Category Archives: Exhibitions

Postal thoughts from Penang

Writer Rebecca Mileham has been working with us on the text for the interactive exhibition galleries at The Postal Museum. She shares how a recent trip brought home to her the impact and influence of the postal service around the world.

Streets of

Streets of Penang

In the scorching heat of Penang in Malaysia, you’ll find all the spicy flavours and intriguing scents of a tropical island. As you sit in an open-air coffee shop and order a plate of sizzling noodles or an ice kacang, it all feels truly exotic and different.

But Penang has one very familiar sight that reminded me of home, as I discovered on a trip there a few weeks ago. At the side of a busy road, I spotted a red pillar box, complete with the initials VR – Victoria Regina.


Still in daily use, this sturdy piece of Victorian heritage stands next to two local Pos Malaysia mailboxes. Together, they’re a great reminder of the influence of the Post Office around the world, and the way it changed communications forever.

At The Postal Museum, we are preparing to share the vivid stories of hardship, heroism, intrigue and ingenuity that have shaped the postal service over the last five centuries.

From the earliest years as a mail service for Henry VIII, to the reforms that brought penny postage in reach of everyone in Britain, the museum will also trace the vital role of the post during wartime. The picture comes up to date with striking new designs, new technologies and new ways to keep in touch – and looks at how the Post Office and Royal Mail still deliver vital services today.

We’ll use the museum’s collections of objects, images and original letters to reveal the answers to mysterious questions. How did a lion once delay the post? Why would people die to save the mail? Did the Penny Black stamp really change the world? Who once sent themselves in the post to 10 Downing Street?

Special delivery to the Prime Minister from suffragettes

Special delivery to the Prime Minister from suffragettes

You can also have a go at sending mail by pneumatic tube, or seeing how you look in a letter carrier’s uniform.

The archive and collections have incredible tales to tell and we’re putting the finishing touches to the text now in time for the opening in late 2016. See you then.

-Rebecca Mileham

Pop it in the Post: NEW family touring exhibition

Over 160 years ago novelist Anthony Trollope suggested an idea which would change how people communicated forever – the UK pillar box! The first box was installed in 1852, in Jersey, in the Channel Islands. We have never looked back and the iconic red pillar box is now known as a national icon.

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To mark Anthony Trollope’s momentous suggestion and the bicentenary of his birth – we have developed a brand new family exhibition that looks at the communications revolution that followed the introduction of the world’s first stamp, and the UK’s first pillar box  (so-called because of its resemblance to a pillar or to a column).

Early pillar box designs

Early pillar box designs

Pop it in the Post: The World at the end of your street opens at Islington Museum on Saturday 28th March, until 2nd May.

For over 160 years, people in Britain have been able to stick a stamp on a letter and post the letter into a pillar box- sending their news to friends and family across Britain, and then further afield. The exhibition begins by exploring life before stamps and pillar boxes, when only the privileged few could afford to send letters.

We then look at the ground-breaking introduction of stamps, and pillar boxes. The popularity of pillar boxes and other post boxes grew throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Post boxes of all shapes and sizes were soon available in cities, towns and villages. Meet the individuals who made this possible, and discover how millions of people’s lives were changed. The world was now available to everyone – simply through the pillar box at the end of your street.

Street letter box number 1855, corner of Fleet Street and Farringdon Road

Street letter box number 1855, corner of Fleet Street and Farringdon Road

This small exhibition will include original Victorian pillar boxes, replica Victorian letter carrier uniforms available to try on, and also activities and games available for families and children. Throughout the exhibition run there will also be some fun daytime drop-in sessions for children on selected days. Please check our website for more information nearer the time or contact BPMA Exhibitions Officer on 0207 354 7287.

Future exhibition venues:

3 October to 21 November 2015
Mansfield Museum
Leeming Street, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire NG18 1NG

6 January – Saturday 26 March 2016
Havering Museum, Essex
19-21 High Street, Romford RM1 1JU

-Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Meet the Staff: Day in the life of an Exhibitions Officer

In this edition of Meet the Staff, Dominique talks about what it is a like to be an Exhibitions Officer at the BPMA.

Hi, my name’s Dominique and I’m the Exhibitions Officer here at the BPMA. My role is really varied and interesting. I get to work closely with the stories and objects that we hold in our fantastic collection, which I think makes me very lucky.

Very excited to find a Edward VIII pillar box!

I am also a post box enthusiast. Here I am with a very rare Edward VIII pillar box!

How do you cram 500 years of communications history into an exhibition? It’s certainly a challenge, but one I enjoy. Most of my time is spent developing new temporary and touring exhibitions. I also work on the design of the exhibition spaces for The Postal Museum with Mail Rail, due to open in late 2016.

Planning the layout of cases. Simple mock ups using a tape measure and paper really help!

Planning the layout of cases. Simple mock ups using a tape measure and paper really help!

My day completely depends on which exhibition I am working on, and whether we are developing it, or installing it. I love this variety, and being able to see a project right through to delivery.

