Postal thoughts from Penang

Writer Rebecca Mileham has been working with us on the text for the interactive exhibition galleries at The Postal Museum. She shares how a recent trip brought home to her the impact and influence of the postal service around the world.

Streets of

Streets of Penang

In the scorching heat of Penang in Malaysia, you’ll find all the spicy flavours and intriguing scents of a tropical island. As you sit in an open-air coffee shop and order a plate of sizzling noodles or an ice kacang, it all feels truly exotic and different.

But Penang has one very familiar sight that reminded me of home, as I discovered on a trip there a few weeks ago. At the side of a busy road, I spotted a red pillar box, complete with the initials VR – Victoria Regina.

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Still in daily use, this sturdy piece of Victorian heritage stands next to two local Pos Malaysia mailboxes. Together, they’re a great reminder of the influence of the Post Office around the world, and the way it changed communications forever.

At The Postal Museum, we are preparing to share the vivid stories of hardship, heroism, intrigue and ingenuity that have shaped the postal service over the last five centuries.

From the earliest years as a mail service for Henry VIII, to the reforms that brought penny postage in reach of everyone in Britain, the museum will also trace the vital role of the post during wartime. The picture comes up to date with striking new designs, new technologies and new ways to keep in touch – and looks at how the Post Office and Royal Mail still deliver vital services today.

We’ll use the museum’s collections of objects, images and original letters to reveal the answers to mysterious questions. How did a lion once delay the post? Why would people die to save the mail? Did the Penny Black stamp really change the world? Who once sent themselves in the post to 10 Downing Street?

Special delivery to the Prime Minister from suffragettes

Special delivery to the Prime Minister from suffragettes

You can also have a go at sending mail by pneumatic tube, or seeing how you look in a letter carrier’s uniform.

The archive and collections have incredible tales to tell and we’re putting the finishing touches to the text now in time for the opening in late 2016. See you then.

-Rebecca Mileham
rebecca.mileham.net

Longitude in Stamps

The Royal Observatory is one of London’s most recognisable landmarks, and was designed by one of Britain’s greatest architects Sir Christopher Wren. The 10 August marks 340 years since the building’s foundation stone was laid. The Royal Observatory is now part of The Maritime Museum and as the home of The Prime Meridian it is the centre of world time.

European Architectural Heritage Year, Royal Observatory, Greenwich Stamp (1975)

European Architectural Heritage Year, Royal Observatory, Greenwich 8p Stamp (1975)

The building was commissioned by King Charles II to produce a reliable map of the sky in order to improve navigation at sea . Navigating a ship by the stars can be seen in the 37p Astronomy stamp from 1990.

Astronomy, Stonehenge, Gyroscope and Navigation by Stars 39p Stamp (1990)

Astronomy, Stonehenge, Gyroscope and Navigation by Stars 39p Stamp (1990)

Distance could also be measured in Longitude by using the time of two separate locations. Sailors calculated local time by the position of the sun, but to know the time back at home they needed to take a clock aboard the ship, the conditions of which caused the clocks to become inaccurate. In 1714 the Government passed an Act of Parliament offering £20,000 to whoever could solve the ‘Longitude Problem’ and produce a way of keeping time at sea.

Astronomy, Greenwich Old Observatory and Early Astronomical Equipment, 31p Stamp (1990)

Astronomy, Greenwich Old Observatory and Early Astronomical Equipment, 31p Stamp (1990)

The competition was won by John Harrison, a joiner from Yorkshire, whose expertise in clock making allowed him to produce a devise that could withstand the conditions and motions of a journey.The image on the right of the above stamp shows the first sea fairing clock ‘H1’, a chronometer that compensated for the movement of the ship with two swinging balances.

Marine Timekeepers 24p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 24p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 28p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 28p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 33p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 33p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 39p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 39p Stamp (1993)

Harrison produced numerous attempts to construct a clock that would provide longitude within half a degree. His final and successful clock the ‘H4’ was produced by watch maker John Jeffery to his specification and resembled a pocket watch. The stamp issue Maritime Timekeepers from 1993 celebrated his final product. Captain Cook in fact took a copy of Harrison’s ‘H4’ with him on his second voyage and it proved instrumental when navigating the journey.

