Tag Archives: Postal History

Royal Mail Archive added to UNESCO Memories of the World Register

Recently the BPMA has received some exciting news. The Royal Mail Archive, which we look after, has been added to UNESCO’s Memories of the World Register. The archive spans the years 1636 to 1969 and covers a wide range of items from promotional posters to the Penny Black and employment records to telegrams about the Titanic.

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Telegram telling of the sinking of the Titanic

UNESCO was impressed by the unique insight the archive offers into the development of communication within the UK and abroad and the way it reflects the social and personal impact that the postal service has had upon people across the country.

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GPO poster

Head of Archives Vicky Parkinson tells us about being added to this year’s list of inscriptions:

“Back in 2011 my colleagues attended that year’s inscription reception following the successful nomination of the work of the GPO film unit, which was a joint application with our colleagues in the BFI and BT. On the back of that success we felt that the Royal Mail Archive was worthy of inscription and the nomination paperwork was submitted in January of this year.

We were delighted to hear that the UNESCO committee agreed with us and on the 19 June 2014 Helen Forde, Chair of our Board of Trustees, and I travelled to Edinburgh to attend the award ceremony, along with the other successful nominees.

Vicky and Helen

Vicky and Helen at the reception. Photo by Lesley Ann Ercolano

The reception, hosted by Lloyds Banking Group at their iconic site on the Mound in Edinburgh, was about celebrating the UK’s outstanding history and raising awareness about some of the country’s documentary riches. For me it was a wonderful reminder of how the archive, and the work we do to look after it and make it available, fits into the bigger picture of how history, and more importantly the original records, still play a vital role in today’s society.

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One of the thousands of photos in the collection – women mending parcels at the Home Depot during the First World War

For those of us lucky enough to work with the archive on a day to day basis it’s easy to see just how significant the collection is, documenting the vital role the postal service has played in the UK. Having that importance recognised by schemes such as UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register and the Arts Council’s Designation scheme is a vital way of spreading awareness of the riches we have in our custody.”

It is these stories and more that will be told in The Postal Museum when it opens in 2016. To hear some of these fantastic stories, and see the wealth of objects all of our collections hold, before then keep an eye on the blog. Over the coming months BPMA staff will be telling you all their favourite stories and showing you all manner of intriguing and enticing objects.

Last Post: Remembering the First World War

The First World War was a major turning point in the history of the Post Office. To mark the year of the centenary, our First World War exhibition, Last Post, is now open at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums group.

The exhibition explores the contribution of millions of people to wartime communication and the far reaching role of thePost Office on both the battlefield and the home front.

Field Post Office

Field Post Office

An Oxo tin among other things

Demonstrating the huge variety of items that could be sent through the post in wartime, you can see on display an OXO tin posted home from the fighting front by William Cox, a former Post Office worker. He posted the OXO tin back to his brother and sister, containing a button from the tunic of a fallen soldier and a piece of shrapnel.

Cox's OXO Tin

OXO tin sent home by Cox

Battlefield will and a favourite plant

You can also view the story of Private Leonard Eldridge of the 8th London Regiment (The Post Office Rifles). Soldiers were encouraged to write battlefield wills whilst on the Front. Private Eldridge’s will is on display in the exhibition.

Eldridge writes: ‘everything I possess except the aspadastras plant of mine, I give to you. The plant, I, with my last wish, leave it, and must be given to, Miss Florence Smith… She must be treated in my absence as my lover with every respect.’

Post Office Rifles

8th London Regiment – The Post Office Rifles

Wilfred Owen

Also on display in the exhibition are two original poems written by local Shropshire-born First World War officer and poet Wilfred Owen, kindly lent to us for the exhibition by The British Library.

‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, perhaps Owen’s most iconic poem, is on display. The poem was written in October 1917 and revised a few months later, in early 1918. Owen sent the poem to his mother, Susan Owen, with the message: ‘Here is a gas poem done yesterday, (which is not private, but not final).’

