Our blog has moved!

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This is the last blog you’ll find here, but we haven’t disappeared – we’ve upgraded!

In a little more than a year, we will be opening the doors to The Postal Museum. Gearing up for this excitement, we’ve got a new name, a new logo, and we’ve built a whole new website: postalmuseum.org.

Visualisation of how The Postal Museum might look

Our blog has a new home there – postalmuseum.org/blog – where we will be sharing more stories, discoveries and updates as we work towards opening.

Thank you to all our readers and we hope to see you over at postalmuseum.org!

Pop it in the Post – Your world at the end of the street

Last year we celebrated 175 years since the introduction of the world’s first stamp, the Penny Black, and 160 years since the invention of the pillar box. Both are now everyday objects that we are more than familiar with. Pop it in the Post, our family-friendly exhibition, explores these and other new, and sometimes quirky, ideas that made the mail accessible to all. You can visit now at Havering Museum in Romford until 26 March, free of charge.

Painting titled 'The Postman', 1891

‘The Postman’, 1891 (OB1997.5)

Children and adults alike can discover the story of the letter writing revolution and how millions of people’s lives were changed as a result of the innovative problem-solving of Rowland Hill and Anthony Trollope, the brains behind the stamp and pillar box.

Pop it in the Post at Islington Museum, March 2015

Pop it in the Post at Islington Museum last year

As part of the exhibition you can see the writing slope and handstamp Trollope used whilst travelling and working around the country, as well as three early pillar boxes from the BPMA’s collection.  There is also a chance to dress up as a Letter Carrier (an early postman) and solve some post puzzles.

One of the first pillar boxes to be used in the British Isles, introduced in the Channel Islands circa 1852-1853 (OB1996.653)

One of the first pillar boxes to be used in the British Isles, circa 1852-1853 (OB1996.653)

Come along to find out more about these life-changing inventions and how they created a communications revolution.

Havering Museum is open Wednesday – Saturday 11am-4pm.

-Emma Harper, Exhibitions Officer

London Architecture

London is full of superb classical architecture, predominantly produced after the Great Fire of London that ravaged the city in 1666. Only a few Tudor buildings survived from before this period, including the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey.


International Stamp Exhibition, Miniature Sheet, 50p, 1980

The above miniature sheet celebrates the achievements of innovative architects and an ever-changing London skyline; here are a few more examples of the Capital’s iconic landmarks.

Westminster Abbey


900th Anniversary of Westminster Abbey, 3d,  1966


900th Anniversary of Westminster Abbey, 2s 6d, 1966

King Edward the Confessor’s original abbey was knocked down by Henry III in 1245 to make way for the structure we see today. It has the highest Gothic vault in England, decorated with a delicate fan design as seen in the 2/6 stamp above. The abbey has seen the coronations, marriages and burials of many of our British monarchs.

The Houses of Parliament 

19th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference 8p Stamp (1973) Palace of Westminster seen from Whitehall

19th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, 8p, 1973 Palace of Westminster


‘The Burning of the Houses of Parliament’ by J.W. Turner, 1834

12p, Palace of Westminster from 62nd Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference (1975)

62nd Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference, Palace of Westminster, 12p, 1975







The original Palace of Westminster, more commonly known as The Houses of Parliament, was destroyed by fire in 1834. J.W.Turner’s painting of the scene depicts the view from across the river as the building burns. Charles Barry (1795-1860) won the competition to build the new Houses of Parliament, creating a Gothic revival structure

St Paul’s Cathedral

Cathedrals - (2008) St. Pauls Cathedral

Cathedrals, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Miniature Sheet, 2008


St Paul’s Cathedral, British Architecture, Cathedrals, 9d, 1969

After the Great Fire, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was commissioned to rebuild the churches of London including St Paul’s. Dedicated to the Apostle, its 111-metre-high dome is influenced by St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and constructed of three domes within each other. It took 35 years to complete and is the resting place of Wren himself.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace, Stamp Set 2014

Buckingham Palace, Stamp Set 2014

We all know Buckingham Palace to be the home of the Royal family, though it was originally built by the Duke of Buckingham. It did not become the official Royal Palace until the reign of Queen Victoria. The building has undergone many changes, including Sir Aston Webb’s (1849-1930) classical facade with its famous Royal balcony.

Hampton Court


British Architecture, Historic Buildings, Hampton Court Palace, 13p, 1978


London Landmarks, Hampton Court, 15p 1980








Hampton Court was a private Tudor home Cardinal Wolsey turned into a Palace. After his fall from grace, Wolsey’s palace passed into the hands of Henry VIII, who modernised the building. When William and Mary came to the throne in 1689 they moved to completely rebuild Hampton Court. However, these plans were never completed, resulting in a building consisting of two distinct architectural styles: Tudor and Baroque.

