Monthly Archives: November 2012

Museum Store audit: objects, boxes and pink tape

As many of our readers may already know, our large object Museum Store in Essex holds many fascinating items in the BPMA’s collection, including items such as pillar boxes, telephone kiosks and vehicles. Over the past 6 months or so I have been working out at our store carrying out an audit of the collections, focussing mostly on those stored on the mobile shelving.

The BPMA Museum Store in Debden

The BPMA Museum Store in Debden

The audit of the material held at the store is a necessary exercise and a vital part of good collections management. As part of the audit, I have been systematically cross-checking items on the shelves with the listings on the BPMA’s collections database, checking that the recorded details and locations are correct.

Sarah unwrapping a Post Bus ticket machine for auditing and carefully re-packing the ticket machine ready for re-boxing

Sarah unwrapping a Post Bus ticket machine for auditing and carefully re-packing the ticket machine ready for re-boxing

At the same time I have been assessing the storage and packing of each item, replacing any packing materials which are no longer suitable (often due to age, which can mean they are no longer effectively protecting the object from the external environment). This can be a time-consuming task but planning for the long-term, sympathetic storage of an object means that the collection  can be kept stable and in the best condition for future audiences and researchers  to access and enjoy in years to come.

As you might imagine, the auditing and repacking project is no small undertaking so a methodical approach is essential – which is handy, because I’m rather fond of a good process! In summary, each box is given a unique ‘Mus’ number (printed on green labels) and following completion of the repacking , the database records for each object in that box are updated to include this new box reference. This allows a list to be produced of all the items found in a particular box, a copy of which is included with the contents. To provide a good visual marker, each box (or indeed large item) is tied with pink cotton tape to indicate that it has been audited and repacked.  If anyone had told me at the start of the project that I would find the sight of rows of shelves filled with pink tape heartening, I wouldn’t have believed them – but it’s true!

A view from inside the mobile shelving, showing shelves containing audited objects with lots of lovely pink tape….

A view from inside the mobile shelving, showing shelves containing audited objects with lots of lovely pink tape….

It is not possible for me to talk about the store audit without a special mention for two wonderful BPMA volunteers, Don and Barry who both give their time to assist with the project and have been invaluable, not least because they are a bit taller – I am rather vertically challenged – and can therefore help me reach the higher shelves! With our combined efforts we have recently reached our latest milestone of over 100 audited shelves.

‘And here’s some I did earlier…’ Audited items neatly packed and tied (with even more pink tape) ready to return to the racking.

‘And here’s some I did earlier…’ Audited items neatly packed and tied (with even more pink tape) ready to return to the racking.

Another very enjoyable element of the project is that during the audit I have been able to gather information on items being considered for display at the new postal museum at Calthorpe House which has been great – and provides an excellent excuse to follow up on research for an intriguing item.

There is still a lot of work to do as part of the audit, but much has been achieved in six months and the increasing number of shelves, stacked with boxes tied with pink tape continues to bring a smile to my face on a rainy Monday!

If you are interested in getting involved with this or similar work please contact Sarah Jenkins on or call 020 8502 2673.

Sarah Jenkins – Curatorial Assistant

Delving into the Unknown

BPMA volunteer Don Staddon looks at philatelic material within the British Postal Museum & Archive.

I have been recently working on a project to bring together artwork, essays, and issued stamps for the period from 1985 to 1991. It has revealed many unadopted designs and essays, some of which may be of interest.


On March 12, 1985 a set was issued depicting Insects: a number of artists had been asked to submit designs. Watercolours by wildlife artist and broadcaster Gordon Beningfield were used for the issued stamps, featuring the Buff Tailed Bumble Bee, Seven Spotted Ladybird, Wart Biter Bush Cricket, Stag Beetle and Emperor Dragonfly.

Insects stamp designs by Gordon Beningfield.

Insects stamp designs by Gordon Beningfield.

However, also approached were Brian Hargreaves who also used watercolours, one of his designs showing the Two-spot Ladybird, while John Norris Wood adopted woodcuts, his designs including a Queen Hornet and Cat Flea.

