Tag Archives: Post Office vehicles

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.

Open Day with the Post Office Vehicle Club

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Post Office Vehicle Club (POVC) whose members document, preserve and operate a wide range of postal and telephones vehicles. On Saturday 15th September there is a rare opportunity to see some these vehicles exhibited alongside items from our own collection at an Open Day at our Museum Store in Debden, Essex.

The Museum Store is where we house our larger exhibits, including letter boxes, sorting equipment, furniture and vehicles. Until we are able to provide a full museum experience at our new home at Calthorpe House the Museum Store offers the only opportunity to get up close to our collection. We run regular guided tours of the Store but these are very popular and only a few tickets are available for the remainder of this year. The Open Day will offer a great opportunity to see items from our collection as well as some of the vehicles preserved by POVC members.

Morris series Z telephone utility in original wartime colours with blackout markings.

Morris series Z telephone utility in original wartime colours with blackout markings.

On display will be 18 vehicles from POVC members including a wartime Morris series Z GGY 20 telephone utility (in original wartime colours, complete with blackout markings), the unique Commer Avenger/Harrington mobile telegraph unit SLO 24, a newly restored Minivan mailvan PTV 231M, and a Bedford HA mailvan KCJ 759P. A selection of Morris Minors and BSA Bantam telegram motorcycles are expected, while two Morris JB mailvans from the 1950s are promised along with a restored Dodge Spacevan television detector van CNJ 423T in arctic blue livery.

Dodge Spacevan television detector van in arctic blue livery.

Dodge Spacevan television detector van in arctic blue livery.

The Open Day with the Post Office Vehicle Club is a free event to which all are welcome. For the enthusiast there will be illustrated presentations from POVC members and our Curator Julian Stray, whilst children will be able to enjoy a range of family-friendly activities.

Pillar boxes at our Museum Store in Essex.

Pillar boxes at our Museum Store in Essex.

For further details of the event and information on how to get to the Museum Store, please see our website.

Museum Store Tours

Ever wanted to see behind the scenes of a museum, and get up close to some fascinating objects? Then book now to join one of our free Museum Store tours.

Postal vehicles at the Museum Store

Postal vehicles at the Museum Store

These tours take place once a month, with extra evening tours added during the summer months. During each tour our curators will be your guide on a journey through several hundred years of postal history. Highlights include a fleet of postal service vehicles illustrating the long history of moving the mail, and over 50 pillar boxes of different types, from one of the first boxes trialled in the UK to modern designs and prototypes.

Pillar boxes at the Museum Store

Pillar boxes at the Museum Store

Also of interest is the Museum Store itself, a working storage facility for our collection, not often experienced by members of the public.

Visit our website to find out more about our Museum Store tours, including dates and booking details.

The Post Office at War at Bletchley Park

Over the August Bank Holiday weekend the 2010: Festival of Stamps will be celebrating the Post Office at War event at Bletchley Park.

Taking place on Sunday 29 & Monday 30 August, the two days will remember the role of the Post Office during World War Two and the importance of stamps in our history.

As well as running children’s’ activities on code breaking, designing your own stamp, and writing an airgraph, the BPMA will be taking our exhibition The GPO and the Home Front. The exhibition explores the impact World War Two had on the largest employer in Britain, when a third of its staff joined active service. It also looks at the role that GPO staff played in preserving normal functioning on the home front, helping to promote the domestic war effort and support military operations. Ensuring mail got to troops was also an integral part of the war effort, helping to keep up morale.

Bletchley Park Mansion

Bletchley Park Mansion

A series of talks over the weekend will include BPMA Assistant Curator Vyki Sparkes, who will be discussing the little known GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad, using unique research from the Royal Mail Archive.

The Enigma Cinema will be showing BPMA films from our GPO Film collection If War Should Come. The 18 films in this collection provide a fascinating and poignant insight into a nation on the cusp of war and its transition to the brutal realities of life in the Blitz.

Elsewhere at Bletchley, the Post Office Vehicle Club will be putting on a display of vehicles used by the Post Office during the war. Also on display will be a vast collection of historic stamps, representing all aspects of life.

Bletchley Park Post Office

Bletchley Park Post Office

Further children’s activities around the site will include learning what it was like to write home as a wartime evacuee, and re-enactors will show how people lived during the war. There will also be a rare opportunity to see a stunning display of World War Two airpower with a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flypast featuring a Hurricane and a Spitfire.

We hope you can join us for what promises to be an exciting weekend!

For more information and how to get there, please visit the Bletchley Park website.