Modern Architecture, Presentation Pack, 2006

Modern Architecture, Presentation Pack, 2006

In an age where architecture is dominated by glass and steel we can overlook some of our classically designed buildings. British stamps have served as a reminder of these great structures and the architects who created them. Next time you’re walking around London, take a moment to look and admire the genius of British architecture.

-Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

The Christmas Nativity

This year’s Christmas stamps from Royal Mail depict scenes from the Nativity of Jesus, which appears in both the Gospel of Luke and Matthew. The theme of Christmas stamps alternate each year between secular and religious subject matter, though it is not the first time The Nativity has featured.

Christmas Stamps revised artwork

Royal Mail Christmas Stamps The Nativity 2015

The stamps show the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and the key characters present at the birth of Christ. In the gospel of Luke, Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem for the census and it is there in a barn that Jesus is born. Both stamps below depict the journey with Mary upon a donkey.

Christmas 13p Stamp (1979) Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem

Christmas 13p Stamp (1979) Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem

22p, Joseph and Mary arriving at Bethlehem from Christmas. Through The Eyes of a Child (1981)

22p, Joseph and Mary arriving at Bethlehem from Christmas. Through The Eyes of a Child (1981)

The Nativity image is recognisable to most with the family congregated around the baby Jesus in a manger. Though not mentioned in the New Testament, many animals are present in Nativity Scenes, some of which you may have played in a school Nativity yourself.

Luke 2:7 ‘And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’.

Christmas £1.00 Stamp (2015) The animals of the Nativity

The Shepherds in the Nativity story are visited by an Angel who informs them of the birth of Christ. You can see in the 4d stamp below the angel speak the words ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo,’ which translates to ‘Glory to God in the Highest.’

Luke 2:15 ‘And it came to pass, when the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

5d, The Three Shepherds from Christmas (1969)

5d, The Three Shepherds from Christmas (1969)

Christmas 4d Stamp (1970) Sheperds and Apparition of the Angel

Christmas 4d Stamp (1970) Shepherds and Apparition of the Angel

In the Gospel of Matthew the Star of Bethlehem appears to the Three Magi, or Wise Men and leads them to the birth place of Christ. It is here that they give Jesus the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. In both below stamps you can make out the urns that transported these gifts.

Mathew 2:11 ‘And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts: gold and frankincense and myrrh.’

£1.65, Wise men and star from Christmas (2011)

£1.65, Wise men and star from Christmas (2011)

26p, 'We Three Kings' from Christmas Carols (1982)

26p, ‘We Three Kings’ from Christmas Carols (1982)

Linking with the Nativity theme, the Madonna and Child have adorned stamps both in 2005 and 2013. Here you can see the painting of the ‘Virgin and Child with Saint John The Baptist’ c.1460-1480 attributed to Antoniazzo Romano.  This was a hugely popular compositional image in the Renaissance period and an extremely expensive commission with both gold leaf and Lapis Lazuli paint being used.

Christmas 2nd Large Stamp (2013) Madonna and Child

Christmas 2nd Large Stamp (2013) Madonna and Child

Angels have also appeared on numerous Christmas stamp issues, celebrating the intercessors between mankind and the heavens. Angels are often seen playing musical instruments such as the harp, trumpet and lyre, as you can see in the miniature sheet below.

Hark! The Herald Angel Sing, Christmas Miniature Sheet 2007

Hark! The Herald Angel Sing, Christmas Miniature Sheet 2007

Many of us will have taken part in a school Nativity play as an angel with a halo or a shepherd wearing your mum’s tea towel on your head. It’s a seasonal reminder to bring people together and the below stamps show the innocence of children in their leading roles.

Christmas Nativity Play First Day Cover 1994

Christmas Nativity Play First Day Cover 1994

Christmas Stamps are different each year but their use encourages communication in a season when we give thanks for those we have. I hope you enjoy this year’s collection and send them to those you love.

From all of us at The British Postal Museum and Archive we would like to wish you a Very Merry Christmas !

-Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

Campaign! An exhibition curated by Langley Academy students.

Emily Llewellyn,  a Year 12 student at Langley Academy and member of their Museum Council explains how she used a story from the BPMA collection in a student-led exhibition.


Campaign! Langley Academy

My school, The Langley Academy in Slough, which is the UK’s first school with a focus in Museum Learning, recently curated an exhibition called Campaign! as part of our Museum Learning term. 

The British Postal Museum were kind enough to allow us to include some of their images in the exhibition.  This included a photograph on display in the Suffragette case. The photograph shows two women who became known as “human letters” after they posted themselves to Downing Street in an attempt to personally deliver a message to the Prime Minister.


The photo on display alongside an umbrella belonging to Nancy Astor, the first female MP who also lived locally to Slough.

