Tag Archives: BPMA

The Great Train Robbery – The untold story from the closed investigation files

2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Great Train Robbery – one of the most notorious robberies of the 20th century, which has proved to have enduring public appeal, particularly via books, films and documentaries. On this blog, we have previously published articles on this criminal coup and the number of working files detailing its investigation that are held in our Archive. Author and historian Andrew Cook has now published a new book on this event and describes the fascination this infamous crime and its background have exerted over the decades.

The bulk of the money stolen during The Great Train Robbery has never been recovered. On 15 August 1963, four bags containing £100,900 were found in woods near Dorking.

The bulk of the money stolen during The Great Train Robbery has never been recovered. On 15 August 1963, four bags containing £100,900 were found in woods near Dorking. (Thames Valley Police)

The term ‘The Great Train Robbery’ was neither born as a result of the 1963 mail train hold up, nor indeed the 1855 train robbery later immortalised by Michael Crichton in his 1975 novel ‘The Great Train Robbery’ (which was later filmed by MGM in 1978 as ‘The First Great Train Robbery’ starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland).

While Crichton’s book was a work of fiction, it drew heavily upon real life events which took place on the night of 15 May 1855 when the London Bridge to Paris mail train was robbed of 200 lbs of gold bars. Crichton took somewhat of a historical liberty by retrospectively re-christening it the Great Train Robbery. At the time, and for over a century afterwards, it was commonly known as the ‘Great Gold Robbery.’

The term ‘The Great Train Robbery’ has in fact no basis at all in any real life event; it is instead the title of a 1903 American action Western movie written, produced and directed by Edwin S Porter.  Lasting only 12 minutes it is still regarded by film historians as a milestone in movie making. When, in 1963, the British press frantically searched for a suitable iconic headline, Edwin Porter’s 60 year old movie title fitted the bill perfectly.

Bridego Bridge, half a mile down the line from where the train was ambushed. It was here the robbers unloaded the HVP (High Value Packet) coach and passed the mailbags down the embankment by human chain. (Thames Valley Police)

Bridego Bridge, half a mile down the line from where the train was ambushed. It was here the robbers unloaded the HVP (High Value Packet) coach and passed the mailbags down the embankment by human chain. (Thames Valley Police)

Mail was first carried in Britain by train in November 1830, following an agreement between the General Post Office and the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. In 1838 Parliament passed the Railways (Conveyance of Mails) Act which required railway companies to carry mail as and when demanded by the Postmaster General. Trains carrying mail eventually became known as TPO’s (Travelling Post Offices).

133 years later, just after 3am on Thursday 8th August 1963 a gang of professional thieves made history when they held up the Glasgow to London Travelling Post Office train and seized a record breaking haul of £2.6 million (just over £50 million in today’s money).

Much has been written over the past five decades, in books, magazines and newspapers. A host of films and television documentaries have also ensured that not one year since 1963 has passed without coverage of the story and the characters involved.

Discovered five days after the robbery, Leatherslade farm was dubbed "Robbers' Roost" by BBC TV News reporters. The police referred to it as "one big clue". (Thames Valley Police)

Discovered five days after the robbery, Leatherslade farm was dubbed “Robbers’ Roost” by BBC TV News reporters. The police referred to it as “one big clue”. (Thames Valley Police)

However, despite the wealth and extent of coverage, a host of questions have remained unanswered about the Great Train Robbery: Who was behind it, was it an inside job and who got away with the crime of the century?  Fifty years of selective falsehood and fantasy, both deliberate and unintentional, has obscured the reality of the story behind the robbery. The fact that a good many files on the investigation and prosecution of those involved, and alleged to have been involved, were closed in many cases until 2045 has only served to muddy the waters still further.

To piece together an accurate picture of the crime and those surrounding it, I endeavoured to return to square one, so to speak, and some four years ago began to gather together as many primary sources as possible. These undoubtedly give a totally new ‘feel’ for the case and indeed the social attitudes of the time. The sheer volume of material also brought home just how easy it can be to overlook certain details and key links without the ability to cross reference other sources and investigations. Through Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation and other FOI routes I was able to access Director of Public Prosecuations (DPP) and Metropolitan Police records. With the assistance of the BPMA I was equally able to navigate the Post Office’s extensive records of the robbery and those suspected of involvement.

Andrew Cook's new book The Great Train Robbery - The untold story from the closed investigation files has now been published.

