Tag Archives: Mount Pleasant

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.

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.

Initial HLF support for new Postal Museum & Archive secured

The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) is delighted to announce that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has confirmed a first-round pass as part of a two stage application process to help move its world-class collections into a new, accessible and permanent home. Initial HLF support has been awarded for an application of £4.25m and development funding of £250,000 has been awarded. The new Postal Museum & Archive will be situated in Calthorpe House on London’s Mount Pleasant site, where the country’s oldest mail centre is located.

Visualisation of Calthorpe House (Feildon Clegg Bradley Studios).

Visualisation of Calthorpe House (Feildon Clegg Bradley Studios).

The first-round pass means that the BPMA can now progress to the feasibility stage of its development and work up detailed proposals ahead of a round two application in 2013 to secure the remaining £4m. Further activities to generate funding to create a state of the art museum and visitor facility are taking place throughout 2012-13. The opening of the new museum is planned for late 2014.

The new Postal Museum will provide access to the BPMA’s unique collections of 400 years of postal, social and design history. The collections, which include iconic objects such as red pillar boxes and postal vehicles, as well as every British stamp issued since the Penny Black, original design artwork, posters and photographs, are currently stored in cramped and inaccessible conditions. The new centre will also enable a vast expansion of its educational programme and engagement with young visitors.

Visualisation of exhibition space.

Visualisation of exhibition space.

The fascinating story of the Post Office Underground Railway will form part of the exhibition, together with other captivating stories from social, postal and design history.

Sue Bowers, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund London, said:

The British Postal Museum and Archive’s collection gives us a fascinating insight into 400 years of postal history and how it has shaped our world today. We’re pleased to be giving initial support for this exciting project to regenerate the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant site and give an internationally important collection a permanent home in the heart of London. We will be working closely with the Postal Heritage Trust over the coming months as they progress plans to secure a full Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said:

The British Postal Museum & Archive is a national treasure of global importance. London plays a central role in its rich history so it is entirely fitting that this city would house a suitable showcase for the collection, creating a fantastic new visitor attraction to boot. I am thrilled that money from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been awarded to enable this exciting project to progress to the next important stage.

Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA commented:

We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given such a strong indication of its support for a new Postal Museum & Archive. HLF initial investment of £250,000, together with public recognition from such a prestigious funder, is a ringing endorsement of our work to preserve Britain’s postal heritage. It allows us to embark on the next stage of this exciting project to bring the human story of communication, industry and innovation to everyone.

Join The British Postal Museum & Archive mailing list to receive updates on our New Centre project and other activities.

New Postal Museum

NEWS RELEASE

Plans for a new home for a new home for The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) were announced today by the BPMA, Royal Mail Group and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The new Postal Museum will provide access to the BPMA’s unique collections of 400 years of postal, social and design history, including photographs, posters, vehicles, pillar boxes, employment records of millions of people and a world-class stamp collection.

Under a plan endorsed by the Government, the new centre will be established at Calthorpe House, on London’s Mount Pleasant site, where the country’s oldest mail centre is located. It is close to the existing home of the BPMA at Freeling House, which has very limited space for exhibitions and displays.

Calthorpe House

Calthorpe House

Royal Mail Group will grant a lease of 999 years for Calthorpe House, a property which will provide a secure foundation for the BPMA once redeveloped and extended. Agreements have been signed with Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd (POL) for a £6m long term, low interest loan to fund the conversion of Calthorpe House to meet the basic needs of the organisation. In addition, Royal Mail and POL are providing other support, including a £500,000 grant.

A fundraising campaign by the BPMA will be launched shortly to raise the remaining funds required to create a state of the art museum and visitor facility. The BPMA is an independent charity set up in 2004 to care for two significant collections: The Royal Mail Archive and the collections of the former National Postal Museum. It is the BPMA’s mission to increase public access to these collections, making the story they tell of communication, industry and innovation accessible to everyone.

The new centre will allow the BPMA to exhibit objects from its fascinating museum collection, which is currently held in storage. It will also include educational facilities for visiting schools.

Visualisation of the new museum and archive, Calthorpe House (Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

Visualisation of the new museum and archive, Calthorpe House (Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

Donald Brydon, Royal Mail Group’s Chairman said: “These plans will give our postal heritage a world-class home. The history of Royal Mail is a key part of the history of postal services worldwide. I am delighted, therefore, the Group’s Board has agreed to support the BPMA’s ambitious plan to provide a new, permanent home for its unique collection of postal artefacts, stamps and equipment, as well as allowing greater access to the archive”

Dr Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA, said: “We are aiming to create a state-of-the-art, sustainable home for a unique part of our national heritage. The new centre will showcase the UK’s pioneering role in developing postal communications, which has shaped the world we live in.”