Field Post Box

Soldiers waiting for post

We also fittingly have on display Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘The Letter’. The poem depicts a soldier writing a letter to his wife back home. Whilst writing the letter, the soldier is fatally hit, and a comrade finishes the letter off for him.

The poem highlights the importance of letter writing to soldiers and also the danger present at all times in the trenches. It also illustrates that the contents of letters home may not have accurately depicted the conditions of everyday life for soldiers.

 

The exhibition is open Monday to Friday, until 27th March 2015 and entrance is free.

If you are unable to visit the exhibition in person, we have launched a simultaneous online exhibition in partnership with the Google Cultural Institute.

Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Crowdsourcing IWM paintings and BPMA images

The BPMA has been active on Historypin since last year and yesterday we hosted a Putting Art on the Map event with Historypin in the Search Room. This event focused on crowdsourcing information about the selected images and paintings. The selected images depicted post and telecommunications during the First World War.

A3 copies of the paintings and images that were up for discussion.

A3 copies of the paintings and images that were up for discussion.

After Dr Alice Strickland introduced the IWM paintings and the artists behind them, Gavin McGuffie (Archive Catalogue and Project Manager at the BPMA) introduced the primary resources on offer from the archive for participants to use. This was the first event of its kind to have primary sources on offer for participants.

Even us 'non-experts' jumped in. Alex, Project Officer at Historypin, looks through a resource from our archive. Photo credit: Historypin

Even us ‘non-experts’ jumped in. Alex, Project Officer at Historypin, looks through a resource from our archive. Photo credit: Historypin

Participants were then let loose on the A3 copies of the paintings and images, and zoom-able digital images of the IWM paintings to see what they could come up with. Over the next two hours, participants worked feverishly to find out detailed facts about these pieces. Using Ancestry.co.uk one participant was even able to identify the woman seated on the far right of the below painting!

Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps Signallers, Base Hill, Rouen : Telephones. Forewoman Milnes and Captain Pope. Copyright Imperial War Museum.

Despite this brilliant session, there is still plenty to discover about these artworks and images, both on the Putting Art on the Map project and our Historypin channel. You don’t need to be an expert to do so; as we proved in this event, sometimes all you need is a good eye for detail, adequate search skills and, of course, determination.

Wrap-up discussion of all the images and paintings.

Wrap-up discussion of all the images and paintings. Photo credit: Historypin

Historypin will  be adding all the information, data, comments and questions collected to the artworks on Putting Art on the Map and our Historypin channel. You can then continue the conversation and help discover the story behind the places and people in these pieces.

Do you have an interest in aviation and want to participate in an event like this? Then join Historypin at the next event at Imperial War Museum Duxford on the 22 February.

-Rachel Kasbohm, Digital Media Manager

Tenth Anniversary of the Final Traveling Post Office Journeys

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Men stand in front of the first train coach used to sort mail on the North Eastern Railway.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the last journeys of Royal Mail’s Travelling Post Offices. First used in 1838, they revolutionised the way mail was moved across the country. From romantic images of steam engines to the brutal realities of the Great Train Robbery, TPOs were an instantly recognisable part of the national fabric until they were phased out in 2004.

To mark this anniversary, BPMA has written a guest blog for the National Railway Museum which can be found here. An online version of our Great Train Robbery exhibition, The Great Train Robbery, the aftermath and the Investigations: A Story from the Archive, marking the most infamous episode in the history of the TPO can be viewed on Google Cultural Institute’s website.

Christmas through the post

With only a few days left until Christmas Day we have been collaborating on an exciting new exhibition that explores the fundamental importance of the post at Christmas time.

Our festive exhibition, Christmas through the post, has been developed in collaboration with Beverley Art Gallery. The exhibition, now on display at Beverley Art Gallery, explores the practise of sending post at Christmas time.

Christmas advance posting notification c.1902

Christmas advance posting notification c.1902

Christmas has been celebrated through the post for 170 years. The first known Christmas card was commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843, in the same year as Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’, was published. The BPMA holds one of Cole’s 1843 cards in its collection.

