Tag Archives: Britain

GPO Britain in pictures

The BPMA is the custodian of a photographic collection which includes about 100,000 individual photographs; the earliest is from the late 19th century and the latest ones date from the 1990s. In a previous blog on our photography collection and a talk now available as a podcast we have presented some of this fascinating material and the stories behind it, and our exhibition The Post Office in Pictures features some of the most striking images.

The GPO Britain postcard set.

The GPO Britain postcard set.

The photographs depict life in Britain at the time of the General Post Office (GPO) with its contrasts between modern urban areas and the industrial heartland, and the remote rural regions where the postman or postwoman presented a vital connection to the outside world. We have selected six of the most intriguing images for a new postcard set which is now available from the BPMA Shop.

Man posting a letter holding a cauliflower, 1949. (POST 118/1964)

Man posting a letter holding a cauliflower, 1949. (POST 118/1964)

Many of these photographs have been published in the Post Office Magazine (POST 92), which was first issued in 1934 in order to promote postal services and good relations with the public, aimed at the large postal workforce, their families and friends. The articles often presented the modernity and efficiency of the GPO’s services, such as the Post Office Savings Bank – “Everybody’s Bank” with ten million accounts, according to the author of an article in the September 1935 issue. The story on the bank, which holds “the small savings of ordinary not-very-wealthy folk in the hamlets and towns and cities of Britain”, is accompanied by several images of banking clerks entering the 120,000 daily transactions in the newly adopted accounting machines. The clerks’ efficiency in dealing with the amount of correspondence and day to day business clearly impressed the author – he dubs them ‘super clerks’.

A female clerk at the Post Office Savings Bank, on the cover of the Post Office Magazine September 1935. (POST 92)

A female clerk at the Post Office Savings Bank, on the cover of the Post Office Magazine September 1935. (POST 92)

Other sections of the magazines were regularly dedicated to news from the different UK regions. These focussed on the local postal staff and their achievements, activities and work in their local community, which, to today’s readers, provides some authentic insights into rural British communities in the 1930s and 1940s. The October 1938 Northern Ireland section, for example, features the image of a postman with a pony and trap on a rural road: “The Glenarm Bay postman goes on his delivery in a trap presented to him by local residents” (POST 118/903).

Postman with pony and trap in Northern Ireland, 1938. (POST 118/903)

Postman with pony and trap in Northern Ireland, 1938. (POST 118/903)

Other issues show postmen wading through rivers on horseback (January 1939) to reach the next village or town, or recount the peculiar history of whale bones decorating the post office exterior at Cley-next-the-Sea (March 1938).

Postman on horseback near Withypool, Somerset, 1938. (POST 118/910)

Postman on horseback near Withypool, Somerset, 1938. (POST 118/910)

Main Strain in Cley, Norfolk, 1937. (POST 118/1204)

Main Strain in Cley, Norfolk, 1937. (POST 118/1204)

The GPO Britain postcard set is now available from the BPMA Shop for £3.75.

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150 years of London Underground

It’s the oldest and one of the most famous railway networks in the world, now the London Underground celebrates its 150th birthday on Royal Mail’s first stamp issue of 2013.

Issued today, the London Underground issue features ten stamps; six charting the history of the network, alongside a miniature sheet of four long-format stamps focusing on the design heritage of its iconic posters.

London Underground stamp issue.

London Underground stamp issue.

London Underground miniature sheet.

London Underground miniature sheet.

The issue date coincides with the anniversary of the opening of what was to become London’s Underground: the steam-driven Metropolitan Railway running between Paddington Station and Farringdon Street via Kings Cross. On 9 January 1863 the Metropolitan Railway opened, passengers were able to use the service from 10 January 1863 and within months 26,000 people were using it every day.

Fittingly it’s the Metropolitan Railway that features on the first of two 2nd class stamps, while the other shows railway workers, or Navvies as they were known commonly, excavating a tube tunnel.

London Underground, 2nd Class stamps – 1863 - Metropolitan Railway Opens. A contemporary lithograph of a steam locomotive on the Metropolitan line near Paddington Station. 2nd Class – 1898 - Tunnelling Below London Streets. Railway construction workers, known as Navvies, shown excavating a ‘deep cut’ tube tunnel.

