Tag Archives: Archive Awareness Campaign

Archive Open Day: Sports and Participation in the Post Office

Since the beginning of January 2012, eight students from the University of the Third Age (U3A), plus their team leader, have been working with us to carry out research and work across two areas. Six students have been researching Sports and Participation in the Post Office, whilst the remaining two have been summarising oral history recordings taken in Bringsty Common, Herefordshire.

The group researching Sports and Participation have made some fascinating findings: from truly ‘Olympic’ feats carried out by postmen in the course of their everyday duties, through stamps from across the world featuring a myriad of sporting endeavours, to the current role of the Post Office Sports Foundation in funding activities across the country. These students will be on hand at our Archive Open Day on 14 April 2012 between 1-3pm to share their findings.

Gloucester Post Office Recreation Club, 1898

Gloucester Post Office Recreation Club, 1898

One intriguing quote discovered by a student in the Post Office circular ‘St. Martins’ of 1898 gives an insight into early attitudes to women’s participation in sport:

Not the least of the many medical and scientific discoveries in the 19th Century, is the fact that athletic exercise can be indulged in by women without injury to their bodily health.

The students summarising oral history recordings have discovered the personal stories of former postmen, the local postmistress, and post office user, all living in a rural and scattered community with dwindling postal services. Their work will help the BPMA to provide greater access to this unique material, through exhibitions, blog articles, and magazine pieces.

Feedback received from the group has been very positive, and indicated that the students have gained a number of things from the shared learning project, including: insights into social history, new IT skills, enjoyment from working in teams, meeting new people and companionship.

Our Archive Open Day runs from 10-5pm on 14 April and is part of the Archive Awareness Campaign. You do not have to book to attend, but for more information, call 0207 239 2568 or email info@postalheritage.org.uk.

The Open Day also offers one of the last opportunities to see our current exhibition, Treasures of the Archive, which features special highlights of the collections. This includes a design for a stamp that was to be issued in the event that Scotland won the 1978 World Cup. It was, of course, never adopted!

Scotland World Cup Winners 1978 stamp artwork

Scotland World Cup Winners 1978 stamp artwork

Andy Richmond – Access and Learning Manager

Find out more about sport in the Post Office in our online exhibition Playing for the Cup.

Archive Open Day

General Post Office medicine bottle

General Post Office medicine bottle

This Saturday is a very busy day for us. Apart from taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Show, we also have our annual Archive Open Day, organised as part of the Archive Awareness Campaign.

This year’s theme for the Archive Awareness Campaign is Science, Technology and Medicine. Archives around the country will open their files to uncover the stories behind some of the most groundbreaking inventions from the nineteenth century, and to highlight the role of the men and women who made outstanding contributions to the field. At the BPMA our focus will be Sickness and Disease in the Post Office, in particular, Vaccination and Quarantine.

1870 GPO notice encouraging staff to get vaccinated for smallpox

1870 GPO notice encouraging staff to get vaccinated for smallpox

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Post Office employees were medically inspected before appointment and this inspection included checking for marks of primary and secondary smallpox vaccination. If signs of vaccination were not present the candidate was required to either undergo vaccination prior to appointment, or to obtain a statutory declaration of conscientious objection. In the early twentieth century concerns were raised regarding the safety of vaccination, and a few postal employees suffered severe side effects or death after being vaccinated. Files on this subject will be on display in the BPMA Search Room on the day.

Flu. Prevent it - be vaccinated now

1972 Post Office poster promoting influenza vaccination

At around the same time Post Office employees were also required to stay away from work if an infectious disease such as Scarlet Fever, Smallpox, Cholera, Typhus or Typhoid was present in their households. This led to questions as to whether employees required to be absent under these conditions should still receive pay, and how long absence should be enforced for. Records in Royal Mail Archive contain guidelines on how an infectious patient should be separated from the rest of the household, and how the room should be subsequently disinfected.

Alongside this, the BPMA also has files on how the Post Office treated mail from countries suffering from epidemic diseases.

Comparisons with the material in the archives will also be drawn with modern day medical issues such as the concerns surrounding the MMR vaccine, the handling of the swine flu epidemic, and employers offering (encouraging) seasonal flu vaccinations.

Find out more about the Archive Open Day on our website.

12th November is Follow an Archive Day on Twitter. Follow us and see what others are saying using the hashtag #followanarchive.

Rockets, pigeons and helicopters

by Jenny Karlsson, PR & Communications Officer 

You are probably aware that planes are a common mode of transport for the Post Office, but did you know that rockets, helicopters and pigeons have also been used to transport mail?

Rocket mail

Rocket mail is the delivery of mail by rocket or missile. The rocket would land by deploying an internal parachute upon arrival. It has been attempted by various organisations in many different countries, with varying levels of success. Due to its cost and failures it has never become seen as a feasible way of transporting mail.

German Gerhard Zucker experimented in the 1930s with powder rockets similar to fireworks. After moving to the United Kingdom, Zucker attempted to convince the General Post Office that postal delivery by rocket was viable, and Zucker’s first attempt in Britain took place 6 June 1934 on the Sussex Downs. In July the same year he made two further attempts on Scarp, an island in the Outer Hebrides, but both of his rockets exploded. His final attempt took place on the Isle of Wight, but the rocket went off course and embedded itself in the Pennington Marshes, Hampshire.

Sketch diagram of rocket, 1934

Sketch diagram of rocket, 1934


Trials to use helicopters to deliver mail first took place from 7-12 May 1934. They were organised by John S Davis, an Aerophilatelist, and carried out in conjunction with a philatelic festival.

Experiments took place between 1948 and 1950 but did not reach a satisfactory level of regularity (especially at night when most flights would need to occur) and were deemed not to be cost effective.

Helicopter mail trials in Norfolk, 1949

Helicopter mail trials in Norfolk, 1949

After this, commercial flights were occasionally used to transport mail.

Pigeon post

Clear and correct circulation details save time: an internal GPO poster promoting clear and correct detailing on telegrams. Circa 1950.

Clear and correct circulation details save time: an internal GPO poster promoting clear and correct detailing on telegrams. Circa 1950.

Throughout history, pigeons have also been used as a means of getting messages between parties. Pigeon post offered a fast and reliable service and became a vital means of communication during the First World War; by the end of the war there were 22,000 Pigeons in service.

BPMA Open Day

The BPMA holds a large number of records relating to all of these subjects, such as posters, artwork, reports, press cuttings, maps, papers and photographs. You have a unique opportunity to see these at our Archive Open Day on 12 September on the theme ‘Take Flight!’ The Archive Open Day is a drop-in event, offering behind-the-scenes tours, and is part of the Archive Awareness Campaign 2009.

‘Take Flight!’ – The British Postal Museum & Archive Open Day
Saturday 12 September 10.00am – 5.00pm
The British Postal Museum & Archive, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL
Phone: 020 7239 2570
Email: info@postalheritage.org.uk
Website: http://postalheritage.org.uk/events_archive/archive-open-day