Tag Archives: archives

A Project Archivist Farewell

I’ve just completed my final task as Project Archivist: appraising and cataloguing a vast deposit of records on the Army Postal Service (APS). The files focus mainly on the Royal Engineers Postal Section (REPS) and its successors, and date from before the First World War to the 1970s. I’ve catalogued nearly 500 files, volumes, photographic collections and plans.

Matt presents a small selection of the Army Postal Service files he's been cataloguing.

Matt presents a small selection of the Army Postal Service files he’s been cataloguing.

There have been challenges along the way. I’ve had to battle an onslaught of Armed Forces vocabulary:  being able to tell a sitrep from a sapper was essential, and woe betide an archivist who confused the DAPS with a WOLO.* My geographical knowledge has also been tested: the deposit included files on British and Allied Forces’ postal arrangements in India, North Africa, the Middle East and Far East, with many locations identified by their old colonial names. The most unexpected item was a manual from an Army post office in Kiribati!

The deposit’s greatest strength is its rich insight into the APS during the Second World War and its aftermath. Virtually every theatre of operations is covered. There are Directorate-level files on postal arrangements during the Siege of Malta (POST 47/1034), the Battle of Madagascar (POST 47/871), the Dunkirk evacuation (POST 47/925) and the D-Day preparations (POST 47/747), to name just four. The handover of postal and telecommunications services to the government of newly-independent India is also documented.

Public confidence in the APS was vitally important during the War. This letter concerns one of many press visits to postal facilities organised by the Armed Forces and the Post Office. [Extract from POST 47/1028.]

Public confidence in the APS was vitally important during the War. This letter concerns one of many press visits to postal facilities organised by the Armed Forces and the Post Office. [Extract from POST 47/1028.]

The files also hold lots of personal stories about the careers of REPS officers. POST 47/780, for example, partly records a falling-out between the APS staff at HQ First Army and Allied Force HQ during the Tunisian Campaign and the interception of ‘artistic’ postcards that were being received by First Army soldiers. And if you ever wanted to know how many bugles were held by the Post Office Cadets at the Home Postal Centre in Nottingham in 1947, POST 47/942 will tell you.**

A list of band parts on loan to the Post Office Cadets in 1947, attached to a letter concerning a shortage of bugles. [Extract from POST 47/942.]

A list of band parts on loan to the Post Office Cadets in 1947, attached to a letter concerning a shortage of bugles. [Extract from POST 47/942.]

The APS files have been catalogued in POST 47 and 56. The deposit also contained large amounts of non-postal material on the REPS more generally. These have been catalogued as a separate ‘REPS collection’. All these files will appear on our online catalogue in the coming months.

This is the end of my year-long, grant-funded Project Archivist post. I’ve catalogued over 1,500 files from all over the Archive in that time. But I’m not leaving the BPMA! Instead, I’m regenerating into a new incarnation as a catalogue systems archivist. I’ll be doing lots of data-processing work and beta-testing our shiny new online catalogue before it launches later this year. Watch out for an update from me on this blog in the Spring.

- Matt Tantony, Project Archivist (Cataloguing)

* Sitrep = situation report; sapper = the Royal Engineers’ equivalent to a private; DAPS = Director Army Postal Service; WOLO = War Office Liaison Officer.

** Two (one substandard).

Behind the scenes; conservation in progress

Do you ever wonder what is happening to sticky tape? The answer is usually “No” and for a good reason. We all believe that it will remain nice and sticky for eternity! Especially nowadays when we have so many choices of self-adhesive tape or pressure sensitive tape with excellent qualities too; there are transparent, matte, colour, black, white, brown, red, archival ones, linen ones and so many more. The point is that we don’t think twice when it comes to applying it because we are confident about its short term effect and result. Well, I will try to change your mind a bit and show you how a well-intended attempt to stick together broken glass plate negatives turned into a painstaking nightmare.

In the mid-19th century, photographic negatives began to use glass as a support. Glass provided a sharper negative and a more detailed positive print, and soon replaced paper negatives. Like photographic prints, glass negatives are composite objects, consisting of a glass support, a binder, and an image-forming or recording substance. At the BPMA we store approximately 2500 glass plate negatives dated from 1930s to the 1950s with a variety of topics from day to day postal operations. 89 of them are damaged, with broken and/or missing parts. A common practice of preserving a broken glass plate negatives was to sandwich it between either one or two new glass plates and apply a tape around their perimeter to secure them. The quality and type of tape used varied but one thing was certain; the intention of the ‘restorer’ could only be described as a noble attempt to save what was broken.

