Tag Archives: Northern Ireland

Postmarketing: slogans from the seventies

Kim Noulton who has been volunteering with the BPMA blogs about what she has found among a series of Post Office registered files in the Royal Mail Archive which were created by the Marketing Department in the 1970s.

Since August I have been cataloguing second review material; this means that the files have undergone a decision-making process in which they have been selected for permanent preservation. Topics that I have catalogued so far, which are now available to search on the BPMA online catalogue, include files pertaining to strategies conceived by the BBC and GPO on broadcasting capabilities in the event of nuclear fallout from the 1950s; the creation of the postal minibus service, which includes photographs; and postmark slogans from the 1960s to 1980s. It is the last topic that I will be discussing in this post.

At first sight, postmark slogans seem an inoffensive form of marketing; a tool for the Post Office to promote its new postcode system to the public or advertising events on a wide scale. However, one such campaign led to worries about causing offence to the highest office in Britain; the Crown.

File POST 154/3 details how Chessington Zoo, an establishment housing exotic animals since the 1930s, commissioned designs for a postmark in 1972. The result was the slogan ‘Chessington Zoo Open Every Day of the Year’ and a rather harmless-looking monkey which however, when stamped over the Queen’s head, created an outrageously unflattering image. Such was the outcry that the Lord Chamberlain’s office became involved, to which the Post Office responded promptly by creating new designs for the Zoo. Disaster was thankfully averted with the help of an elephant.

The monkey slogan overprinted on a stamp. (POST 154/3)

The monkey slogan overprinted on a stamp. (POST 154/3)

The revised Chessington Zoo slogan featuring an elephant. (POST 154/3)

The revised Chessington Zoo slogan featuring an elephant. (POST 154/3)

The material in the file takes a different perspective when it is revealed that a woman made a complaint to the Post Office about the nature of the postmark. Her concern was that the postmark was forced upon her when receiving a letter, despite her dislike for zoos, circuses and any other institution keeping wild animals in captivity. This raises questions about advertisements in general being forced upon people in receipt of their post without their consent.

One other controversy revealed in this section of Marketing Department files (POST 154, the first part of this series to be available online) concerns the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland  in the early 1970s. The file (POST 154/1) documents the unlawful overprinting of stamps with politically motivated messages, including ‘Support Sinn Fein’ and ‘Dail Uladh 1971′. The file itself shows how something as simple as postmark slogans can create a political storm.

List of stamps on sale from the Irish Republican Philatelic Office, Dublin. (POST 154/1)

List of stamps on sale from the Irish Republican Philatelic Office, Dublin. (POST 154/1)

With the Irish Republican Army (IRA) upping the intensity of their attacks during 1971, such messages caused alarm and great offence, especially to those who had suffered fatal casualties at the hands of the IRA. One serving officer of the Queen’s Regiment explains his view in a letter, stating very clearly that he believes the Irish government knew about the overprinting and was therefore ‘wilfully supporting terrorism’.

An interesting feature of this particular file is that the Post Office’s policy, available to view within the files, was to reject all manner of political statements, with their standpoint to remain unbiased in its place as a public service.

Search for these files on our online catalogue.

Classic Locomotives of Northern Ireland

Today Royal Mail has issued a miniature sheet on the theme of Classic Locomotives of Northern Ireland. This follows on from 2011’s Classic Locomotives of England and 2012’s Classic Locomotives of Scotland.

Working in collaboration with railway expert Professor Colin Divall of the National Railway Museum, and Northern Irish railway expert Norman Johnston, Brian Delaney of Delancy Design Consultants, trawled through thousands of photographs to find period photos of steam locomotives in Northern Ireland. The four chosen are:

1st Class – UTA Class W No.103. ‘Thomas Somerset’ with a Belfast-bound up express between the two tunnels at Downhill, west of Castlerock c1950.

1st Class - UTA Class W No.103.

78p – UTA SG3 Class No. 35. The SG3 Class locomotive shunts wagons at Portadown in 1963.

78p - UTA SG3 Class No. 35.

88p – Peckett No. 2. Peckett No. 2 reverses wagons into the British Aluminium Works at Larne in 1937.

88p - Peckett No. 2.

£1.28 – CDRJC Class 5 No. 4. The Class 5 locomotive Meenglas shunts a carriage at Strabane in 1959

£1.28 - CDRJC Class 5 No. 4.