Notes from the Colne Valley Postal History Museum curator’s workshop

by Steve Wright, Colne Valley Postal History Musuem

With just over a week to go before our first Open Day as part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps, it has been a frantic all-hands-on-deck time to get things ready here at Colne Valley Postal Museum.

The restoration of our 1935 Jubilee Telephone Kiosk has not proceeded as far as I would have liked and it now looks unlikely that it will be on site and complete by May 29th; hopefully it will all be here in time for our second Open Day on 10th July. This was caused by one of the key restorers being stranded in Spain by volcanic dust – which lost us two weeks in the schedule.

Telegraph head at Colne Valley Postal History Museum

Telegraph head at Colne Valley Postal History Museum

The good news is that a third large telegraph pole has arrived and been erected, and fitted with new arms to display 14 different types of insulators from our collection. Together with the two existing poles, this brings to 27 the total of different types of telegraph insulator on display. It also allowed another, different, George V notice plate to be displayed on the correct type of pole. Ultimately, the poles will allow the Push Button A mechanism in the restored kiosk to be connected to the national network. All the poles have been shortened to allow our visitors to get a good view of the signage and pole furniture that would normally be 22 feet above us!

Colne Valley Postal History Museum's Type D pillar box, 1932

Colne Valley Postal History Museum's Type D pillar box, 1932

On the post box front, our Type D pillar of 1932 has now been fitted with a second enamel notice plate – the vertical format “coin drop” notice – and has also been fitted with a Type F booklet dispensing mechanism. This will be operational, sadly at the rate of 50 pence instead of 2d – on the day. Our other George V boxes are being cleaned or repainted and a very special project is lined up for a spare GR wall box we have – watch this space!

Two more vintage Stamp Vending Machines have been restored – one from the early reign of George V. This was shown and demonstrated successfully during our visit to the Post Office Vehicles Club rally in April and it will be available and working on the Open Days for visitors to try. It is believed to date from 1912-1915 and is an original Kermode mechanism.

The Philatelic element has not been forgotten and the displays on the day will feature enlargements of some of the best-known designs from the King George V reign together with our own extensive displays of Seahorse high values overprinted for use abroad: pages from Nauru, British Bechuanaland, Bechuanaland Protectorate, Levant, Morroco, Tangier and the Irish Free State will be on display.

Colne Valley Postal History Museum will be open on 29th May, 10th July and 11th and 12th September 2010, and by appointment to groups. For further information on the open days please see the London 2010: Festival of Stamps website.

Lord Bath, Tony Benn and Bath Postal Museum help to launch London 2010: Festival of Stamps

Lord Bath sends off a carrier pigeon with his message to Mr Tony Benn. Watching are the Mayor and Mayoress of Bath (left) with Audrey Swindells and Ivan Holliday of the Bath Postal Museum.

Lord Bath sends off a carrier pigeon with his message to Mr Tony Benn. Watching are the Mayor and Mayoress of Bath (left) with Audrey Swindells and Ivan Holliday of the Bath Postal Museum. (Photo: Bath Postal Museum)

by Colin Baker, Bath Postal Museum

On 23rd March the Marquess of Bath, a patron of the Bath Postal Museum, despatched a message by carrier pigeon from outside the Guildhall in the centre of Bath to Tony Benn in London. Lord Bath’s message wished the London 2010: Festival of Stamps every success. Tony Benn was the ideal receiver of this message, being the last Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in Britain. The message was written on an original pigeongramme form as used in World War Two, which is very lightweight paper that weighed only one gram.

Lord Bath sends one of the pigeons on its way. The Mayor, Mayoress and some of the Trustees of the Bath Postal Museum follow its progress.

Lord Bath sends one of the pigeons on its way. The Mayor, Mayoress and some of the Trustees of the Bath Postal Museum follow its progress. (Photo: Bath Postal Museum)

It was more than a year ago that the Bath Postal Museum first suggested the idea of using a pigeon to send greetings to the organisers of the Festival of Stamps. The event was organised by the museum to complement their latest exhibition covering some of the major events in the reign of King George V. The exhibition will remain open to the public until the end of 2010.

Watching the release of the pigeons and making sure they were safely in the air were the Mayor and Mayoress of Bath, Councillor and Mrs Colin Barrett, with Trustees, Friends and volunteers of the Bath Postal Museum.

The 1935 Morris Minor postal van sets off from the Guildhall in Bath with its cargo of special event covers.

The 1935 Morris Minor postal van sets off from the Guildhall in Bath with its cargo of special event covers. (Photo: Bath Postal Museum)

The three pigeons had been received by pigeon trainer Trevor Cocks of Bath who with his son handed them to Lord Bath who launched each pigeon into the air. Three pigeons set off ensuring safe arrival. Lord Bath then waved off a 1930s Morris Minor Post Office vehicle owned and driven by Kevin Saville. There are only two of these period vehicles fully roadworthy and it was a privilege for the Bath Postal Museum to be able to use this one to carry some of its special commemorative envelopes.