Millennium Series, The Travellers' Tale, Captain Cook and Maori 63p Stamp (1999)

Millennium Series, The Travellers’ Tale, Captain Cook and Maori 63p Stamp (1999)

Greenwich is also home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian. A meridian is a north south line very much like the equator which acts as Longitude 0°, where astronomical observations are measured from.  The 31p stamp below depicts Sir George Airey’s Transit Telescope which is the precise point longitude is measured from.

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Sir George Airey's Transit Telescope 31p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Sir George Airey’s Transit Telescope 31p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Greenwich Observatory 28p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Greenwich Observatory 28p Stamp (1984)

The Greenwich Meridian was chosen as the Prime Meridian for the world by an International Conference represented by 25 nations. At this time most sea charts were measured using the Greenwich Meridian, so it seemed logical to continue. The line passes through the observatory and is identified by the steel line on the ground and a green laser that shines across London.

Greenwich Prime Meridian Laser Across London

Greenwich Prime Meridian Laser Across London

As an island nation, sea travel has always been important in Britain. This is reflected in these beautiful stamp designs which celebrate not just sea travel but the innovations and achievements of those that made it possible. This theme of innovation and human endeavour is one that has always been important in the history of the postal service, as well as Britain as a whole, and as such will be prominent in the galleries of The Postal Museum when it opens in late 2016.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

World Photography Day: Documenting the build

Today is Photography Day, celebrating the photographers and the stories they capture. Here at the BPMA, we have approximately 100,000 photographs in our collections. As we ramp up to open The Postal Museum and Mail Rail, photography is playing an even more crucial role, documenting the transformation of our physical spaces.

Demolition has started at The Postal Museum site and we are eagerly waiting to get started in Mail Rail. Below are a few  photos of the building that will become our new home. The first showing it in its former glory in the early 20th century, the other’s what it looked like a couple months ago before demolition work began.

calthorpe-house-4004

An early photograph of Calthorpe House (the building that will become The Postal Museum)

The back of Calthorpe House (early 2015)

The back of the museum site (early 2015)

A rather treacherous hall way with raised flooring.

A rather treacherous hall way with raised flooring.

Fast forward to earlier this summer, photographer Miles Willis joined us to document the first couple of weeks of the strip-out and demolition of The Postal Museum building and the untouched Mail Rail.

Remember that back wall from above? Well its been demolished in preparation for our new archive repository!

Remember that back wall from above? Well it’s been demolished in preparation for our new archive repository! Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive/Miles Willis

 

Stripped away to its bare-bones!

Stripped away to its bare-bones! Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive/Miles Willis

Work hasn’t started at Mail Rail (yet!) but Miles has documented this amazing space as it is now.

Looking up the incline into the Depot Space. Visitors will travel along the same tracks! Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive/Miles Willis

Looking up the incline into the Depot Space. Visitors will travel along the same tracks! Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive/Miles Willis

Trains parked along Mount Pleasant platform. Visitors will be able to pass along this platform on the ride! Copyright The Postal Museum/Miles Willis

Trains parked along the Mount Pleasant platform. Visitors will be able to pass along this platform on the ride! Copyright The Postal Museum/Miles Willis

Visitors will get to experience a piece of underground London never open to the general public. Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive

Visitors will get to experience a piece of underground London never before open to the general public. Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive/Miles Willis

As we get closer and closer to opening, we will have much more to share! Stay tuned and up-to-date by checking out our dedicated project website and joining our enewsletter list.

Mail Coach Guard Moses Nobbs is ready for his close-up

Our conservation team is very busy getting objects ready to be moved and, in some cases, displayed in The Postal Museum and Mail Rail galleries. Conservators Jackie and Barbara need the best equipment to help repair and preserve objects, such as a long overdue microscope.

