Monthly Archives: August 2011

Tweet the Director

What does the privatisation of Royal Mail mean for the Royal Mail Archive?

How do I get a job in Museums and Archives?

What’s the best thing in the BPMA collection?


All these questions and many more could be answered on Wednesday 24 August when our Director Dr Adrian Steel takes over the BPMA Twitter account (@postalheritage). Join the conversation from 2.30pm and ask Adrian anything you like.

Adrian Steel is a Political Historian and Archivist with a PhD in 1920s London Politics. He has been employed at the BPMA in a number of roles since 2003, notably as New Centre Project Manager, and most recently as Director.

If you don’t use Twitter you can also post questions for Adrian on the BPMA Facebook page or send them to Otherwise, join us on Twitter on 24 August to see the best questions answered – prizes may be awarded too!

Holiday camps

Amongst the numerous photographs in our collection are a small number documenting postal deliveries to holiday camps, dated October 1937. These appeared in the March 1938 edition of The Post Office Magazine (the General Post Office’s magazine, published between 1933 and 1966) accompanying a story on holiday camps by reporter Martin Grand (a punning pseudonym on the location of the GPO’s then Headquarters on St Martin’s Le Grand, London).

A postman delivering mail at Hemsby holiday camp. (POST 118/681)

A postman delivering mail at Hemsby holiday camp. (POST 118/681)

Grand’s article looks at some of the 10 holiday camps then located on the Norfolk coast and within the administration of the Postmaster of Great Yarmouth. “The management of the so-called camps is in the hands of men who are obviously determined to make this type of holiday a permanent and increasingly popular feature of the national life” he observes, describing the chalet accommodation, modern sanitation, wide range of activities and convivial atmosphere.

A postman delivers mail to members of the public at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. (POST 118/677)

A postman delivers mail to members of the public at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. (POST 118/677)

Camps such as those in Norfolk were an inexpensive and increasingly popular holiday destination for working people in the 1930s. While Butlin’s camps became the most famous, there were also a number of independent camps at the time. Editions of The Post Office Magazine featured advertisements for camps such as Caister, so many postal workers would have holidayed in them.

The photographs and the article show that even as they relaxed holiday-makers looked forward to the arrival of the postman. “The little red [postal] van is a welcome visitor two or three times a day” writes Grand “and the postman enjoys his all too brief and of course strictly official conversations with dainty damsels in attractive shorts and ‘kerchief”.

A postman delivers mail to a large group of people at Caister holiday camp. (POST 118/683)

A postman delivers mail to a large group of people at Caister holiday camp. (POST 118/683)

Another camp featured in the article, located at Gorleston-on-Sea, is described as “New-built on luxury lines”. “In design and decoration the buildings are reminiscent of the Queen Mary” Grand says, with facilities including “round lawns and gardens on gently sloping uplands overlooking the sea”.

A 1930’s brochure advertising the camp, which appears on the Gorleston Super Holiday Camp website, lists activities as including tournaments, games, dancing, whist, tennis, bowls, putting, croquet, deck-tennis, cricket and bathing. The brochure also describes Gorleston as “The ‘Queen Mary’ of Holiday Camps”, although it is impossible to establish whether it is The Post Office Magazine that is being quoted here.

A postman delivers mail at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. He hands a letter to an employee at the camp. (POST 118/679)

A postman delivers mail at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. He hands a letter to an employee at the camp. (POST 118/679)

Either way, the services provided by the Post Office were clearly much-used by those who stayed in the camps: “Outside the main gate [at Caister] stands a most cheerful looking pillar-box, his aperture grinning broadly and his enamelled eye twinkling in the sun” writes Grand. “No wonder he looks so pleased, for hundreds of jolly people in holiday garb fuss around him all day long, consulting the information displayed on his broad chest and slipping picturesque postcards into his capacious tummy.”

A boy is stood on bench posting a letter into a postbox outside Caister Holiday Camp. (POST 118/1188)

A boy is stood on bench posting a letter into a postbox outside Caister Holiday Camp. (POST 118/1188)

Editions of The Post Office Magazine can be consulted in our Archive Search Room in London. You can view hundreds of photographs from our collection on Flickr.

