Archivist (Cataloguing) Anna Flood talks about our collection of 4988 Post Office notices, dating from 1768 to c.2000. They reveal a lot about the services the Post Office provided, and the society in which it operated.
The notices can be seen as a precursor to the posters displayed in post offices and on mail vans after the establishment of the Post Office Public Relations Department in 1934. You may be more familiar with images such as the ‘Post Early for Christmas’ poster below; much more visually appealing than its predecessor. Under the direction of the Public Relations Officer, Stephen Tallents, the organisation employed posters as a means of advising the public, and staff, on services whilst simultaneously constructing a modern and exciting corporate image. Hence, monochrome and purely instructional public notices declined sharply in number from the 1930s onwards.
Some of the early posters reflect a more brutal and unforgiving society, where you could be hanged for stealing letters from the mail, or risk attack or even death whilst driving a mail coach.
In a world without telephones or the Internet, the efficiency of the mail was paramount. Hence, post-boys could be punished by committal to a house of correction for a month’s hard labour for loitering and delaying the arrival of mails at the next post town. Such a punishment was obviously no deterrent to those mail guards caught drunk on duty (POST 107/284).
Whilst overland communication was still by mail coach until the mid-nineteenth century, the list of exotic oversees places to which mails were carried from Britain was extensive and growing. In 1845 packet ships sailed to Beirut, Bombay, Panama and Canada, amongst numerous other destinations.
The notices are not solely indicative of postal operations, but inform on significant historical events, such as the 1875-76 British Arctic Expedition, which gathered large amounts of data on Greenland, and previously unexplored territories. The notice below indicates the vital, but uncertain, mail communication by HMS Pandora to Smith Sound, an uninhabited Arctic sea passage.
POST 107/866 outlines the reasons behind the refinement of the postcode into sub-districts and serial numbers (e.g. EC1), including wartime depletion of staff and creation of new Departments of State. This necessitated a more specific means of addressing mail to assist female sorters taking over from the men who had gone to war, and who did not have the knowledge and experience these men had acquired over the years.
First World War notices are of particular significance as we remember the centenary of its commencement. They give a very succinct impression of how the public were permitted to communicate with those at the Front, including the sending of foodstuffs, and photographs, postcards and plans according to censorship regulations.
-Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)