London Underground, 2nd Class stamps – 1863 – Metropolitan Railway Opens. A contemporary lithograph of a steam locomotive on the Metropolitan line near Paddington Station. 2nd Class – 1898 – Tunnelling Below London Streets. Railway construction workers, known as Navvies, shown excavating a ‘deep cut’ tube tunnel.

Edwardian commuters travelling in from the suburbs are depicted on one of the 1st class pair of stamps, while the other features the Piccadilly Line’s Boston Manor, an example of many art deco stations built in the 1920s and 30s.

London Underground, 1st Class stamps – 1911 – Commute from the Suburbs. A carriage of Edwardian ladies and gentlemen illustrated on their commute to work from the suburbs. 1st Class – 1934 – Boston Manor Art Deco Station. Suburban expansion of the Piccadilly Lines in the 1920s and 30s led to the construction of many iconic art deco stations.

London Underground, 1st Class stamps – 1911 – Commute from the Suburbs. A carriage of Edwardian ladies and gentlemen illustrated on their commute to work from the suburbs. 1st Class – 1934 – Boston Manor Art Deco Station. Suburban expansion of the Piccadilly Lines in the 1920s and 30s led to the construction of many iconic art deco stations.

Classic rolling stock travelling on the tube’s ‘deep cut’ lines in 1938 and Sir Norman Foster’s Canary Wharf Station make up the £1.28p pair.

London Underground, £1.28 stamps – 1938 - Classic Rolling Stock. The classic trains introduced on the tube’s deep cut lines in 1938 became a London icon. £1.28 – 1999 – Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf. Designed by Sir Norman Foster Canary Wharf Station is one of the most recent additions to the Underground network.

London Underground, £1.28 stamps – 1938 – Classic Rolling Stock. The classic trains introduced on the tube’s deep cut lines in 1938 became a London icon. £1.28 – 1999 – Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf. Designed by Sir Norman Foster Canary Wharf Station is one of the most recent additions to the Underground network.

Each of the stamps features a timeline across the lower quarter of the stamps using different livery colours taken from London Underground lines.

The miniature sheet features a total of 12 classic London Underground posters across four long-format (60mm x 30mm) stamps.

London Underground miniature sheet. 1st Class stamp – London Underground Posters – Golders Green, By Underground to fresh air and Summer sales. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: Golders Green (1908) by an unknown artist 1908; By Underground to fresh air (1915) by Maxwell Armfield; Summer Sales (1925) by Mary Koop.

London Underground miniature sheet. 1st Class stamp – London Underground Posters – Golders Green, By Underground to fresh air and Summer sales. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: Golders Green (1908) by an unknown artist 1908; By Underground to fresh air (1915) by Maxwell Armfield; Summer Sales (1925) by Mary Koop.

London Underground miniature sheet. 77p stamp – London Underground Posters –For the Zoo, Power and The seen. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: – For the Zoo (1921) by Charles Paine; Power (1931) by Edward McKnight-Kauffer and The seen (1948) by James Fitton.

London Underground miniature sheet. 77p stamp – London Underground Posters –For the Zoo, Power and The seen. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: – For the Zoo (1921) by Charles Paine; Power (1931) by Edward McKnight-Kauffer and The seen (1948) by James Fitton.

London Underground miniature sheet. 87p stamp – London Underground Posters – A train every 90 seconds, Thanks to the Underground and Cut travelling time. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: A train every 90 seconds (1937) by Abram Games; Thanks to the Underground (1935) by Zero (Hans Schleger) and Cut travelling time, Victoria Line (1969) by Tom Eckersley.

London Underground miniature sheet. 87p stamp – London Underground Posters – A train every 90 seconds, Thanks to the Underground and Cut travelling time. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: A train every 90 seconds (1937) by Abram Games; Thanks to the Underground (1935) by Zero (Hans Schleger) and Cut travelling time, Victoria Line (1969) by Tom Eckersley.

London Underground miniature sheet. £1.28 stamp – London Underground Posters – The London Transport Collection, London Zoo and The Tate Gallery by Tube. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: The London Transport Collection (1975) by Tom Eckersley; London Zoo (1976) by Abram Games and The Tate Gallery by Tube (1987) by David Booth (Fine White Line Design).