Christmas through the post at Beverley Art Gallery reveals Christmas postal history through a series of images drawn from the collections of the BPMA. On display are iconic images of ‘Post Early for Christmas’ posters and images of Victorian Christmas cards within the BPMA collection.

Exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery

Exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery

Promoting early posting for Christmas is the longest running campaign in Royal Mail’s history. The images in the exhibition are taken from the iconic GPO advertising poster collection, held at the BPMA, illustrating the promotion of the services offered by the GPO and the campaign to encourage people to ‘Post Early for Christmas’. The images on display are testament to the breadth and variety of designs that have been used in the ‘Post Early’ campaign, for over 100 years.

Also on display are a small selection of Victorian Christmas cards- illustrating the naturalistic and often pagan designs of the early cards, and their very small size, compared to today’s cards. We also have on display Christmas stamp artwork facsimiles illustrating the designs and creativity of the Christmas stamps and the festive designs by children. Christmas stamps were only introduced in 1966 but remain the most popular stamp sets sold throughout the year. Following the first Christmas stamps in 1966, special Christmas stamps have continued to be issued every year- with designs of either a religious or a secular nature (largely alternating between the two).

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Festive worksheets and activities will be available to accompany the exhibition at Beverley Art Gallery. You can also download the BPMA children’s worksheet designed by Katy Holmes – http://www.katypotaty.co.uk.

Children undertake postal themed activities at Beverley Art Gallery

Children undertake postal themed activities at Beverley Art Gallery

If you are unable to make it to Beverley to see the exhibition, we are very pleased to offer here an alternative online Christmas exhibition - our second online exhibition in collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute.

An exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery features the first Christmas stamp designed by children.

An exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery features the first Christmas stamp designed by children.

Christmas through the post is on at Beverley Art Gallery until 8 February.

Beverley Art Gallery
Treasure House
Champney Road
Beverley
East Riding
HU17 8HE

Entry: Free

For more information on any of our exhibitions- we have four available for free hire- please contact Dominique on dominique.gardner@postalheritage.org.uk or on 0207 354 7287.

A very happy Christmas from everyone here at the BPMA!

- Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Guest blog: Arts Award students meet Danny Martin, contemporary war poet

Meet our latest guest bloggers Aldis and Max. Two more 'Communicating Conflict' Arts Award students from Haverstock School.

Meet our latest guest bloggers Aldis and Max. Two more ‘Communicating Conflict’ Arts Award students from Haverstock School.

Last week, the students were visited by Danny Martin, a former soldier and war poet, who now works as an English teacher. 

Here’s what Aldis and Max had to say about Danny’s visit:

Danny’s life is one of the most inspiring anyone could ever hear about. It really made us think about the life of a soldier during war and the hardships that they face. Death and injury haunt them every day. Danny’s inspiration for becoming a soldier was when he was around the same age as us when he joined the army cadets.

Danny first started writing poetry after leaving the army whilst studying for a Creative Writing degree in Liverpool. His poems were published in a book of contemporary war poetry called Heroes.

Danny reading his poem: 'The Haddock of Mass Destruction'

Danny reading his poem: ‘The Haddock of Mass Destruction’

Danny’s poem expresses war differently to what we believe it is like. It really made us think about our lives and how we could change them for the better. Danny describes the commodities of war as pain and suffering instead of being a hero and a patriot.

War poet Danny Martin in action

War poet Danny Martin in action

Aldis and Max were very inspired by Danny’s visit:

We learnt the true side of the story, the kind of thing that we don’t hear on the TV. We learnt the consequences of joining the army. We also learnt that all soldiers have their own different stories of army life however others think they all are the same.

A huge thank you to Danny for visiting Haverstock School. Look out for more from our guest bloggers as they continue to work with project poet Joelle Taylor to develop their own poems in response to the First World War stories in the BPMA collection.

