Capturing Mail Rail in 3D: The Next Steps

Imagine a place frozen in time, left exactly as it was the day that everyone left it. That is what it’s like in Mail Rail today. After it was mothballed in 2003, everything was left as it was that day, down to the newspapers, rota and personal belongings. This time capsule effect is part of what makes Mail Rail unique and exciting; however when we start construction later this year to convert it into a ride and visitor attraction we’ll have to make a few changes to ensure it’s safe and accessible for visitors. We are keen that the space remains as true to how it is now as possible, but these changes mean that the little things could be lost. We thought long and hard about how we could preserve Mail Rail exactly as it is today. The solution we came up with was 3D scanning.

Just before Christmas ScanLAB Projects, a 3D scanning and visualisation company based in East London, spent a week down in Mail Rail and captured the Mount Pleasant depot, loop and platforms in 3D. In total they completed over 223 terrestrial laser scans with incredible and accurate results.

View of the Mount Pleasant platforms

View of the Mount Pleasant platforms

The scans that ScanLAB have created show all the minute detail of the spaces, preserving Mail Rail as it is now for us all to explore in years to come, including parts of Mail Rail that visitors to the site won’t be able to see, such as the train graveyard.

Capture

Fly-through of the train graveyard

 

Of course the results have got our creative gears spinning. Increasingly visitors are expecting an increased level of digital interactivity from a visitor to a museum, allowing them to interact with exhibits and collections through devices such as smart phones and tablets, before, during and after their visit – but how can we use these scans to enhance the visitor experience, both physically and remotely?

The guys at ScanLAB gave us a demo of just this; using an Oculus Rift headset we explored the train graveyard and the depot. BPMA staff delighted in walking around, reaching out to touch trains and walls, and even ‘sitting’ in one of the trains!

Looking around the Mount Pleasant Depot through Oculus Rift headset

Other possibilities include augmented reality apps for smart devices, projections or 3D printed installations –the options are endless– so what would you do with them?

The Battle of Festubert: 100 year anniversary

The Post Office Rifles is an often forgotten battalion, formed largely of postal workers, that fought on the Western Front during the First World War, their story is one of the many that will be told in The Postal Museum. Our Head of Collections, Chris Taft, tells us about their first experiences on the Front Line.

In May 1915 the Second Battle of Artois was launched to try and push the German line eastwards and improve communications between Northern France and Paris. The campaign, which was to last over a month, would see many casualties and a number of smaller battles, including the first engagement for the Post Office Rifles.

Post Office Rifles Regiment

Post Office Rifles Regiment

The Post Office Rifles had been formed long before the outbreak of war in August 1914, fought in conflicts such as the Boer War. Recruitment to the 8th Battalion City of London Regiment, as they were officially known, was almost exclusively from men of the British Post Office and in March 1915 after months of training at home the battalion left for France. In May 1915 they moved close to the village of Festubert, located between Béthune and Lille, which at the time was on the Front Line.

Recruitment poster

Recruitment poster

On 9 May the main battle began with an attack by the British Army at Aubers in support of a French attack at Vimy Ridge. The attack was a failure and casualties were high. The battle however continued and further attacks on German positions were planned. The Post Office Rifles were to see their first action when, along with the 7th Battalion of the City of London Regiment, they were to attack the German line. One member of the Battalion involved in the battle, Thomas May, kept a diary of the events, which we hold here at the BPMA, and he recalls:

11 May 2015: ‘Very dangerous advance as bullets were flying all round. Two men and myself kept about 50 yards of unoccupied trench all the night firing from different parts so as to deceive enemy.’

11 May 2015: ‘Very dangerous advance as bullets were flying all round. Two men and myself kept about 50 yards of unoccupied trench all the night firing from different parts so as to deceive enemy.’

The battle dragged on: the Germans launched a counter-attack and the Post Office Rifles were now holding a front line trench position and were subjected to day after day of heavy bombardment which, combined with poor weather, created thick mud and appalling conditions as May records:  ‘Very heavy shelling of our trenches all the day and also it rained all the day’.

Some days of stalemate followed as the artillery bombardment continued for days on end in an attempt to weaken the German front line. Thomas May described the scene: ‘Most awful sights. Dead and wounded laying about … We all were gasping for water and food but could not obtain any.’

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.

