Category Archives: Learning

Mail Rail part of Our Bloomsbury

Here at the British Postal Museum and Archive, we’re always keen to engage our younger audiences with the story of the postal service – this is why we welcomed a group of local children to the archive last week to investigate the Post Office Underground Railway, aka Mail Rail. The workshop was day one of a two day mini-project, in collaboration with 1A Arts Centre.

The group began their investigatory workshop by using the wonderful resources at their (white gloved) finger tips – the archive repository. Helen Dafter, one of our archivists, led the children to where the material is stored; enabling them to explore and find out what sort of things are kept in an archive and how they are looked after.

The budding archivists next had the opportunity to use the skills they had discovered with Helen. Through investigating some original material related to Mail Rail, which they had helped to retrieve in the repository, they soon became experts on the incredible underground system!

Making notes on findings from investigating the images and material from the collection.

Making notes on findings from investigating the images and material from the collection.

The children’s detective work enabled them to find out the facts of the network, however they were just as interested to discover what life was like down in the railway. Images from the collection and the photographs displayed in our Mail Rail exhibition allowed the group to empathise with the workers and to understand how the system was operated. Original objects – such as mail bags also brought this understanding to life for the children.

The group were shocked to find the mail bags were almost as big as them!

The group were shocked to find the mail bags were almost as big as them!

Inspired by the collection and what they had discovered, the group finished the workshop by creating some collage art work.

The budding archivists at work on their collages.

The budding archivists at work on their collages.

On the following day the children made their way to the 1A Arts Centre, equipped with their new found expertise on the Post Office Underground Railway! During the creative writing workshop, ran by artist Teanne Andrews, the group developed stories exploring ‘the day in the life of’ a worker.

With Teanne at 1A Arts, working on their creative writing.

With Teanne at 1A Arts, working on their creative writing.

These workshops form part of a creative project, ‘Our Bloomsbury’, led by a group of partner organisations (Holborn Community Association, 1A Arts, Charles Dickens Museum, Elaine Duigenan, Art Workers’ Guild, October Gallery and British Postal Museum and Archive). Artist Elaine Duigenan and a team of young film makers have been filming a fantastic summer programme of workshops and events, held at the partner venues.  The final film will be screened at the Art Workers’ Guild during the Bloomsbury Festival, showcasing the diverse cultural and historical experiences on offer in the area. Keep an eye out on our website to find out more about the film and when it will be screened.

– Hannah Clipson, Community Learning Officer

Stamps in Schools success

Yesterday, in an award ceremony held at the British Museum, our volunteer Stamps in Schools co-ordinator Erene Grieve became joint national winner of the Marsh Christian Trust “Volunteers for Museum Learning” award, 2013.

Erene receives her award.

Erene receives her award.

Erene has been running the Stamps in Schools project for the past seven years. Stamps in Schools workshops introduce pupils to the history of stamps, and the idea of starting their own stamp collection. Erene provides ‘stamp days’ in Primary schools which have been run throughout the UK, from Inverness to the Isle of Wight.

Erene running a workshop at Sherwood School.

Erene running a workshop at Sherwood School.

Erene won the award for the London region in May. At yesterday’s ceremony Erene met the other regional winners before the national winner was announced. The judges found it impossible to decide an overall winner so Erene shares her national prize with Nathan Lightowler of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.

Joanna Mackle, Deputy Director of the British Museum said:

Museums large and small are reliant on the contribution volunteers make to ensure the smooth and successful running of their organisation. The Marsh Awards recognise the vital work that volunteers do in museums across the country.

Upon receiving the award, Erene said:

There’s something magic about hearing a child say “Thank you that was brill”, or even “That was cool”, or even “This has been the best day of my life!” You don’t walk out of the school thinking, “I wish I’d got paid for that”. You go out thinking, “This is wonderful”.

We’d like to congratulate Erene and say thank you for her ongoing commitment to volunteering with the BPMA.

Erene with BPMA Director Adrian Steel.

Erene with BPMA Director Adrian Steel.

Visit our website to find out more about Stamps in Schools.

Marvellous Magic at Camden Family Fun Day

Coram’s Fields is once again playing host to the Camden Family Fun Day on Saturday 15 June. The theme is ‘Marvellous Magic’, but what magic do BPMA have up their sleeves….

Over the years people have been sending messages through the post in mysterious ways – secretive letters with hidden content! Join us at our stall to investigate these methods of sending secret messages and design your own. How will you make sure yours isn’t seen by unwanted eyes, a folded letter, an origami fortune teller or perhaps invisible ink?

Have a go at making your own folded letter or origami fortune teller.

Have a go at making your own folded letter or origami fortune teller.

The Camden Family Fun Day will be taking place at Coram’s Field, from 1pm to 5pm. We’ll be joining lots of other organisations from the Camden area to take part in this special family event – packed with activities, art and craft workshops, dressing up and more.