Brian Hargreaves' Two-spot Ladybird design.

Brian Hargreaves’ Two-spot Ladybird design.

John Norris Wood's Queen Hornet design.

John Norris Wood’s Queen Hornet design.

John Norris Wood's Cat Flea design.

John Norris Wood’s Cat Flea design.

Gordon Beningfield had previously designed the set depicting Butterflies issued in 1981, while Brian Hargreaves was a well-known butterfly artist responsible for the Collins guide to the butterflies of Britain and Europe, as well as designing butterfly stamps for several other countries. John Norris Wood was a renowned wildlife artist. There were also designs submitted by Cherry Denman featuring household bugs.

Cherry Denman's household bugs designs.

Cherry Denman’s household bugs designs.

European Music Year

In the same year a set was issued on May 14 to mark European Music Year featuring the works of various composers: again several artists had been approached to submit ideas. The designer chosen was the Scottish illustrator and artist Wilson McLean who illustrated famous works by the composers Handel, Holst, Delius and Elgar.

Wilson McLean's European Museum Year stamp designs.

Wilson McLean’s European Museum Year stamp designs.

Among the designs not selected was a portrait of Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker, of Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte, and a set representing four composers created by David Driver.

Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker.

Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker.

Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte.

Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte.

David Driver's designs.

David Driver’s designs.

Glynn Boyd Harte was a leading watercolour and lithographic artist as well as a part time musician. Note that while the unadopted designs were all based on portraits, they each used different backgrounds embracing musical symbols, score or instruments.

Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force set that was issued on September 16, 1986 depicts five senior Officers.

The issued Royal Air Force stamps.

The issued Royal Air Force stamps.

However, about two years previously trial essays, dated December 18, 1984, had been produced showing aircraft, including the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

Trial essays of the Royal Air Force stamps, showing the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

Trial essays of the Royal Air Force stamps, showing the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

As we know, these designs were not developed into issued stamps, but I think they look impressive: sadly no designer is credited, although they appear to have been adapted from photographs.

The issue marked the 50th anniversary of the RAF being organised into various functional and operational commands, and I suspect this is the reason that Commanders were more prominent in the designs rather than the aircraft. The chosen designs were by Brian Sanders.

Thomas Hardy

It is well known that what was intended to be a set of four stamps to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Hardy, ended up as being just a single stamp. It was issued on July 10, 1990, and was the work of John Gibbs. The reason given for the reduction in the number of stamps in the set was not to overburden the collector, following the decision to release stamps to mark the 90th birthday of The Queen Mother on August 2.

However, it is widely known that when the essays reached Buckingham Palace, the designs were not approved. I am illustrating essays that were sent for Royal approval: it is not possible to divulge the reaction from the Palace to the essays but I have always understood it was felt the designs were not an appropriate representation of the characters they sought to portray.

Essays for the Thomas Hardy issue.

Essays for the Thomas Hardy issue.

A total of artists had produced submissions for this set. They included: Ian Pollack, whose work was not favoured when seen at Buckingham Palace; John Gibbs who designed the issued stamp; Eileen Hogan, who featured scenes from Hardy’s works; Keith Bowen and Chloe Cheese, who both chose to depict characters from his novels.

This article originally appeared in Cross Post, the journal of the Friends of the BPMA. Visit our website to find out how you can Volunteer for the BPMA.

King George V definitive stamps

Artwork and other material related to King George V definitive stamps has now been made available on our website. During George V’s 26 year reign (1910-1936) only three definitive designs were issued – the Downey Head, the Mackennal (or Profile) Head and the Seahorse High Values. Our webpages include material related to these three issues, with separate webpages devoted to the First Designs (1910) and the Photogravure designs (1933-36).

Barnett Freedman's design for a proposed photogravure 7d or 8d value, November 1935. (GV-13-24)

Barnett Freedman’s design for a proposed photogravure 7d or 8d value, November 1935. (GV-13-24)

For those with a special interest in stamps from the George V era there are links from these webpages to further material on our online catalogue.

Visit to see the new webpages.

