Tag Archives: Anthony Trollope

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!

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

What the privatisation of Royal Mail means to us

Our Director Adrian Steel gives a historical perspective on today’s announcement that Royal Mail will soon be privatised.

The human need to communicate is ever present. But to give a historical perspective on the British postal service – details of the sale of which have been announced today – the usual starting point is the creation of the office of ‘Master of the Posts’ in 1512, its endorsement in 1517, or the Royal Proclamation of 31 July 1635 which effectively saw the opening of the ‘Royal Mail’ to public use. The last of these is most frequently given as the start of what is now the Royal Mail business.

The King's Messenger A.D. 1482, artwork for poster by John Armstrong which was part of a series for schools on the history of communication. This reflects Royal Mail's origins as a messenger service for the monarch and government.

The King’s Messenger A.D. 1482, artwork for poster by John Armstrong which was part of a series for schools on the history of communication. This reflects Royal Mail’s origins as a messenger service for the monarch and government.

Throughout most of its existence the service has been the subject of public and political debate. The tension between the need for it to run as a business and turn a profit (which at times in the 17th century was paid to those who bought what was effectively the ‘farm’ of revenue for a part of the service – we have the accounts in the Royal Mail Archive), and the need for it to provide a socially necessary service, is ongoing and – as underpins Duncan Campbell-Smith’s authoritative 2011 history Masters of the Post – recurrent.

The political importance of the postal service is by and large a constant. For a good part of its early history there were two Postmasters General – (usually) one Whig and one Tory – as shown by our POST 67 archive series containing appointment Letters Patent. The 19th century expansion as a result of postal reform was a transformative national event, one that saw what had by then become known as the Post Office permeate literature from Dickens to Trollope (who was himself a Surveyor for the Post Office and credited with the creation of the pillar box). In the early 20th century the service grew to encompass the infant telephone system, saw politicians such as Austen and Neville Chamberlain and Clement Attlee cut their teeth in government as Postmaster General, and the first extended thought on whether a government department really was the right vehicle for what the Post Office did. Harold Wilson’s government – whose Postmaster Generals include the only surviving holder of this office, Roy Mason and Tony Benn – converted the Post Office into a state-owned corporation via the 1969 Post Office Act. After that, the telephone service was separated and later sold as British Telecom, and in the past 15 years two Postal Services Acts have again changed the status of the organisation. The most recent, that of 2011, is the legislation that has led to today’s announcement.

Central Telephone Exchange - telephone operators at a telegraph board (2010-0412/2). Telephones were once under the control of the General Post Office.

Central Telephone Exchange – telephone operators at a telegraph board (2010-0412/2). Telephones were once under the control of the General Post Office.

During the debates on the 2011 Act, concern was expressed across the political spectrum that Britain’s postal heritage, as cared for by the BPMA, should be safeguarded. At the time I took part in correspondence with a number of interested politicians and Ministers and we had visits from All-Party Groups, individual Peers and MPs from all parties (and none), and from Coalition ministers. Amendments were tabled and discussed and eventually a clause added to what was already in the then Bill, ensuring that the heritage of the postal service was properly cared for and reported to Parliament upon even after a privatisation such as was announced today. With this protection and support behind us, plans for our new home well advanced, and ongoing support from politicians, Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd, BPMA looks forward to providing a first class home for this great service’s history for generations to come.

Visualisation of BPMA's New Centre at Calthorpe House.

Visualisation of BPMA’s New Centre at Calthorpe House.

For more on the history of the Royal Mail see our online exhibition The Peoples Post.

Duncan Campbell-Smith, author of Masters of the Post – The Authorized History of the Royal Mail will speak on The Royal Mail Past and Present at the Guildhall Library on 24 October 2013.

‘Well adapted for the purpose…’

In November 1840 Rowland Hill proposed an experiment whereby letter boxes would be erected throughout London and other towns. He felt that this would “add greatly to the public convenience”, however little came of his proposal beyond the use of sacks and baskets being placed at letter receiving houses and main railway stations.

Following Postal Reform there was an explosion in the use of the Post Office. The volume of letters rose as did the complaints of a populace starved of an efficient system of collecting letters now prepaid by the sender. The 1850s was a decade where the Rural Letter Post System underwent radical change. It was Rowland Hills’s wish that the free delivery of letters be extended to all villages and hamlets where it could be justified. Post Office Surveyors were instructed that any place that received 100 letters each day should be awarded a delivery. However the revision did not proceed as fast as Headquarters wished and one particularly resourceful and efficient Surveyor’s Clerk, Anthony Trollope, was given the job of speeding things up in several districts.

In 1851, Trollope was heavily involved with his review of the postal services of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, and the six southern Welsh counties, as well as the Channel Islands. In November 1851 Trollope was sent to the Channel Islands to make recommendations on how to improve their postal service. His reports were then assessed by his superior George Creswell, the Surveyor for the Western District of England and passed to postal headquarters in London.