Norman Lamb, Postal Affairs Minister, said: “This exciting new home for the British Postal Museum and Archive is a great initiative, to which I hope people will lend their support. Celebrating the history of Royal Mail in this way will bring to life a key part of our nation’s cultural heritage. The many and varied items in the archives will show how Royal Mail has been at the heart of British life for centuries, and it is great news that the museum will contain an educational facility to allow young people to engage with the history of our postal services in an innovative way.”

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Retrieval of Post Office underground railway cars

by Chris Taft, Curator

After 85 years underground in a now closed workshop Friday 27May 2011 saw the only known surviving example from the original rolling stock used on the Post Office Railway see the light of day. Shackled to a mini crane and hoisted vertical from the car depot of Royal Mail’s underground railway network the dark green metal rail car was brought to the surface ready to enter the BPMA collection. After much planning, coordinating of dates and a few logistical nightmares the day had finally arrived when two train units were to be removed from the railway.

Chris Taft with the car in the Mail Rail yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London.

Chris Taft with the car in the Mail Rail yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London.

The now closed underground railway, officially known as Mail Rail, first opened in 1927 to move mail between central London sorting offices and two mainline railway stations, Liverpool Street and Paddington. The line finally ceased operation in 2003 when the levels of use had declined, in part due to the closure of some of the offices and in part also as the mainline stations aboveground were no longer being used as termini of the mainline mail carrying trains.

Since its closure the BPMA have been working closely with Royal Mail to ensure the important aspects of its history are collected and that its story can be told through the BPMA’s collection. The BPMA’s collection relating to Mail Rail was always reasonable, but a notable gap was the original mail carrying vehicle from 1927, which was preserved in the network after some restoration in the 1970s, and a decent example of a 1930 train that replaced this first type of unit.

The operation to hoist the two trains from underground went very smoothly. Professional art freight movers Mtec were employed to carry out the uplift, assisted by the Royal Mail engineers who maintain the network, and me on behalf of the BPMA. The trains were pushed along tracks to the bottom of a shaft providing the only access above ground for any sizable equipment. They were then shackled to a mini crane brought onto site especially for the job and hoisted to the yard at Mount Pleasant. The 1930 train was lifted first, being taken up in three parts and placed on the ground. This was followed by the 1927 car which lifted straight up the access shaft where it would have descended 85 years previously.

The first of two 1930 motive units being lowered in to the yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London

The first of two 1930 motive units being lowered in to the yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London

From there the two trains, one still in three parts were lifted over a storage building and onto a waiting lorry. This last stage caused a little disruption within the Mail Centre while 40 tonne lorry blocked one of the access roads in Mount Pleasant but the job was quickly accomplished. Everything was then secured in place ready for the journey to the BPMA Museum Store.

Upon arrival at the Museum Store in Debden a HIAB crane was then used lift the trains directly into the store. The 1930 train was then coupled back together with the help of a pallet truck, machine skates and the obligatory couple of bits of wood and was pushed into position within the store. The rigid bodied 1927 car was pushed much more easily into position.

The two trains now join the rest of the BPMA’s collection, including the 1980 stock train which the BPMA now intend to have conserved. It is very important that these important pieces are stabilised to prevent deterioration and allow them to be used and displayed in the future. Our next job is to have a full survey completed. From there we shall have a much better idea of the costs involved and will be able to launch a fundraising campaign to raise the funds necessary to have this important conservation work complete. As this project progresses those interested will be able to monitor progress online, and by visiting the Store will even have opportunity of seeing the trains and any subsequent conservation work.

You can see more images of the Mail Rail retrieval on Flickr.

Phoenix Place – the last undeveloped WW2 bomb site?

by Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)

Opposite the BPMA’s entrance in Phoenix Place is a rundown area of open space currently used as a car park for employees of the Mount Pleasant sorting office. This is how it looks on Google Street View.

There is some speculation, including on Flickr, about the car park’s significance as one of the last undeveloped World War II bomb sites in central London. Since we have lots of plans, maps and photographs in our collections relating to Post Office and Royal Mail property in London, I wanted to see if I could find any evidence that the rumour is actually true.