Andrew Cook’s new book The Great Train Robbery – The untold story from the closed investigation files has now been published.

The finished book is effectively a ‘real time’ account of the police and Post Office investigations and for the very first time allows the reader a unique fly-on-the-wall opportunity to discover for themselves the untold story from the close investigation files.

– Andrew Cook –

The book ‘The Great Train Robbery – The untold story from the closed investigation files‘  can now be purchased from the BPMA Shop for £18.99 (plus P&P).

Vote for us in the Shorty Awards

Shorty Awards

The Shorty Awards honour the best in social media; recognising the people and organisations producing real-time short content across Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Foursquare and the rest of the social web.

Every year, millions of people visit the Shorty Awards site to support their favourite social media content creators by tweeting nominations. All those tweets culminate in a highly anticipated awards ceremony that celebrates the winners as chosen by categories.

BPMA has been nominated in the museum category, but needs as many votes as possible to win. If you have a Twitter account visit our Shorty Awards voting page at shortyawards.com/postalheritage to tweet your vote for us.

Museum Store audit: objects, boxes and pink tape

As many of our readers may already know, our large object Museum Store in Essex holds many fascinating items in the BPMA’s collection, including items such as pillar boxes, telephone kiosks and vehicles. Over the past 6 months or so I have been working out at our store carrying out an audit of the collections, focussing mostly on those stored on the mobile shelving.

The BPMA Museum Store in Debden

The BPMA Museum Store in Debden

The audit of the material held at the store is a necessary exercise and a vital part of good collections management. As part of the audit, I have been systematically cross-checking items on the shelves with the listings on the BPMA’s collections database, checking that the recorded details and locations are correct.

Sarah unwrapping a Post Bus ticket machine for auditing and carefully re-packing the ticket machine ready for re-boxing

Sarah unwrapping a Post Bus ticket machine for auditing and carefully re-packing the ticket machine ready for re-boxing

At the same time I have been assessing the storage and packing of each item, replacing any packing materials which are no longer suitable (often due to age, which can mean they are no longer effectively protecting the object from the external environment). This can be a time-consuming task but planning for the long-term, sympathetic storage of an object means that the collection  can be kept stable and in the best condition for future audiences and researchers  to access and enjoy in years to come.

As you might imagine, the auditing and repacking project is no small undertaking so a methodical approach is essential – which is handy, because I’m rather fond of a good process! In summary, each box is given a unique ‘Mus’ number (printed on green labels) and following completion of the repacking , the database records for each object in that box are updated to include this new box reference. This allows a list to be produced of all the items found in a particular box, a copy of which is included with the contents. To provide a good visual marker, each box (or indeed large item) is tied with pink cotton tape to indicate that it has been audited and repacked.  If anyone had told me at the start of the project that I would find the sight of rows of shelves filled with pink tape heartening, I wouldn’t have believed them – but it’s true!

A view from inside the mobile shelving, showing shelves containing audited objects with lots of lovely pink tape….

A view from inside the mobile shelving, showing shelves containing audited objects with lots of lovely pink tape….

It is not possible for me to talk about the store audit without a special mention for two wonderful BPMA volunteers, Don and Barry who both give their time to assist with the project and have been invaluable, not least because they are a bit taller – I am rather vertically challenged – and can therefore help me reach the higher shelves! With our combined efforts we have recently reached our latest milestone of over 100 audited shelves.

‘And here’s some I did earlier…’ Audited items neatly packed and tied (with even more pink tape) ready to return to the racking.

‘And here’s some I did earlier…’ Audited items neatly packed and tied (with even more pink tape) ready to return to the racking.

Another very enjoyable element of the project is that during the audit I have been able to gather information on items being considered for display at the new postal museum at Calthorpe House which has been great – and provides an excellent excuse to follow up on research for an intriguing item.

There is still a lot of work to do as part of the audit, but much has been achieved in six months and the increasing number of shelves, stacked with boxes tied with pink tape continues to bring a smile to my face on a rainy Monday!

If you are interested in getting involved with this or similar work please contact Sarah Jenkins on sarah.jenkins@postalheritage.org.uk or call 020 8502 2673.

Sarah Jenkins – Curatorial Assistant

Initial HLF support for new Postal Museum & Archive secured

The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) is delighted to announce that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has confirmed a first-round pass as part of a two stage application process to help move its world-class collections into a new, accessible and permanent home. Initial HLF support has been awarded for an application of £4.25m and development funding of £250,000 has been awarded. The new Postal Museum & Archive will be situated in Calthorpe House on London’s Mount Pleasant site, where the country’s oldest mail centre is located.

