Tag Archives: mail coach

Time to take stock – Curatorial Stocktake 2014

Each year the curatorial team at the BPMA block out time in our diaries to focus on auditing our collections and collections management activities. This year we undertook what we call our ‘stocktake’ over two weeks in January.

The cornerstone of stocktake is our audit, which takes three forms:

  • The ‘random’ audit – this is auditing 25 objects which are selected through the use of random number generators from nearly 20,000 catalogue records
  • A detailed audit of one particular group of objects within our collection
  • An oral history audit

Undertaking these audits ensures that our collections management procedures, such as location and movement control, are properly implemented throughout the rest of the year.

Our vehicle collection at our store in Essex.

Some of the larger objects at our store in Essex.

For the random audit, two members of staff have to go to each location recorded on the catalogue record, and check that the object is as in situ, and as described. These objects can be in any of our storage sites, or out on loan. The objects this year ranged from umbrellas to handstamps. Despite one location discrepancy, all objects were located, and our collections management system CALM was updated with improved descriptions.

Lamp Boxes

For the detailed collections audit, this year was the turn of the lamp boxes – in previous years we have audited our silverware, medals, and weapons.

Here, every lamp box catalogue entry had to be checked against the corresponding objects in our store. We took all of our lamp boxes down from their shelves in the museum store so we could measure and weigh them, and examine in more detail.

Curator Emma measures the lamp boxes

Curator Emma measures a lamp box aperture

This audit highlighted that one box had been incorrectly numbered – that is two catalogue numbers had been given to the same box some years previously. We carefully checked our accessions register and earlier collections listings and consulted with our collections sub-committee before reaching this conclusion. We also identified some outstanding disposals of lamp boxes that were duplicates of items already in the collection, and in poor condition. These had been marked for disposal after a thorough collections review several years ago, but had not been progressed any further. These boxes will now be disposed of in accordance with our deaccession and disposal procedures.

Lamp boxes at our store in Essex.

Correctly labelled lamp boxes at our store in Essex.

We re-ordered the boxes so they are chronologically stored, relabelled each one with its number so it is clearly identifiable, and gave them a clean too. We have three lamp boxes on display in our Museum of the Post Office in the Community which will be audited soon on our next visit.

Oral Histories

Did you know that we also actively collect oral histories, related to the history of the mail service? We also check these as part of stocktake, donning our headphones to check they are located correctly and that no strange gremlins have corrupted the files.

Other work undertaken in stocktake included:

  • A review of approximately 100 items collected in 2010 from the now closed Twickenham delivery and sorting office, making disposal and accession decisions
  • Ensuring all collections records accurately reflected disposals of furniture undertaken in the past
  • An audit of all loans out; that is loans we make to other places, and updating of loan records and calendars
  • Preparation of the hard copy 2013 Accession Register, a requirement of SPECTRUM standard, by our UCL Museum Studies intern
  • Checking all of our removal slips to make sure that any discrepancies in locations (between where CALM says the object is, and where it actually is!) is identified and recitifed

With all of the other essential demands on our time during this fortnight – from returning loans such as the mail coach, to delivering talks and articles and facilitating filming requests – stocktake was a very busy time!

-Vyki Sparkes, Curator

Mail Coach welcomed back to BPMA

This morning we welcomed back our mail coach following its long term loan (4 years) to Grampian Transport Museum. This is part of the wider annual curatorial audit and stocktake happening this week.

Return of Mail Coach 14-01-2014

BPMA volunteer Don Bell, Mark Speirs (Car Storage Scotland) and Senior Curator Julian Stray steer the coach safely into storage at Debden, Essex

Our mail coach was restored from several broken elements that were found in a farmyard, using the original 18th-century undercarriage. We believe that our mail coach transported mail between London and Bristol.

mail_rail_coach_gr

Photographic lantern slide of a Royal Mail horse-drawn mail van with a ‘GR’ cypher (c. 1910).

Mail coaches required quick changes of horses every ten miles.  Mail coaches transported mail from London from 1784 till 1846. Check out our online catalogue for more information on our mail coach and mail coach history.

Horse-drawn mail

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)

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.

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)

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)

The last horse drawn mail used in London leaves on delivery. (POST 118/1982)

View our images of Horse-drawn Mail on Flickr.

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.

Put Your Stamp on the New Centre Exhibition Space

We have been working hard with our appointed creative designers Haley Sharpe Design on early plans for the main exhibition space of the Calthorpe House New Centre. The 500m2 gallery will be split into five zones, each covering an era of postal history.

Zone 1 will look at the early days of the Royal Mail, with the BPMA’s 18th Century Mail Coach as its centrepiece, whilst in Zone 2 visitors will meet Rowland Hill – a visionary Victorian, who devised solutions to the short-comings of the postal service in its early days. On display visitors will find a variety of objects and records related to the design of the Penny Black, the world’s first postage, as well as other examples of great Victorian inventions that facilitated the sending and receiving of mail.

Visualisation of Zone 2: "Reform and Innovation".

Visualisation of Zone 2: “Reform and Innovation”.

Between Zones 2 and 3, visitors can read profound and moving stories reflecting events from postal history during the early 20th Century, such as the story of the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic, the suffragettes who posted themselves to the Prime Minister, and the role of the Post Office during WWI.

Visualisation of Zone 3: "The Post Office in Conflict".

Visualisation of Zone 3: “The Post Office in Conflict”.

In Zone 3, visitors will step into a reconstruction of life in WWII London, whilst Zone 4, by contrast, will present a bright, visual feast, vividly demonstrating the time from the 1930s to the 1960s when the Post Office was a leader in style and design in Britain.

Visualisation of Zone 4: "Style and Design".

