Category Archives: Collection

Dear Amie

At the BPMA we regularly work with local community groups, engaging them with our collection and listening to their stories. The outcome is always rewarding, but sometimes the way these groups interpret our collections is truly heart-warming. The BPMA Community Learning Officer, Hannah Clipson, tells us about her experience working with a group of 10 trafficked women known as the Amies.

During the summer of 2014 I spent 12 weeks working with the Amies on a project run in partnership with the October Gallery to investigate the design history of the postal service. These women are of diverse nationalities and ages; brought together by PAN Arts, a London based Arts Company, and The Poppy Project, an organisation providing support, advocacy and accommodation for trafficked women, and as such had a wide range of experiences and outlooks.

Over the course of the 12 weeks we looked at the changing uniforms of postal workers, the process of stamp design, the poster collection and mail art.

Examples of mail art from the BPMA collections

Examples of mail art from the BPMA collections

Inspired by their own experiences and the objects and stories explored in the BPMA collections, the group responded in creative ways, guided by the artist Ella Phillips from October Gallery. We designed our own stamp artwork, sent our own mail art through the post and they sent letters to family and friends, some examples of which you can see below. In addition, each participant had their own sketch book that they could add to during the workshops and in their own time.

Some of the work created by the Amies

Some of the work created by the Amies

Dear Amie exceeded our expectations; not only did it facilitate a range of positive outcomes for the participants but it also proved invaluable to the BPMA. One of the participants described her pride in having created positive experiences and a new life for herself and there was an eagerness to develop a second phase of the project in 2015. For this the women decided they’d like to create a textile output which will be displayed in our brand new Postal Museum, due to open in 2016.

Stamp artwork created by the group

One of the Amies design for a stamp showing things important to her

For the BPMA we learned some extremely valuable lessons and gained some remarkable stories of what the postal service means to different people. The level of engagement showed us the true potential of our collection and the diverse ways in which it can be used to inspire a wide range of audiences. The postal theme resonated with the women in a way that we could not have imagined. For most of them, sending a letter to loved ones had been a lifeline through extremely difficult circumstances. Recollection of these memories, stimulated through the exploration of BPMA material, led to a fascinating and unexpected reinterpretation of some of our objects and the discovery of some truly remarkable, personal stories. It reinforced to us that our collection can be interpreted in meaningful, personal ways and act as a catalyst to uncovering touching stories such as those of the Amies.

My Favourite Objects: Birdcage Valentine

More of a celebrator of Anna Howard Shaw Day than Valentine’s Day on 14 February, I never really spent much time down the card aisle hunting for the perfect valentine. That was until I took a journey through the valentines section of our archive.

Boxes and boxes full of Valentines

Boxes and boxes full of Valentines

We have nearly 1000 individual valentines in our collection spanning from the oldest in 1790 to ones as recent as 1996. As you can see in the picture above, they fill the shelves from floor to ceiling! One of the runner’s up for my favourite object was a Vinegar Valentine. You can’t help but be in shock by the rude (and downright nasty) nature of these. Just take a look at the following transformation card.

vinegar

My favourite object is a much more humbling valentine of a birdcage from 1817. It doesn’t look like your traditional valentine with hearts and love sprawled across it, and from the picture below it doesn’t look like anything too special.

Birdcage valentine (OB1995.49)

Birdcage valentine (OB1995.49)

However, the image above really doesn’t do it any justice through! In the centre is a string to pull. We haven’t tried to open it for quite some time, so after a bit of a pep talk Curator Emma demonstrated how the card works for me and now with you!

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Nearly 200 years old, this card is beautifully illustrated with the bird on the front and the two little mice on the inside. Way before laser cutting, the detailed cuts that form the cage were done by hand. Valentines sent during the 19th century, apart from Vinegar Valentines, were usually handmade mementos of affection – a lot of time was spent making these cards. This is why the Valentine Birdcage is my favourite object, because of its individual nature. It isn’t a generic card on the shelf but made specifically for the receiver. In other words, the admiration for the receiver is in the details NOT in the number of pink hearts.

What’s the best valentine you ever received or sent? We would love to see it!  Tweet us @postalheritage or send us an email at peoplespost@postalheritage.org.uk.

See even more valentines on our new online exhibition.