London Underground miniature sheet. £1.28 stamp – London Underground Posters – The London Transport Collection, London Zoo and The Tate Gallery by Tube. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: The London Transport Collection (1975) by Tom Eckersley; London Zoo (1976) by Abram Games and The Tate Gallery by Tube (1987) by David Booth (Fine White Line Design).

Philip Parker, Royal Mail Stamps spokesperson, said:

The London Underground has a unique status as the oldest and one of the busiest underground railway networks in the world.

For this first stamp issue of 2013 we have tried to capture the incredible history behind ‘the Tube’, which for millions of people is an integral element of their daily lives and an iconic part of London’s identity.

Both London Underground and Royal Mail share a rich and extraordinary design heritage, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate a dozen classic Underground posters, featuring several artists who also designed posters for the General Post Office (GPO).

Please pack parcels very carefully, a poster designed for the GPO by Tom Eckersley. Several of Eckersley’s posters appear on the London Underground miniature sheet.

Please pack parcels very carefully, a poster designed for the GPO by Tom Eckersley. Several of Eckersley’s posters appear on the London Underground miniature sheet.

You can see a selection of GPO posters in our online exhibition Designs on Delivery. The Design on Delivery exhibition will be seen at the Great Western Hospital, Swindon, from 19 March as part of the Paintings in Hospitals scheme.

Royal Mail stamps and stamp products are available at most Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/underground and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

A Cup of Tea and its Consequences

Chris West explains how he came to write the book First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps.

Chris West

Chris West

Like many of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, I had a stamp collection. A rather mediocre one… But one Sunday, I went to tea with my great uncle.

I happened to mention that I collected stamps, and Uncle Frank said he’d done that too. He disappeared and came back with a dark blue ‘Lincoln’ album. Inside was a treasurehouse of stamps featuring Edward VII and Queen Victoria – including a Penny Black (it had a corner missing, but still…) Frank then said that he didn’t really bother with them any longer – did I want them? The album became my pride and joy. I even took it to school to show everybody. Sadly, one viewer was so impressed that he stole half the stamps. The collection never felt the same afterwards, and vanished into an attic. Forty years later, I was cleaning out the attic when I came across the album. For a moment an old fury came back, but then I decided that a much healthier reaction was to reassemble the collection.

The 'Seahorse' stamp.

The ‘Seahorse’ stamp.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

As I did this, I found myself ever more intrigued with the stamps, as items of beauty but also as tiny pieces of history. Who stuck this Penny Black on an envelope, and what was in the letter? More generally, what was Britain like at the time? I found envelopes that had been sent in Ireland around the time of the appalling famine, a Seahorse sent just before World War One, a stamp celebrating the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 (an event I had never heard of, but which was as big as the Olympics in its day), an envelope that had enclosed a censored letter from World War Two, the classic 4d stamp celebrating the 1966 World Cup win… Stamps, I realised, tell stories.

Finally, I assembled these stories into a book, that would tell the nation’s tale through its stamps – or 36 of them, anyway. It’s been a joy to research and write. And all thanks to my great uncle and a cup of tea one Sunday afternoon.

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps by Chris West (cover)

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps is available from the BPMA online shop.

Chris West will give a talk based on First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps at the BPMA on Thursday 21 February 2013.

Concorde – A British Design Classic

Having recently catalogued all Great Britain Queen Elizabeth II pre-decimal commemorative registration sheets of stamps, it dawned on me how much the ‘First Flight of Concorde’ stamps of 1969 stood out; both in terms of their slick design and ultimately the subject that they embodied. After all, this ‘Supersonic’ airliner, of Anglo-French origin is as an aviation and engineering icon.

During the late 1950’s, The British, French, Soviets and Americans were in competition, as each nation industriously worked towards developing a form of commercial civilian supersonic transport. It was the British and French however (both funded by their respective governments) who jetted ahead in this particular pursuit. Subsequently they developed designs called the ‘Type 233’ and ‘Super-Caravelle’ respectively, which ultimately saw them leading the commercial aircraft market at the time, which until then had been dominated so ardently by the United States.

First Flight of Concorde - 4d value, designed by M. and S. Goaman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde – 4d value, designed by M. and S. Goaman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde - 9d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde – 9d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde - 1s6d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde – 1s6d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

Due to the impending costs which ensued with the production costs however, the British and French combined forces, forming an international treaty (rather than an agreement on commercial terms) in the early 1960’s, where their newly formed British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Aérospatiale companies merged, on what famously became the ‘Concorde’ project. It was this partnership which proved triumphant, as the first Concorde prototype was presented in 1967.

