Civil Uniform Collection

by Claire McHugh, Cataloguer (Collections)

Searching the online catalogue you may have noticed an omission from The British Postal Museum & Archive’s collection; uniforms. This absence doesn’t mean The BPMA doesn’t hold such material; indeed we have about 1000 items such as ties, protective clothing, waistcoats, jackets, skirts and trousers to name but a few items.

A Postwoman's overcoat, 1918. The coat is dark blue with red detailing on the edges, gold buttons and T5 in gold on the collar.

Close up of Postwoman’s overcoat, 1918. This is an example of the first standard uniform for Postwomen. Before WW1 postwomen had only been supplied with waterproofs.

To rectify this, a project has recently begun to bring The BPMA’s uniform catalogue records up to date and review the collection with regard to our museum collection review policy and facilitate the decision as to what is to be accessioned (the formal, legal process of accepting an object into a museum collection) permanently into the collection. Once accessioned, the uniform records can then be uploaded onto the online catalogue.

While cataloguing the collection, photographic images of the vast majority of the collection have been created. This means digital images (such as the ones illustrating this blog) can accompany the online catalogue record making the collection more accessible to the public.

Postman’s long-sleeved waistcoat, 1908. The waistcoat is black with gold buttons. The sleeves are dark grey.

Postman’s long-sleeved waistcoat, 1908.

So far the project has unearthed a number of intriguing items including a Tangier postman’s uniform dated 1905-1914, Ministry of Civil Aviation uniforms and early experiments in acid resistant material. It has also unearthed what appears to be one of the earliest garments in the collection, a frock coat from the 1860s.

A red Mail guard's frock coat, with gold trim and buttons, and black collar, cuffs and pocket flaps.

Mail guard’s frock coat introduced as part of the new range of uniform of 1861. It retains Dr Merritt’s medical gussets for ventilation.

1861 marked the introduction of a new uniform for letter-carriers, mail-guards and drivers designed by the army contractors Tait Brothers & Co. These new uniform marked the change from red being the dominant colour in letter carriers uniform to dark blue.

Letter carriers uniform now consisted of a blue frock coat with a scarlet collar, cuffs, and facings with initials G.P.O. and wearer’s number underneath being embroidered in white on each sided. The waistcoat was made to match the coat in colour, facings, and buttons. The mail-driver’s frock coat was similar to the letter carrier’s, with the exception of a gold-lace trimming and gold-embroidered initials. The mail-guard’s coat retained the use of the fine scarlet cloth and is a double breasted frock, richly braided with gold lace; and the collar is blue with the initials G.P.O. embroidered in gold on each side. All the garments were fitted with the intriguingly titled Dr. Merritt’s medical gussets for ventilation.

Black and white engraving of three men wearing the new uniforms for letter-carriers, mail-drivers and guards

Illustration of the new uniform designed by Tait Brothers & Co for letter-carriers, mail-drivers and guards from The Illustrated London News, 29 December 1860 (POST 111/99).

This blog marks only the beginning of the project, but it is hoped that the resulting online collection will form an invaluable resource for researchers interested in the histories of civil service uniforms, postal history, buttons, gender and a host of other areas.

9 responses to “Civil Uniform Collection

  1. ron grainger

    Can you please advise me when the shako style helmet worn by royal mail postmen in the twenties was replaced

    Ron Grainger.

    • Hi Ron, thank you for your enquiry. From 1932 the Shako began to be phased and replaced by a military style flat cap. The style had changed before then however; in 1896 London postmen were issued with a double peaked shako which replaced the single peak introduced in 1862. In 1896 a lighter version was also introduced for summer wear.

      POST 30/355B is a series of records which we hold in our archive they are about uniform changes in caps, coats, etc. If you plan to visit us they might be of interest to you. Visit our website for hour opening hours and further information.

      • dave thompson


      • Hi Dave, How great that you have an original double peaked shako! Unfortunately we cannot give valuations on items but the double peaked postman’s shako was introduced in 1896, late in the Victorian period as you have correctly identified. The extra peak at the back was to protect the wearer against rain and a lighter summer version was also introduced. The winter version was abolished in 1910 but the summer version became the standard for London and provincial postmen for around twenty-five years despite initially being described as ‘the ugliest peaked fore-and-aft headgear ever designed’!
        To see examples of these items please go to our Online Catalogue and do a free word search on ‘double peaked shako’.

  2. this website does not have the blue british uniorms

  3. Pingback: Postal uniforms: the early years « The British Postal Museum & Archive

  4. I am trying to find out what uniform, badges etc would have been worn by members of the GPO who went to France on D day etc. I think they may have worn battle dress as did members of Cable & Wireless.
    I am a member of the British & Commonwealth Military Badge Forum and this is one of the many questions we are trying to answer.
    I look forward to your reply, Thank you.

  5. Terry Carney

    Members of the GPO who were in the Army or other forces during the Second World War served in various regiments and would have worn the badges and other insignia worn by what ever regiment they served with. Battle Dress introduced just before the Second World War was the standard uniform worn by the Army during the period you are asking about. Yours sincerely Terry Carney

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