Tag Archives: bicycle

Memories of a boy messenger – Part 3

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In Part 3 he tells us his progression as a Messenger.

I started delivering telegrams by easy stages firstly by delivering the addresses close to the office then as my confidence and knowledge grew to addresses further away. On occasions we were sent to more outlying places to help build up our knowledge. Not only did I have to cope with learning the area but all of us had to get used to the consequences of power cuts. (All power was cut off between 2pm and 4pm each working day.) Normal deliveries still had to be made during the period, so if you arrived at an office and the delivery had to be made to the sixth floor, you just had to walk up. I continued to learn the area until one I was asked whether I would like to become a cycling messenger. I immediately agreed and was told that I would have to pass a test first. This entailed cycling up the narrow road at the rear of the CTO and turning round without falling off. A senior messenger watched and he decided whether you had passed or failed.

Central Telegraph Office delivery room, 1947. Jim (Dusty) Miller pictured on the right. (POST 118/1788)

Central Telegraph Office delivery room, 1947. Jim (Dusty) Miller pictured on the right. (POST 118/1788)

So, I started life as a cycling messenger, we were rewarded the daily sum of 6p (2½p) for keeping our bicycles clean and “ship shape”. We had various adventures including the very bad winter of 1947. I remember when the snow started, I had just returned from my tea break and was the only messenger in the delivery room. A very apologetic Inspector explained that he had four “Death Telegrams” which had to be delivered and as I had to go out I might as well take the remainder of the telegrams for the places en route. I remember cycling along Aldersgate Street and wondering what all the fuss was about. I eventually reached Torrence Stret (the furthest point in our delivery). As I turned into St Johns Street to come back the full force of the storm hit me and I realised then that I had been cycling with the wind behind me. I delivered the remainder of the telegrams and returned to the CTO about 7.30pm. To my surprise the other boys on my shift were waiting for me. They had refused to go home until they were sure I was safe. In order to remove my overcoat they had to chip the ice away from the button holes with a bicycle spanner and when I removed the coat it was frozen it stood up in the centre of the room unaided. For almost a week after the snow fell we had to deliver all telegrams by foot as it was decided that it was too dangerous to allow us to cycle.

Messenger Boy with cycle, 1930s (2011-0443/02)

Messenger Boy with cycle, 1930s (2011-0443/02)

Although I was unaware of it at the time the Post Office was very much in a transitional period. I remember coming back from a take and was told by a variety of messengers that we were being given a rise of 18/- (90p) and we would be given our arrears before Christmas. What we didn’t know at the time was how this rise would effect our conditions of service. The first thing was that there would be no more General Exams (these exams were designed to help messengers and girl probationers decide their futures). The next exam was due to be taken in a few months time and would be the last one. It would be open to all staff below the age of 18, however only 5 telegraph operator places would be available. In future Messengers would be known as Young Postmen and would progress within the service by various exams open to all grades. Our uniforms and hats changed to that of a postman and our cap badges were altered but other than this it had little on us at this stage.

The biggest upset was when the school leaving age was raised to 15 years. We lost a steady stream of messengers either to promotion or entering the forces to complete their National Services, our complement dwindled to 11 messengers (8 on delivery duties and 3 on indoor work). This compared to the 40 plus who were available when I first arrived. Instead of taking out 10 or 12 telegrams per “take” we now had to take out between 30 and 40 messages. Apart from the strain it put on the messengers it caused unacceptable delays to the telegrams. The GPO solved the problem by diverting ex-forces personnel awaiting training as telephonists to the CTO to act as male messengers and here they remained until the GPO was able to recruit boy messengers again. In total the telephonists stayed at the CTO for about eighteen months.

I remained an outdoor Messenger until I was about 16½ (by this time I was 6ft tall) when I was given an indoor job helping mainly in the typing pool. Just before by 18th birthday I was summoned to the Chief Inspectors room and told that the day after my birthday I was to report to Eastern District Office where I would start life as a Postman. So my life as a Boy Messenger came to a rather abrupt and somewhat unexpected end.

Keep visiting this blog for more of Jim (Dusty) Miller’s memories.

Visit by the Loughton Beaver Scouts to Museum Store

by Chris Taft, Curator

On 27 September 2010 we welcomed 22 children to the Museum Store from the Loughton Beaver Scout group. Beaver Scouts are the youngest of the British Scout Association’s groups made up of both boys and girls aged from 6 to 8. The Loughton group, based close to our store in Debden, meet regularly and have in the past visited our Store. This year they wished to visit once again, meeting in the early evening after the children finish school.