An average day at the moment will start with me checking requests for our four touring exhibitions. Last Post– our First World War exhibition, has been particularly popular with a variety of host venues recently, due to the centenary of the First World War. I will also telephone Ironbridge Gorge Museums, to check on our larger version of the Last Post exhibition, which they are hosting until the end of March. One of the stories the exhibition tells is of Infantryman Reg Sims, who, in 12 months on the Front, received 167 letters, and himself wrote 242 letters. Telling these individual stories reinforces, for me, why the story that our exhibition is telling is so important.

At mid-morning I will move on to writing exhibition text for our new exhibition: ‘Pop it in the Post: Your world at the end of the street. This exhibition talks about the Victorian letter writing revolution, and how the introduction of the humble pillar box- initially in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, transformed how people were able to post their letters and keep in touch. I write around 200 words, and include about 5 images per panel although I tend to write double the amount of words needed for each panel, and then have to edit it down. Writing the text follows several months work deciding on the exhibition themes, and key messages. Text writing is hugely collaborative – with input from colleagues from the Curatorial, Communications, and Learning teams. We all have to be happy with the messages, and make sure that the text is aimed at the right audience- in this case, families with 7 to 11 year olds.

A character from our new exhibition: a victorian letter carrier

A character from our new exhibition: a victorian letter carrier

Text writing will take me through to mid-afternoon. My final job of the day is to check on the object list for The Postal Museum exhibition space. The shortlist for display currently stands at around 300 objects, and I am responsible for finalising these choices, which are then sent to our offsite designers. Potential objects for display currently include pistols, a cross-written letter, an intact sheet of  Penny Blacks, and a gleaming 19th century mail coach. It is unbelievably exciting to help ensure that these objects will be displayed to the public – some for the first time – and to share with new audiences the richness and diversity of our collection!


Our Mail Coach which will be on display in The Postal Museum.

And by then it’s time to head home. As I leave work and walk along Upper Street in Angel, I can’t help but notice the pillar boxes and telephone kiosks that I pass- that remind me of the amazing street furniture that we have in our own collection!


Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means: Abram Games at the Jewish Museum London

During the Golden Age of GPO public relations under Stephen Tallents many prominent designers were employed to create posters for everything from ‘Post early’ Christmas campaigns to staff unions. One such designer was Abram Games who In March this year Royal Mail selected along with nine other distinguished subjects born in 1914, to feature on a stamp for its Remarkable Lives series.


It’s fitting that in this centenary year, the Jewish Museum, London is celebrating the life and work of this iconic graphic designer in a major new exhibition; Designing the 20th Century: Life and Work of Abram Games (until 4 January 2015)

Games was the leading graphic designer of the postwar years and during his 60 year career was awarded numerous prestigious public commissions, including being appointed Official War Poster Artist during World War Two and designing the first animated BBC ident. He worked extensively with London Transport and his 1976 poster for London Zoo was recently chosen by Londoners as their second favourite poster for London Underground.


Games’s war posters included the popular but controversial Join the ATS recruiting poster (1941), whose alluring female subject earned it the nickname ‘Blonde Bombshell’ and the condemnation of the House of Commons.

By the 1950s, Games was the foremost designer working in Britain and had carried out commissions for the General Post Office, the BBC and London Transport. In 1948, Games was commissioned by the General Post Office to design the official Olympic Games stamp and in 1951 he was awarded the commission to design the emblem for the Festival of Britain, one of the most significant designs of his career.


Don’t miss your chance to see this major exhibition and discover more about the life and work of Abram Games as well as his celebrated theory which provided the framework for all of his compositions; ‘maximum meaning, minimum means’.

New objects at Last Post exhibition!

Our year-long exhibition, Last Post, is currently at Coalbrookdale Gallery, one of the museums at Ironbridge Gorge. Many of the paper items that have been shown over the last six months have been removed and replaced with other items that have never before been displayed.

The two original manuscript poems- ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’, and ‘The Letter’, written by Wilfred Owen, that were on loan from the British Library have been taken off display and replaced by identical facsimile versions. The continued display of these ground breaking poems in facsimile form will enable the story of Shropshire-born Wilfred Owen to remain central to  the exhibition, until it closes on 30 March 2015.

For the first time ever, we will be displaying a Princess Mary tin, sent through the post as a Christmas gift to all serving soldiers during Christmas 1914. This was the initiative of the then 17 year old Princess Mary, daughter of King George V. A public appeal was launched to raise the money for the manufacture the tins and to buy the contents which included items such as tobacco or chocolate inside. Over 426,000 Princess Mary tins were posted to those serving on Christmas Day 1914.

Princess Mary tin

Princess Mary tin

We are also delighted to be displaying a First World War diary, recently acquired by the BPMA. The diary was written by a Post Office Rifle, Sergeant Thomas May, in 1915. Thomas May entered the Post Office as a Telegram Messenger Boy aged 14. His diary details his time in the Post Office Rifles  as he made his way to the Fighting Front in France. May was badly wounded during the War, but survived, and returned to work at the Post Office. A full transcription of the diary will be available in the exhibition for visitors to read.

Photograph of six people holding brooms and rifles. PORs changed into this when they were cleaning their uniform. Thomas May is third from left.