On 20 May the offensive was resumed and eventually the objective was captured by the British, but not without heavy casualties; in the Battle of Festubert alone over 16,000 British troops were killed. The Post Office Rifles lost over half their men as May’s diary records:

I must say that during the last few days we have lost nearly half the battalion also losing six officers and several suffering with slight wounds and nervous breakdowns. It was heartbreaking to see the boys return from the trenches, the boys were knocked to the wide, and some platoons who numbered about 61 men only about 14 left in some cases.

The Battle of Festubert was to be the Post Office Rifles first engagement, but there were many more in the following years of war. Festubert, however, remains synonymous with the Battalion and many of the dead from the battle are buried in the British Military Cemetery in the village, which is now officially called, the Post Office Rifles Cemetery.

-Chris Taft, Head of Collections

Getting ready for Europhilex 2015

BPMA newbie and Fundraising Assistant Cat shares all that has gone into preparing for the largest stamp event in Europe – Europhilex 2015

I have just had my two month anniversary working for the BPMA and what a busy two months it has been! I don’t think I could have joined the BPMA at a better time with so many events coming up and it being such a crucial time in the run up to the opening of The Postal Museum and Mail Rail. At the moment, my work has been largely focusing on philately (my new favourite word) and the upcoming Europhilex show. I have been working really closely with our Fundraising Events Officer, Sarah Jenkins who having worked on the regular Stampex shows, has been my philately guru and mentor.

Reading through our article in the London 2015 newsletter

Reading through our article in the Europhilex newsletter

Together, we have made our way through what has sometimes seemed a never-ending to-do list to prepare the BPMA stand at Europhilex. One of the highlights of my first week was watching Sarah and our Marketing and Commercial Assistant Katie use their creativity to map out the stand space in an empty office, using any objects they could find. I think it was at this point that I realised this job was going to be an interesting and unique one!

One lucky winner will go home with a print from the original Penny Black die - visit our stand this week for more details

One lucky winner will go home with a print from the original Penny Black die – visit our stand this week for more details.

I have been amazed at just how much work goes into every event that the BPMA hold. Talks about Europhilex began months before I even started. For the stand, we have worked to a strict timetable with regular meetings discussing all of the details in turn.  I will admit this now;  in these meetings I often found myself writing words in my pad and referring to my good friend Google….the nod and smile tactic was used quite a lot. There have been a lot of discussions around the star of the show – the Machin cast – which will have its own spotlight and plinth. Treatment fit for a Queen!

The Star of the Show - the Machin Cast

The Star of the Show – the Machin Cast

Alongside planning the stand, I have also been organising bits ‘n bobs for events we are holding around Europhilex week including an Afternoon Tea for invited guests. I constantly made the error of ordering cakes and canapés for these events before lunch. I never knew a job could also make you so hungry. This experience has been an incredible one and I am just so excited to see it all in action next week at Europhilex. Wish me luck!

If you want to follow our progress next week then stay tuned to the BPMA on Twitter, where I will be posting updates all week.’

100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania

As the First World War Centenary commemorations continue more and more stories of bravery and tragedy emerge. Some are well known such as the events on the battle fields, others such as the vital role played by the British postal service less so. Within The Postal Museum galleries these heartwarming and often tragic stories of how the General Post Office kept a world at war in touch will be revealed to the public. Our Archive Catalogue & Project Manager Gavin McGuffie looks at one such story.

One hundred years ago, on Friday 7 May 1915, the British ocean liner the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland when almost home on a voyage from New York to Liverpool.

'WRECK OF THE LUSITANIA' - Lantern Slide, 2012-0126/06

‘WRECK OF THE LUSITANIA’ – Lantern Slide, 2012-0126/06

The loss of 1,198 passengers and crew led to an international outcry, especially in Britain and the British Empire, as well as in the United States (128 of 139 US citizens on board died). The German government’s announcement almost two years later that having ended attacks on passenger ships it would again conduct full unrestricted submarine warfare was a major factor in persuading the United States to declare war on Germany on 6 April 1917.

RMS Lusitania had been holder of the Blue Riband for fastest crossing of the Atlantic, and briefly the world’s largest passenger ship. Launched by the Cunard Line in 1906, the Lusitania had the designation ‘Royal Mail Ship’ or ‘RMS’. This prefix dates back to 1840 and was used for seagoing vessels carrying post under contract to Royal Mail.