Royal Mail Group Security: Keeping Your Mail Safe since 1683

You probably think of the post office in terms of stamps and rush deliveries, rather than undercover police investigations and exciting arrests—but funnily enough, both conceptions are very much a part of the modern (and ancient) post office thanks to Royal Mail Group Security, the internal crime-fighting department that remains relatively unknown. Despite its anonymity, internal security has been alive and kicking in the post office since 1683. It began in the form of the Solicitor to the General Post Office, Attorney Richard Swift, who was appointed the salary of £200 per annum.

By the end of the 18th century, the reports of the apprehension and sentencing of Post Office offenders appeared regularly in the newspaper during this time, and the sentences were often very extreme: capital punishment was a common sentence for stealing a single letter. These punishments were outlined by an act of parliament in 1765: ‘Death as a Felon’ was the sentence for theft of mail, secretion, embezzlement, or destruction of mail. In 1820 it was recorded that for obstructing a mail coach, you got off lightly with a sentence of six months imprisonment. The last postman hanged for theft of the post was in 1832, and shortly after they abolished capital punishment for these offences in an Act of 1835, replacing it with transportation sentences of between seven years and life.

However, before the repeal of capital punishment for post office offences, the investigative duties within the post office changed hands: until 1816, it had been the sole responsibility of the Solicitor, but after this date an additional Clerk was appointed, while a team who eventually became known as the Missing Letter Branch dealt with complaints and other routine enquiries. Members of the Bow Street Runners, London’s first professional police force, were often called on to assist with investigations, and within three months of the foundation of the Metropolitan Police by Robert Peel in 1829 the first police officers were seconded to the Post Office. Little did they know that this expanded team of investigators would become invaluable with the introduction of the Penny Black in 1840, which caused crime levels to greatly increase—so much so that in 1848 they created the post of Post Office Inspector General and an office whose duties were specifically focused in investigation.

Throughout the late 19th and 20th century, this department underwent much reorganization and many name-changes, eventually resulting in today’s Royal Mail Group Security with a department comprised of around 280 investigators and security managers. For more detailed accounts of some of the post-1960 changes (and some thrilling chase-and-arrest stories) within post office security, keep an eye out for a full range of oral history interviews with acting and retired members of Group Security coming to the BPMA online catalogue soon!

For a more detailed history of Royal Mail Security, feel free to check out ‘Investigations, Prosecutions and Security in the Royal Mail: A Brief History’ (PDF, 107KB).

We are indebted to Alan Baxter for his assistance with this article.

Culture and Diversity in the archives

On 13 August we will be holding our annual Archive Open Day on the theme Culture and Diversity. This free event will feature displays, talks and exclusive behind-the-scene tours.

Our special guests on the day will be members of the Post Office and BT Art Club, a 105 year old organisation which is the last remaining link between the Post Office and BT (British Telecom). The Club meets once a month to paint, and holds an exhibition every year. Join them on the day to view and discuss their work.

Owl by Post Office and BT Art Club member Alexander Ammah

Owl by Post Office and BT Art Club member Alexander Ammah

Also on show will be records relating to the 1968 and 1977 Race Relations Act, as well as files relating to postal packets addressed in the Irish language. Mail addressed in Gaelic was translated at the earliest stage of circulation, a position unpopular with the Gaelic League who was seeking to promote the use of the Irish language. The files date from 1900 to 1960 and contain details of the numerous questions raised in Parliament about the position, as well as media cuttings.

Additional exhibits will include files relating to local datestamps, which will show how these tied in with issues of local identity.

Come along to our Archive Search Room between 10am and 5pm on 13 August. Our archives team will be pleased to show you around. For further details see our website.

The Englishman Who Posted Himself & Other Curious Objects

Just added to our podcast is a recording of a talk given at the BPMA by John Tingey, author of The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects. John Tingey’s talk, based on his book about the eccentric habits of W. Reginald Bray, took place in March in front of a packed audience.

W Reginald Bray in his study with some of his collection

W Reginald Bray in his study with some of his collection

W. Reginald Bray was an enthusiast and collector who enjoyed testing the Post Office Regulations to their limits. Bray posted items including a frying pan, a turnip, seaweed, and even himself on more than one occasion. He also tried the postal service’s patience by experimenting with ways of addressing letters and cards, using drawings, collage and codes.

Download the podcast at