Drawing of the Queen Victoria London Ornate (Science and Art) Pillar Box

Drawing of the Queen Victoria London Ornate (Science and Art) Pillar Box

Julian Stray and I met the group of 20 children all eager and very excited to have a look round the Store. Some had been previously and were very keen to share with their friends what they had remembered seeing in the past and what their favourite objects were.

Drawing of the Queen Victoria 'Suttie' Scottish Pillar Box

Drawing of the Queen Victoria 'Suttie' Scottish Pillar Box

Their visit began with a closer look at some of the common objects associated with the post office, we began by discussing the bicycle and the pillar box, things that are very familiar to all the children and something that they have all used. We looked initially at typical examples of these from the collection and discussed some of the main features.

We then went on to look at some more unusual examples of letter boxes including some of the very rare examples within the museum collection. The children really enjoyed discussing some of the earlier designs and suggesting why things like vertical posting apertures might have been introduced and the difficulties of sighting the aperture on the top of the box, exposed to the wind and the rain!

Drawing of the Queen Victoria Fluted Pillar Box

Drawing of the Queen Victoria Fluted Pillar Box

After a brief break for juice and biscuits we looked together at some of the more unusual cycles in the collection. Having discussed the very familiar bicycle the children were fascinated to consider a five-wheeled variant, known as the Hen and Chick this type of machine was introduced in the 1880s to help with the parcels post and we also looked at a tricycle that at around 100 years old undertook a similar role. Whenever we have welcomed younger visitors to the Store they have always been fascinated by the age of some of the objects in our care.

Drawing of the Hen and Chicks pentacycle

Drawing of the Hen and Chicks pentacycle

For their final activity we handed each a blank postcard and asked them to look closely at one of the objects we had been discussing and draw it on their card. The drawings that were created were wonderful and showed just what attention to detail some of the children had. These activities really give groups the chance to consider everyday objects more closely and to look at things in a new light. Once addressed the postcards had special stamps marking the centenary of the Scouts Association affixed and were posted into one of the letter boxes from the BPMA’s handling collection. From there they were then passed to the Special Handstamp Centre in London for a special BPMA cancellation to be applied before being sent home.

The Big Draw at the Museum Store

by Laura Dixon, Learning Officer

BPMA will be holding a Big Draw event on Saturday 10 October at the BPMA Museum Store from 10.00am – 4.00pm to fit in with this year’s theme of Colour in the Big Draw.

The Big Draw aims to get everyone drawing – adults and children alike. BPMA is delighted to be working with designer and illustrator Izzy Jaffer, who will be helping visitors create their own detailed colour drawings of objects on display. If you think you can’t draw, Izzy will show you otherwise. She says “…anyone can draw anything by simply breaking down the subject into simple shapes and adding in the detail once the shape and proportion are right.”

Drawing sessions will be drop in from 10.15am – 12.30pm and 1.30pm -3.30pm. All are welcome at this free, day long event, but please book (see details below).

As well as the drawing workshops, this open day will also feature tours of the Store with our Curator, films, worksheets and quizzes and the chance to win special BPMA prizes!

A selection of GPO Film Unit films will be chosen to fit in with the theme of Colour – such as Night Mail 2, an updated version of the classic 1936 Night Mail, made in 1986 in colour with poetry by Blake Morrison.

We will also show some of the pioneering colour films made for the GPO in the 1930s by experimental director and artist Len Lye. One of Lye’s films, A Colour Box (1935), was made without a camera; Lye painted directly onto the celluloid and in doing so created a film which divided audience opinion at the time between adulation and derision.

Other Lye films to be shown include Rainbow Dance (1936), a 5 minute ‘film ballet’, and Trade Tattoo (1937), which uses some leftover footage from other GPO films (such as the first Night Mail) to make a short film about the British working day, whilst also encouraging viewers to Post Early.

The open day offers an exciting opportunity to see many of the BPMA’s collection of objects on display in a working store.

What is a Store?

Visitors should be prepared for something different from a traditional museum when coming to the Store. Because the BPMA does not currently have the space to display all of its larger objects on a permanent basis, they are kept safely in the Store at Debden. There aren’t the usual interpretive panels you would see in a museum, and there may be some items that are undergoing repairs, as well as some new acquisitions.

The BPMA Store contains objects ranging from the desk of Rowland Hill (founder of the Penny Post), to a carriage from Post Office Underground Railway, letter boxes, bicycles, motorcycles and more.

To book your place, please contact info@postalheritage.org.uk or phone 020 7239 2570 and state whether you would like to com in the morning or afternoon.