Pop it in the Post: NEW family touring exhibition

Over 160 years ago novelist Anthony Trollope suggested an idea which would change how people communicated forever – the UK pillar box! The first box was installed in 1852, in Jersey, in the Channel Islands. We have never looked back and the iconic red pillar box is now known as a national icon.

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To mark Anthony Trollope’s momentous suggestion and the bicentenary of his birth – we have developed a brand new family exhibition that looks at the communications revolution that followed the introduction of the world’s first stamp, and the UK’s first pillar box  (so-called because of its resemblance to a pillar or to a column).

Early pillar box designs

Early pillar box designs

Pop it in the Post: The World at the end of your street opens at Islington Museum on Saturday 28th March, until 2nd May.

For over 160 years, people in Britain have been able to stick a stamp on a letter and post the letter into a pillar box- sending their news to friends and family across Britain, and then further afield. The exhibition begins by exploring life before stamps and pillar boxes, when only the privileged few could afford to send letters.

We then look at the ground-breaking introduction of stamps, and pillar boxes. The popularity of pillar boxes and other post boxes grew throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Post boxes of all shapes and sizes were soon available in cities, towns and villages. Meet the individuals who made this possible, and discover how millions of people’s lives were changed. The world was now available to everyone – simply through the pillar box at the end of your street.

Street letter box number 1855, corner of Fleet Street and Farringdon Road

Street letter box number 1855, corner of Fleet Street and Farringdon Road

This small exhibition will include original Victorian pillar boxes, replica Victorian letter carrier uniforms available to try on, and also activities and games available for families and children. Throughout the exhibition run there will also be some fun daytime drop-in sessions for children on selected days. Please check our website for more information nearer the time or contact BPMA Exhibitions Officer on 0207 354 7287.

Future exhibition venues:

3 October to 21 November 2015
Mansfield Museum
Leeming Street, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire NG18 1NG

6 January – Saturday 26 March 2016
Havering Museum, Essex
19-21 High Street, Romford RM1 1JU

-Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

‘Built for Service, Post Office Architecture’ – an eye-opening read

Recent addition to the BPMA, Emma Jhita (Head of Fundraising), reviews volunteer Julian Osley’s book on Post Office architecture.

I’ve always been fascinated by post-war architectural design so when I was browsing the books on sale on the shop page of the BPMA website my attention was grabbed by the striking image of Plymouth post office in the 1950s on the cover of Julian Osley’s book ‘Built for Service, Post Office Architecture’. British architecture, from the range of styles, the (sometimes deceptive) history of the buildings themselves, and even more so our own relationship with the architecture, tells us a lot about the social changes in British society from the communications revolution that took place as a result of the first postage stamp to the present day.  And on opening the book I very quickly realised that it is a gateway to these stories and what is essentially a hidden world, as is the dedicated website: http://britishpostofficearchitects.weebly.com

Front cover image: Plymouth Post Office (1957) (architect Cyril Pinfold)

Front cover image: Plymouth Post Office (1957) (architect Cyril Pinfold)

Design opportunities were limited for Frederick Palmer, the architect employed by the PO, although his design for Minehead survives in the archives

Design opportunities were limited for Frederick Palmer, the architect employed by the PO, although his design for Minehead survives in the archives

Author Julian Osley opens our eyes to two things in this book. Firstly just how vital Post Offices were to the towns and cities in which they opened, both in terms of the jobs created and the convenience for the local community. Post offices really were a lifeline to the outside world – the internet provider of their day. Also whether built under the Office of Works or a re-development of an existing building, all major towns and cities in Britain have a legacy of buildings that enhance their surroundings, from ‘post office Georgian’ offices sitting comfortably on high-streets to buildings that proudly champion the Edwardian Baroque style.

Northwich Post Office (1915) (architect Charles Wilkinson)

Northwich Post Office (1915) (architect Charles Wilkinson)

Many of the Post Offices discussed in the book are no longer standing, or are perhaps unrecognisable in their new guise as a pub, restaurant, housing, or in the case of ‘The Mailbox’ in Birmingham a shopping centre. This includes the old Northern District Post Office on Upper Street, next door to our office in Islington which is soon to be developed into housing and shops. Even with the buildings that remain as functioning Post Offices we often remember the interior more clearly inside of better – the queues to buy a stamp, a Postal Order, withdraw or deposit money… how times have changed!

Henry Tanners elevation design for Leeds

Henry Tanners elevation design for Leeds

Leeds Post Office today. Photograph © David Dixon via Geograph and licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence

Leeds Post Office today. Photograph © David Dixon via Geograph and licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence

An old post office now a pub. “The Penny Black”, Bicester (1914) (architect Henry A. Collins)

An old post office now a pub. “The Penny Black”, Bicester (1914) (architect Henry A. Collins)

Whether we realise it or not, I truly believe we have a very familiar relationship to Britain’s network of post office buildings – whether we’re queuing to post a letter, using a Bureau de Change or sitting down to tuck into a pizza!