Photograph of six people holding brooms and rifles. PORs changed into this when they were cleaning their uniform. Thomas May is third from left.

Three embroidered cards rounded up the changes to the exhibition. Embroidered cards were made by French women on the front for soldiers to send back to loved ones as momentos. The often contained a little message hidden inside an embroidered flap.

Three of the embroidered cards on display.

Three of the embroidered cards on display.

You can find out more by visiting Last Post or viewing our online exhibition.

-Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

NEW EXHIBITION Innovation in the air: The 80th anniversary of inland airmail

20 August 2014 marks the 80th anniversary of UK inland airmail delivery. To mark this fascinating story we are hosting a new display in the BPMA Foyer and Search Room from 20 August to 20 October.

Alongside the display will be the chance to look through facsimile examples of newspaper reports from 1934; visitors can read first-hand accounts of the storm chaos that overshadowed the inaugural flight on 20 August. Evening newspaper headlines were quick to tell the public of the bumpy start to the service. Contemporary accounts from the time scream aloud ‘Britain’s Great Air-Mail Muddle’ and tell of the ‘Mail Planes In Gale Ordeal… Chairman of New Line ‘Bumped’ Through Roof’.

Airmail logo.

Airmail logo.

Alongside a discussion of the merits and limitations of the new airmail service, the display will also look at other unusual methods to deliver the post that were trialled around this time- namely the ultra-imaginative but ultimately unsuccessful rocket mail, which saw mail actually delivered in specially designed rockets.

Newspaper report and picture of Zucker’s rocket exploding on Scarp,  The Daily Telegraph, 1 August 1934.

Newspaper report and picture of Zucker’s rocket exploding on Scarp,
The Daily Telegraph, 1 August 1934.

Partly burnt items of mail, singed during the rocket explosions, can still be seen in our collection today.

‘How is the Post Office to make itself heard, to capture the interest and attention of the public, upon which there are already so many claims?’ – Sir Stephen Tallents, 1934

With the growing volume of letters sent by air came the idea of having special letter boxes for their collection. In 1930 the Post Office began painting pillar boxes to be used for airmail collections an ‘Air Force’ blue colour. The eye catching blue boxes promoted and advertised the new airmail service now available to the public. On display for the duration of the BPMA display will be a blue ‘Air Mail’ pillar box.

Our airmail pillar box.

Our airmail pillar box.

By 1934, the Post Office had become very conscious of design. A Public Relations department had been created under Sir Stephen Tallents. Theyre Lee- Elliott was commissioned to redesign labels, leaflets and posters especially for the new airmail service. Based upon stylised wings the new label was introduced on 25 July 1934. Just prior to that, on 17 May 1934, a new flag was authorised for aircraft carrying the Royal Mail.

Available alongside the display, from our Post & Go machine, will be a special commemorative Post & Go stamp, which will include a pictorial element for the first time. The underprint will incorporate the airmail logo designed by Theyre Lee-Elliott in 1934 for use on Inland Airmail posters, flyers and labels, with the text “Inland Airmail 1934”.

Check out our airmail shop range for first day covers, mugs, postcards and much more!

We will also be launching a Google Cultural Institute online exhibition on Wednesday exploring the stories of innovation in delivering the post. ‘Post Haste’ will look at the unusual and imaginative ways that have been used to transport the mail from cats to rockets and many more!

– Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Massachusetts visit the BPMA

We are a group of four students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. At the beginning of the summer, from May 12th to June 28th, we had the privilege of working with the British Postal Museum and Archive to develop better visitor evaluation strategies. The goal of our project was to help improve visitor evaluation within their exhibitions which primarily focused on the Last Post Exhibition.

Mail Rail

WPI Students take a tour of Mail Rail

The overall experience was fantastic, filled with opportunities and memories. We were able to visit and explore some of the most popular museums in London including the Natural History, Victorian and Albert, and Science museums. At these museums, we observed visitors to identify what they enjoyed and see how the set up can affect visitor engagement.


Nysa at Last Post Coalbrookdale

We also had the pleasure of working with BPMA visitors. Getting to know those who enjoyed the BPMA’s work, and asking them for helpful insight into what they learned and what they think would improve the sites. Working at events and visiting the Last Post exhibition at Mansfield and Coalbrookdale was a thrilling experience; we not only learned about the exhibitions but also were able to test many different evaluation methods such as interview, surveys, creative writing/drawing activities and observations.


Shuyang with the postal uniform display

We gathered some informative and gratifying feedback, for example one visitor said she “…learned so much more about a city [she had] lived in for 40 years.” Others said that they “did not realize the extent of Post Office involvement in the First World War.” The feedback we gathered was helpful and greatly aided our research objectives.

Enjoying London

WPI Students enjoying London

Aside from gaining new knowledge about museum goers, as a team we were able to improve our professional writing skills, communicate with a broad range of people, and work efficiently in a group setting. This experience also enabled us to grow as young professionals; we believe this project has added to a foundation of what the working world is like.  Living in London was an experience of a lifetime; adapting and working in a different culture will enable us to adapt to all presented opportunities and continue to broaden our understanding of the world.

Thank you,

Angela, Nysa, Shuyang and George