The vintage Post Office vehicle was followed by a modern Post Office van provided by Royal Mail, Bath section, both vehicles representing early and modern post office vehicles. After the event all present were entertained by the Mayor and Mayoress in the Guildhall and then given a guided tour of the beautiful Mayor’s Parlour.

Tony Benn holding the pigeon that carried the message from Lord Bath. Watching from left to right, Brian Trotter & Alan Huggins (London 2010), Colin Baker (Bath Postal Museum) and Teddy Hendrie the pigeon’s owner.

Tony Benn holding the pigeon that carried the message from Lord Bath. Watching from left to right, Brian Trotter & Alan Huggins (London 2010), Colin Baker (Bath Postal Museum) and Teddy Hendrie the pigeon’s owner. (Photo: Michael Pitt-Payne)

The pigeon carrying the message from Lord Bath flew to its home loft in East London from where the message was taken and presented to Tony Benn by Ted Hendrie of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association. Tony Benn then passed the message to Brian Trotter – Chairman of the International Stamp Exhibition. Alan Huggins – Chairman of the Festival Advisory Board and Colin Baker from the Bath Postal Museum was also present to witness the receipt of the message. Colin Baker said “The way this pigeon message has been sent will show people how communication always played an important role in our society. Although there was no internet in King George V’s reign, the techniques used in his day were often faster than some of the methods we currently employ.”

The pigeongramme that was sent to Tony Benn wishing the London 2010: Festival of Stamps every success.

The pigeongramme that was sent to Tony Benn wishing the London 2010: Festival of Stamps every success. (Photo: Bath Postal Museum)

Tony Benn was particularly interested in the pigeon and the message it carried. He told the story of his grandfather who was the first pilot to parachute a spy behind enemy lines during the First World War. Dropping the spy was easy he said, they simply cut a hole in the floor of the plane which he slid through before opening his parachute. The spy took carrier pigeons with him, which he released over the next few days, with messages concerning enemy activities and other important information.

It may seem strange to us today to use a pigeon to send a message, but homing pigeons were used extensively in the past. During the siege of Paris in 1870 they were flown out of the city by hot air balloons and flew back after a suitable rest period carrying strips of microfilm with messages for the besieged Parisians. During the two world wars pigeons were used to carry messages between the front line and headquarters.

All RAF (Royal Air Force) bombers carried homing pigeons in the Second World War. For example a bird called ‘White Vision’ delivered a message bearing latitude and longitude details so that the RAF crew could be rescued. They were flying a Catalina Flying Boat which ditched over the Hebrides. This bird flew 60 miles in atrocious weather over heavy seas. It was awarded one of the 14 ‘Dickin Medals for Gallantry’ awarded to homing pigeons. In all 32 bravery medals were awarded to pigeons in the 2nd World War.

Britain Loves Wikipedia

Visitors looking at pillar boxes at Britain Loves Wikipedia

Visitors looking at pillar boxes at Britain Loves Wikipedia

On Saturday we held our Britain Loves Wikipedia event at the British Postal Museum Store. We were very pleased with the number of attendees, who were a mix of Wikipedians, postal history enthusiasts, keen photographers and people who live in the local area.

Our vehicles and post boxes generated the most interest, although the films made by the GPO film unit, which we screened throughout the day, were also popular.

A number of great photographs taken on the day have already been uploaded to the Britain Loves Wikipedia website. If you attended the event but haven’t uploaded your photos yet please do so before 14 March – a trio of DVD box sets celebrating the work of the GPO film unit will go to the person who uploads the best picture.

Films by the GPO film unit are screened at Britain Loves Wikipedia

In the near future the best photos take at the Museum Store as part of this event will be available on Wikimedia Commons and can be used to illustrate articles on the Wikipedia site. There are already some fascinating photographs related to Britain’s postal heritage on Wikimedia Commons, including this wall box in Radford, built in to an elaborate house-type structure, and we’re sure the photos taken at the Museum Store will be great additions to the site. We’ll post a link to them when they’re made public.

Another successful upload to the Britain Loves Wikipedia website

Another successful upload to the Britain Loves Wikipedia website

Join us for Britain Loves Wikipedia

Britain Loves Wikipedia logo

Britain Loves Wikipedia

Throughout February, Britain Loves Wikipedia, a scavenger hunt and free content photography contest, will be taking place in museums and cultural institutions around Britain, including the British Postal Museum & Archive. People from all ages, backgrounds and communities can take part in this contest, which encourages the public to take photographs of the treasures of Britain’s museums and galleries, and then upload them to the Wikipedia site under a free licence, where they can be used to illustrate articles.