Today we received a very nice surprise – the delivery of a brand new microscope! We wanted to replace the old machine that had been in service in the studio since the iron-age with a modern machine and thanks to a lot of gently persuasive requests our wish was finally granted.

The machine was immediately put to good use on an object that had been in the studio awaiting treatment.

The object is a painting of Moses James Nobbs, ‘The Last of the Mail Coach Guards’ painted c.1890 by H.E.Brown and is described as a watercolour on paper. The image shows a man with white beard and whiskers wearing a black top hat, a red coat with gold double buttons and black collar and cuffs.

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Undergoing treatment using our new micrscope

When we first received this painting and assessed it, no particular damage to the paint layer was detected. Once the surface had been put under the magnifying lens of the microscope we were able to discover an area of micro-cracks that could potentially lead to the paint layer flacking off. Indeed this had already happened in some small parts of the painting.

Armed with this new knowledge we decided to proceed with a treatment of the paint layer to be performed under magnification, an operation that was made possible thanks to the real-time video feed of the microscope.

Close-up showing the cracks in the painting

Close-up showing the cracks in the painting

The new microscope proved popular with other members of staff at BPMA too, with many coming over to the studio to check things like dirt on their fingers, what hair really looks like and what creatures live on common surfaces… The youngest visitor, a 9 years old with lots of probing scientific questions really enjoyed the close up inspection of the bench surface!

As we move closer to opening The Postal Museum look out for more conservation updates from Jackie and Barbara, giving you a sneak peek at the objects that will be going on display and the preparations taking place in the galleries themselves.

-Barbara Borghese, Conservator

Adventures in Digital

Hello, my name’s Rose and I’m a student at University College London, where I’m studying for an MA in Digital Humanities. As part of my course I spent ten weeks completing a placement at the BPMA, working with Martin, the Head of Digital, and Rachel, the Digital Media Manager.

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One of the main projects I worked on involved creating 3D models of items from the museum collections using photogrammetry, which I wrote about previously. I’d already learnt a little about the techniques involved, and this project gave me some valuable practical experience putting those lessons into action. It was amazing to be given access to photographic equipment and modelling software, and to have the freedom to experiment with different techniques. I benefitted a lot from the Digital Team’s photography knowledge, and I’m very proud of the models our experiments produced! Check them out here: https://sketchfab.com/postal

3D model of Stamp Snake. You can manipulate the model here: https://sketchfab.com/models/8c78b277cb0c4b2c9a3901970c94e2f4

3D model of Stamp Snake. You can manipulate the model here: https://sketchfab.com/models/8c78b277cb0c4b2c9a3901970c94e2f4

Another project involved digitisation work of a different kind, scanning historical maps and documents. A highlight was handling documents related to the sinking of the Titanic, and learning about the Post Office and Mail Room which were on board. This really made me appreciate how unique a resource the BPMA’s collections are.

I also digitised the negatives of maps depicting different postal routes; it was fun to take a small piece of film and digitise it to reveal the detailed and colourful illustrations it held. Digitisation can help preserve the museum and archive collections and make them more accessible; it’s exciting to think these images could help engage people in the story of Britain’s social and communications history.

Newly digitised map ready if needed for The Postal Museum!

Newly digitised map ready if needed for The Postal Museum!

I really enjoyed my time at the BPMA as I was given the opportunity to develop so many new skills and to work on more projects than I have space to mention! I’m interested in seeing how digital technologies continue to play a part in the BPMA’s work, and especially in the new Postal Museum. My placement gave me a valuable insight into life in the museums and heritage sector, and I’m extremely grateful to everyone I met who took the time to talk to me about their role.

80th Anniversary of Greetings Telegrams

Earlier this month, you met Abi, our work placement student, who helped out around the BPMA, getting a taste of what it’s like to work in a museum and archive. While she was here she did some research for us into greetings telegrams, which were introduced 80 years ago this month. To celebrate we’re offering free shipping on a beautifully illustrated book of telegrams, which Abi gives us a sneak peak of in today’s blog.