-Rachel Kasbohm, Digital Media Manager

 

Make your own Victorian Inspired Valentine’s Card

Victorian Valentine’s The popularity of sending Valentine’s cards greatly increased in the Victorian period, thanks, in part, to the introduction of the Penny Post. Victorian Valentine’s cards were often made of a number of different  materials, including lace, fringing, fabric and even human hair, which were layered, one on top of the other, much like a scrap book. Pictures of flowers were popular, as were images of Cupid and hearts. Victorian cards were a lot smaller than those generally on sale today and came in lots of different shapes. Some cards even had elaborate or novelty features like pop ups, music, scent and mechanical components.

'To My Valentine' Valentine Card c. 1890

‘To My Valentine’ Valentine Card c. 1890

Make your own Here are some beautiful images from Victorian Valentine’s cards in the BPMA’s collection for you to print out, cut out and use to create your very own Victorian inspired Valentine’s card. You could include your own photographs, sketches or memontos to make the cards really personal. 1 2 3 4

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We would love to see how your cards turn out or hear about any interesting cards you’ve sent or received yourself! Tweet us @postalheritage or send us an email at peoplespost@postalheritage.org.uk. -Joanna Espin, Curator

The Mystery of the Tolhurst Envelopes

We love a mystery at the British Postal Museum & Archive and the identity of the artist behind the illustrated ‘Tolhurst’ envelopes has intrigued us for years.

2014_0038_103

2014-0038/103

The first step in identifying the artist was to research the address to which the majority of the envelopes were sent: St Lawrence, Ernest Road, Hornchurch. Staff at Havering Museum, where a selection of the envelopes were recently displayed, found that the 1911 census showed the occupants as George, Amelia, Frederick and Amy Tolhurst. Frederick and George Tolhurst, father and son, were frequent recipients of the illustrated envelopes.

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

Locating the census record enabled the identification of all but one recipient: Vera. Vera received the majority of the illustrated envelopes in the collection, and the majority of Vera’s letters were sent to the Hornchurch address. However, she did not appear in the census record, nor could we find her in the birth records of the General Register Office, due to lack of information. Not put off, we used the information we had accumulated to construct a family tree.
Returning to the envelopes, we found a vital piece of information: the initials ‘FC’ or ‘FCT’ appeared in the corner of several illustrations. Using the family tree, we narrowed down the identity of the artist to Frederick Charles Tolhurst.

Tolhurst signature, 2014_0038_110

The artist’s initials

The identity of Vera continued to elude us, however. We considered whether Vera was a nickname, or perhaps an acronym, but we had no evidence to confirm either of these theories. We drew a step closer to the truth last week when we discovered a postcard which was addressed to Vera and signed ‘with love & kisses from your Mama & Papa’.

with love from mama and papa 2014_0038_112_back

The evidence that steered our search

We searched the birth index for Vera Tolhurst and identified a Vera Sylvia Tolhurst, born in 1908 in the district of Lambeth. A copy of the birth certificate arrived at the BPMA yesterday: listed as Vera’s father is Frederick Charles Tolhurst, and listed as his occupation is Lithographic Artist Journeyman. By 1911, Tolhurst’s occupation had changed to Trade Union Secretary, but his artistic talent was maintained in the mail art he frequently sent to his family.

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

I’ve been inspired by the Tolhurst envelopes to try my hand at mail art. Why don’t you have a go and let us know if they arrive by Tweeting @postalheritage using #mailart.

My attempt at mail art

My attempt at mail art

Joanna Espin, Curator

Postal Workers and Sports

There is no question about it; the daily duties of the postal worker require a considerable level of fitness. They walk for miles, repeatedly lift heavy boxes and bags, use quick reflexes to avoid over protective pets, and that is just the beginning! With this in mind, it is no surprise that social clubs especially activities surrounding sport and fitness have been a huge part of Post Office culture.

A black and white photographic lantern slide of a group of five girls holding stacks of newspapers, magazines and books.

A black and white photographic lantern slide of a group of five girls holding stacks of newspapers, magazines and books.

Throughout postal history there have been clubs for almost every sport and fitness activity imaginable including football, bowling, golf, handball, tennis, netball, gymnastics, cricket, speed walking, boxing, swimming, cycling, and the list goes on! Here at the BPMA we have amassed a collection of over 100 trophies and awards won by the athletic men and women of the Post Office.

One of our oldest trophies, the Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3, is a fantastic tri-handled tankard which dates to 1873. It was first awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex Post Office Volunteers for shooting competitions. It appears that Sergt R R Hoade had a particular skill for shooting as the trophy was awarded to him 5 times, 3 of which were consecutive wins!

