Tag Archives: Post van

The Post Office in Chesham

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

As part of our commitment to providing access to Britain’s postal heritage, BPMA occasionally loans objects from its collection to other museums in order to help support displays relating to the social history of the Post Office across the country, and ensure as many people as possible are able to enjoy and learn from them.

Postal van postcard (2009-0081/671).

Postal van postcard (2009-0081/671).

Chesham Museum currently has an exhibition about ‘The Post Office in Chesham’ which uses photographs and objects to examine the history of Chesham post office and its place within the community. Followers of our blog may remember that the Wilkinson collection, which was catalogued in 2009, is a collection of postal ephemera, primarily model letter boxes and vehicles collected by one Ian Wilkinson, resident of Chesham. The exhibition at Chesham Museum features a section on Ian Wilkinson as ‘Chesham’s little known collector of Post Office memorabilia’ and BPMA has leant a few objects from the Wilkinson collection to help tell this story.

Chesham model letter box (2009-0081/035).
Chesham model letter box (2009-0081/035).

Amongst these is a model letter box with the Chesham coat of arms on the front which is thought to be one of the first items collected by Ian Wilkinson. Also on loan is a postcard in the shape of a postal van (pictured above) and one of my favourite items from the Wilkinson collection, a ceramic letter rack in the shape of an envelope addressed to Ian Wilkinson at his Chesham address in ‘Germaines Close’ [now Germains] not far from Chesham Museum. The letter rack was made around 1985 either by, or for, Ian Wilkinson and is typical of the quirky individual nature of the collection. BPMA has also leant some handstamps from our collection relating to places within Chesham such as Ashley Green and Great Hivings to illustrate the wider history of Chesham post office.

If any of you wish to see these objects and many more from Chesham’s own collection, the exhibition continues until Wednesday 19 October and can be visited on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 11am until 3pm. Please see Chesham Museum’s website for further details.

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 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.