‘Well adapted for the purpose…’

In November 1840 Rowland Hill proposed an experiment whereby letter boxes would be erected throughout London and other towns. He felt that this would “add greatly to the public convenience”, however little came of his proposal beyond the use of sacks and baskets being placed at letter receiving houses and main railway stations.

Following Postal Reform there was an explosion in the use of the Post Office. The volume of letters rose as did the complaints of a populace starved of an efficient system of collecting letters now prepaid by the sender. The 1850s was a decade where the Rural Letter Post System underwent radical change. It was Rowland Hills’s wish that the free delivery of letters be extended to all villages and hamlets where it could be justified. Post Office Surveyors were instructed that any place that received 100 letters each day should be awarded a delivery. However the revision did not proceed as fast as Headquarters wished and one particularly resourceful and efficient Surveyor’s Clerk, Anthony Trollope, was given the job of speeding things up in several districts.

In 1851, Trollope was heavily involved with his review of the postal services of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, and the six southern Welsh counties, as well as the Channel Islands. In November 1851 Trollope was sent to the Channel Islands to make recommendations on how to improve their postal service. His reports were then assessed by his superior George Creswell, the Surveyor for the Western District of England and passed to postal headquarters in London.

There had been many complaints from the islanders regarding the delay to their mail and the efficiency of the clerks charged with sorting the mail for delivery on Jersey quickly came under Trollope’s scrutiny, he was scathing in his assessment of their work. They were advised that if a great improvement in their work did not take place then they may be discharged. Each of the five letter carriers was receiving 8/- per week for an average walk of between 30 and 40 miles. If the amount of mail delivered was particularly large following the arrival of a packet boat, they could not complete their delivery on the same day and a reply via the same packet was impossible. Trollope’s proposals originally centred on keeping the same number of delivery staff but pre-sorting correspondence at the head office and then despatching it to rural offices where each messenger would collect it. As part of the revision, horses were provided to the five letter carriers, the workforce was increased to eight and the walks sub-divided. Unfortunately this also meant a reduction in their pay to 7/- per week.

However, it was another of Trollope’s proposals to his superior Creswell that is of particular interest to anyone with an interest in street furniture:

There is at present no receiving office in St. Helier, and persons living in the distant parts of the town have to send nearly a mile to the principal office. I believe that a plan has obtained in France of fitting up letter boxes in posts fixed at the road side, and it may perhaps be thought advisable to try the operation of their system in St. Helier – postage stamps are sold in every street, and therefore all that is wanted is a safe receptacle for letters, which shall be cleared on the morning of the despatch of the London Mails, and at such times as may be requisite. Iron posts suited for the purpose may be erected at the corners of streets in such situations as may be desirable, or probably it may be found more serviceable to fix iron letter boxes about 5 feet from the ground, wherever permanently built walls, fit for the purpose, can be found, and I think that the public may safely be invited to use such boxes for depositing their letters.

Pillar boxes had been in use on the continent for just a few years previous. It is fairly obvious from the surviving correspondence that the use of pillar boxes by the British Post Office was already being considered within the upper echelons of postal headquarters. However, beyond a few wooden boxes or bags hung in railway stations and apertures in windows, the introduction of anything more substantial had not occurred in Britain. Trollope recommended the experimental use of pillar boxes at four sites in St. Helier in Jersey

John Tilley (also Trollope’s brother-in-law) who was to later succeed Rowland Hill as Secretary to the Post Office, stated that their use on Jersey would be a “good opportunity to try the system. Creswell also agreed with Trollope’s proposal, adding that – “… no better opportunity of trying the experiment of ‘roadside’ letter boxes could be selected”. Within the month, the Postmaster General had approved the experimental introduction of the pillar boxes. Trollope immediately followed this up with a request to extend the trial to St. Peter Port on neighbouring Guernsey and another three boxes were approved.