Visualisation of Calthorpe House (Feildon Clegg Bradley Studios).

Visualisation of Calthorpe House (Feildon Clegg Bradley Studios).

The first-round pass means that the BPMA can now progress to the feasibility stage of its development and work up detailed proposals ahead of a round two application in 2013 to secure the remaining £4m. Further activities to generate funding to create a state of the art museum and visitor facility are taking place throughout 2012-13. The opening of the new museum is planned for late 2014.

The new Postal Museum will provide access to the BPMA’s unique collections of 400 years of postal, social and design history. The collections, which include iconic objects such as red pillar boxes and postal vehicles, as well as every British stamp issued since the Penny Black, original design artwork, posters and photographs, are currently stored in cramped and inaccessible conditions. The new centre will also enable a vast expansion of its educational programme and engagement with young visitors.

Visualisation of exhibition space.

Visualisation of exhibition space.

The fascinating story of the Post Office Underground Railway will form part of the exhibition, together with other captivating stories from social, postal and design history.

Sue Bowers, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund London, said:

The British Postal Museum and Archive’s collection gives us a fascinating insight into 400 years of postal history and how it has shaped our world today. We’re pleased to be giving initial support for this exciting project to regenerate the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant site and give an internationally important collection a permanent home in the heart of London. We will be working closely with the Postal Heritage Trust over the coming months as they progress plans to secure a full Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said:

The British Postal Museum & Archive is a national treasure of global importance. London plays a central role in its rich history so it is entirely fitting that this city would house a suitable showcase for the collection, creating a fantastic new visitor attraction to boot. I am thrilled that money from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been awarded to enable this exciting project to progress to the next important stage.

Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA commented:

We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given such a strong indication of its support for a new Postal Museum & Archive. HLF initial investment of £250,000, together with public recognition from such a prestigious funder, is a ringing endorsement of our work to preserve Britain’s postal heritage. It allows us to embark on the next stage of this exciting project to bring the human story of communication, industry and innovation to everyone.

Join The British Postal Museum & Archive mailing list to receive updates on our New Centre project and other activities.

New Lower Prices on BPMA Products

The BPMA Shop now offers new lower prices on selected products:

Original Post Office Green Papers. In the 1930s the General Post Office hosted lectures on various new or innovative aspects of its business, from engineering to public relations. The Green Papers were published versions of these lectures, and they have become an invaluable resource for information about the postal past. These are the original copies of the Green Papers from the 1930s, 40s and 50s – so numbers are strictly limited.
Was £5.00 – NOW £3.00 each – or get 5 copies for the price of 4! Enter GR33N544 discount code at the online shop checkout when ordering 5 copies of more to receive the discount.

Original GPO Green Papers

Speeding the Mail – An Oral History of the Post Office from the 1930s to 1990s Audio CD. Covering 60 years of postal history, this superb audio CD provides a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes to see how the job was done. Postal workers past and present talk about the way they used to work – recollections from the days of the GPO; stories by those who delivered letters, packets, parcels and even pairs of rabbits; stamp designers and those postal workers serving the public behind the Post Office counter.
Was £11.99 – NOW £5.99

Speeding the Mail – An Oral History of the Post Office from the 1930s to 1990s Audio CD

Postal Reform & the Penny Black – A New Appreciation. Douglas N. Muir, BPMA Curator (Philately), describes the long campaign for postal reform in this important study. He illustrates his account of the period leading to the issues of the Penny Black and the Mulready Covers with a wealth of contemporary designs, proofs and other philatelic material.
Was £5.99 – NOW £4.99

Postal Reform and The Penny Black – A New Appreciation, by BPMA Curator (Philately) Douglas N. Muir

Night Mail T-Shirt. The striking poster design of the GPO Film Unit classic Night Mail (1936) has been adapted for these shirts. Like the film itself – a classic work.
Was £9.00 – NOW £5.00

Night Mail T-Shirt

You can find all these products and more in our online shop www.postalheritage.org.uk/sale.