The Classic Locomotives of Northern Ireland miniature sheet and other stamp products are available from Post Offices across the UK, online at www.royalmail.com/classiclocomotives, and by phone on 08457 641 641.

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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2013 Royal Mail Archive openings: bring on the 20-year rule

The start of the year has traditionally been the time we’ve made batches of material available to public research for the first time based on the long-standing ’30-year rule’. This year things are slightly different since the ’30 year rule’ is no more and we (along with The National Archives and some other holders of public record material) are starting a ten year transitional period to a ’20-year rule’.

Closed until various dates until 2013.

In the past we opened files that had reached the thirtieth anniversary of the latest document in them over the previous year on the 1 January of the subsequent year. So on 1 January 2012 we opened all files that had documents from 1981 in them.

Material at the BPMA will now generally be available to researchers according to the 20-year rule transitional timetable which like transfer to The National Archives will deal with two years’ worth of files each year until 2023.

This is set out below:

1 Jan 2013 – Files from 1982 and 1983 will become open

1 Jan 2014 – Files from 1984 and 1985 will become open

1 Jan 2015 – Files from 1986 and 1987 will become open

1 Jan 2016 – Files from 1988 and 1989 will become open

1 Jan 2017 – Files from 1990 and 1991 will become open

1 Jan 2018 – Files from 1992 and 1993 will become open

1 Jan 2019 – Files from 1994 and 1995 will become open

1 Jan 2020 – Files from 1996 and 1997 will become open

1 Jan 2021 – Files from 1998 and 1999 will become open

1 Jan 2022 – Files from 2000 and 2001 will become open

1 Jan 2023 – Files from 2002 will become open (end of transition phase)

N.B. A very small number of files (or parts of files) in The Royal Mail Archive have extended closure periods generally under Freedom of Information Act personal information exemptions; these will be unaffected by this change.

This process has applied to more than 500 files this January, particularly material from the following POST classes: POST 19 (Postal Business Statistics), POST 52 (Stamp Depot), POST 69 (Royal Mail Board and its Predecessors) and POST 73 (Regional Administration and Operations).

Below I’ll tell you about some of the files that have interested me the most. A few of them focus on two of the major issues affecting UK politics in the early 1980s, Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands.

POST 23/219 relates to the operation of a rival postal service in Derry/ Londonderry.

William Ross MP had complained in December 1978 about Sinn Fein Christmas mail (which would deliver Christmas cards in the city at a lower rate than the Post Office) and whether it infringed the Post Office monopoly. A letter from Danny Carty, PO Northern Ireland head, to Minister of State Adam Butler discusses the issue. Press releases had been sent out every year since 1975. Stamp Collecting magazine had ‘issued the Sinn Fein press release without really understanding the issues involved’. On the issue of the monopoly Carty wrote about the dangers of going to court:

Goliath might slew David on this occasion, but at what price to the Post Office in Northern Ireland.

Following up in December 1982 Carty informed PO Chairman Ron Dearing:

Sinn Fein Christmas Post is not going to go away…I have discussed this issue at my executive meeting today and the view, with no voice of dissent, was we should do nothing. I realise this is the soft option, pragmatist that I am, but feel this is the sensible approach to take at this time.

Ron Dearing wrote to Philip Cooper, Under Secretary, Department of Industry, 1 December 1982:

I want to avoid being drawn into a position of taking legal proceedings against Sinn Fein for two reasons:-

1). part of their objective will be to promote confrontation wherever they can, and the Post Office has particular value to them in this context because it is seen as representing the UK Government and because the Post Office in Dublin is perhaps the best remembered point in the fighting that took place before the establishment of the Irish Republic.

2). risk of violence to postmen on their walks (part of the time in the dark)….For if our postmen became the centre of a campaign and were subject to threats of violence, and some actual violence, we might find that staff were understandably unwilling to make deliveries in Roman Catholic areas or indeed more widely. Then the Sinn Fein would really have won the battle.

This service was still in operation at Christmas 2012.

The context in which these developments were occurring can be seen in the contents to POST 23/370. This covers civil disturbances at the time of the IRA hunger strikes and their impact on postal services. In a memorandum covering the week 20-26 April 1981 (hunger striker and MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Bobby Sands had died on 9 April) it lists 14 serious incidents including attacks on sorting offices, vehicles and post boxes. On 17 April…

Rioters attacked Londonderry HO Sorting Office with petrol bombs, bricks and iron bars. Staff on duty managed to extinguish petrol bombs which landed on roof of building and in the yard. No injuries.