There had been many complaints from the islanders regarding the delay to their mail and the efficiency of the clerks charged with sorting the mail for delivery on Jersey quickly came under Trollope’s scrutiny, he was scathing in his assessment of their work. They were advised that if a great improvement in their work did not take place then they may be discharged. Each of the five letter carriers was receiving 8/- per week for an average walk of between 30 and 40 miles. If the amount of mail delivered was particularly large following the arrival of a packet boat, they could not complete their delivery on the same day and a reply via the same packet was impossible. Trollope’s proposals originally centred on keeping the same number of delivery staff but pre-sorting correspondence at the head office and then despatching it to rural offices where each messenger would collect it. As part of the revision, horses were provided to the five letter carriers, the workforce was increased to eight and the walks sub-divided. Unfortunately this also meant a reduction in their pay to 7/- per week.

However, it was another of Trollope’s proposals to his superior Creswell that is of particular interest to anyone with an interest in street furniture:

There is at present no receiving office in St. Helier, and persons living in the distant parts of the town have to send nearly a mile to the principal office. I believe that a plan has obtained in France of fitting up letter boxes in posts fixed at the road side, and it may perhaps be thought advisable to try the operation of their system in St. Helier – postage stamps are sold in every street, and therefore all that is wanted is a safe receptacle for letters, which shall be cleared on the morning of the despatch of the London Mails, and at such times as may be requisite. Iron posts suited for the purpose may be erected at the corners of streets in such situations as may be desirable, or probably it may be found more serviceable to fix iron letter boxes about 5 feet from the ground, wherever permanently built walls, fit for the purpose, can be found, and I think that the public may safely be invited to use such boxes for depositing their letters.

Pillar boxes had been in use on the continent for just a few years previous. It is fairly obvious from the surviving correspondence that the use of pillar boxes by the British Post Office was already being considered within the upper echelons of postal headquarters. However, beyond a few wooden boxes or bags hung in railway stations and apertures in windows, the introduction of anything more substantial had not occurred in Britain. Trollope recommended the experimental use of pillar boxes at four sites in St. Helier in Jersey

John Tilley (also Trollope’s brother-in-law) who was to later succeed Rowland Hill as Secretary to the Post Office, stated that their use on Jersey would be a “good opportunity to try the system. Creswell also agreed with Trollope’s proposal, adding that – “… no better opportunity of trying the experiment of ‘roadside’ letter boxes could be selected”. Within the month, the Postmaster General had approved the experimental introduction of the pillar boxes. Trollope immediately followed this up with a request to extend the trial to St. Peter Port on neighbouring Guernsey and another three boxes were approved.

I beg to recommend that similar road side letter boxes may also be trialled at St. Peter Port in that island

Introduction of pillar boxes. (POST 14/35)

Introduction of pillar boxes. (POST 14/35)

In December 1851, Tilley wrote to the Postmaster General regarding Trollope’s findings and proposals in Jersey, he finished his letter:

Mr. Trollope appears to have given much attention to the subject and your Lordship may perhaps think it right to inform him that you are much satisfied with the manner in which it has been treated

The Postmaster General agreed. Certainly, it was Trollope that aside from revising rural posts and pushing for efficiency also had the vision to see the potential for the first use of pillar boxes by the British Post Office and actually recommend and see through their introduction.

In a letter to the Postmaster General, Tilley referred to the proposed pillar boxes as being “well adapted for the purpose”. A local contractor – John Vaudin was engaged in July 1852 to construct the boxes for both Jersey and Guernsey at a cost of £7 each. Trollope’s roadside letter boxes, referred to as ‘assistant post offices’ by the Jersey Times, came into use on 23rd November 1852.

Post Office notice: Letter Boxes, Jersey, 1852.

Post Office notice: Letter Boxes, Jersey, 1852.

The pillar boxes were hexagonal, cast-iron, about four feet high and red in colour (though red as a standardised colour for post boxes was not settled on until 1874). The Royal Arms appeared on three sides, the words ‘Post Office’ on two sides, and on the remaining face, the words ‘Letter Box’ beside the vertical aperture. Boxes were mounted on a granite block, two feet deep and raised four inches from the ground. The boxes were “very favourably received by the public”. One box at the head of Bath Street in St. Helier was found to be too small for the amount of correspondence posted and was resited in Five Oaks, to the North-East of St. Helier. A replacement larger box was authorised in July 1853 but was too large and would have caused too much of an obstruction. Not to be put off, the Post Office simply arranged for a wall to be knocked down and rebuilt to make room for it. In 1853, Creswell was already proposing another eight boxes for rural districts on Jersey.

Trollope also carried out similar revision of the rural posts on Guernsey and Alderney. On 8th February 1853, the boxes on Guernsey opened for business. The authorities in St. Peter Port had been so approving of the new pillar boxes that they had agreed that if the Post Office provided another box then they would meet the cost of construction of another two, making six in total.

1853 Guernsey pillar box, still in use today. (P5856)

1853 Guernsey pillar box, still in use today. (P5856)

Sadly, none of the boxes erected in Jersey in 1852 survive today, however one of those on Guernsey, first erected in 1853, is still receiving mail today. Another of the 1853 boxes originally in use on Guernsey survives in the BPMA collection as does one of the first mainland boxes erected the same year.

