Monthly Archives: March 2012

New Postal Museum


Plans for a new home for a new home for The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) were announced today by the BPMA, Royal Mail Group and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The new Postal Museum will provide access to the BPMA’s unique collections of 400 years of postal, social and design history, including photographs, posters, vehicles, pillar boxes, employment records of millions of people and a world-class stamp collection.

Under a plan endorsed by the Government, the new centre will be established at Calthorpe House, on London’s Mount Pleasant site, where the country’s oldest mail centre is located. It is close to the existing home of the BPMA at Freeling House, which has very limited space for exhibitions and displays.

Calthorpe House

Calthorpe House

Royal Mail Group will grant a lease of 999 years for Calthorpe House, a property which will provide a secure foundation for the BPMA once redeveloped and extended. Agreements have been signed with Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd (POL) for a £6m long term, low interest loan to fund the conversion of Calthorpe House to meet the basic needs of the organisation. In addition, Royal Mail and POL are providing other support, including a £500,000 grant.

A fundraising campaign by the BPMA will be launched shortly to raise the remaining funds required to create a state of the art museum and visitor facility. The BPMA is an independent charity set up in 2004 to care for two significant collections: The Royal Mail Archive and the collections of the former National Postal Museum. It is the BPMA’s mission to increase public access to these collections, making the story they tell of communication, industry and innovation accessible to everyone.

The new centre will allow the BPMA to exhibit objects from its fascinating museum collection, which is currently held in storage. It will also include educational facilities for visiting schools.

Visualisation of the new museum and archive, Calthorpe House (Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

Visualisation of the new museum and archive, Calthorpe House (Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

Donald Brydon, Royal Mail Group’s Chairman said: “These plans will give our postal heritage a world-class home. The history of Royal Mail is a key part of the history of postal services worldwide. I am delighted, therefore, the Group’s Board has agreed to support the BPMA’s ambitious plan to provide a new, permanent home for its unique collection of postal artefacts, stamps and equipment, as well as allowing greater access to the archive”

Dr Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA, said: “We are aiming to create a state-of-the-art, sustainable home for a unique part of our national heritage. The new centre will showcase the UK’s pioneering role in developing postal communications, which has shaped the world we live in.”

Norman Lamb, Postal Affairs Minister, said: “This exciting new home for the British Postal Museum and Archive is a great initiative, to which I hope people will lend their support. Celebrating the history of Royal Mail in this way will bring to life a key part of our nation’s cultural heritage. The many and varied items in the archives will show how Royal Mail has been at the heart of British life for centuries, and it is great news that the museum will contain an educational facility to allow young people to engage with the history of our postal services in an innovative way.”

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New Comics stamps

Today Royal Mail is paying homage to the great British comics by issuing ten new 1st class stamps. The Comics issue also marks the 75th birthday of The Dandy, Britain’s longest running comic. The stamps feature classic covers and iconic characters from comics such as The Topper, Tiger, Bunty, Buster, The Beano and 2000AD.

Comics stamps

British comics emerged from weekly ‘story papers’ such as Boy’s Own and The Magnet (featuring Billy Bunter), but in December 1937 DC Thomson launched The Dandy, featuring rollicking comic strip adventures with individual speech balloons rather than blocks of text.

The Beano followed just over six months later and from that point publishers knew they were on to a winner, with an explosion of titles after the Second World War including The Beezer, Eagle, Mandy and Twinkle.

At that time there was a comic to suit every child, but as the decades rolled by weeklies folded or merged as readers lost that weekly habit. The Dandy, The Beano and 2000 AD are still successful and remain in circulation, and their much loved characters, including Desperate Dan, Dennis the Menace and zero-tolerance super-cop Judge Dredd live on in the nation’s heart.

Comics first day of issue handstamps

Comics first day of issue handstamps

Comics – Stamp by Stamp

1st Class – The Dandy and Desperate Dan

The Dandy was first published in the United Kingdom by D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd in December 1937 and is the world’s longest continuously published comic. Wild-west hero Desperate Dan first appeared in December 1937. The world’s strongest man, he shaves with a blow torch ands eats cow pies complete with the tails and horns.

1st Class – The Beano and Dennis the Menace

The Beano first appeared on 30 July 1938. The Dennis the Menace strip (now known as Dennis and Gnasher) first appeared in 1951 and is the longest running strip in the comic. Other iconic strips include the Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger and Minnie the Minx.