The exhibition was curated by the Museum Team and Year 12 Creative writing students. The exhibition covered multiple popular campaigns throughout history including Suffragettes, the Magna Carta, Child Rights, Human Rights, LGBTQ Rights and Slavery.

Read more about the Suffragette human letters.

New Exhibition: Unstitching the Uniform

A new exhibition entitled ‘Unstitching the Uniform’ is now open in our Search Room, inspired by, and including objects from, our recent community project with The Amies.  You may remember our Community Learning Officer, Hannah Clipson, has previously written about our work with this group of ten trafficked women brought together by PAN Arts and The Poppy Project, an organisation providing support, advocacy and accommodation for trafficked women.

During the project, the group investigated the design history of the postal service; a particular favourite focus became the huge variety of ever-changing uniforms worn by postal workers. Inspired by their own experiences and the objects and stories explored, the group responded in creative ways, including sewing their own versions of key uniform items from our collection, and collaborating with the artist Ella Phillips from October Gallery and textiles facilitator Susie Foster. It is this work that formed the inspiration and basis for the ‘Unstitching the Uniform’ exhibition.

The Amies together, © Brendan Foster Photography

The Amies together

From cloth caps to hessian bags, uniform has always been designed for durability, protection and identification and this theme is explored throughout the exhibition using original objects from BPMA’s collection such as caps, badges and telegram pouches. Also featured are those workers who pioneered a change in uniform, from Jean Cameron’s call for postwomen’s trousers to Mr Sant Singh Saneet’s successful campaign for the turban to become an accepted item of headgear.

Female horse and cart drivers, First World War, POST 118

Female horse and cart drivers in uniform, First World War (POST 118)

Alongside the objects and archival images are art installations by Ella Phillips and Susie Foster. Susie has created a jacket and skirt inspired by both the postwoman’s uniform and the design work of The Amies during workshop sessions. Ella charts the progress of The Amies throughout the project, telling some of their remarkable stories. Included on display is a pouch sewn by one of group, similar to one used by a Post Office telegram messenger boy.

Admiring some handiwork

Admiring some handiwork

The Amies at work

The Amies at work









We do hope you’ll come along to see this exhibition during our opening hours to follow The Amies on their journey, unravelling stories held within our collection, and to see the work that they inspired.

For more information about other amazing social enterprises involving the Amies group, visit www.flowerpress.org.

-Emma Harper, Exhibitions Officer

Dear Santa: The History of Writing to Father Christmas

In this post, Archives Assistant Ashley March gives us a preview of his talk next Tuesday (1 December) at 7pm. Ashley has been delving through the BPMA’s files to explore how, with the Post Office’s help, Santa started writing back to children across the UK.

My adult interest in writing to Father Christmas started – as the best stories do – with an unexpected question. A couple had come to use our Search Room, and as one of them pored over pages and pages of pension records, looking for a trace of his great grandfather (or some other long-distant relative), the other shyly approached the desk and asked me, with a glint in her eye, ‘Do you know what happens to the letters to Santa?’


Christmas card from Santa, 1994

I can’t say the question had occurred to me before, and it was April at the time, so hardly festive. After only a little digging, however, we found a folder of research that others had done on the topic, packed with intriguing documents. A surprise to me – the first ‘letter from Santa’ the Post Office sent wasn’t safe and traditional in design, but rather bold and stylish:

Letter from Santa card cover 1963

Letter from Santa card cover 1963

Letter from Santa 1963

Letter from Santa 1963









A press release dated 21st December 1963 explained that for the first time, ‘children who had sent letters to Father Christmas in Snowland, Reindeerland, Toyland, etc., and who had put their addresses on their letters, would receive a message from Father Christmas.’ Around 7,500 of the cards pictured were sent, with a special postmark:

Reindeerland postmark 1963

Reindeerland postmark 1963

It turns out we have quite a few files dedicated to Santa mail, back then and since. Looking through the titles, my head filled with questions: Why start sending Santa’s replies at that time? Why the Post Office? And who decided what Santa could send? We take it for granted today that Father Christmas writes back to any of us (if, all importantly, we supply a return address), but we should remember that it might not have turned out this way.

Different ideas had been floated: one manager suggested sending a record featuring Santa’s voice as ‘even more attractive and in keeping with the times than a letter’, and below you can see a charmingly rustic mock-up of a colouring book that Santa might have sent if writers had been asked to pay for his reply:

Proposed Santa colouring book

Proposed Santa colouring book

It might have been made in a hurry!

It was possibly made in a hurry!








Rummaging around in our repository, I’ve unearthed a great selection of stories like this to share, so please join me if you can. Did I mention that there will be mulled wine?

-Ashley March, Archives Assistant

Join Ashley next Tuesday 1 December at 7pm. Book your tickets today online or ring + 44 (0)20 7239 2570 to reserve your place!