The young at heart can join in the fun too!

The young at heart can join in the fun too!

Suitable for: Any age
When: 1-5pm, Saturday 15 June 2013
Where: Coram’s Field, 93 Guildford Street, London, WC1N 1DN
Admission: Free

A trainee teacher shares his experience of being on placement with us

Hello, I’m Tommy, a postgraduate student at London South Bank University where I’m training to be a primary school teacher.

As part of this course, I recently spent a week on placement at the British Postal Museum and Archive. I worked closely with Sally, the Schools Learning Officer to learn how the BPMA use their archive and resources to deliver engaging and stimulating school sessions.


Pupils select definitive stamps

One of the sessions I observed was “Stamp Champs” in a year 3 class at Claremont Primary School in Cricklewood, North London.

This was a fun session, where pupils were given the chance to dress up as postal workers from the past as they learnt about the history of the postal service.

The pupils also had the chance to investigate stamps from around the world by playing an interactive game using stamps from sixteen different countries.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the session was when the pupils were given the opportunity to begin their own stamp collection. Firstly, they learnt how to remove a used stamp that was attached to an envelope and they kept this as the first stamp in their collection.


Students soak definitive stamps to detach them from envelopes.

The pupils then chose another five stamps each from around the world that Sally had brought along for them.

The classroom was buzzing as each pupil rifled through the numerous stamps to find which ones they wanted for their collection. Each pupil had their own reason for the stamps they chose – be it that it was from the country of their birth, a commemorative stamp from an event they recognised or even just a striking design – there was no doubt that they had all been gripped by “stamp fever” and were proud of the birth of their stamp collection.


Pupils showcase their final selection of stamps.

As we left, the pupils thanked us and told us how much they enjoyed the session, with one boy saying that we were welcome to come back anytime!

“Stamp Champs” really was a fantastic session to observe and take part in, and I would have no hesitation in booking it for a class when I graduate later this year and begin teaching.

The school visits were a highlight of my time at BPMA, however, the opportunity to search the archives has also been fascinating. I was given an interesting, detailed tour of the archive and used my new found knowledge to develop ideas for a session about the role of the postal service during World War Two.

My time at BPMA has been thoroughly enjoyable and I have learnt a lot about  what the museum collection can offer for schools. Thank you to everyone at BPMA for having me!

We’re taking bookings for the summer term now. Find out how to book a free school workshop for your class.

Stamps in Schools – a free BPMA sponsored outreach service

Hello, I’m Sally, the new Schools Learning Officer. It’s my job to develop our formal learning programme for students of all ages. I’m currently trialing workshops for Primary schools in London. You can find out more about our plans, including how to book a free workshop for your school on our website.

Another part of my job is to support the BPMA sponsored Stamps in Schools outreach service. This is co-ordinated by retired teacher Erene Grieve, and provides free sessions to primary and secondary schools throughout the UK.


A small selection of Erene’s stamp collection.

I recently accompanied Erene on her latest Stamps in Schools visit to Sherwood Primary school in Mitcham, Surrey. I thought I’d share some of the great photos from the afternoon, and tell you about what schools can expect from a session.

Erene began by telling a story about the sack of stamps she saw advertised in the newspaper and sent away for at the age of nine. The sack cost a few shillings and was full of hundreds of stamps. She showed the original sack, and explained this purchase sparked her lifelong interest in stamp collecting.


Erene sharing her passion for stamps.

Erene used a colourful display of real stamps and other materials from our collection in an interactive presentation about the history of the postage stamp. This included an opportunity to see a Penny Black, a quiz to identify old and new commemorative and definitive stamps from all over the world and a competition to guess the most valuable stamps.


Here’s me getting stuck into the stamp activities.

Students completed cross-curricular tasks on Stamp Activity cards that tested their new found stamp knowledge. Then, they were given their own small ‘sack’ of stamps from around the world and arranged them symmetrically on squared paper, just like a real stamp collector!


A neatly arranged page of stamps.

Finally, the students chose some commemorative and definitive stamps to keep and start their own stamp collection.

Sherwood Primary school is lucky enough to have a growing Stamp Club. This visit, enthusiastically described by one student as ‘the best afternoon ever’ has no doubt increased the number of budding collectors.


One of Sherwood Primary school’s stamp collectors.

More about Stamps in Schools

  • Each session lasts for about one hour, and can be delivered to a class, or as a school assembly.
  • It has cross-curricular links to a wide range of subjects including Literacy, Numeracy, Geography, Art and Design, or Citizenship.
  • Sessions can be tailored to link to class topics such as ‘The Victorians’ and ‘Communications’.
  • All materials such as stamps, postcards and activity sheets are provided free of charge.
  • Example activities include: writing postcard messages, calculating weights and postal charges, and designing a stamp.
  • Erene is happy to provide follow up support to help schools start their own Stamp Club.

We’re currently taking bookings for Stamps in Schools book via our website.