Other memos put the events into context detailing deaths of hunger strikers and other political events.

Civil Disturbances Weekly Report, 20-26 April 1981. (POST 23/370)

Civil Disturbances Weekly Report, 20-26 April 1981. (POST 23/370)

POD/AN/1060 (yet to be assigned a finding number but available) contains material on mail to the Falkland Islands in the run up to, during and following the Falklands War. A telex to Royal Research Ship John Biscoe just after the Argentinian invasion reads:

Did you hand the mail over to anyone in Port Stanley? If so who? Or have you still got it on board your ship? An urgent reply would be appreciated.

Telex to RRS John Bisco(e), 15 April 1982 (POD/AN/1060)

Telex to RRS John Bisco(e), 15 April 1982 (POD/AN/1060)

The cost of contacting members of the British Task Force sent to recapture the Islands became a subject of public interest. In response the Post Office introduced free aerogrammes.

Towards the end of the file there is an interesting set of questions and answers, particularly on the issue of mail during the Argentinian occupation. In response to ‘Why did you handle this mail when we were at war with Argentina’ this sheet states:

It is our responsibility to carry out a postal service whenever and wherever possible. It is for the Government to decide whether this service should be terminated.

POST 104/33 concerns the end of the telegram service from the Queen (the means by which congratulatory messages marking 100th birthdays and 60th wedding anniversaries had been sent since 1917). With the switch to British Telecom’s telemessage the issue of delivery time from the sorting office where it was picked up through the post to the recipient became significant. This file contains correspondence between Ron Dearing and Royal Private Secretaries. In response William Heseltine wrote on 25 September 1982:

It will be interesting to see how the new system works and I will certainly take advantage of your offer of further assistance if the new system does not come up to Her Majesty’s expectations.

Unfortunately on the first day BT had equipment failure and five of the messages did not arrive. According to a memo of 12 October 1982:

It will be wise for us to start thinking of a wholly PO service eg Intelpost, Datapost.

Today these messages are sent on cards by Royal Mail Special Delivery.

POST 108/80 is a MORI report on ‘The Reputation of the Post Office’ which highlights:

The split of the Post Office into separate postal and telecommunications entities is now firmly established in the people’s mind. The split (and the creation of British Telecom) is the dominant theme of ‘recent changes’ associated with the Post Office. The ending of the telegram scheme is the second most common theme; few are aware of new services such as Intelpost…Few spontaneously mentioned the freezing of prices – price increases appear to be more memorable.

POST 119/177 is a Plessey report looking into the possibility of extending the Post Office Underground Railway (Mail Rail) to other main London railway stations including Marylebone, Kings Cross and Waterloo. An unextended Mail Rail closed in 2003.

Plessey report, Post Office Railway Extension, 1982, cover. (POST 119/177)

Plessey report, Post Office Railway Extension, 1982, cover. (POST 119/177)

Plessey report, Post Office Railway Extension, 1982, diagram of possible extensions. (POST 119/177)

Plessey report, Post Office Railway Extension, 1982, diagram of possible extensions. (POST 119/177)

- Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue and Project Manager

The Royal Mail Archive is open to the public, find opening hours and visitor information on our website.

Duty and service in the Post Office in Pictures

Our current The Post Office in Pictures exhibition at The Lumen URC was conceived to show how ordinary peoples’ lives were changed through the service that the Post Office has provided. Through images of postmen and women delivering mail and serving communities in all sorts of conditions, we have endeavoured to show a unique service, second to none. What we’ve also found through our research, is how service has shaped the lives of those choosing to serve.

One of the more surprising and moving stories is that of John Rooney. A wonderful image of him rowing towards Trannish Island on Upper Lough Erne, Northern Ireland is featured in the exhibition but, were it not for a tip off from Peter Howe, the former Post Office photograph librarian, we would not have known of the richer, more heartbreaking and, ultimately wonderful story that surrounded his service in a remote part of the United Kingdom.

John Rooney rowing towards Trannish Island.

John Rooney rowing towards Trannish Island.

When discussing the exhibition, Peter told me that John was not the first Rooney to be postman for Lough Erne and proceeded to tell me the desperate tale of his brothers, William and James.

