Tag Archives: Outer Hebrides

Postal Vehicles

When people come on one of our Museum Store tours they often remark on the wide range of postal vehicles we have in our collection. The vehicles we care for range from bicycles and motorcycles to large delivery vans.

Today’s Royal Mail vehicles fleet is sourced for a small number of suppliers, but in the early days a great many manufacturers were used. It would be impossible for us to collect and maintain an example of every different type, but we do have photographic records and other material related to many of these vehicles in the Royal Mail Archive.

Recently we uploaded a small number of photographs showing some unusual and interesting postal vehicles to our Flickr site. Amongst these are the first motor vehicle used for mails in Scotland and a Motor Parcel Coach, both dating from circa 1908.

First motor vehicle used for mails in Scotland, c. 1908. (POST 118/5725)

First motor vehicle used for mails in Scotland, c. 1908. (POST 118/5725)

Also of interest are postal vehicles in interesting settings, such as the General Post Office (GPO) trolley basket parked at the base of the Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway in Devon and a Postbus parked near spectacular cliffs on the coast of Barra in the Outer Hebrides.

Lynmouth cliff railway and General Post Office trolley basket, Devon. (POST 118/1300)

Lynmouth cliff railway and General Post Office trolley basket, Devon. (POST 118/1300)

Finally, petrolheads may be interested in several images from the GPO repair shop in Harrow showing mechanics at work servicing vehicles.

For more on postal vehicles see our online exhibition Moving the Mail.

Rockets, pigeons and helicopters

by Jenny Karlsson, PR & Communications Officer 

You are probably aware that planes are a common mode of transport for the Post Office, but did you know that rockets, helicopters and pigeons have also been used to transport mail?

Rocket mail

Rocket mail is the delivery of mail by rocket or missile. The rocket would land by deploying an internal parachute upon arrival. It has been attempted by various organisations in many different countries, with varying levels of success. Due to its cost and failures it has never become seen as a feasible way of transporting mail.

German Gerhard Zucker experimented in the 1930s with powder rockets similar to fireworks. After moving to the United Kingdom, Zucker attempted to convince the General Post Office that postal delivery by rocket was viable, and Zucker’s first attempt in Britain took place 6 June 1934 on the Sussex Downs. In July the same year he made two further attempts on Scarp, an island in the Outer Hebrides, but both of his rockets exploded. His final attempt took place on the Isle of Wight, but the rocket went off course and embedded itself in the Pennington Marshes, Hampshire.

Sketch diagram of rocket, 1934

Sketch diagram of rocket, 1934

Helicopters

Trials to use helicopters to deliver mail first took place from 7-12 May 1934. They were organised by John S Davis, an Aerophilatelist, and carried out in conjunction with a philatelic festival.

Experiments took place between 1948 and 1950 but did not reach a satisfactory level of regularity (especially at night when most flights would need to occur) and were deemed not to be cost effective.

Helicopter mail trials in Norfolk, 1949

Helicopter mail trials in Norfolk, 1949

After this, commercial flights were occasionally used to transport mail.

Pigeon post

Clear and correct circulation details save time: an internal GPO poster promoting clear and correct detailing on telegrams. Circa 1950.

Clear and correct circulation details save time: an internal GPO poster promoting clear and correct detailing on telegrams. Circa 1950.

Throughout history, pigeons have also been used as a means of getting messages between parties. Pigeon post offered a fast and reliable service and became a vital means of communication during the First World War; by the end of the war there were 22,000 Pigeons in service.

BPMA Open Day

The BPMA holds a large number of records relating to all of these subjects, such as posters, artwork, reports, press cuttings, maps, papers and photographs. You have a unique opportunity to see these at our Archive Open Day on 12 September on the theme ‘Take Flight!’ The Archive Open Day is a drop-in event, offering behind-the-scenes tours, and is part of the Archive Awareness Campaign 2009.

‘Take Flight!’ – The British Postal Museum & Archive Open Day
Saturday 12 September 10.00am – 5.00pm
The British Postal Museum & Archive, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL
Free
Phone: 020 7239 2570
Email: info@postalheritage.org.uk
Website: http://postalheritage.org.uk/events_archive/archive-open-day