Taped Glass Plate negatives

Taped Glass Plate negatives

Unfortunately, good intentions don’t always have the result we hoped for. So when the need arose to remove the tape, I faced a big challenge. The adhesive of the tape had permeated the emulsion layer of the glass plate negative, it had cross-linked as we say in conservation (a chemical process of bonding one polymer chain to another). This new type of bonding creates irreversible damage as it discolours and fades the image but mostly because it weakens the emulsion layer and makes it prone to flaking, putting the image at risk. Any mechanical attempt to remove it went downhill so the next idea was to use an aqueous and a chemical treatments which mean the introduction of liquid either water or solvent. I used a microscope to avoid any unnecessary contact between emulsion and water –these two things do not like each other very much.
All geared up with a microscope, a portable air extraction unit, solvent and water, apron, I have started the process of slowly moistening the tape and carefully removing it with a dentist’s spatula.

During removal. residues from adhesive stuck on surface

During removal. residues from adhesive stuck on surface

To remove tape from one glass plate negative of 80 x 100cm in dimension I have estimated it took from 14 to 20 hours. On the other hand, I have timed how long it took to apply a sticky tape on one glass plate negative mock-up of the same dimension and it took between 1-2 minutes. Pretty amazing don’t you think! Consequently in a collection of 89 damaged and taped glass plate negatives it took 3 hours to apply the tape and it would take 1780 hours to remove it, which is 254 working days! Makes you wonder why conservation sometimes can take so long!

After Removal of tape

After Removal of tape

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise to all lovely collectors out there who value and protect their collections that if you think a quick fix might solve your problem, please think twice. Besides if you are unsure about a procedure please contact a conservator who will be able to advise you and guide you to a suitable solution. In the long term, it will be a less costly and time consuming operation and it will save your precious collection for future generations to enjoy.

Before and After Conservation

Before and After Conservation

Katerina Laina ACR, MSc
Assistant Paper Conservator

Asking the Archive staff…

Matt ponders the results of the informal Archive staff survey.

Matt ponders the results of the informal Archive staff survey.

What types of places have archives? As part of #mattsfriday, I decided to run an informal survey of some of my colleagues in the Archive, Search Room and Conservation teams.

I got together with participating colleagues to compile a little list of all the different places where we’d worked with archives before we joined the BPMA. The survey covered both paid employment and work experience/volunteering. The end result was a list of 48 different institutions or organisations with archives! This, of course, doesn’t take into account our previous employment in non-archival jobs. The chart below divides the results up by category:

Institutions where participating BPMA staff have previously worked with archives. The key denotes the pie chart segments in clockwise order.

Institutions where participating BPMA staff have previously worked with archives. The key denotes the pie chart segments in clockwise order.

As you can see, there’s a huge diversity of previous experience being brought to the BPMA’s work! Staff members have worked for local authority archive services in England, Scotland and Wales. Some of us have worked for museums, galleries, and other cultural sites. There were also many universities and other higher education institutions with archives in the list: some of these were research collections managed by universities, others were the historic records of the institutions themselves. Some of us have worked for businesses, including the archives of at least two high street retail giants. Among our number we also have staff who have worked for national and specialist institutions including a film archive, the British Library, and The National Archives at Kew. Finally, the ‘Other’ category included Royal archives, a church organisation, and the private collections of a Duke.

This brief, informal survey also showed just how many different kinds of places keep archives – and employ archivists and conservators to look after them. This includes institutions in the public and private sectors, and large and small organisations. A career in archives really can take you almost anywhere. Of course, there are other careers in the heritage sector, just as the BPMA has other areas – curatorial, philatelic, etc. – in its collections. As we plan to move to our New Centre, it’s also helpful to think about how we’ve got to where we are.

- Matt Tantony, Project Archivist (Cataloguing)

2,000 new records on our online catalogue

At the start of October we did one of our periodic uploads of newly catalogued material onto the online catalogue. Over 2,000 new records went online. These include descriptions of files, stamp artwork, microfiche, museum objects and library books, a good number of which will be accompanied by images (with more to go online soon). Below is a brief summary of what has gone on.