'LUSITANIA AT FULL SPEED' - Lantern Slide, 2012-0039

‘LUSITANIA AT FULL SPEED’ – Lantern Slide, 2012-0039

Given that the main connection with the Post Office was the fact that the ship was carrying mail it is not surprising that the only file in The Royal Mail Archive entirely about the Lusitania concerns the loss of mail is entitled ‘SS Lusitania sunk May 1915. United States mails missing. Salvage and compensation claims’

It starts with a newspaper cutting from the day after reporting on the tragic event and a letter from Cunard expressing their gratitude for the Post Office’s sympathies.

image of newspaper cutting, POST 29/1277A

image of newspaper cutting, POST 29/1277A

image of Cunard letter, POST 29/1277A

image of Cunard letter, POST 29/1277A

The file goes on to reveal that the quantity of mail on Lusitania’s last voyage was not particularly large. She carried mail that had been especially endorsed for the Lusitania; the US liner New York, leaving about the same time, carried most of the European mail. According to a note in the file, 83 sacks of mail were dispatched on the ship containing 922 registered articles, about 47,000 unregistered letters and 1800 prints.

image of list of registered articles from US Post Office, POST 92/1277A

image of list of registered articles from US Post Office, POST 92/1277A

Following the sinking the Post Office received many enquiries about lost mail in particular relating to that with a financial value. One enquiry concerned four lost dispatches from the Governor of Bermuda to the Colonial Office sent in a weighted bag that would cause them to sink in case of disaster at sea.

image of Bermuda letter, POST 29/1277A

image of Bermuda letter, POST 29/1277A

Perhaps the most interesting story within the file relates to the small amount of mail salvaged. Originally believed to have been washed ashore at Castletownshend, County Cork, it was subsequently found that a mail basket including a parcel of diamonds was in fact picked up by John Hayes, skipper of the fishing boat ‘Pet’. Within our file is a water damaged bill of lading from the Lusitania which accompanied the parcels which were being returned to their senders on the ship.

image of American Express Company bill of lading from the Lusitania, POST 29/1277A

image of American Express Company bill of lading from the Lusitania, POST 29/1277A

Correspondence concerning this basket and Hayes’ desire to be properly rewarded for the salvage of the receptacle continued until 1922 involving a £10 reward as an ‘act of grace’ and even a question in the House of Commons.

The Lusitania was not the only mail ship to be sunk during the First World War. In October 1918 the RMS Leinster was torpedoed in the Irish Sea killing more than 500 including 21 postal workers, the greatest single loss of life in the Irish Sea.

To find out more about the vital role played by the General Post Office and those who worked for it visit our online exhibition Last Post

The 175th Anniversary of The Penny Black

Today we celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive stamp, a truly great British achievement that changed the postal service forever. In a world of email and text we can forget the impact it had on communication. To mark this event we are exhibiting one of the original sheets of Penny Blacks in our Search Room until the 7 August.

Penny Black

Penny Black

Before 1839 postage was paid by the recipient not the sender, which limited those who could afford to receive their post. High prices and private franking also restricted who could send letters. To offset this, letters were cross written and codes were devised so that recipients could understand a letter’s contents without paying to receive it. This put the Post Office’s profits significantly at risk.

Cross Written Letter

Cross Written Letter

To counteract these problems Rowland Hill introduced a list of postal reforms, stipulating that postage should be paid by the sender, at a unified price based on weight not distance. These proved successful and in 1839 an act was passed to introduce Hill’s reforms. After a public competition it was proposed that the image of the Queen’s head should be used on the stamp as for security reasons minor differences could be detected in forgeries.

Pioneers of Communications Sir Rowland Hill

Pioneers of Communications Sir Rowland Hill

The design of the first stamp was based on a medal by William Wyon of Victoria taken at the age of 15, which would subsequently represent her until the end of her reign. Arnold Machin took inspiration from the Penny Black’s simplicity when he produced the Royal portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for modern day stamps.

William Wyon Medal

William Wyon Medal

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

The image was then engraved, in reverse, on a die by Charles Heath and rolled 240 times onto a copper plate to produce the sheet. For security, letters were placed in the corners of the stamps; contemporary stamps continue to adapt to stay one step ahead of the forgers.

Penny Black Die

Penny Black Die

The Penny Black was actually put on sale on the 1 May 1840 but was not valid for postage until the 6th. The Twopenny Blue however did not begin to be printed until the 1 May. The process was pretty quick and 600,000 stamps where being produced daily.

Twopenny Blue

Twopenny Blue

To celebrate 175 years a miniature sheet has been produced by Royal Mail with two Penny Blacks and two Twopenny Blues, each with a First Class value. The background to the miniature sheet features a photograph of the printing presses at Perkins Bacon & Petch – the original printers of the Penny Black.

