by Martin Devereux, Deputy Catalogue Manager
Cataloguing the General Post Office’s Photographic Library at The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) is a fascinating experience. There are an estimated 100,000 photographs in the collection, from the late nineteenth century to the late 1990s.
At the end of April we added 199 newly catalogued records and their images to the catalogue bringing the total now available to approximately 1900. These are from a collection of photographs dating from 1934 to the 1970s, known as the ‘P’ series. The ‘P’ stands for publicity and many of these images were produced to promote the work of the GPO in magazines, posters and newspapers. In particular, the creation of the library was specifically intended to provide the Post Office Magazine with photographs to accompany the articles written within. We also know that, in the early days, photographers belonged to the Engineer-in-Chief’s department and they frequently accompanied the magazine’s journalists as they went out and about. These photographs, alongside its posters, films and other media, helped establish ‘public relations’ as a vital aspect of GPO operations.
Due to the wide range of occupations and activities within the Post Office during this period, the photographs in the ‘P’ series show a great variety of subjects: sorting clerks busy at work, fleets of motor vehicles, historic letterboxes, notable GPO buildings, sorting machines, cable operators, engineers, counter clerks, travelling post offices and, of course, smiling postmen and women delivering letters across Britain.
In addition to the Photograph Library, there is also an expanding collection of photographs of postal subjects that have been submitted to the BPMA and its predecessor organisations from sources outside Royal Mail. These are often given to us by people who’ve discovered photographs depicting family members who were former Post Office employees. We also receive material from enthusiastic postal historians.
Work to catalogue and digitise the collection is ongoing and we hope to have the remaining photographs in the ‘P’ series available by this summer. We will then turn our attention to another of the main series of the Photograph Library.
During the cataloguing, we have relied on the dedication and hard work of two volunteers, Kathryn and Anne to re-house the photographs into suitable storage boxes, list the photographs, scan them and finally to create catalogue descriptions. Anne has now finished, but Kathryn continues to work hard on the project.
To find out more about Volunteering at the BPMA please visit our website.