Museum objects

These are a combination of items that have been part of the collection for some time but only fully catalogued in the past few years as well as objects newly acquired by the BPMA for its museum collection. Do browse through the records and you will see the huge variety of objects including slogan dies, which one of our volunteers, Cyril Parsons, has been working on editing; more items of uniform such as a Ministry of Civil Aviation coat made by the GPO; a group of material relating to the more modern operations of the Post Office Investigation Department; as well as several other new acquisitions featured in previous blogs, such as the Certifying Seal used by Sir Francis Freeling during his tenure as Secretary of the General Post Office.

Royal Mail Archive: Philatelic

POST 150 QEII Decimal Stamp Artwork for the following issues:

  • QEII 1971 Ulster paintings
  • QEII 1971 Literary Anniversaries
  • QEII 1971 British Anniversaries
  • QEII 1971 University Architecture
  • QEII 1971 Christmas
  • QEII 1972 General Anniversaries
  • QEII 1972 British Polar Explorers
  • QEII 1972 British Architecture, Village Churches
  • QEII 1972 Broadcasting Anniversaries
  • QEII 1972 Royal Silver Wedding
  • QEII 1973 British Trees
  • QEII 1973 European Communities
  • QEII 1973 Artistic Anniversaries
  • QEII 1973 British Explorers
  • QEII 1973 County Cricket
Stamps and first day cover for Modern University Buildings stamp issue, 1971. (QEII 96-35)

Stamps and first day cover for Modern University Buildings stamp issue, 1971. (QEII 96-35)

Royal Mail Archive: non-philatelic

Series and sub-series of records from the following POST classes have gone online:

  • POST 17 (Inland Mails, Organisation, Circulation and Sorting)
  • POST 58 (Staff Nomination and Appointment)
  • POST 59 (Establishment books, entire backlog catalogued)
  • POST 91 (Buildings, Fixtures and Fittings, c.200 from a series of site plans, elevations and sections, floor plans, proposals for renovations on microfiche)
  • POST 108 (Public Relations Department)
  • POST 113 (Information Technology, c.40 reports)
  • POST 151 (Central Headquarters)
  • POST 153 (Mails Division)
  • POST 161 (BBC/Post Office emergency arrangements)
  • POST 162 (Director of Postal Services)

Small numbers of records from individual POST classes have also gone online. Details are listed below:

  • POST 11 (Conveyance of Mail by Railways)
  • POST 22 (Counter Operations and Services)
  • POST 28 (Ancillary Services)
  • POST 61 (Uniforms and Discipline)
  • POST 62 (Staff Welfare)
  • POST 63 (Staff Training)
  • POST 65 (Staff Associations)
  • POST 68 (Rules and Instructions)
  • POST 69 (Board papers)
  • POST 115 (Staff Associations and Union Publications)
  • POST 154 (Marketing Department, postmark slogans sub-series)
  • POST 157 (Postal Operations Department, surface mail services and post minibus sub-series)

As well as staff including myself, Anna Flood, Matt Tantony and Adam Hillhouse, work has also been undertaken by volunteers Claire Wardle and Kim Noulton.

War Memorials

More than 300 new or edited records of war memorials commemorating postal staff who served or died in the world wars.

We hope you will find these records both useful and interesting. Please let us know if you spot any errors. Although we do our very best to ensure records going on are properly and accurately proof read errors do occasionally creep through.

- Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue and Project Manager

Search for all these new records by visiting the online catalogue.

Cataloguing archives, in four very easy steps

If you’ve browsed our archive catalogue, you may have found it rather different to, say, one you’ve used in a library. In this blog post, I’m going to explain a little of how archivists worldwide create catalogues.

What’s unusual about archive catalogues is that they aren’t flat lists. Instead, they have multiple levels. If you look at our POST 22 catalogue, for example, you’ll see that it’s arranged like a tree with branches at different levels. This hierarchy is part of the General International Standard Archival Description, to which many archivists work worldwide. A typical archive catalogue has four main levels. In descending order, they are: FONDS – SERIES – FILE – ITEM. Here’s how they work.

Matt describes the archive as a whole (the fonds).

Matt describes the archive as a whole (the fonds).

In this picture, my trolley holds an imaginary archive that I’ve just received. There are many boxes containing hundreds of records. Reading them all would take weeks. It would, however, be helpful for researchers (and staff) to get a general overview of the entire archive: how much of it there is; who created it and when; the kinds of information within it. My catalogue, therefore, would start with a single description of the archive as a whole. UK archivists often call this whole unit the fonds (a French word that means accumulation, related to the English ‘fund’).