I beg to recommend that similar road side letter boxes may also be trialled at St. Peter Port in that island

Introduction of pillar boxes. (POST 14/35)

Introduction of pillar boxes. (POST 14/35)

In December 1851, Tilley wrote to the Postmaster General regarding Trollope’s findings and proposals in Jersey, he finished his letter:

Mr. Trollope appears to have given much attention to the subject and your Lordship may perhaps think it right to inform him that you are much satisfied with the manner in which it has been treated

The Postmaster General agreed. Certainly, it was Trollope that aside from revising rural posts and pushing for efficiency also had the vision to see the potential for the first use of pillar boxes by the British Post Office and actually recommend and see through their introduction.

In a letter to the Postmaster General, Tilley referred to the proposed pillar boxes as being “well adapted for the purpose”. A local contractor – John Vaudin was engaged in July 1852 to construct the boxes for both Jersey and Guernsey at a cost of £7 each. Trollope’s roadside letter boxes, referred to as ‘assistant post offices’ by the Jersey Times, came into use on 23rd November 1852.

Post Office notice: Letter Boxes, Jersey, 1852.

Post Office notice: Letter Boxes, Jersey, 1852.

The pillar boxes were hexagonal, cast-iron, about four feet high and red in colour (though red as a standardised colour for post boxes was not settled on until 1874). The Royal Arms appeared on three sides, the words ‘Post Office’ on two sides, and on the remaining face, the words ‘Letter Box’ beside the vertical aperture. Boxes were mounted on a granite block, two feet deep and raised four inches from the ground. The boxes were “very favourably received by the public”. One box at the head of Bath Street in St. Helier was found to be too small for the amount of correspondence posted and was resited in Five Oaks, to the North-East of St. Helier. A replacement larger box was authorised in July 1853 but was too large and would have caused too much of an obstruction. Not to be put off, the Post Office simply arranged for a wall to be knocked down and rebuilt to make room for it. In 1853, Creswell was already proposing another eight boxes for rural districts on Jersey.

Trollope also carried out similar revision of the rural posts on Guernsey and Alderney. On 8th February 1853, the boxes on Guernsey opened for business. The authorities in St. Peter Port had been so approving of the new pillar boxes that they had agreed that if the Post Office provided another box then they would meet the cost of construction of another two, making six in total.

1853 Guernsey pillar box, still in use today. (P5856)

1853 Guernsey pillar box, still in use today. (P5856)

Sadly, none of the boxes erected in Jersey in 1852 survive today, however one of those on Guernsey, first erected in 1853, is still receiving mail today. Another of the 1853 boxes originally in use on Guernsey survives in the BPMA collection as does one of the first mainland boxes erected the same year.

Pillar box errected on Guernsey, Channel Islands, 1853. (OB1996.653)

Pillar box errected on Guernsey, Channel Islands, 1853. (OB1996.653)

The first box on mainland Britain was manufactured by Abbott and Company and was erected at Botchergate, Carlisle around September 1853. That box too, has not survived the intervening years. Soon after, approval was given for Trollope’s proposed installation of pillar boxes in Gloucester while he was revising the rural posts there. It appears to be the case that each District Surveyor then became responsible for the establishment of pillar boxes in his district, sourcing not only the manufacturer but also frequently being responsible for the design. A National Standard design of pillar box was approved in 1859 but development in design carries on to this day.

Julian Stray – Curator

Visit our website to read more about the history of Letter Boxes, or go to Flickr to see images of some interesting pillar boxes.

The BPMA Shop is celebrating the 160th anniversary of the pillar box with a special offer on our Pillar Box Postcard set (set of 4 cards, £2.50) and Museum Collection Guide booklet & postcard set (1 guidebook and 1 set of 6 postcards, £7.00) – with images and information of the historic letter boxes from the BPMA Museum Collection. They are available online at and you can get them with FREE Postage & Packaging until 30 Nov 2012 – just enter the discount code L3TT3RBOX at checkout.

Mail Rail Conservation Project – Documentary Film

For the past year the BPMA have been engaged on a project to conserve the rail cars in its collection acquired from the Post Office underground railway, Mail Rail. This project has proved really exciting and has been followed keenly by a number of people. Back in April 2012 the BPMA held an open day at the Museum Store which gave visitors the opportunity to come and see the work being done and meet the conservator working on the project and the BPMA curators.