1st Class – Eagle and Dan Dare

The first issue of Eagle was released in April 1950. Revolutionary in its presentation and content, it was enormously successful; the first issue sold about 900,000 copies. Featured in colour on the front cover was Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, created by Frank Hampson. Other popular stories included Riders of the Range and P.C. 49. Eagle also contained news and sport sections, and educational cutaway diagrams of sophisticated machinery.

1st Class – The Topper and Beryl the Peril

The Topper was published by DC Thomson Ltd and ran from 1953 to 1990, when it merged with The Beezer. Mickey the Monkey was the original cover star. Beryl the Peril was created by David Law as a female Dennis the Menace (also created by Law). The strip ran from the first issue, taking over the cover in 1986.

1st Class – Tiger and Roy of the Rovers

Tiger was published from 1954 to 1985, and featured predominantly sporting strips. Its most popular strip was Roy of the Rovers, recounting the life of Roy Race and the team he played for, Melchester Rovers. This strip proved so successful it was spun out of Tiger and into its own comic.

1st Class – Bunty and the Four Marys

Bunty was published by DC Thomson from 1958 to 2001. It consisted of a collection of many small strips, typically the stories themselves being three to five pages long. The Four Marys was the longest story. The comic ran from its creation in 1958 to its end in 2001. It centered around four young teenagers who lived in a girls-only boarding school in Elmbury.

1st Class – Buster and Buster

Buster ran from 1960 to 2000 and carried a mixture of humour and adventure strips. The title character, whose strip usually appeared on the front cover, was Buster. He was originally billed as Buster: Son of Andy Capp, the lead character of the Daily Mirror newspaper strip, and wore a similar flat cap to reinforce the connection.

1st Class – Valiant and the Steel Claw

Valiant was a British boys’ adventure comic which ran from 1962 to 1976. It was published by IPC Magazines and was one of their major adventure titles throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Aside from World War II characters like Captain Hurricane, Valiant ran innovative science fiction strips like the Steel Claw, a scientist rendered invisible by his artificial hand.

1st Class – Twinkle and Nurse Nancy

Twinkle, ‘the picture paper especially for little girls’, was published by D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd from 1968 to 1999. It was aimed at young girls and came out weekly, Nurse Nancy, who ran a toy hospital with her grandfather, was one of the most popular characters.

1st Class – 2000 AD and Judge Dredd

2000 AD is a weekly British science fiction-oriented comic, first published in 1977. It is most noted for its Judge Dredd stories, and has been contributed to by a number of artists and writers who became renowned in the field internationally, such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. Judge Dredd is a law enforcement officer in a city of the future where uniformed Judges combine the powers of police, judge and jury.

The Comics stamps are now available from Royal Mail Stamps online. Visit the British Stamps pages on our website to find out more about commemorative stamps from 1924 to 1951, and definitive stamps from 1840 to 1970.

Family Fun Day

On Saturday 31 March our Museum Store in Loughton, Essex will host a day of activities especially for families. This free event will include short tours of our collections of vintage postal vehicles and post boxes, film screenings, craft sessions, and the chance to handle some original objects and try on postmen’s uniforms.

Postal vehicles at our Museum Store

Postal vehicles at our Museum Store

Our collection of vehicles and post boxes includes the London Ornate pillar box, which has a compass on top in case you get lost whilst posting your letter, and the Inspector’s Bicycle, which has the letters GPO (General Post Office) in the chain wheel. Take a tour with our curators to learn even more about our holdings.

Artist Michelle Reader will be on hand throughout the day to help you make mini sculptures using recycled materials like cardboard, old CDs, plastic objects and buttons. Be inspired by our vehicles and see what you can create.

Try on a postman's hat at our Family Fun Day

Try on a postman's hat at our Family Fun Day

We will also screen films made by the GPO Film Unit, who documented the General Post Office’s work in the 1930s and 1940s. Of particular interest is A Job In A Million which followed John Truman, as he joined the Post Office as a trainee messenger boy.

The Family Fun Day runs from 10am-4pm on 31 March at the BPMA Museum Store, Loughton. The event is free and there is no need to book. Visit our website for full details and travel directions.