Matt describes a grouping of related records (a series) within the fonds.

Matt describes a grouping of related records (a series) within the fonds.

One level down, I’d divide the fonds into groupings of related records. In the picture above, I’ve chosen one box as the first grouping. I would try to provide useful distinctions for researchers, but also to preserve the existing arrangement of records within the fonds. Some archive services classify records by the departments or offices that produced them, others employ functional distinctions. However it’s done, the entire fonds gets subdivided into multiple groupings, which archivists call series. Like with the fonds, my catalogue would include descriptions of each series’ extent, scope and content. At the BPMA, series are called POST classes; many are divided into sub-series.

Matt describes a single set of papers (a file) within the series.

Matt describes a single set of papers (a file) within the series.

On the lowest levels, I’d describe every individual record within each series. In the picture above, for example, I’ve picked out from my imaginary series a single folder of photographs to describe. These are the file-level descriptions. In archivist-speak, a file is a discrete group of documents that were kept, created or used for a specific purpose.

Matt describes a single photograph (an item) within the file.

Matt describes a single photograph (an item) within the file.

It’s possible to go one level further down and catalogue each separate item within a file. These are called item-level descriptions. It’s not always necessary to do this, but it can be done. In the picture above, I’ve started describing the individual photographs that form the file. We could also identify a single book, document or image as an item because they can’t be subdivided any further.

What I’ve done, ultimately, is to describe the whole archive several times over. At each descending level, I’ve described smaller and smaller bits of the archive, in increasing detail. The resulting catalogue has a tree structure. It lets researchers zoom in on the parts of the archive they’re interested in, without losing track of those parts’ evidential and informational relationships to the whole. Think of it like a collapsible map of the archive, telling you its physical and intellectual geography.

This diagram shows how catalogue descriptions at different levels fit together to form the tree. Numbers of series, files and items always vary in practice.

This diagram shows how catalogue descriptions at different levels fit together to form the tree. Numbers of series, files and items always vary in practice.

What I’ve discussed here is an ideal-world scenario. Archives often aren’t neat or easily divisible, and may actually be collections of material from different sources. There’s also the possibility of future deposits. But working towards a shared international standard, as archivists do, means that we can all contribute to a project over time. It also means catalogues can be shared online with other archive services in the UK and abroad.

There’s a whole lot more to cataloguing than this. But I hope that this introduction begins to explain why we do what we do, and how it works. If you have any questions about archival work, I’ll happily try to answer them.

- Matt Tantony, Project Archivist (Cataloguing)

Volunteering at BPMA

Fahema Begum writes about what it’s like to volunteer for us…

I studied History at university and was interested in pursuing a career within the heritage and archiving sector. I was curious to gain further insight and experience into this field and that is what attracted me to volunteer at BPMA. I have been volunteering with BPMA since April 2012 so I have been there over a year now! How quickly time has flown by! However my time here is nearing to an end as I have secured a job as an Archives Assistant at the Bank of England. The experience here has been invaluable and I have gained considerable knowledge and skills, which will help me in my new role.

I volunteer at the Royal Mail Archive in Freeling House and had previously assisted on a large project, repackaging and relabeling the postal slogan die collection in preparation for the move to the new Postal Museum site. This was my first time actually handling original objects which was quite exciting! It was fascinating to see what was written on a different slogan die (mainly advertising slogans) and learn interesting facts along the way. It was also great to find out that we had achieved repackaging over forty percent of the slogan die collection!

My current project involves auditing and re-packing objects also in preparation for the move to the new museum. Whilst undertaking this task, I was exposed to more of the collections including objects such as handstamps, uniforms, even trophies and awards for sports. Whilst working on both projects, I have learned new and valuable practical skills such as object handling and preservation/conservation skills as well as learning how to use the CALM collections database. This experience has reinforced my interest in the heritage sector and has equipped me with the relevant skills to acquire a job as an Archives Assistant.

Fahema at work in the Archive.

Fahema at work in the Archive.

Although I have been working mainly on the museum side, I have had the opportunity to talk to one of the many archivists who work at the BPMA; Anna provided me with a brief summary of the archiving system at BPMA. It is surprising how the cataloguing system differs between the museums and archives, and it was useful to gain an overview of the archive side of the organisation.