Throughout the main part of the project the BPMA commissioned a production company to document the process and create a short film that helps explain the work done. This film is now being made available for the first time via the BPMA’s YouTube channel.

Making the Mail Rail film.

Making the Mail Rail film.

As well as documenting the conservation work the film also offers a glimpse of the Railway as it once was, including black and white footage of the Railway from the 1930s and clips from the BPMA collection. These more modern clips show the Railway in 2005, after its closure. It is the last filmed footage captured of the trains being moved using the electric network. The BPMA holds much more of this footage that it hopes can be used in future projects or films.

Also in the documentary record are BPMA members of staff and the contracted conservator talking about the work being done and interviews with members of the public who attended the special open day at the Museum Store.

The conservation work on two of the trains is now complete but there remains more to do and the final phase of the project is to conserve the 1927 car held by the BPMA. This car is the only surviving example in this form of the original cars used when the network opened in 1927. It is the intention with this car to conserve as it is today and not to attempt to return it to the appearance it was in during its operational life.

1927 Mail Rail car.

1927 Mail Rail car.

Once this work is underway more details as to the progress will be published online.

The project to conserve the trains was funded by grants from the Arts Council England PRISM Fund, the Association of Independent Museums/Pilgrims Trust Conservation Scheme and donations from the Friends of the BPMA. The film was made for the BPMA by Voytek Ltd, a London based production company.

– Chris Taft, Senior Curator

A Cup of Tea and its Consequences

Chris West explains how he came to write the book First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps.

Chris West

Chris West

Like many of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, I had a stamp collection. A rather mediocre one… But one Sunday, I went to tea with my great uncle.

I happened to mention that I collected stamps, and Uncle Frank said he’d done that too. He disappeared and came back with a dark blue ‘Lincoln’ album. Inside was a treasurehouse of stamps featuring Edward VII and Queen Victoria – including a Penny Black (it had a corner missing, but still…) Frank then said that he didn’t really bother with them any longer – did I want them? The album became my pride and joy. I even took it to school to show everybody. Sadly, one viewer was so impressed that he stole half the stamps. The collection never felt the same afterwards, and vanished into an attic. Forty years later, I was cleaning out the attic when I came across the album. For a moment an old fury came back, but then I decided that a much healthier reaction was to reassemble the collection.

The 'Seahorse' stamp.

The ‘Seahorse’ stamp.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

As I did this, I found myself ever more intrigued with the stamps, as items of beauty but also as tiny pieces of history. Who stuck this Penny Black on an envelope, and what was in the letter? More generally, what was Britain like at the time? I found envelopes that had been sent in Ireland around the time of the appalling famine, a Seahorse sent just before World War One, a stamp celebrating the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 (an event I had never heard of, but which was as big as the Olympics in its day), an envelope that had enclosed a censored letter from World War Two, the classic 4d stamp celebrating the 1966 World Cup win… Stamps, I realised, tell stories.

Finally, I assembled these stories into a book, that would tell the nation’s tale through its stamps – or 36 of them, anyway. It’s been a joy to research and write. And all thanks to my great uncle and a cup of tea one Sunday afternoon.

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps by Chris West (cover)

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps is available from the BPMA online shop.

Chris West will give a talk based on First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps at the BPMA on Thursday 21 February 2013.

The ringing red icon – a whistle-stop look at telephone boxes

You may wonder why a blog is being written by The British Postal Museum & Archive about telephone kiosks. The reason behind it is that 100 years ago, in 1912, the General Post Office (GPO) took over the majority of the UK’s private telephone service – and were responsible for the telephone service until responsibility for this was taken on by the newly formed British Telecom in the 1980’s.

Street furniture

With the increasing popularity of the telephone in the early 20th century, it was only a matter of time before telephones kiosks were seen in the street. Telephone kiosks based inside hotels, stations and other handy places already existed and were known as Silence cabinets.