The Family Fun Day is part of the 2012 Loughton Festival. The Festival is raising money for Haven House Children’s Hospice. A collection will take place during the event, with all proceeds to this worthy cause.

Mail Trains book

Now available from our shop is the book Mail Trains, telling the fascinating story of the development and history of carrying mail by rail, from the 1800s until today. The book is written by Julian Stray, one of our Assistant Curators.

Mail Trains by Julian Stray

Central to the prompt delivery of the nation’s mail is its efficient and speedy transit the length and breadth of the country. From 1830, the Post Office relied ever more heavily on the overland rail network to provide what was for decades the ideal form of transport. Railway Post Offices, Sunday Sorting Tenders and District Sorting Carriages were amongst the services introduced.

Railway Post Offices, carriages dedicated to sorting mail in transit, became known as Travelling Post Offices (TPOs). TPOs received mail at the start of their journey and at stations or bag exchange points en route. Mail bags were opened by travelling postal staff and the contents sorted and included in new mail bags made up en route and despatched at the appropriate station. One of the most remarkable aspects of TPOS was the bag exchange apparatus. This enabled mail trains to pass stations of minor importance yet still exchange mail bags without halting.

Travelling Post Office - Irish Mail. Mail bag exchange apparatus picking up mail at 60 mph, 1934. (POST 118/0021)

Travelling Post Office - Irish Mail. Mail bag exchange apparatus picking up mail at 60 mph, 1934. (POST 118/0021)

During the Second World War mail volumes carried by rail increased. Letters were essential for maintaining morale and connecting families separated by wartime. The rail network carried immense quantities of mail; in 1943 British railways carried 25 million mail bags and over 90 million parcels.

The final TPO service ran in 2004 and although the volume of mail carried is considerably diminished, mail trains continue to form an important part of the United Kingdom’s postal service to this day.

Mail Trains is available from our online shop. Order before 10 April 2012 and obtain a 10% discount by entering the code BPMAW3BS1TE when you make your payment.

Visit our website to find out what life was like on the TPO in our Travelling Post Office online exhibition.

Hear Julian Stray’s recent talk on Mail Trains by downloading our free podcast. Download the podcast on our website or subscribe to the podcast via Tunes.

Get 10% off at our new online shop

We have just launched our new and improved online shop.

New BPMA online shop

Visit the shop at before 10 April and get a 10% discount off all your purchases. To obtain the discount enter the code BPMAW3BS1TE when you make your payment.

What we sell

The BPMA shop sells a range of products including greetings cards, postcards, publications, philatelic products, DVDs & CDs, models & keyrings, homewares and stationery. New products on offer include Gift Republic’s “Stamp Collection” mug, notebooks and greetings cards featuring the Machin design, and the publications The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit and Mail Trains.

Gift Republic's "Stamp Collection" Machin greetings card

Gift Republic's "Stamp Collection" Machin greetings card

Events booking

You can also book for our paid events through the shop. Book online now for the upcoming talks Disaster at Sea! and The Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica.

Classic Locomotives of Scotland

Classic Locomotives of Scotland, issued today, is the second of four miniature sheets highlighting some of the workhorses of the tracks, who criss-crossed the United Kingdom to satisfy its increasing industrial demands.

Classic Locomotives of Scotland

Classic Locomotives of Scotland

The earliest railways in Scotland were built for commercial and industrial purposes to convey coal to local waterways, but this quickly expanded to forge essential links with burgeoning industrial locations including factories, quarries and docks.

Many of the locomotives had working lives of several decades before diesel and electric technology completely took over in the 1960s.

A good example is the Andrew Barclay No. 807, Bon Accord, which features on the £1 stamp. Bon Accord was built in 1897 and belonged to the Aberdeen Gas Works and is shown working along the city’s Miller Street in June 1962.

Royal Mail worked closely with railway expert Professor Colin Divall of the National Railway Museum in York, and Scottish railway expert Dugald Cameron, to select the four locomotives featured on the miniature sheet – chosen from thousands of period photographs.

The Classic Locomotives series of stamps began with Classic Locomotives of England in February 2011, and moves on to highlight other locomotives that operated in Northern Ireland and Wales in future issues.

The Classic Locomotives stamps are now available from Royal Mail Stamps online. Visit our website to material from our collection related to Mail by Rail.