I think anyone passionate about history would find it interesting to volunteer at BPMA. Also if you are looking to pursue a career within the heritage sector, volunteering is an excellent opportunity to gain an understanding of what the day to day work entails, whilst also developing the relevant skills. The volunteering program offered here is well structured and flexible. Although you work on a specific project at any one time, the work is still tailored to your interests. I have Emma (curator) as a supervisor and she is super organised! She is really supportive and has given me the opportunity to experience, explore and be involved in different aspects of the museum side. She is also extremely approachable and has given me useful career advice.

I really enjoy looking at the many different objects found in the archives and learning about its history. It’s amazing how extensive and varied a collection BPMA has, and only a part of it is housed at Freeling House. What is really exciting and something I am very much looking forward to is the new museum, which will provide visitors access to these unique collections and to learn more about the history of the collection!

Congratulations Fahema on your new job – we’re sorry to lose you. See our website for information about how YOU can Volunteer at BPMA.

Mail Rail Archive Open Day

On Saturday 14th September the Royal Mail Archive will be holding a themed open day to celebrate the Post Office Underground Railway (Mail Rail). Activities will run from 10.00am until 4.00pm, however the Archive search room will be open to visitors until 5.00pm as usual. The Post Office Underground Railway initially opened in 1927 and was the world’s first driverless electric railway. It ran from Paddington to Whitechapel, serving eight sorting offices along its six-and-a-half mile route.

Artwork for a poster advertising the Post Office (London) Railway (AKA Mail Rail) by Edward Bawden. (POST 109/515)

Artwork for a poster advertising the Post Office (London) Railway (AKA Mail Rail) by Edward Bawden. (POST 109/515)

Jonathon Bradley, the photographer responsible for the Mail Rail Photographic Exhibition (currently on display in the search room), will be on hand to talk about his photographs and give informal workshops. Jonathon will also bring along his interactive Mail Rail game Mail Rush, and members of the public will be encouraged to take part.

The Mail Rush game at our recent Museum Store Open Day.

The Mail Rush game at our recent Museum Store Open Day.

We will also have Mail Rail-themed craft activities available for children to take part in, while for older visitors there will also be original archive material on Mail Rail, including photographs, diagrams and leaflets, all dating between the 1910s to the 1970s, available to view. Archive and Curatorial staff will be on hand to discuss this material with members of the public.

Throughout the day there will be tours of the Archive repository, covering a selection of Royal Mail’s history. There is no need to book for these tours as they will be arranged on a demand basis.

Laying scissors crossing, Mail Rail. (POST 20-355/27)

Laying scissors crossing, Mail Rail. (POST 20-355/27)

This is a free, drop in event and there is no need to register, but please note that the Search Room will also be open for general research on this day. If you wish to carry out research you will need to sign up for a User Card (please see our website for information on signing-up for a User Card).

Hope to see you all there and if you can’t make it we should be live tweeting throughout the day!

- Penny McMahon, Archives Assistant

Find out more about our Mail Rail Archive Open Day on our website.

192,000 postmen’s inside legs, and other measurements in the Archive

In last month’s cataloguing update I wrote about the London sub-post office record books I’d discovered in the Archive. Since then I’ve been cataloguing records from the area of our collections devoted to the sorting and circulation of inland mail (POST 17 in the catalogue). I’ve added nearly 130 files to the catalogue this month, and edited existing descriptions for hundreds more. The records cover subjects like mail sorting machinery, the development of postcodes, and all kinds of technical details – some of them slightly odd. Here are some of my favourites.

POST 17/482 is a 1969 engineer’s study entitled Measurements of Postmen. The aim was to improve sorting office machinery ergonomics by finding out the average size of a British postman. The heights, arm lengths, and outside and inside leg measurements of thousands of postmen were collected and studied – there were 192,000 measurements for the legs! Getting all those postmen to proffer their legs for the engineer would have been an impossible (and traumatic) challenge. Instead, he studied all the sizes of uniforms ordered that year, to everyone’s benefit and, one suspects, relief.

Matt contemplates the awesome 1969 undertaking to collect and study 192,000 postmen’s inside leg measurements.

Matt contemplates the awesome 1969 undertaking to collect and study 192,000 postmen’s inside leg measurements.