Get Built for Service: Post Office Architecture for just £3.50 including postage and packaging! Enter discount code BUILT4SERVICE at checkout.

The Story behind Five Postal Uniforms

Ahead of next week’s talk, ‘Unstitching the Uniform’, Joanna Espin shares the fascinating stories behind five postal uniforms.

1/ Protecting the mail on roads at the mercy of highwaymen I’ll start at the very beginning, with the first Royal Mail uniform, issued to Mail Coach Guards in 1784. Bold, militaristic and scarlet red, the Mail Coach Guard uniform was a symbol of authority; protecting the mail on roads at the mercy of highwaymen, the guards had to look powerful. Despite the dangers, there are just two recorded instances of attacks on mails coaches: once in 1786 by a highwayman who was shot dead by the Guard, and once in 1816 by an escaped lioness from a travelling menagerie. 1 The Mail Coach Guard cut an imposing figure but also generated a reputation for being popular with the ladies. The early 19th century song ‘The Mail Coach’ tracks a Mail Coach Guard’s journey through various pubs and his encounters with various women, including the ‘sweetheart so snug at the bar’, and the ‘sweet little girl in the moon’. In 1837, when a GPO uniform was issued to London Two Penny Postmen, its supposed effect on women was commented on in a leading periodical, which recommended the abolition of ‘this very martial attire, which elevated the Postman into a formidable rival to the policeman in his little flirtations with our female servants’.  Here’s an image from ‘The Mail Coach’ song sheet, depicting the Mail Coach Guard with ‘sweet Nan at the star’.

2/ ‘Won’t you get cold in your stomach, going naked like that?’ As well as being a symbol of authority, uniform can be the object of derision, as demonstrated in this satirical cartoon of the Two Penny Postmens’ uniform. In 1837, Two Penny Postmen were issued with a coat, waistcoat and hat. Can you see what’s missing? Trousers. That’s because employees were expected to supply trousers themselves and so, very often, there was a juxtaposition between the smartness of the supplied uniform and the condition of the trousers. In the illustration here, the woman at the door exclaims ‘Goodness! Mr Doubleknokk. Won’t you get cold in your stomach, going naked like that?’ To which the letter carrier replies: ‘O no mum! It’s the government dress. Hat, coat & waistcoat & no trousers.’ 2

3/ A dangerous job and Dr. Merrit’s medical gussets Mail has been delivered by many methods across greatly varying terrain and one interesting example of this is the River Post of the Port of London. Established in 1800 and continuing until 1952, the job of delivering post to vessels anchored in the Thames was a dangerous one: both the first person appointed to the post and his assistant died in separate accidents. Early River Postmen were issued with a unique, scarlet, full skirted frock coat, trimmed with brown velvet, and incorporating ‘Dr. Merritt’s medical gussets’, for ventilation. Here’s a fantastic early 20th century lantern slide of Thames river postman, George Henry Evans, on his rounds in a more simple uniform. Can you see Tower Bridge in the background? 3

4/ The first full uniform for postwomen War was a catalyst for two developments in postwomen’s uniform: the introduction of the first full uniform and, later, the introduction of trousers. In the First World War, thousands of married and single women were employed in temporary positions for the duration of the conflict, in roles previously reserved for men. In 1916, the first full uniform was issued to postwomen, though women had been working for the GPO in small numbers since the 18th century. By comparison, the entire male delivery force had been uniformed since 1872. Here 12 postwomen model the new uniform. 4 5/ Women wearing the trousers A further development in women’s uniform came during the Second World War: in 1941 postwomen were permitted to wear trousers instead of skirts. First requested by a Scottish Postwoman, Jean Cameron, the idea was quickly taken up by the GPO and proved popular, with more than 500 pairs of trousers ordered in two months. By November 1943, 14,000 pairs of women’s trousers, or ‘Camerons’ as they were referred to in reference to their pioneer, had been issued. Jean Cameron spoke of her excitement at being the first postwoman to wear trousers because “I shouldn’t be a woman if I wasn’t pleased to be the first to start a fashion”.  Female counter staff were still required to wear skirts, with the concession that they could forgo stockings, due to the ‘need for economy in clothes’. Here’s an image from 1941 of a postwoman in her Camerons. 5     I hope you can make it to my talk at 6pm on Thursday 26 March at Guildhall Library. There’ll be free wine!

#MuseumWeek at the BPMA

Next week (23 – 29 March) we will be participating in #MuseumWeek on Twitter with over 1400 other museums and heritage sites from around the world. We have been working hard gathering stories, pictures and more to share with you! Here’s a sneak peak at what you can expect:

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Monday – #secretsMW

We will be revealing objects that will appear in The Postal Museum and Mail Rail. Tune in to see if you can guess the object! You will also find out what goes on behind the scenes in our museum store, conservation studio and archive through pictures and stories from our staff.