Ladies of Medicine

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, a good opportunity for us to look at the role of women in the Post Office. As this is such a diverse subject we will focus on the Medical Department and the appointment of the first ‘Lady Doctor’, or Female Medical Officer.

Female doctor examining medical reports at Post Office Headquarters (Green Paper 31 - the Post Office Medical Service, POST 92)

Female doctor examining medical reports at Post Office Headquarters (Green Paper 31 - the Post Office Medical Service, POST 92)

The origins of the medical department date back to 1855 when the first full time (male) Medical Officer was appointed. His duties included inspecting candidates for appointment to the Post Office, providing medical care and assistance to staff on lower pay grades, and investigating cases of sick absence. It was not until 1883 that the first Female Medical Officer was appointed. This appointment was made on the recommendation of the Postmaster General at the time, Henry Fawcett, who argued:

Without depreciating in any degree the value of the services of the Male Medical Staff, I am convinced, from consideration of a general character, that the peculiar nature of ailments from which women suffer renders them in a special manner susceptible of treatments by duly qualified female practitioners

(POST 64/1)

The number of women employed in the Post Office Headquarters at this time was 1150, compared to 7250 men. Initially the Treasury rejected Fawcett’s request for this new role, on the grounds that the number of women employed was too low. However Fawcett persevered, claiming that the number of women employed was likely to increase, and eventually the Treasury accepted his recommendations.

Miss Shove was appointed the first Female Medical Officer in the Post Office in March 1883. She was entitled to one month’s leave each year (the same as the male Medical Officer), but had to provide a substitute to cover her absence. In contrast the male Medical Officer had a deputy and they covered each other’s leave. Her salary was £300 a year, increasing by £20 a year to a maximum of £450. This was lower than the salary of £400-£600 recommended by Fawcett, and considerably lower than the £800-£1000 paid to the male Medical Officer. Regulations established at this time stated that;

the female Medical Officer will, in ordinary cases, address her reports direct to the Secretary, but will confer with the Chief Medical Officer on all occasions when it may be necessary.

(POST 64/1)

By 1894 the number of women employed at the Headquarters had increased to 2807 (the number of men stood at 10345). Spencer Walpole, the Secretary to the Postmaster General, applied to the Treasury to increase the Female Medical Officer’s salary, and to appoint an Assistant Female Medical Officer. The Treasury approved the appointment of the Assistant Female Medical Officer, but refused to increase the Female Medical Officer’s salary, on the grounds that the appointment of an assistant would ease her workload. Miss Madgshon was appointed Assistant Female Medical Officer in October 1895.

As the role of the Medical Department began to extend to other major cities, further Female Medical Officers were appointed. Almost immediately after the appointment of Miss Shove in London, a Female Medical Officer was appointed in Liverpool. By 1892 a female Medical Officer had also been appointed in Manchester, and consideration was being given to the issue in Glasgow. However, after consulting with the Supervisor of Female Telegraphists and her 4 Assistant Supervisors, it was felt that this would not be popular among the female staff;

from what she tells me, it appears that none of themselves viewed the suggestion with much favour, and the belief of all was, that of the female staff generally, the number who would prefer to be under the care, medically, of a lady would be found to be very small

(POST 64/1)

Similar doubts had apparently been expressed in Liverpool initially, but it quickly transpired that the women were actually less hesitant and more willing to consult a female Medical Officer about their ailments. However in Glasgow there was a further complication of no female physician practicing in the district, and therefore it was decided not to pursue the appointment of a Female Medical Officer at that time.

The employment of ‘Lady Doctors’ within the Post Office highlights wider developments in the late nineteenth century. These include the growth in the number of women practicing medicine, although it should be noted;

at the time of the [first] female Medical Officer’s appointment members of the medical profession were adverse to women practitioners in England. Most professional men still have objections to confer with lady doctors either over their patients or in connection with candidates for employment in the service

(A Wilson, Medical Officer in Chief, 30 Dec 1897, POST 64/1)

The role of Henry Fawcett in pushing for the appointment of the first female Medical Officer should not be understated, given his wider involvement in women’s issues. Finally the need for a Female Medical Officer stemmed from the increasing numbers of women being employed by the Post Office, thus the growth and development of the medical department mirrored changes in the wider Post Office workforce.

– Helen Dafter, Archivist

More information on the employment of women in the Post Office can be found on our website.