On the subject of measurements, I spent several days cataloguing three large sets of engineering standard drawings from the 1970s and 1980s (POST 17/533-535). The drawings – over 450 in total – cover all aspects of automated mail sorting and circulation: conveyor belts, facing tables, coding desks, chutes, signage, even Morris delivery vans.

Two excerpts from a set of engineering standard drawings: a view of a retractable parcel chute (left) and an operational diagram of a packet storage hopper (right). (POST 17/533)

Two excerpts from a set of engineering standard drawings: a view of a retractable parcel chute (left) and an operational diagram of a packet storage hopper (right). (POST 17/533)

These standards contain the official dimensions of equipment to be manufactured for Royal Mail, including explanations of the jobs they were intended to do. In the case of postal vehicles, the standards go as far as specifying the turning circles of each model. Combined with the reports, brochures and technical specifications found elsewhere in POST 17, there’s a vast amount of information here for anyone interested in recent postal mechanisation developments.

There are also records dating back to the very early days of postal mechanisation. One of my favourite discoveries was a little book that was used between 1907 and 1930 to record staff suggestions for improving the mail handling process.

Several entries in the inventions and suggestions index. (POST 17/523)]

Several entries in the inventions and suggestions index. (POST 17/523)]

Sometimes staff put forward inventions, and the notes include technical sketches, such as the entry above for a time-saving rolling date stamp. The entries sometimes record whether the suggestions were taken forward. Some are appealingly optimistic, such as the 1909 idea of asking the public to tie their Christmas cards into bundles of ten or more before posting them. Other innovations seem like second nature today. The example below is a 1924 suggestion: envelopes with transparent address windows.*

Envelopes with windows, suggested in 1924. (POST 17/523)

Envelopes with windows, suggested in 1924. (POST 17/523)

I hope my unscientific little selection of examples from a single theme shows the incredible variety of material you can consult in our Search Room. Some of the files I catalogued this month, including records from the creation of the postcode system, can’t be opened for another few years. This is due to the 20-year rule governing public records. But cataloguing them now ensures they’ll be ready and waiting in their archive boxes when the time comes to open them.

As for the Measurements of Postmen, studying 192,000 orders for trousers found the average postman’s inside leg measurement in 1969 to be 30.2 inches. The average British postman was determined to be two inches shorter than his American equivalent.

Cumulative relative frequency of postmen’s leg measurements, 1969. (POST 17/482)

Cumulative relative frequency of postmen’s leg measurements, 1969. (POST 17/482)

All these files and more will be published to our online catalogue in the coming months.

- Matt Tantony, Project Archivist (Cataloguing)

* Sadly this wasn’t an original idea, according to Wikipedia Americus F. Callahan of Chicago, Illinois, in the United States, received the first patent for a windowed envelope on 10 June 1902.

On the map, the History Pin map

Hello, I’m Nicola and I’ve been volunteering for the BPMA since the end of January. It has been such a fantastic experience for me so I wanted to write a little blog to share what I have been working on. Interestingly, I gained my volunteer position at the archives because my cousin had put out message on twitter asking about volunteer opportunities to which Martin Devereux, our digital content manager replied, so I am as grateful to her as to Martin and everybody else at the BPMA. I have been very lucky with this volunteer placement because it has allowed me to explore my two greatest passions in life, history and photography, in an area that I had been previously unfamiliar with, that of postal history.

Postman delivering mail to a large group of hop pickers, Kent, 1935. (POST 118/467)

Postman delivering mail to a large group of hop pickers, Kent, 1935. (POST 118/467)

When I first came to volunteer at the BPMA, Martin talked to me about a few different areas that I could potentially work on but I told him I wanted to do all of them. So I have spent the past few weeks scanning, cataloguing and rehousing glass plate negatives, tagging and creating labels for online photographs, researching a couple of mysterious Victorian albums and other general archiving tasks, including working with the CALM collections database. Alongside these more recent activities, I also dedicated my first few sessions to promoting the BPMA on History Pin. This website is a photographic archive which allows organisations to share their photograph collections with the public.

Each organisation has its own channel on the website where it can upload photographs and then attach them to Google’s map to show where the photograph was taken. Each photograph or ‘pin’ can then be overlayed on top of Google Street View, allowing the public to compare the location with the original photograph. This is enhanced with the sliding tool which changes the opaqueness of the photograph on top to reveal the Google image underneath; I had great fun playing with this!