Immediately I discovered it isn’t. You can see from the photograph below that pre-war buildings were still standing in Phoenix Place in the 1960s.

Photograph of Phoenix Place, looking south towards what is now the BPMA on the left, c.1960

Photograph of Phoenix Place, looking south towards what is now the BPMA on the left, c.1960

The area shown is almost opposite what is now the BPMA (our Archive Search Room and Main Office are located where the tower is in the photograph). The remains of a building are also visible, and this may have been the ‘bombed site’ at No. 4 Mount Pleasant referred to in a meeting held in 1956 to discuss the possible extension of the sorting office into Phoenix Place. Google Street View shows how that area looks now.

The size, location and function of Mount Pleasant sorting office made it a likely target for German bombers, and it was struck numerous times. On 16 September 1940 Mount Pleasant was hit for the first time by incendiary bombs. The Parcel Office received further direct raids from incendiaries and high explosives in October and November 1940, and again in January and April 1941.

Surrounding areas, including Eyre Street Hill, Farringdon Road, the Daily Sketch garage at the corner of Mount Pleasant and Gough Street, and Bideford Mansions in Mount Pleasant, were bombed, causing damage to the sorting office.

Several houses in what is now the car park suffered serious damage, including those owned by the Post Office at 34-40 Gough Street. Numbers 12-26 Mount Pleasant were also bombed and subsequently cleared.

Before the war, there were two additional pubs to the current generous supply of watering holes in the Mount Pleasant area. The Two Blue Posts at 79 Mount Pleasant, and the buildings running to Laystall Street on its left, suffered extensive bomb-damage. They were replaced by the block of flats we see now.

The Two Brewers at 32 Gough Street also suffered considerable damage during the war, but was still standing in 1947 as it received a special licence for the Royal Wedding. You can see from the photograph below that the bomb-damaged neighbouring building had been cleared.

Gough Street, looking south towards Mount Pleasant, c.1960

Gough Street, looking south towards Mount Pleasant, c.1960

References on Flickr suggesting the car park area was home to the Parcel Office during the war are incorrect. The Parcel Office was actually located on the current Mount Pleasant site, and was moved to the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington after a direct hit on 18 June 1943. This created a ‘raging inferno’ that left the building a ‘shapeless mass of twisted girders and smouldering ruins’ (see photograph below) and resulted in two fatalities.

Photograph of the bomb damaged Parcel Office at Mount Pleasant, 1943 (POST 118 -1448)

Photograph of the bomb damaged Parcel Office at Mount Pleasant, 1943 (POST 118 -1448)

After the war, discussions were held about the possible rebuilding and extension of the Parcel Office on the site now occupied by the car park. The area still contained a number of properties, despite being damaged during the war. The map below, from 1952, shows the layout of buildings in the area bordered by Mount Pleasant, Phoenix Place, Gough Street and Calthorpe Street (the red area was Post Office property).

Map showing ownership of property in Phoenix Place c.1952 (POST 122-222)

Map showing ownership of property in Phoenix Place c.1952 (POST 122-222)

In 1956, the Planning Authorities recommended that the Post Office acquire the land now occupied by the car park. The London Postal Region was intending to use this site to provide a new Parcel Section, and the map below shows the dates for the proposed acquisition of the remaining properties. The yellow area was already Post Office freehold whilst the red area, incorporating a food suppliers, and Kemsleys Newspapers, which owned the Sunday Times, The Daily Sketch and The Sunday Graphic, was to be acquired in 1958.

Map showing proposed Post Office acquisition of Phoenix Place properties c.1958 (POST 122-222)

Map showing proposed Post Office acquisition of Phoenix Place properties c.1958 (POST 122-222)

However, the Parcel Section was never rebuilt on this land and it seems that it has remained empty since, with the crumbling remnants of buildings giving the impression that the whole area has remained a bomb-site.

Sources:

POST 122/222 – ‘Buildings: rebuilding/extension of Mt Pleasant Parcel Office’,
(1950-56)

POST
56/175
– ‘ARP arrangements and incidents at Mt Pleasant during the Second World War, 1939-1945’

POST
102/50
– ‘Mount Pleasant Parcels Office, air raid damage’ (1943-1946)

http://pubsinuk.com/LondonPubs/Holborn/TwoBluePosts.shtml (24/05/11)