The BPMA Shop now also has a new postal address and phone number for shop orders and enquiries:

BPMA Product Sales
Room 309, 3rd Floor
5 Almeida Street
LONDON
N1 1AA
Tel. 0044 (0) 207 354 7272

And finally, a little reminder that Christmas is approaching fast – so ‘Post Early’ and order your Christmas cards soon from the BPMA Shop: www.postalheritage.org.uk/greetings.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition opens in London

Our fantastic photo exhibition The Post Office in Pictures is opening tomorrow evening, Friday, 18 May 2012, at its brand new London venue – The Lumen Church. The Post Office in Pictures showcases a selection of inspiring images sourced from the vast photographic collections of The British Postal Museum & Archive. From strange creatures sent through the post, to the daily deliveries by land, sea and air… the photos feature a fascinating series of windows on Britain from the 1930s to 1980s – including the unusual, the unseen and the quite unexpected.

Belfast – Post Office Exhibition: A group of telegram boys holding letters, May 1935 (Post 118/331)

After the opening night on Friday the exhibition will be open until 31 August 2012– right through the summer – and throughout the exhibition run we are hosting a programme of brand new events for everyone. To celebrate the exhibition’s opening night and in conjunction with the Museums At Night weekend, we have an exciting evening of activities on Friday 18 May, from 7.30pm till 10.00pm, followed by a completely free family fun day on Saturday, 19 May from 10.00am to 5.00pm.

We spent the beginning of this week installing the exhibition: BPMA Education & Events Officer Laura Dixon aligns the images correctly along the wall. Hours of measuring and using spirit levels have paid off as the exhibition begins to take shape!

Throughout Friday evening the exhibition will be available to preview. Artist and writer Guy Atkins will give a talk on The Forgotten Art of Writing Postcards. Guy will be asking if you are tired of texting, or bored of Facebook? Or if you want to make your life a bit less virtual? We promise after Guy’s talk you’ll never look at a postcard again in the same way. The postcard and stamp are free… but Guy will be writing your message. What will you make him write? And to whom will you send your card?

Also available on the night will be a ‘ludicrously brilliant photo booth’, supplied by The Mighty Booth. This bespoke photo booth fits up to nine people at a time, and with a pile of postal uniforms available to try on to create fantastic photo opportunities – the photos can be as imaginative as you would like!
We will also be screening Night Mail throughout the evening – with its iconic soundtrack from Benjamin Britten running to the mesmerising poem of W.H. Auden. – Surely a night to remember!

Great Yarmouth – Fish Wharf Post Office, Nov 1936 (Post 118/598)

Join us again on Saturday, 19 May 2012, for a fantastic family day full of fun hands on activities with Artist Lorna Giézot : story hand printing, interpreting difficult and dangerous deliveries, and creating your own image using the power of the sun.  Come along and create your own on Saturday in the beautiful garden space of The Lumen. If it’s raining we will be doing just as much but under cover instead!

Preview to the Family Fun Day: how to make ‘solar-powered images’ – leave in the sun and soak in cold water…

The iconic images from The Post Office in Pictures exhibition are available from our online Print-on-Demand service. Many of the black/white photographs also feature on our beautiful greetings cards and postcards. Buy them from our online shop, at the exhibition venue or at our Search Room.

Archive Stock Take 2012

This week begins our two week Archive Stock Take 2012. This annual spring-clean is a chance to carry out tasks that we wouldn’t otherwise have the time or space for. This is something many archives carry out and is a great way of making sure everything is where it is supposed to be!

The BPMA Search Room is closed since 14 May until 25 May 2012 during our annual stock take

This year our focus is very much on the  BPMA’s planned move to Calthorpe House.  As you can imagine there is a lot of work that needs to be done before an archive is moved, the work we do in this Stock Take will help us get there.

In the Archive Repository: Loose registered files in the process of being boxed up.

To this end, many of this year’s stock take tasks are geared towards these aims. For example we’ll be removing duplicate material from the collections where this exists, we’re boxing loose files so that they are well protected for moving, we’ll be sending records to the BT Archives, we’re carrying out an audit of specific parts of our collections and we’re doing a spot of office filing.

Confidential waste in the search room ready to be taken away.

All these tasks and more will be taking place over this week and next and we’ll be keeping you up to date here through a series of blog entries, a few members of the team will details of their specific tasks and how they’re getting on.

Adam Hillhouse , Archivist

Great British Fashion Stamps

Today Royal Mail is showcasing Britain’s world famous fashion designers and their iconic designs on ten new stamps. Great British Fashion, issued today, brings together some of the very best of post-war fashion, featuring the innovative fashion houses which have put Britain in the top rank of world fashion design.