Penny Black Miniature Sheet

Penny Black Miniature Sheet

This is not the first time we have commemorated the Penny Black in modern day postage. The Penny Black 150th anniversary stamps were produced in 1990 where five differing values depicted Queen Elizabeth alongside Queen Victoria.

Penny Black 150th Anniversary 1990

Penny Black 150th Anniversary 1990

The Penny Black 175 exhibition at the BPMA is available to view Monday to Friday in Freeling House, London.

-Georgina Tomlinson

Paints and post boxes: engaging families through exhibitions

As we move into the final design stages for The Postal Museum and Mail Rail, a new family friendly attraction opening in central London in 2016, we’ve been asking ourselves the question, how do families engage with our stories and collections? Our Community Learning Officer, Hannah Clipson tells us about the work she and Exhibitions Officer Dominique Gardner have been doing to answer this question.

Some postal inspired artwork!

Some postal inspired artwork!

Pop it in the post: your world at the end of the street , our latest touring exhibition, is the first we’ve designed that’s aimed at children. With this in mind we decided to launch it at Islington Museum, located just around the corner from the BPMA and popular with local families. It was the perfect place to engage these future visitors to The Postal Museum and get their feedback on what we have to offer them. The exhibition explores how the communications revolution came about as the result of the introduction of the Penny Black stamp and pillar boxes. From the workers who made it possible to the crazy and elaborate new types of post being sent – there are plenty of fascinating and surprising themes; perfect for sparking the curiosity and imaginations of young minds!

This little boy's imagination is peaked - or maybe its the paints.

This little boy’s imagination is sparked- or maybe its the paints!

Alongside the exhibition we ran some drop-in family activities during the Easter holidays. Recent research conducted at our Museum of the Post Office in the Community exhibition at Blists Hill Victorian Town showed that children enjoyed engaging with the uniform in the collection, particularly the hats. Therefore, this was chosen as the inspiration for the take-away craft activity. Children made their own top hat mask and played with the postal themed board games and beautiful jigsaw puzzles specially made for the exhibition. One group visiting from a children’s holiday club stayed with us for 2 hours, with almost every child trying on the handling postal uniforms, which bodes well for the dressing up interactive experience we have planned for the new museum!

Getting messy with paints

Getting messy with paints

The exhibition then played host to a much younger audience at the early years workshop for the under 5s. This time we used mail art as the inspiration – with children as young as 2 creating their own beautifully decorated envelopes to send through the post. It was hard to tell who enjoyed it the most, the parents or the children…but it shows our collection can make for a fun shared learning experience between people of all ages, regardless of their personal experience of using the postal service.

Pop it in the post: your world at the end of the street will be displayed at Islington Museum until Saturday 2 May. After that, the exhibition heads to Bruce Castle Museum from July to September, and in October it heads north to Mansfield Museum – winner of the Kids in Museums Family-Friendly Award in 2011.

-Hannah Clipson, Community Learning Officer

5 Surprising Facts About Anthony Trollope

Today is Anthony Trollope’s 200th birthday. Aside from being one of the most prolific Victorian novelists, Trollope was the first to suggest ‘iron posts’ on the side of the road – for people to post their letters into, at any time of day – or as we know them today: pillar boxes. To celebrate Trollope’s 200th birthday and his contributions to the British postal service, Senior Curator Julian Stray will be giving a talk on Thursday 30 April at 7pm. As a sneak peak, here are five surprising facts about him.

  1. Young Anthony was a poor worker who was regularly late for work, took extended lunches, ran up debts with suppliers and liked a drink and a game of cards.
Picture of Trollope c.1860

Picture of Trollope c.1860

 

  1. Anthony Trollope loathed a meritocracy; regarding promotion by merit as a “damnable system”. He preferred advancement on the grounds of seniority, though he obviously was advantaged personally, on occasion, by nepotism
  1. As a senior figure within the Post Office, Trollope would frequently argue with Rowland Hill for he hated the man and relished their disagreements; describing their encounters as“feuds- such delicious feuds”
Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill

  1. Trollope was always keen to build his life experience for use in his novels. When sent to negotiate a treaty for the conveyance of mail with Egypt, he promptly went travelling to see “the dervishes of Cairo at one on Friday, they howl but once a week”
Trollopes invention: the pillar box!

Trollopes invention: the pillar box!

  1. Even after he retired from the Post Office in 1867, the UK Government engaged him to travel to the USA to negotiate a postal treaty with Washington. He spent £33 on transatlantic telegrams, a tidy sum in 1868.

Tickets are still available to order online and are only £3 (£2.50 concession), so book today!