Philatelists and postal historians sometimes complain about the accuracy of articles on Wikipedia, but we hope that by participating in this initiative we can increase and improve the coverage of postal history on Wikipedia. Whether you’re a postal historian, a keen photographer, a Wikipedia article writer or just curious, join us at the British Postal Museum Store on Saturday 20 February to take part in this event.

The British Postal Museum Store, located in Debden, Essex houses our unique collection of postal vehicles, post boxes, telephone kiosks, sorting equipment, and more. It is different to a typical museum experience in that the Museum Store is a working space not designed specifically for public use, but one advantage of this for photographers is that none of the objects are behind glass, making photographing them much easier.

Pillar boxes on display at the Museum Store

Pillar boxes on display at the Museum Store

Participants in Britain Loves Wikipedia are asked to photograph objects which fit the themes of Love, Conflict, Transport, Daily Life and Freedom. The person who takes the best photograph at the Museum Store will win a trio of DVD box-sets celebrating the work of the GPO Film Unit.

As well as offering participants the chance to photograph some fascinating objects, we’re happy to offer guidance to anyone wanting to write and research new articles about postal history for Wikipedia. We’ll have some resources available on the day and we’ll be screening some of the GPO Film Unit films to inspire you.

Around 20 institutions around the country are participating in Britain Loves Wikipedia. More information about the initiative can be found at http://www.britainloveswikipedia.org/, or visit http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/events_archive/blw for more details on our event. You don’t have to book to attend, but if you plan to come please RSVP on Facebook so we can get an idea of numbers.

The end of the horse-drawn mail van

Sixty years ago today the last horse-drawn mail van left King Edward Building in London. This photo captures the event.

Peter pulls the last horse-drawn mail van to leave King Edward Building, London.

Peter pulls the last horse-drawn mail van to leave King Edward Building, London.

If it seems strange that horse-drawn vans were still being used by the Post Office in 1949, the remnants of war-damaged London in the background provide a clue.

Petrol rationing was introduced in Britain during the Second World War to ensure that the military and other essential services were given first priority when it came to fuel supplies. Throughout the war, individuals, businesses, and organisations such as the Post Office, had to make efficient use of the limited resources to hand. This ruled out expansion of the Post Office’s growing fleet of small motor vehicles for local deliveries, meaning that horse-drawn vans stayed in service for longer than they might have.

A horse-drawn mail van circa 1935 in our collection. The design of the van enabled letter carriers to step on and off whilst the vehicle was still moving.

A horse-drawn mail van circa 1935 in our collection. The design of the van enabled letter carriers to step on and off whilst the vehicle was still moving.

By 1949 the era of rationing was starting to end, allowing the Post Office to replace all horse-drawn vans in London with their motorised equivalent. Although horse-drawn vans continued for a number of years in rural areas, Peter’s final journey can be said to mark the end of the wide-scale use of horses, the world’s oldest form mail transport, by the Post Office.

BPMA Museum Store

The structure of the BPMA often causes confusion. At present the BPMA is split between two locations, Freeling House and the Museum Store. Freeling House (part of the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre complex in Central London) is where we house our publically-accessible Archive Collection and have a small Exhibition space. The Museum Store, in Debden, Essex, is where our Museum Collection is kept.

Each year there are a number of opportunities to visit the Museum Store and view the objects kept there. These include vehicles, sorting desks and machinery, an assortment of letter boxes and telephone kiosks, and even Sir Rowland Hill’s desk.

BPMA Curators will take you around the Store, telling the stories behind some of the objects. If you’re a vehicles enthusiast, interested in the development of the pillar box or just curious, we’d welcome your visit.

Museum Store Opening Times, 2009
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 1st April, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 6th May, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Evening – Monday 1st June, 6.00-9.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 3rd June, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 1st July, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Evening – Monday 6th July, 6.00-9.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 5th August, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 2nd September, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Evening – Monday 7th September, 6.00-9.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 7th October, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 4th November, 2.00-4.00pm

Special Events at the Museum Store, 2009
Family Open Day – Saturday 13th June, 10.00am-5.00pm
Discover Session: GPO Street Furniture – Saturday 20th June, 11.00am-3.00pm
Discover Session: Square Pillar Boxes – Saturday 19th September, 11.00am-3.00pm

Group bookings are welcome.

For more information on the Museum Store and directions, please click here.