Can you guess what this iconic object is?

Can you guess what this iconic object is?

Tuesday – #souvenirsMW

We will be sharing gifts from our shop, and of course pictures of staff with their favourite mug. We would love to see your BPMA souvenirs in use!

Wednesday – #architectureMR

Find out more about the history behind the building that will become The Postal Museum: Calthorpe House. We will also be sharing images and plans for post offices and sorting offices around the UK, including a pub or two. Share pictures of your local post office!

An early photo of Calthorpe House - the home of The Postal Museum

An early photo of Calthorpe House – the home of The Postal Museum

Thursday – #inspirationMW

Do you have a favourite letter? What is the most unusual or surprising thing you have received in the post? We want to hear your stories – they could end up in The Postal Museum!

Friday – #familyMW

We have been busy putting together a new family-friendly exhibition and activities at Islington Museum and will be live tweeting from venue.

Our new travelling exhibition debuting at Islington Museum!

Our new travelling exhibition debuting at Islington Museum!

Saturday – #favMW

It was no easy task, but our staff have come up with their favourite objects and stories from the collections. From a letter that took nearly 80 years to reach its destination to a prosthetic arm for sorting. Do you have a favourite story or object from a visit with us? We’d love to see it!

Sunday – #poseMW

We are suckers for a good #pillarboxselfie! We will be sharing staff selfies, send us yours using #pillarboxselfie.

Staff #pillarboxselfie with a Penfold on Ladbroke Grove. Share yours with us next week!

Staff #pillarboxselfie with a Penfold on Ladbroke Grove. Share yours with us next week!

Join us on Twitter next week for #museumweek along with museums and heritage sites from around the world!

The Road to War: Thomas May Diary

Here at the BPMA we’re often donated items by people who want the stories of their relatives to live on. These stories are often incomplete or comprising of only one item however sometimes we get given collections of items which tell of remarkable experiences. One such example of this is the story of Thomas William Ernest May, who joined the Post Office in 1910 as an Assistant Postman. Thomas, like so many others at the time, was an ordinary man who was thrust into an extraordinary situation – the First World War.  In 1915,  at the age of 20, he joined the 8th Battalion London Regiment known as The Post Office Rifles and along with many of his colleagues, went to war.

Photograph of Sergeant Thomas May (second from left on front row) with the rest of his company outside some tents.

Photograph of Sergeant Thomas May (second from left on front row) with the rest of his company outside some tents.

One of the main objects that Thomas’ daughter, Edna, kindly donated to us was the diary Thomas kept when he went to France with the first group of Post Office Rifles in March 1915. 100 years on, we’ll be sharing with you Thomas’ experiences of the war as a Post Office Rifle through a series of blogs.

The diary is bound in green leather and was given to Thomas as part of a pack troops received before they embarked for France from Vickers Limited – an Engineering and Construction Company heavily involved in building the ships that troops would travel on.  The diary includes a map, useful phrases and tips in case soldiers found themselves lost in France. Written in pencil (ink pens would not have been practical for men to carry in their packs) it gives an insight into the contrasting boredom and horrors of the Front line.

Portrait photograph of Sergeant Thomas William Ernest May in uniform.

Portrait photograph of Sergeant Thomas William Ernest May in uniform.

The diary starts on 17 March  when Thomas travelled from Watford to Southampton to make the crossing to Havre Harbour at 12.15pm. Two days later on Friday 19 March the Post Office Rifles left Havre camp to the railway where at “4.30pm entrained 37 men in each truck most uncomfortable journey. Lasted 23 hours.” They then went on a 3 hour march to an old coal mining village, Auchel, where they reached their billet, or living quarters which Thomas notes was “by no means clean”. This was the start of the road to war for thousands of men like Thomas. The rest of the diary details not only the battles and horror of war but also the daily routines that Thomas and the Rifles were subject to, it’s this that will be the subject of the next installments of Thomas’ story.

Page from Sergeant Thomas May's Diary written in pencil in the years 1915 and 1916 whilst a member of the Post Office Rifles,with details of his daily life, including thoughts on 'going over the top'.

Page from Sergeant Thomas May’s Diary written in pencil in the years 1915 and 1916 whilst a member of the Post Office Rifles,with details of his daily life, including thoughts on ‘going over the top’.

-Emma Harper, Curator

My Favourite Object: GPO Posters

In this month’s edition of My Favourite Object, find out why our collection of poster artwork is so popular with Archivist Anna.

I am biased, having worked extensively with our collection of posters, but I believe the loveliest items in our archive collection are the artworks for posters produced by the General Post Office (GPO). They are catalogued and organised as a series, POST 109: Publicity Artwork and Designs, and comprise over 1200 items, including artwork for greetings telegrams.