Those placed on the streets took on various, often ornate guises. The GPO needed to develop its own street furniture in order to open up the service to the general public but also advertise the GPO simultaneously. In 1920, the first telephone kiosk under the GPO was introduced, the K1 (Kiosk 1). Whilst K1’s remained on our streets for many years they were made out of concrete, rather than the GPO’s preferred medium of cast iron. Although relatively cheap to produce they were not seen as an attractive addition to the streets. Some councils even tried putting thatched roofs on top of K1’s to improve their appearance! Though the K1 was never a permanent solution thousands were produced with a handful surviving today.

Grand style statement

K2 telephone kiosk and pillar box.

K2 telephone kiosk and pillar box.

The GPO’s quest for a telephone kiosk that was hard wearing and aesthetically pleasing was answered in 1924 when architect Giles Gilbert Scott designed the cast iron K2. GPO officials deemed that the now iconic K2 was to be red – standing proud as the colour of pillar boxes.

The K2’s domed roof was believed to echo the ornate design of the tomb of Sir John Soane, a fellow architect. The K2 was beautifully designed and functional. Rain water was directed off by vertical grooves down its sides. The ventilated crown at the top was handily placed far enough away from the speaker so that their conversation could not be heard outside, whilst still providing fresh air. Another design feature included was a sloped floor… to offset possible unsavoury use as a urinal. Many K2’s remain in the street today, predominantly in London. This was partly the downfall of the K2 – it was too expensive to produce in bulk to send out across the country. All K2’s today are listed.

Everything to everyone

Let us pass swiftly by the K3, the cream concrete version of the K2, (although there is one still inside London Zoo), and only briefly mention the K4, designed in 1925. The K4 tried to be everything to everyone – a combination telephone kiosk, stamp vending machine and post box. Sadly, it was not practical. Making a phone call in a kiosk that was next to a noisy road (enabling a quick collection of letters by the postal worker) simply did not work. An ideal site for a kiosk was not necessarily the same for a post box. Only 50 K4’s were made.

Two views of the K4 telephone kiosk, currently on show at our Museum Store.

Two views of the K4 telephone kiosk, currently on show at our Museum Store.

Triumphant (and cheaper)

I will also miss out altogether the prototype K5 and come instead to 1935 when the now Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed the K6. The triumphant (and cheaper) alternative to the K2 had been found.

The K6, designed in King George V’s Silver Jubilee year and referred to as the Jubilee Kiosk, eventually hit our streets in 1936. At least 60,000 were produced and can still be seen up and down the country today. Many councils disliked the red colour and as long as the bars across the doors remained red, the box itself could be painted a more muted colour such as grey or green.

The K6 was a slimmer, less fancy version of the K2; and, of course, it was practical. The central horizontal panes of glass on the doors of the K6 were elongated- to allow internal advertising to be viewed through the doors. In short, the K6 was a triumph.

Reflecting a newer, post-war era

The K8 telephone kiosk.

The K8 telephone kiosk.

The K6 stood the test of time. It was not until the early 1960’s when another prototype, the K7, was introduced, and it was 1968 when a successor, the K8, was introduced as an alternative. The K8, the last of the cast iron kiosks, was designed by Bruce Martin. Glazed on 3 sides with a large single glass panel per side, it reflected a newer, post-war era. Gone is the crown, coinciding with discussions about whether the Queen’s head should be removed from stamps, and also with the crown being removed from pillar boxes.

An end to kiosks under the GPO

From 1981 BT took over the telephone communication service and the GPO’s involvement ceased. The kiosks and the telephone service still remain an important part of the BPMA’s story, however, highlighting the visible face of the GPO and its importance in the fabric of communication. The BPMA’s treasure trove Museum Store in Debden holds examples of many of the kiosks discussed in this article. The only way to easily distinguish between the kiosks is to come and view them side by side at our Store! Come and decide on your favourite- mine is the K2.

Dominique Gardner – Exhibitions Officer

See our website for the schedule and booking details for Guided Store tours, or alternatively please contact Curator Emma Harper for enquiries about bespoke tours

The National Telephone Kiosk Collection is held at the Avoncroft Museum near Bromsgrove.