The photographs that I uploaded from the postal heritage archives depict a variety of places and people ranging from a postman delivering mail at Dover Castle to a mail van parked next to Loch Lomond in Scotland. I uploaded photographs that I thought were either visually appealing or had an interesting subject matter (or both) and had great fun searching through the archives.

Mail van by Loch Lomond. (POST 118/134)

Mail van by Loch Lomond. (POST 118/134)

As well as these singular photographs I also created three collections of photographs connected to certain subjects and events. One contained images relating to transport in postal history, another was about the opening of the Mersey tunnel in 1934 and my favourite one was about delivering mail to the hop farms in Kent. I was very pleased to hear that the first photograph from this collection was made ‘pin of the day’ a few days after I uploaded it and appeared on the Historypin homepage.

Postman delivering mail to Dover Castle. The postman, standing in front of his mail van, hands mail to a soilder. A young boy stands next to the men, pointing at the postmans mail bag. 1935. (POST 118/421)

Postman delivering mail to Dover Castle. The postman, standing in front of his mail van, hands mail to a soilder. A young boy stands next to the men, pointing at the postmans mail bag. 1935. (POST 118/421)

It has been such a great experience to volunteer at the BPMA and I have learnt so much about archiving and all the different roles in an organisation such as this. It has definitely inspired me to consider archiving, especially if related to photography in my future career.

Join the BPMA on History Pin today!

Volunteer Celebration Event

Last Thursday we hosted our fourth annual BPMA’s Volunteer Celebration Event. The event is held as a small token of our gratitude to the wonderful and giving folk who kindly donate their time, knowledge and energy to assist us in our work.

This year’s roster is made up of 29 magnificent folk who have been providing invaluable assistance across a range of jobs, including:

  • Rehousing material in preparation for moving the archive to Calthorpe House
  • Surveying London war memorials and checking the accuracy of existing data- especially valuable given next year’s WW1 centenary
  • Updating the information in our databases with their own specialist knowledge
  • Aiding with condition checks of our textile collection
  • Cleaning, listing and rehousing papers from the Solicitor’s Office so that they can be safely moved and catalogued
  • Collating and analysing the results of an audience research project, so that we are better able to understand the reach of our work in general
  • Providing a watchful eye and compiling monthly reports on our Travelling Post Office exhibition at the Bressingham Steam Museum and Gardens in Norfolk
  • Managing the on-site shop at the Museum Store in Debden
  • Sorting and cataloguing material that has since become the POST 136: Parcel Services series
  • Exploring the stories behind our photographic collections and the events they document, and adding to our Historypin channel
  • Digitising, cataloguing and rehousing a series of glass plate negatives of portraits of Post Office officials from the 16th-20th century
  • Rehousing colour transparencies from the1960s to the 1990s and re-sorting items that have previously been misfiled or inaccurately described
  • Helping develop workshops for primary schools
  • Auditing and repacking the Museum Store
  • Assisting with the conservation of Mail Rail cars

This year’s event featured BPMA Director Dr Adrian Steel presenting our volunteers with a certificate of appreciation and gift bag. Some of those that attended are pictured below with Adrian.

Don Bell’s interest in vehicles is very handy when it comes to identifying boxes of miscellaneous vehicle parts! Before joining the audit project in September 2012, Don also volunteered with Conservator George Monger on the conservation of the Mail Rail Cars.

Don Bell with Adrian Steel.

Don Bell with Adrian Steel.

Flora Fyles is an MA Museum Studies student who was able to put her theoretical training into practice whilst assisting with a condition check of some of our textile collection, which sped up the overall process no end.

Flora Fyles with Adrian Steel.

Flora Fyles with Adrian Steel.

Tom Norgate acquires and mounts new philatelic material – this year he has created pages relating to iLSM Processed Mail and Post & Go.

Tom Norgate with Adrian Steel.

Tom Norgate with Adrian Steel.

Ana Paula Hirata Tanaka is a qualified architect, but this was the first time she had worked with architectural plans in a conservation context – approaching them as fragile items to be carefully, and minimally handled, rather than as ‘working’ drawings.

Ana Paula Hirata Tanaka  with Adrian Steel.

Ana Paula Hirata Tanaka with Adrian Steel.

We hope that those who were able to attend enjoyed themselves, and that everyone who has generously helped us out over the past year has an idea of how much they are appreciated.

We couldn’t do it without you!

- Deepa Sebastian, Team Support Officer

Visit our website to find out how to become a BPMA volunteer.