Visualisation of Zone 4: “Style and Design”.

Zone 5 will consider the modern Post Office, including the competition and challenges of 21st Century Communications, as well as the role of the service at the heart of isolated rural communities.

Work is currently underway to work up a long-list of objects and records from the Museum and Archive collections to populate the exhibition and illustrate the stories and themes outlined above. Whilst the ‘usual suspects’ (such as items from early Mail Coach Guards and the many photos and posters held in the Archive) are, of course, under consideration, the BPMA are keen to include ‘hidden gems’ that may not have been seen in previous exhibitions – something for which we would like your help…

Tell us which artefacts from the BPMA collections you would like to see on display in the new exhibition!

Blog readers are invited to suggest a museum object or archive record that they would like to see included in the new gallery displays, with an explanation as to why you have chosen that particular item. The best suggestion, as selected by the BPMA Access and Learning Team, will win a signed copy of Julian Stray’s book Mail Trains. Results announced in January.

Please send your suggestions by 30 November 2012 to: Andy Richmond – BPMA Access & Learning Manager, andy.richmond@postalheritage.org.uk.

Royal Mail cigarette cards

The collections we care for at BPMA are very diverse, ranging from vehicles and sorting equipment to stamps and personnel records. Our goal is to collect things that reflect the role of people in the postal service, and the innovations in technology to meet the demands of a changing world – the cigarette cards in our collection certainly do that!

Previously we have blogged on cigarette cards from the Wilkinson Collection and others produced by Wills’s focusing on the Australian Post Office but now we have added a set of 50 cards on the theme of “Royal Mail” to our Flickr site.
The Royal Mail cigarette cards were produced by W. Clarke & Son (and later reissued by Ogden’s) in the early 20th Century. They show people, equipment and events connected with the postal service up to the late 19th, or possibly early 20th, century.

'A Mail Coach in a Snow-Drift' - Ogden's Cigarette Card (2010-0469/09)

‘A Mail Coach in a Snow-Drift’ – Ogden’s Cigarette Card (2010-0469/09)

While many of the cards look at postal operations in Great Britain, such as mail coaches and the Travelling Post Office, others show postal services in what was then the British Empire. A mail coach in a snow-drift in rural England contrasts with the “Mashonaland Zebra Mail Team”, depicted crossing a river near Fort Tuli in South Africa.

'The Mashonaland Zebra Mail Team.' - Ogden's Cigarette Card (2010-0469/17)c

‘The Mashonaland Zebra Mail Team.’ – Ogden’s Cigarette Card (2010-0469/17)

Similarly, the military-style uniform of the New South Wales postman is markedly different to the dress of the African postal runner, who “in youth, perchance, owed allegiance to a Zulu chief”.

'Postman, Sydney, N.S. Wales' - Ogden's Cigarette Card (2010-0469/21)

‘Postman, Sydney, N.S. Wales’ – Ogden’s Cigarette Card (2010-0469/21)

'An African Postal Runner' - Ogden's Cigarette Card (2010-0469/22)

‘An African Postal Runner’ – Ogden’s Cigarette Card (2010-0469/22)

Also amongst the cards are several intriguing postal stories, including the much-loved Mail Coach attacked by a lioness (as previously blogged about), and the more obscure St Kilda Mail Bag, a strange and possibly unreliable method of sending mail from this remote island to the mainland.

Visit Flickr to see the Royal Mail cigarette cards.

Foreign Postal Workers

Like many Museums and Archives, we have a number of items in our collection which we don’t know very much about. The recent cataloguing of lantern slides, mostly dating from the early 20th Century, brought to our attention a number which show images of postal workers from around the world. While many are illustrative of the British Post Office’s international operations (there are a few showing Indian postal workers and the Indian Post Office was under British control at this point) it is unclear exactly why these lantern slides were produced.

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a group of men and women Post Office officials. (2012-0030/19)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a group of men and women Post Office officials. (2012-0030/19)

One theory is that they could have been shown to students at the London Postal School (LPS), which trained postal workers in a variety of duties. Perhaps the slides were used to highlight to the trainees that by working for the General Post Office (GPO) they were part of a global communications network? However, this does seem a little counter to the very practical emphasis at LPS, where a typical lesson saw students role-playing various scenarios, including counter transactions.

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a Landes postman on stilts delivering a letter to a woman, France. There is another woman standing on the door-step behind and a man seated in front of a spinning wheel in the bottom right hand corner. (2012-0030/04)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a Landes postman on stilts delivering a letter to a woman, France. There is another woman standing on the door-step behind and a man seated in front of a spinning wheel in the bottom right hand corner. (2012-0030/04)

Another theory is that the slides were used in magic lantern slide shows, which were a very popular form of entertainment at the turn of the 20th Century. Lanterns shows could cover a variety of subjects, and slides such as the ones in our collection may have been produced for GPO lantern shows or acquired from other shows due to their postal connection.

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a parcel postwoman standing beside the horse of the horse-drawn mail coach, Germany. (2012-0030/02)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a parcel postwoman standing beside the horse of the horse-drawn mail coach, Germany. (2012-0030/02)

Whatever the reason for their existence, these slides give us a fascinating insight into postal operations around the world, including the myriad of uniforms and modes of transport employed by different postal administrations. One particularly nice example shows a postman in a top hat riding a donkey!

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a rural postman in Dominica, British West Indies, wearing a light blue top hat, white trousers and a blue jacket whilst riding a white donkey. (2012-0030/16)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a rural postman in Dominica, British West Indies, wearing a light blue top hat, white trousers and a blue jacket whilst riding a white donkey. (2012-0030/16)

In addition to the images illustrating this blog we have uploaded a number to our Flickr site. Search our online catalogue to see more of our lantern slides.