Tag Archives: Norfolk

GPO Britain in pictures

The BPMA is the custodian of a photographic collection which includes about 100,000 individual photographs; the earliest is from the late 19th century and the latest ones date from the 1990s. In a previous blog on our photography collection and a talk now available as a podcast we have presented some of this fascinating material and the stories behind it, and our exhibition The Post Office in Pictures features some of the most striking images.

The GPO Britain postcard set.

The GPO Britain postcard set.

The photographs depict life in Britain at the time of the General Post Office (GPO) with its contrasts between modern urban areas and the industrial heartland, and the remote rural regions where the postman or postwoman presented a vital connection to the outside world. We have selected six of the most intriguing images for a new postcard set which is now available from the BPMA Shop.

Man posting a letter holding a cauliflower, 1949. (POST 118/1964)

Man posting a letter holding a cauliflower, 1949. (POST 118/1964)

Many of these photographs have been published in the Post Office Magazine (POST 92), which was first issued in 1934 in order to promote postal services and good relations with the public, aimed at the large postal workforce, their families and friends. The articles often presented the modernity and efficiency of the GPO’s services, such as the Post Office Savings Bank – “Everybody’s Bank” with ten million accounts, according to the author of an article in the September 1935 issue. The story on the bank, which holds “the small savings of ordinary not-very-wealthy folk in the hamlets and towns and cities of Britain”, is accompanied by several images of banking clerks entering the 120,000 daily transactions in the newly adopted accounting machines. The clerks’ efficiency in dealing with the amount of correspondence and day to day business clearly impressed the author – he dubs them ‘super clerks’.

A female clerk at the Post Office Savings Bank, on the cover of the Post Office Magazine September 1935. (POST 92)

A female clerk at the Post Office Savings Bank, on the cover of the Post Office Magazine September 1935. (POST 92)

Other sections of the magazines were regularly dedicated to news from the different UK regions. These focussed on the local postal staff and their achievements, activities and work in their local community, which, to today’s readers, provides some authentic insights into rural British communities in the 1930s and 1940s. The October 1938 Northern Ireland section, for example, features the image of a postman with a pony and trap on a rural road: “The Glenarm Bay postman goes on his delivery in a trap presented to him by local residents” (POST 118/903).

Postman with pony and trap in Northern Ireland, 1938. (POST 118/903)

Postman with pony and trap in Northern Ireland, 1938. (POST 118/903)

Other issues show postmen wading through rivers on horseback (January 1939) to reach the next village or town, or recount the peculiar history of whale bones decorating the post office exterior at Cley-next-the-Sea (March 1938).

Postman on horseback near Withypool, Somerset, 1938. (POST 118/910)

Postman on horseback near Withypool, Somerset, 1938. (POST 118/910)

Main Strain in Cley, Norfolk, 1937. (POST 118/1204)

Main Strain in Cley, Norfolk, 1937. (POST 118/1204)

The GPO Britain postcard set is now available from the BPMA Shop for £3.75.

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Holiday camps

Amongst the numerous photographs in our collection are a small number documenting postal deliveries to holiday camps, dated October 1937. These appeared in the March 1938 edition of The Post Office Magazine (the General Post Office’s magazine, published between 1933 and 1966) accompanying a story on holiday camps by reporter Martin Grand (a punning pseudonym on the location of the GPO’s then Headquarters on St Martin’s Le Grand, London).

A postman delivering mail at Hemsby holiday camp. (POST 118/681)

A postman delivering mail at Hemsby holiday camp. (POST 118/681)

Grand’s article looks at some of the 10 holiday camps then located on the Norfolk coast and within the administration of the Postmaster of Great Yarmouth. “The management of the so-called camps is in the hands of men who are obviously determined to make this type of holiday a permanent and increasingly popular feature of the national life” he observes, describing the chalet accommodation, modern sanitation, wide range of activities and convivial atmosphere.

A postman delivers mail to members of the public at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. (POST 118/677)

A postman delivers mail to members of the public at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. (POST 118/677)

Camps such as those in Norfolk were an inexpensive and increasingly popular holiday destination for working people in the 1930s. While Butlin’s camps became the most famous, there were also a number of independent camps at the time. Editions of The Post Office Magazine featured advertisements for camps such as Caister, so many postal workers would have holidayed in them.

The photographs and the article show that even as they relaxed holiday-makers looked forward to the arrival of the postman. “The little red [postal] van is a welcome visitor two or three times a day” writes Grand “and the postman enjoys his all too brief and of course strictly official conversations with dainty damsels in attractive shorts and ‘kerchief”.

A postman delivers mail to a large group of people at Caister holiday camp. (POST 118/683)

A postman delivers mail to a large group of people at Caister holiday camp. (POST 118/683)

Another camp featured in the article, located at Gorleston-on-Sea, is described as “New-built on luxury lines”. “In design and decoration the buildings are reminiscent of the Queen Mary” Grand says, with facilities including “round lawns and gardens on gently sloping uplands overlooking the sea”.

A 1930’s brochure advertising the camp, which appears on the Gorleston Super Holiday Camp website, lists activities as including tournaments, games, dancing, whist, tennis, bowls, putting, croquet, deck-tennis, cricket and bathing. The brochure also describes Gorleston as “The ‘Queen Mary’ of Holiday Camps”, although it is impossible to establish whether it is The Post Office Magazine that is being quoted here.

A postman delivers mail at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. He hands a letter to an employee at the camp. (POST 118/679)

A postman delivers mail at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. He hands a letter to an employee at the camp. (POST 118/679)

Either way, the services provided by the Post Office were clearly much-used by those who stayed in the camps: “Outside the main gate [at Caister] stands a most cheerful looking pillar-box, his aperture grinning broadly and his enamelled eye twinkling in the sun” writes Grand. “No wonder he looks so pleased, for hundreds of jolly people in holiday garb fuss around him all day long, consulting the information displayed on his broad chest and slipping picturesque postcards into his capacious tummy.”

A boy is stood on bench posting a letter into a postbox outside Caister Holiday Camp. (POST 118/1188)

A boy is stood on bench posting a letter into a postbox outside Caister Holiday Camp. (POST 118/1188)

Editions of The Post Office Magazine can be consulted in our Archive Search Room in London. You can view hundreds of photographs from our collection on Flickr.