Possibly my favourite of the lot is this one.

POST 109/517 Post Office Lines of Communication, poster artwork by Lewitt-Him, c.1950

POST 109/517 Post Office Lines of Communication, poster artwork by Lewitt-Him, c.1950

It was created by the artists collectively known as Lewitt-Him (Jan Le Witt and George Him), sometime around 1950. The artwork is a combination of paint on board, with a photomontage silhouette of a postman carrying a GPO mail sack, depicting a sorting frame. The colours are lovely, and still as vivid today, whilst the design is so effective, clever and simple that it’s a real shame it doesn’t appear to have made it to publication.

The artists, Le Witt and Him, set up the Lewitt-Him design partnership in Warsaw, moving to London in 1937, where they found themselves amongst a growing number of talented artistic émigrés. They produced a number of war time posters, book illustrations and advertisements, including posters for the GPO in the 1940s and 50s, which we are lucky to have in our collections.

We hold eight poster artworks on the Post Office Lines of Communication theme, by artists including Hans Schleger (Zero), John Rowland Barker (Kraber), Frederic Henri Kay Henrion, and Pat Keely. Schleger and Henrion were also émigré artists.

Having done a bit of investigation a few years ago into the background of these Lines of Communication artworks I was disappointed not to uncover any information in our archives regarding their commission or production. This blog reaches a similar conclusion that they were probably never produced.  Incidentally, this is a great blog for vintage poster enthusiasts and has often featured a number of the gorgeous posters we have in our collections at the BPMA.

Before I sign off, here are a couple of other poster/artwork images from our collections I adore. Chosen solely because looking at them makes me happy! I think it has something to do with the eyes – the contented expression of the fish, snugly wrapped up in greaseproof paper, and the elongated and multicoloured eyelashes of the telephonist. I bet she had a lovely voice! She’s actually part of a series of posters, which I wrote about a few years ago, and the others in the series are equally gorgeous and well worth a look.

 POST 110/2606, Pack your parcels carefully, poster by Hans Unger, 1960


POST 110/2606, Pack your parcels carefully, poster by Hans Unger, 1960

POST 109/23, Speak Clearly Always!, poster artwork by Pieter Huveneers, 1958

POST 109/23, Speak Clearly Always!, poster artwork by Pieter Huveneers, 1958

-Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloging)

Meet the Staff: Day in the life of BPMA’s Head of Archives

In this month’s Meet the Staff blog, find out what a typical (or not so typical) day is like for our Head of Archives and Records Management, Vicky Parkinson.

My name’s Vicky and my main responsibility is looking after the archive on behalf of Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd.  This covers a huge amount of tasks, from helping the companies manage their current records off-site, ensuring that the environmental conditions in our store are right for the archive, to ensuring the public search room runs smoothly, and having input into the exhibition design in the new museum gallery. IMG_7385 Most days start off in Freeling House, with breakfast to help me recover from commuting into London with my three year old, who goes to nursery next door. I then dash over to our other office to attend our exhibitions and events planning group. My colleague Helen and I wanted to get the group’s thoughts on events for Explore your Archives in November. This year it will fall on our Saturday opening, so watch this space to see what we come up with! Then it was a brisk walk back to Freeling House, to give a tour of the archive to a donor or supporter. Tours are my favourite part of my job. No matter what people’s interests there’s always something in the archive they’ll find interesting. On this tour we looked at the cash books from the second half of the 17th Century, a graphic for the proposed sub-division of London into Districts from 1838 and ended with my favourite part of the archive, the posters and poster artwork.

Showing The Rt Hon. Jo Swinson MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment relations, consumer and postal affairs around our search room and archive with current BPMA Chair (left) Dr Helen Forde

Showing The Rt Hon. Jo Swinson MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment relations, consumer and postal affairs around our search room and archive with current BPMA Chair (left) Dr Helen Forde.

Up close picture of artwork for a poster. One of my favourite objects in the collection. Artist: Ronald Watson POST 109-158

Up close picture of artwork for a poster. One of my favourite objects in the collection. Artist: Ronald Watson POST 109-158

After a quick lunch it was time to sit down and attack my email inbox, which included looking over details on the latest plan for the new search room at The Postal Museum, where we will be moving to at the end of 2016. We are finalising the details of the room arrangement, from where the reference library shelves will go right down to the number and placement of power points! Time for one last task before the end of the day, looking through a list of semi-current files, to determine whether or not they are likely to be of historical importance or should be destroyed. Only between 2-5% of records that an organisation creates are permanently preserved in an archive. Public Records Legislation sets out how that decision should be made, and we have a rigorous appraisal process in place. It’s then time to pick my daughter up from nursery and face my biggest challenge of the day, my commute home.

-Vicky Parkinson, Head of Archives and Records Management