Post Offices

Cover of Post Offices by Julian Stray

Cover of Post Offices by Julian Stray

The local post office has a special place in the social history of Britain. A new book, published by Shire Publications and written by the BPMA’s Assistant Curator Julian Stray, provides an historical overview of the development of this public institution – from “letter receiving house” to familiar high-street presence.

Outlining the range of services post offices have provided over time – from stamps, pensions and postal orders, to airmail, savings certificates, dog and TV licences – and highlighting the “heyday of the GPO” during the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Julian Stray recalls childhood memories of post office counters selling stamps and sweets, the weekly pension queue, and the friendly local postmaster.

Also examined are the many different types of post offices, from the village sub-office to mobile post offices in tents used in bombed areas during the Second World War.

The sub-post office at Shipton-under-Wychwood opened before 1847, but relinquished its title as England’s oldest post office when it closed in 1975.

Shipton-under-Wychwood Post Office, Oxfordshire c.1900

Shipton-under-Wychwood Post Office, Oxfordshire c.1900

By the late 1920s, post office frontages were heavy with advertising. Notices relating to overseas mail and telephone services were a common sight.

The branch office at Southampton Row, Bloomsbury, London, c. late 1920s.

The branch office at Southampton Row, Bloomsbury, London, c. late 1920s.

During the Second World War mobile, tented post offices were produced for quick deployment to areas that had lost their office as a result of enemy bombing.

Mobile post office set up in a bombed area of London, 1941

Mobile post office set up in a bombed area of London, 1941

After 1969, when the Post Office became a public corporation and its relationship with the Ministry of Works ended, local architects designed new offices.

Guildford’s North Street post office (1970-72), by architects Roman Halter and Associates, was a radical departure from previous offices; the building incorporated wrap-around glazing and a projecting gazebo.

Guildford’s North Street post office (1970-72), by architects Roman Halter and Associates, was a radical departure from previous offices; the building incorporated wrap-around glazing and a projecting gazebo.

Post Offices by Julian Stray is a celebration of a very British institution now threatened by modern-day forces. It is now available from the BPMA online shop.

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