Charles Dickens and Postal Communication with Dr Tony Williams

Cartoon from Punch's Almanack for 1854

Cartoon from Punch’s Almanack for 1854

Charles Dickens was a prodigious letter writer as well as a writer in other forms. We now have available to us his letters, in twelve large volumes, as the Pilgrim Edition and comprising some 14,252 pieces of correspondence he wrote from the earliest known items from the 1820s through to his final letters in 1870 shortly before he died. What we don’t have, of course, is the correspondence he received from other people because he burnt it all when he moved into Gad’s Hill Place in 1860. Letters keep appearing, like the one which emerged not so long ago, falling out of the covers of a second-hand Bible, and was recently sold for £7,000. Some 300 new discoveries have been published in The Dickensian, the journal of The Dickens Fellowship. There is now also a selection of some 450 letters, edited by Jenny Hartley and published by OUP, which give an excellent flavour of the range of subjects covered. Dickens’s letters are addressed to 2500 known correspondents and 200 unknown: they cover a wide range of topics: letters of business, letters to family, friends; letters home whilst travelling; domestic letters; letters about writing novels and creating characters; about performing and charitable acts; letters in times of personal crisis, birth and bereavements, invitations. Above all they communicate an enormously vibrant sense of his colossal energy and appetite for life.

Dickens was living at a time when the postal system was reformed, especially with the introduction of a standardised penny post in 1840. This led to vast increase in letters sent – threefold in first year and by 1860s eightfold. In major towns and cities there would be ten to twelve deliveries a day: letters posted in the morning would reach their addressee by the late afternoon or evening. It was the 19th century’s new communication medium, much as for us it has been email!

In our talk Dr Tony Williams will explore some of the letters in Dickens’s fiction and his writing about developments in the postal system in his journalism, as well as sharing with the audience some examples of Dickens’s own correspondence. Dr Williams is a frequent speaker on Dickens. He is Associate Editor of The Dickensian and a Senior Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham. From 1999 to 2006 he was Joint General Secretary of the International Dickens Fellowship and a Trustee of the Charles Dickens Museum in London.

Dr Williams will be preceded by Dr Adrian Steel at 6pm who will talk on “The Future of Britain’s Postal Heritage”.  Further details and tickets are available here.

Guest blog: Communicating Conflict Arts Award students

Meet guest bloggers Samiah and Shaima. Two of our Communicating Conflict Arts Award students from Haverstock School.

Meet Samiah and Shaima - two students from Haverstock School.

Meet Samiah and Shaima – two students from Haverstock School.

The Arts Award students recently participated in two workshops with Big Wheel Theatre Company. Here’s what Samiah and Shaima had to say about their experiences.

We are extremely lucky to be taking part in this Arts Award. Last week we were very fortunate to take part in a theatre workshop called ‘Meaning in the Mud’ about poems that were written during the First World War.

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Arts Award students with Roland and George from the Big Wheel Theatre Company.

After the poetry workshop, Roland and George visited us in class to develop our knowledge of the Post Office Rifles. We learnt about three soldiers named Sergeant Alfred Knight, Captain Home Peel and Rifleman Harry Brown. We looked at letters that were sent to Harry Brown’s mother.

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Students discover the story of Post Office Rifle, Harry Brown.

Harry Brown was a Rifleman who was involved in a fierce, bloody, brutal battle at Nieuport Les Bains. When his mother asked to know what happened to her son she received a letter from the Red Cross stating they did not know the whereabouts of her dear son. We later found out, after reading another letter, that he was captured and taken to a prisoner of war camp. This letter was the last letter she ever received from her son. He died at the prisoner of war camp from “inflammation of the lungs”.

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Original letter from the Central Prisoners of War Committee to Harry Brown’s mother.

Roland spoke to us in character about the battlefield and all the tactics used during this horrendous time. We were told about the battle of Wurst Farm Ridge. In this battle we learnt that Post Office Rifle Sergeant Alfred Knight was awarded the Victoria Cross for his leadership and bravery.

