who want to immerse themselves in something new as part of a day out in London, our new centre offers something sparkling with fascination and enjoyment for everyone. It will safeguard all our collections into the future, and by taking up the chance to own the rare philatelic specimens on offer at Sotheby’s, all potential buyers can feel proud that they are helping to safeguard the originals, and all our world class collections, from Penny Blacks to packet ship records, for the nation and the world to enjoy.

Postal Mischief

On Thursday 18th April we will be welcoming writer and performer David Bramwell as he presents a talk exploring the curious history of postal mischief.

Using a slide show of fascinating images and video clips David will discuss the key mischief makers, including the ‘King of Mail Art’ Ray Johnson and Victorian prankster Reginald Bray. In addition, the musician Genesis P. Orridge who inadvertently changed the postal laws thanks to the ‘colourful’ nature of his homemade postcards!

David Bramwell tries to post some underpants.

David Bramwell tries to post some underpants.

When you leave, indulge in your own postal mischief too – David will be hoping to inspire you to ‘post a flip-flop to someone you love’ by sharing his own exploits in mail art.

David has won a Sony Award for his work on Radio 3 and spoken at TED, Idler Academy and Alain de Botton’s School of Life. He runs the Catalyst Club in Brighton where everyday people talk about their passions in front of a live audience.

Visit our website to book for Postal Mischief.

Year of the Snake stamps

To mark the start of the Year of the Snake, Royal Mail has issued a limited-edition stamp sheet featuring celebrations by Chinese communities around the UK alongside intricate designs representing all five elemental snake types.

Year of the Snake stamp sheet.

Year of the Snake stamp sheet.

The striking and multi-faceted sheet comprises 20 fireworks Smilers stamps alongside images of five UK Chinatowns. These are joined by the elemental snake types – Metal, Earth, Fire, Wood and Water – as well as images reflecting the aspirations of Hope, Heritage, Success, Togetherness and Good Fortune.

Elemental snake types stamps - Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal.

Elemental snake types stamps – Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal.

Good Fortune, Togetherness, Success, Heritage and Hope stamps.

Good Fortune, Togetherness, Success, Heritage and Hope stamps.

Stamps representing the Chinatowns in Belfast, Glasgow and Manchester are adorned with traditional Chinese dragons, with London and Cardiff the other cities featured. The sheet also features four large illustrations of red and orange snakes winding their way around the outside of the sheet.

Chinatowns stamps - London, Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester.

Chinatowns stamps – London, Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester.

The stamps follow on from the huge success of Royal Mail’s first ‘Lunar New Year: Year of the Dragon’ sheet from 2012.

London boasts one of the oldest Chinese communities in the UK with records showing some of the earliest settlers in Bow, east London.

Today there are significant Chinese communities in cities all across the country, most notably; London; Manchester; Birmingham; Liverpool; Sheffield and Edinburgh – with most featuring a Chinatown – an area rich in Chinese culture and business. The original Chinatown was situated in Liverpool – however this was destroyed during the Second World War.

A Statistical Bulletin published in May 2011 for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated the Chinese population in the UK as 451,500.

Cantonese is the predominant language spoken by Chinese living in the UK, followed by Mandarin Chinese and Hakka Chinese.

The Lunar New Year Commemorative Sheet is available in 350 local Post Offices across the UK, online at www.royalmail.com/snake and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

For Chinese customers, the sheets can be purchased from Emily Lee at Stanley Gibbons on elee@stanleygibbons.com or from Stanley Gibbons (Asia) Ltd.,10/F Central Building, 1-3 Pedder Street, Central, Hong Kong.

See Year of the Snake stamps from around the world on our Chinese New Year Pinterest board.

A visit down to Mail Rail

Many people have heard of Mail Rail, AKA the Post Office Railway, the driverless electric railway system that moved post under the streets of London for more than 75 years, but few have had the opportunity to see it.

Mail Rail was constructed in the 1910s and 1920s, and its six and a half miles of tunnels were built to connect eight different sorting offices and Post Office buildings between Paddington and the East End. Over the years the Post Office and Royal Mail sold some of these buildings, and Mail Rail eventually ceased operations in 2003. While the network is still maintained, BPMA has been undertaking work to conserve some of this unique rail system. As part of this project a group of BPMA staff recently toured the Mail Rail site at Mount Pleasant Sorting Office.

To get to Mail Rail you need to pass through a baffling series of doors and corridors before descending a staircase which takes you to the car depot and workshop. Here engineers serviced and repaired the network’s rolling stock, which once ran 22 hours a day, 7 days a week. While some rolling stock has been removed and conserved as part of our conservation project, some remains where it was when Mail Rail was in operation.

The car depot and workshop.

The car depot and workshop.

A walk through another series of doors, corridors and staircases took us to the station platforms at Mount Pleasant. Mail Rail engineer Ray explained that at its peak Mail Rail ran a “6 minute service”, with a new train of mail arriving every six minutes. Staff worked quickly to remove mail for Mount Pleasant and to load mail destined for other offices.

1980s Greenbat mail train on the Westbound platform.

1980s Greenbat mail train on the Westbound platform.

There was a great camaraderie between Mail Rail staff said Ray, and most spent their entire careers working on the network. This is evident when you walk along the Mount Pleasant platform: staff have added a dartboard, done paintings on the wall, and even mounted a display of stamps (which presumably fell off items of mail) near one of the mail bag chutes.

Painting on the wall of the Mail Rail eastbound platform, Mount Pleasant.

Painting on the wall of the Mail Rail eastbound platform, Mount Pleasant.

Stamps stuck to the trunking near the mail chute, Mail Rail Mount Pleasant.

Stamps stuck to the trunking near the mail chute, Mail Rail Mount Pleasant.

Visit our website to support our Mail Rail Conservation Project, and to add yourself to the Mail Rail mailing list. See more images from our visit to Mail Rail on Flickr.