The ten new Great British Fashion stamps issued today, 15 May 2012.

Each stamp features a prime example of each selected designer’s work, including Tommy Nutter’s suit for Beatle Ringo Starr and Vivienne Westwood’s 1993 Harlequin dress, famously modeled by Naomi Campbell.

The idea for the issue came from the British Design Classics stamps of 2009, which featured the stylish chic of Mary Quant’s daring mini skirt. This proved to be one of the most popular of the ten stamps featured in the issue, prompting the decision to dedicate an entire issue to our world-class designers.

Since 1945, British fashion has grown to become a major national industry. Today it employs about a million people and contributes directly some £21 billion to the UK economy.

The stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/fashion and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.
Visit the Stamps & Philately pages on our website and find out more about caring for your philatelic collection.

Diamond Jubilee Exhibition opens

Tomorrow, 10 May 2012 a new exhibition featuring material celebrating the Diamond Jubilee will open in the BPMA Search Room. The display includes an exclusive insight into the making of the stamps released to mark this special occasion.

An early proposal by Sedley Place for the Diamond Jubilee miniature sheet layout

Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne on 6 February 1952 on the death of her father King George VI. In 2012, she celebrates 60 years on the throne, her Diamond Jubilee. This exhibition shows how the two stamp issues from Royal Mail marking the Jubilee came about. The first was a miniature sheet issued in February featuring six definitives with iconic portraits from stamps, coins and banknotes. For the second special issue a series of photographs were chosen by Kate Stephens of the Queen’s life “in action” as monarch.

Both stamps from banknotes – the 1960 version by Robert Austin and the 1970 version by Harry Eccleston

The monarch, or ruler, has been the symbol of the country since at least Roman times. Alone, he or she has always represented the United Kingdom on coins and postage stamps, without any other indication of country name. For stamps, this is unique in the world. On Bank of England banknotes, however, the use of the monarch’s head is much more recent, only dating from 1960. How each of the six portraits came about is the subject of the main exhibition case. The original source photograph or sketch is followed by the origination or artwork (in the case of coins plaster casts) and an example of the item – such as Specimen banknotes from the Bank of England or coins from the Royal Mint Museum. You can then see how this has translated into the modern stamp. An accompanying brochure gives more details.

August 2011 essays with wrong values of Diamond Jubilee designs showing Her Majesty The Queen “in action”, by Kate Stephens

The Queen “in action”
Kate Stephens has been successful in designing several royal and non-royal related stamp issues. It was therefore natural to turn to her when considering images for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. How she created the commemorative issue (based on her previous research) is described in the third display case and in the brochure.

– Douglas N. Muir, Curator (Philately) –

SPECIAL DIAMOND JUBILEE OFFER: Celebrate this year’s Diamond Jubilee with a beautiful Wedgwood Jasperware plate in Portland Blue featuring one of the most well-known portraits of Queen Elizabeth II: the ‘Machin head’ – the white cameo relief created by Arnold Machin as the definitive stamp design. The dish is available in our online shop. The BPMA offer 10% discount on this wonderful souvenir – simply enter the discount code JU81L33 at checkout until 6 June 2012.

Delegation from China visit BPMA

On Wednesday 18 April, the BPMA were delighted to welcome a delegation from China, including Lu Xinghua, Deputy Director of China Post Literature & History Centre, Song Yunli, Curator of China Post Archives of China Post Literature & History Centre and Danny Kin Chi Wong, FRPSL, Royal Philatelic Society London China Representative.

Chinese Delegation

BPMA Director Adrian Steel showing records in the BPMA's collections relating to China to the Chinese visitors

Gavin McGuffie, Acting Head of Archives and Records Management at the BPMA, took them for a tour of the Royal Mail archive, including looking at records in the collections relating to China, such as documents about delivery of mail via packet ships from the mid-19th century [POST 43/157] and a copy of a history of the British postal service by a Chinese postal official [POST 33/6013]. They also got to see three telegrams sent in response to the Post Office’s concern about its employees and the mail onboard the RMS Titanic (please see a previous blog on the RMS Titanic telegrams).

The visitors had the unique chance to hold a sheet of Penny Blacks from the BPMA's secure philatelic vault

The delegation was then treated to a tour of the secure philatelic vault with BPMA Philatelic Curator Douglas Muir, where they were shown Penny Blacks, Tyrian Plums, dies, rollers and Olympic stamp artwork.