We wrote messages of remembrance for the Post Office Rifles.

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Roland and George from Big Wheel Theatre Company took these messages to Ypres and left them at the Post Office Rifles memorial. They are performing their Meaning in the Mud workshop in Belgian schools.

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Thanks to Samiah and Shaima for this fantastic blog. Keep an eye out for more from our Haverstock School Arts Award students as the project progresses.

What the privatisation of Royal Mail means to us

Our Director Adrian Steel gives a historical perspective on today’s announcement that Royal Mail will soon be privatised.

The human need to communicate is ever present. But to give a historical perspective on the British postal service – details of the sale of which have been announced today – the usual starting point is the creation of the office of ‘Master of the Posts’ in 1512, its endorsement in 1517, or the Royal Proclamation of 31 July 1635 which effectively saw the opening of the ‘Royal Mail’ to public use. The last of these is most frequently given as the start of what is now the Royal Mail business.

The King's Messenger A.D. 1482, artwork for poster by John Armstrong which was part of a series for schools on the history of communication. This reflects Royal Mail's origins as a messenger service for the monarch and government.

The King’s Messenger A.D. 1482, artwork for poster by John Armstrong which was part of a series for schools on the history of communication. This reflects Royal Mail’s origins as a messenger service for the monarch and government.

Throughout most of its existence the service has been the subject of public and political debate. The tension between the need for it to run as a business and turn a profit (which at times in the 17th century was paid to those who bought what was effectively the ‘farm’ of revenue for a part of the service – we have the accounts in the Royal Mail Archive), and the need for it to provide a socially necessary service, is ongoing and – as underpins Duncan Campbell-Smith’s authoritative 2011 history Masters of the Post – recurrent.

The political importance of the postal service is by and large a constant. For a good part of its early history there were two Postmasters General – (usually) one Whig and one Tory – as shown by our POST 67 archive series containing appointment Letters Patent. The 19th century expansion as a result of postal reform was a transformative national event, one that saw what had by then become known as the Post Office permeate literature from Dickens to Trollope (who was himself a Surveyor for the Post Office and credited with the creation of the pillar box). In the early 20th century the service grew to encompass the infant telephone system, saw politicians such as Austen and Neville Chamberlain and Clement Attlee cut their teeth in government as Postmaster General, and the first extended thought on whether a government department really was the right vehicle for what the Post Office did. Harold Wilson’s government – whose Postmaster Generals include the only surviving holder of this office, Roy Mason and Tony Benn – converted the Post Office into a state-owned corporation via the 1969 Post Office Act. After that, the telephone service was separated and later sold as British Telecom, and in the past 15 years two Postal Services Acts have again changed the status of the organisation. The most recent, that of 2011, is the legislation that has led to today’s announcement.

Central Telephone Exchange - telephone operators at a telegraph board (2010-0412/2). Telephones were once under the control of the General Post Office.

Central Telephone Exchange – telephone operators at a telegraph board (2010-0412/2). Telephones were once under the control of the General Post Office.

During the debates on the 2011 Act, concern was expressed across the political spectrum that Britain’s postal heritage, as cared for by the BPMA, should be safeguarded. At the time I took part in correspondence with a number of interested politicians and Ministers and we had visits from All-Party Groups, individual Peers and MPs from all parties (and none), and from Coalition ministers. Amendments were tabled and discussed and eventually a clause added to what was already in the then Bill, ensuring that the heritage of the postal service was properly cared for and reported to Parliament upon even after a privatisation such as was announced today. With this protection and support behind us, plans for our new home well advanced, and ongoing support from politicians, Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd, BPMA looks forward to providing a first class home for this great service’s history for generations to come.

Visualisation of BPMA's New Centre at Calthorpe House.

Visualisation of BPMA’s New Centre at Calthorpe House.

For more on the history of the Royal Mail see our online exhibition The Peoples Post.