Pillar box errected on Guernsey, Channel Islands, 1853. (OB1996.653)

Pillar box errected on Guernsey, Channel Islands, 1853. (OB1996.653)

The first box on mainland Britain was manufactured by Abbott and Company and was erected at Botchergate, Carlisle around September 1853. That box too, has not survived the intervening years. Soon after, approval was given for Trollope’s proposed installation of pillar boxes in Gloucester while he was revising the rural posts there. It appears to be the case that each District Surveyor then became responsible for the establishment of pillar boxes in his district, sourcing not only the manufacturer but also frequently being responsible for the design. A National Standard design of pillar box was approved in 1859 but development in design carries on to this day.

Julian Stray – Curator

Visit our website to read more about the history of Letter Boxes, or go to Flickr to see images of some interesting pillar boxes.

The BPMA Shop is celebrating the 160th anniversary of the pillar box with a special offer on our Pillar Box Postcard set (set of 4 cards, £2.50) and Museum Collection Guide booklet & postcard set (1 guidebook and 1 set of 6 postcards, £7.00) – with images and information of the historic letter boxes from the BPMA Museum Collection. They are available online at www.postalheritage.org.uk/postcards and you can get them with FREE Postage & Packaging until 30 Nov 2012 – just enter the discount code L3TT3RBOX at checkout.

Archivists and Academics

Last month I attended the Teaching History in Higher Education Conference at Senate House. As an archivist, rather than an academic, I was a little nervous. However I am pleased to say that I was made very welcome and came away with a range of ideas for activities that could be adapted to our future work plans at BPMA.

Alongside considering the logistics of moving our collections and the content of our new exhibition space, we are also planning the types of activities we will undertake in our New Centre, including our involvement with formal education.

A life long learning group visits our Museum Store.

A life long learning group visits our Museum Store.

We are already involved in a range of formal and informal learning activities, including collaborative PhDs and teacher placement schemes, but are keen to expand this offer in future. As such the conference provided an interesting insight into the key concerns of the higher education sector and inspiration for potential future activities.

The sessions on workplace learning were particularly relevant. The BPMA’s engagement in this area has been minimal to date, due to both limited staff resources and difficulty in designing activities which are mutually beneficial to both parties. However the presentations on this area gave an insight into the types of projects that could be undertaken and provided ideas for possible future development.

A group of student teachers tours the Royal Mail Archive.

A group of student teachers tours the Royal Mail Archive.

Allannah Tomkins’ paper on the use of creative writing was also useful. Creative writing is an area that the BPMA has explored in our work with school groups. The Post Office itself also has a strong literary tradition with former staff including Edward Capern (the Poet Postman), Flora Thompson (famous for Lark Rise to Candleford), and most notably Anthony Trollope. Therefore there is plenty of scope for exploring historical and literary links in more detail.

The conference provided some interesting ideas, and also some useful contacts. Over the coming months the BPMA will be considering if and how we can embed these ideas into our plans for the future. Watch our website for information on forthcoming activities.

Helen Dafter – Archivist

Morten Collection Object of the Month: April 2010

Each month, for ten months, we’ll be presenting an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

If you have any comments on the objects or the Collection we’d be grateful to hear them. At the end of the ten months we hope we’ll have given you an overview of the Collection, highlighting individual items but also emphasising the diverse nature of the material. For further information on the Morten Collection, please see our blog of 16th December 2009.

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

Red letter boxes have been a familiar sight around Britain and are popular with tourists; tins and pencil sharpeners are only some of the many letter box shaped souvenirs available. However, very few people are aware of variations in their design or indeed know anything about their history.

Letter boxes are in fact a relatively recent phenomenon in the British Isles and their introduction has to be seen very much in conjunction with Rowland Hill’s postal reforms, together with the increase in literacy due to the demands of the industrial revolution. With an increase in literacy and therefore an increase in letter writing the old system of a post boy walking around the streets ringing a bell for people to come out and hand deliver him the letters to be posted was no longer efficient. The need for letter boxes, as used in Paris from as early as 1653, became apparent.

It was thanks to Anthony Trollope (who worked for the Post Office before finding fame as a novelist) that letter boxes were introduced to the UK. Trollope installed four pillar boxes in St Helier, Jersey, as an experiment on 23rd November 1852. The trial was successful, and in 1853 pillar boxes were erected in mainland Britain.

A wooden post box which is part of the Bruce Castle postal history collection

A wooden post box which is part of the Bruce Castle postal history collection

In the collection at Bruce Castle we hold a poster that shows the development and variation of pillar boxes prior to the red design familiar to us. Very early pillar boxes differ in two respects. Firstly, they do not bear the monarch’s cipher, and secondly they were green in colour, making them less visible to passers by, resulting in a number of people walking into them!

For this Object of the Month I have chosen a model of an 1857 pillar box, of which we hold two slightly different copies. The model is made of wood, is about 50cm high, has a slot for letters, and a plate with times and prices on it.

More on Letter Boxes can be found on the BPMA website.