Featuring images showing the progression of postal delivery transportation methods through the ages along the top. Artist: Bouttell, C J. Media: Gouache

Featuring images showing the progression of postal delivery transportation methods through the ages along the top. Artist: Bouttell, C J. Media: Gouache

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the introduction of Greetings Telegrams, and having been quite taken with their striking designs I thought it was rather appropriate to read into their history. Ruth Artmonsky’s book, ‘Bringers of Good Tidings’, very eye-catching in itself, combines  beautiful examples of Greetings Telegrams with stories of their controversial history,  which really gave me an insight into why they became so popular.

Artwork for a poster. Subject: Greetings Telegram service. Artist: Henrion, Frederic Henri Kay. Media: Not known.

Artwork for a poster. Subject: Greetings Telegram service. Artist: Henrion, Frederic Henri Kay. Media: Not known.

Within the book we are introduced not only to the background of these, at the time revolutionary, telegrams, but also to the people behind them, including their champions, designers and the ‘Telegram Messenger Boy’. Whilst reading I also came to understand the need that was felt to dispel the negativity attached to receiving telegrams, which had gained a reputation as bringers of bad news during the First World War. I have to say that these decorated telegrams could not be mistaken for being anything other than positive, a lot of them were altogether too brightly coloured!

Featuring a floral border and a wedding scene. Artist: Corsellis, Elizabeth. Media: Watercolour, ink, board, poster paint.

Featuring a floral border and a wedding scene. Artist: Corsellis, Elizabeth. Media: Watercolour, ink, board, poster paint.

Flicking back through the copy of the book in front of me I’m struck by how special it would be to receive one of the beautiful messages in their gold envelopes, a feeling that birthday texts just don’t create, however well-meaning they are. Perhaps I need to put a little extra effort into my Christmas cards this year!

Featuring a border with roses and stars. Artist: Freedman, Claudia. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

Featuring a border with roses and stars. Artist: Freedman, Claudia. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

Get free delivery on ‘Bringer of Good Tidings: Greetings Telegrams 1935-1982’ when you enter code TELEGRAM80 at the checkout.

Featuring a village wedding scene. Artist: Atkins, Kathleen. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

Featuring a village wedding scene. Artist: Atkins, Kathleen. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

BPMA objects displayed in student-curated Time Tunnel exhibition

We recently loaned The Langley Academy in Slough a selection of objects from our First World War handling collection for a special Time Tunnel exhibition. The Langley Academy is the UK’s first school with specialist Museum Learning status.

The exhibition was curated by the Museum Club – students from Years 7, 8 and 11 with a shared passion for museums. The Time Tunnel exhibition spans 65 million years of history, starting at the dinosaurs and finishing at present day with some of our objects representing the First World War.

MuseumClub (4)

Sumaiya, Karam, Daniel, Komalpreet and Saba from Museum Club talk more about the exhibition below:

One Wednesday during Museum Club we skyped the British Postal Museum & Archive to hear about objects that they could loan us and decide what we wanted to borrow and how we could use it. Sally (Learning Officer) and Emma (Curator) explained what the objects were and information about them. We talked about the history of the objects that we wanted to borrow.

When the objects arrived we decided how we wanted to display them. We arranged the objects such as First World War postcards and a field telephone by theme.

Langley Academy Museum Club 1

Here’s what Karam and Saba had to say about the Time Tunnel exhibition:

‘Being a curator of Time Tunnel was one of the best experiences of my life. I learnt how to choose objects wisely’

(Karam)

‘Being a curator was very exciting. There was a lot of interesting objects from the museums. My favourite objects in the exhibition were the post box and the field telephone’

(Saba)

TEACHERS: Bring the story of the postal service at war to life in your classroom with Last Post the BPMA’s free downloadable digital First World War schools learning resource.

-Sally Sculthorpe, Learning Officer