Duncan Campbell-Smith, author of Masters of the Post – The Authorized History of the Royal Mail will speak on The Royal Mail Past and Present at the Guildhall Library on 24 October 2013.

Of even more boxes and reams of pink tape…

Some of our regular blog readers may remember my previous blog post on the Museum Store audit. Since a year has passed since the start of the project, I thought I would add a quick update and share a few of the items that I have uncovered along the way.

During my first few weeks on the project, I worked on a number of shelves containing mailbags; a seemingly endless number of bags… of all shapes and sizes from small orange ones to large hessian sacks with bold, black stencilling. Among them were several bags commemorating notable dates, including this example marking a Coronation Day flight from Sydney to London on 2nd June 1953.

Coronation Day Flight Mailbag. (2007-0057/9)

Coronation Day Flight Mailbag. (2007-0057/9)

As with any new subject, when I first started at the BPMA back in 2011 there were many terms that meant very little to me – one example was the phrase ‘dead letters’. So you can imagine my amusement when the shelf I was auditing one afternoon held a real ‘Dead Letter’ box, which had come from a Post Office in Walton on the Naze. For me, one of the wonderful things about working directly with the collection is being able to tie elements of postal history to ‘real’ objects that can add that extra level of understanding.

Dead Letters Box from Walton on the Naze Post Office. (2002-572/3)

Dead Letters Box from Walton on the Naze Post Office. (2002-572/3)

I was particularly taken with this illuminated badge, partly because I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before. That it had once lit up was clear – you could see the connecting wires at the end – but exactly how it would have been used had myself and Barry – one of the BPMA volunteers – puzzled.

Illuminated Badge. (E6709)

Illuminated Badge. (E6709)

We speculated whether it might have been attached to the front of a telegram messenger’s motorcycle, but that’s didn’t feel quite right. Duly audited, repacked and the badge returned to its shelf, I made a mental note to try and find out more. One of my colleagues in the Curatorial team said that he had previously seen a photograph with someone wearing a similar badge in the Archive. It was shortly after that I realised the answer was – quite literally – in front of me, as we have an enlarged version of the photograph on display at the Museum Store that I had been walking past each morning!

Telegram Messenger wearing an illuminated badge. (POST 118/0424)

Telegram Messenger wearing an illuminated badge. (POST 118/0424)

The badge was used by telegram messengers at mainline train termini, presumably to help you spot one on a crowded platform if you wished to send that last-minute telegram. It was great to see the item in use and even more satisfying to – at least partially – answer the question ‘What was this used for?’

Telephone sign. (OB2001.39/2)

Telephone sign. (OB2001.39/2)

A similar thing occurred when auditing a ‘TELEPHONE’ sign and metal bracket. That it was a rather lovely item was certain, but I did wonder what one might have looked like when it was in active use.

Whilst preparing a short talk for a local Rotary club in June, I came across my answer – a lantern slide image of a postman entering a K2 telephone kiosk, with a ‘TELEPHONE’ sign, like the one I had wrapped a few months previously, attached to a post on the left hand side. It can be easy to forget that museum objects had a working life, particularly if they are removed from their original context, so it was nice to have a visual clue as to how these signs would have been used.

Lantern slide with postman, kiosk and sign. (2011-0443/6)

Lantern slide with postman, kiosk and sign. (2011-0443/6)

A year on from the start of the project, I am delighted to report that the number of shelves audited and repacked has steadily increased to 290 shelves (or 57%) of our small mobile racking. This has been due in no small part to the assistance of volunteers Don and Barry, as well as the further help of my colleague Emma and the efforts of placement student Flora, who spent some time working at the Store during her student placement in April 2013.

Given the scale of the project, progress could occasionally feel misleadingly slow but the sight of steadily multiplying bays filled with pink tape shows that all that effort has produced a tangible result. More importantly, by assessing the condition of items and ensuring their packaging materials are suitable, we are ensuring that they are protected from their environment and remain in a stable condition to be enjoyed by visitors and researchers in years to come.

- Sarah Jenkins, Project Coordinator