William Rooney was the postman before John and it was he that would row across the lough to each island, delivering the mail to each inhabitant. On a very cold evening on Friday 29th December 1961 he was returning across the lough to his home on the island of Innishturk. The lough had frozen over and William had to break the ice in front of him. Close to home, the ice became much worse and held his boat fast.

In the worsening conditions William’s brother, James, set out in another boat to find him and bring him home. Neither brother returned and, when a search took place the next morning, both were found dead in their boats on the lough.

I was able to verify Peter’s story from a poignant article written by S.G. Coulson in the Post Office magazine from February 1962.

Tribute to William Rooney, The Post Office Magazine, February 1962.

Tribute to William Rooney, The Post Office Magazine, February 1962.

It seems then, that after the tragedy that befell his brothers, John Rooney took up the service of delivering mail to the inhabitants on Lough Erne.

Peter also told me other details about John Rooney that I’ve yet to confirm. One of these is that postal workers across Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom began a fund to help the Rooney family in their hour of need. Enough money was raised to build a house for John’s and his mother.

I have found John Rooney featured in a story for The Courier, the Post Office’s in-house newspaper, in August 1972. The article describes his route across Lough Erne and the people he serves. The postmaster at Enniskillen declares;

It doesn’t matter how far off the beaten track people live – they’re still entitled to a postal service. And it’s thanks to people like John Rooney that they get it.

The Post Office in Pictures photo exhibition is at The Lumen URC, Bloomsbury, London until Friday 31 August. Visit the BPMA website to see an online preview. Images from the exhibition are available as greetings cards.

Lions, Leopards, Unicorns & Dragons: The first “Regional” stamps

The current exhibition in the BPMA’s Search Room, Lions, Leopards, Unicorns & Dragons: The first “Regional” stamps, closes on 4th April. The exhibition follows the creation and development – from original artwork and unadopted designs, through to the final issues – of Britain’s first regional stamps.

The stamps were issued in August and September 1958 although the idea for regional stamps had first been discussed shortly after the end of the Second World War. Although the main feature on the stamps was still the portrait of the Queen by Dorothy Wilding, heraldic and floral emblems were used to distinguish stamps for the different regions:

The stamps for Guernsey (including Alderney and Sark) show the Guernsey Lily and William the Conqueror’s crown.

Guernsey 2.5d stamp  Guernsey 3d stamp

Jersey’s stamp features the Island Mace and the Arms of Jersey.

Jersey 2.5d stamp Jersey 3d stamp

The Isle of Man stamp shows the Three Legs on a Shield (the Arms of the Kingdom of Man), and the ring-chain pattern characteristic of the Manx runic crosses.

Isle of Man 2.5d stamp Isle of Man 3d stamp

The Welsh design principally featured the Welsh dragon (passant), but the “Leek in flower” was also incorporated into the design.

Welsh 3d stamp Welsh 6d stamp Welsh 1s3d stamp

There were problems creating the Northern Ireland definitives because of a lack of symbols representative of Ulster that weren’t undesirable features of political significance. Five symbols were eventually chosen:

  • the Red (right) Hand of Ulster
  • the Arms of Northern Ireland (without supporters)
  • the six-pointed Crowned Star with the Red Hand
  • the Flax Plant (with or without leaves)
  • a Field Gate with typical Ulster pillars

Northern Ireland 3d stamp Northern Ireland 6d stamp Northern Ireland 1s3d stamp

For Scotland, it was suggested that heraldic symbols should be used in the designs. These were:

  • Crowned Thistle (Scottish Crown)
  • Saltire (may be environed of an open crown)
  • Lion Rampant (in a tressured shield)
  • Sejeant lion (on or off a crown or part of him holding both sword & sceptre)
  • Unicorn (Crowned, may be collared and chained)
  • Any or all of the Honours of Scotland (Regalia with crown, sword, sceptre and cushion if desired)

Also suggested were Pictish or Celtic symbols and designs, and the national floral emblem of the thistle. The issued designs contained a mix of these suggestions.

Scotland 3d stamp Scotland 6d stamp

For further information on the first regional British stamps, including unadopted artwork, please see the Lions, Leopards, Unicorns & Dragons online exhibition.

You can view the Lions, Leopards, Unicorns & Dragons exhibition by visiting the BPMA Search Room. The Search Room is open weekdays from 10.00am – 5.00pm, and until 7.00pm on a Thursday. A special Saturday opening of the Search Room will take place on 4th April 2009, from 10.00am – 5.00pm.