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

In addition to trophies, our collection houses an assortment of objects which show how dedicated many Postal Workers were to their clubs. These objects include collection boxes, wall signs, membership books, and many more!

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

 

Tunbridge Wells Post Office Sports Club Collection Box (OB1994.111).

Tunbridge Wells Post Office Sports Club Collection Box (OB1994.111).

-Melissa Collins, Collections Management Intern

#AskaCurator: Day in the life of a BPMA Curator

This Wednesday Curator Joanna Espin will be available to answer any questions you might have on Twitter for #AskACurator day! In today’s blog, she gives us an idea about what it means to be a BPMA Curator.

The main purpose of my job is to prepare the museum collection to move to our new museum.

Opening a box

Opening a box

I arrive at about 8:30am and my first task is to check the work progress spreadsheet, which shows all of the shelves in the repository and is colour coded to mark which shelves are ready to move and which ones are yet to be completed.  We are 93% of the way through housing aisles B-F and need to be at 100% by the end of the year.

Aisle F

Aisle F

This is my first job as a Curator and it is a fantastic opportunity to handle and house an amazingly diverse collection. I have re-housed so many interesting objects, including original evidence from the Great Train Robbery. I follow a strict procedure for auditing the collection, re-housing objects and updating their location.

Before it has been prepared for the move.

Before it has been prepared for the move.

As I am still quite new to the role, a part of the day may be dedicated to training. I have recently received manual handling training, and can proudly say that I can move a telephone kiosk when called to do so!

I moved to my current role from the BPMA Philatelic team and I spend one day a week with the Philatelic department, assisting with preparations to move the stamp artwork collection to a new storage facility. Our next task is to tie approximately 600 boxes with pink archival tape, to ensure the security of the boxes during the move.

I finish work at about 5pm. At the weekend I go home to Yorkshire and spend some time in the countryside with my border terrier.

Chester outside of the BPMA

Chester outside of the BPMA

Have any questions for me or the rest of the curatorial team? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below and we will answer you on Wednesday.

-Joanna Espin, Curator

#MuseumCats Day: “Industrial chaos in the Post Office cat world’

For #MuseumCats day, we wanted to share the history of cats in post offices from the first three probationary, rodent-killer to the famous 23-lb goliath Tibs in the 1950s and 60s. Sadly the last Post Office Headquarters official cat, Blackie, died in 1984. Since then there have been no more employed cats, but their 100+ years history is not to be fur-gotten.

Cats were first officially appointed by the Post Office to catch rodents in September 1868 (although there had undoubtedly been cats in post offices before). Three cats worked on probation at the Money Order Office in London, with an allowance of one shilling a week. They were given 6 months by the Secretary of the Post Office to reduce the mouse problem or they would be cut.

Tibs the Official Post Office Headquarters Cat

Tibs the Official Post Office Headquarters Cat

Luckily the cats did ‘their duty very efficiently’ and in 1873 they were awarded an increase of 6d per week. The official use of cats soon spread to other post offices with the cost of maintaining them varying.

Letter requesting a cat (POST 121/206).

Letter requesting expenditure for cat (POST 121/206).

Fast forward 80 years to 1952, when there was public outrage at the fact that Post Office cats hadn’t received a raise since 1873! The following year a question was raised in the House of Commons asking the Assistant Postmaster General, Mr L D Gammans, “when the allowance payable for the maintenance of cats in his department was last raised…”

Mr Gammans replied that “There is, I am afraid, a certain amount of industrial chaos in The Post Office cat world. Allowances vary in different places, possibly according to the alleged efficiency of the animals and other factors. It has proved impossible to organise any scheme for payment by results or output bonus…there has been a general wage freeze since July 1918, but there have been no complaints!”

The most popular cat of all, however, was named Tibs, who was born in November 1950. At his biggest, Tibs weighed 23lbs and lived in the Headquarters’ refreshment club in the basement of the building. He not only kept Post Office Headquarters completely mouse-free during his 14 years’ service, but found time to appear at a ‘cats and film stars’ party and have his portrait included in a 1953 book Cockney Cats. Tibs worked diligently until his death in November 1964.

Tibs' obituary from Post Office Magazine 1965.

Tibs’ obituary from Post Office Magazine 1965.

The last Post Office HQ cat, Blackie, died in June 1984, since when there have been no more cats employed at Post Office Headquarters.

Find out more about the role of cats, dogs and horses in the postal service.