Concorde’s maiden flight on the 2nd March 1969 was heralded as ‘faultless’. The aircraft took off from Toulouse and reached 10,000ft. The following day three postage stamps were issued in Britain, with one design (4d) by M. and S. Goaman and the other two (9d and 1s 6d) designed by the prolific and imperious David Gentleman. Looking at Gentleman’s designs specifically, the simple but bold minimal style sits well within current trends in graphic design, thus evoking a timeless appeal. Printed by Harrison and Sons on chalk-surfaced paper, with two phosphor bands, the stamps pay homage to this British design great.

French Stamp – ‘First Commercial Flight of Concorde’, 10/01/1976

French Stamp – ‘First Commercial Flight of Concorde’, 10/01/1976

French Stamp – ‘Regions of France – Pyrenees’ featuring Concorde, 10/01/1976

French Stamp – ‘Regions of France – Pyrenees’ featuring Concorde, 10/01/1976

Although a success, Concorde’s maiden flight never actually reached above 300mph, thus failing to achieve its potential ‘supersonic’ status. Concorde’s first supersonic flight (for those inquisitive amongst you) came on the 1st October 1969 where it achieved closer to the 1,300mph it was capable of. Concorde’s first commercial flights took place on 21st January 1976 – Air France flew from Paris to Rio and British Airways’ Concorde flew from London Heathrow to Bahrain. Concorde’s final flight was on 26th November 2003, following the tragic aftermath of Concorde’s only crash on 25th July 2000, and the global economic downfall of the subsequent years.

Evidently, Concorde was voted the winner in the ‘Great British Design Quest’ competition of 2006. Organised by BBC2’s The Culture Show and London’s Design Museum, the Concorde design beat competition from 25 other British design classics – including Mary Quant’s mini skirt, the Routemaster Bus and Harry Beck’s 1931 London Underground Map design (runner-up). This news came as a delight to Concorde fans, notably Tony Benn – the former Postmaster General – who himself has been so prominent throughout British Postal History. Benn was the Aviation Minister responsible for giving Concorde the go-ahead in the first place.

The 2009 stamp issue ‘British Design Classics’ features ten iconic designs, including Concorde and the other aforementioned ‘design classics’, plus others – thus tying in nicely with the British Design Classic theme of which Concorde so famously championed.

British Design Classics stamps - 13/01/2009

British Design Classics stamps – 13/01/2009

The full series of Queen Elizabeth II pre-decimal commemorative registration sheets are due to be made available via the BPMA’s online catalogue, each with a full catalogue description and a digitised section of each sheet, including of course the 1969 Concorde stamps.

You may also enjoy watching this video of Concorde’s maiden flight:

Stuart Aitken – Cataloguer, Philately

Mammals

British mammals feature on the new set of stamps released by Royal Mail today. This is the fourth of the Action for Species stamp issues focusing on endangered native animals and plants; previous issues have covered Birds (2007), Insects (2008) and Plants (2009).

Mammals stamps, 2010

The new Action for Species: Mammals stamps

The British Isles is home to more than 60 species of mammals, but almost half of these have been introduced from elsewhere in the world, including some of the most abundant, like the rabbit and the grey squirrel.

All ten of the mammals featured on the new stamps, including the seemingly prevalent hedgehog, are the subject of conservation programmes due to the effect of adverse changes in their environment. These are caused by pollution, the growth in roads and housing developments, and in some cases, the introduction of non-native species, which have all contributed to a fall in numbers.

Because the UK has comparatively few land mammals, the selection criteria for these stamps was extended to include marine mammals, like the Humpback Whale, that spends part of its life cycle in UK territorial waters.

Royal Mail has long highlighted British animals on their stamps. The British Wildlife commemoratives of 1977, designed by Patrick Oxenham, featured the hedgehog, brown hare, red squirrel, otter and badger. So popular were Oxenham’s designs that they were later made available as fine art prints.

British Wildlife stamps, 1977

British Wildlife stamps designed by Patrick Oxenham, 1977

In 1986, Nature Conservation was theme of that year’s Europa issues. Britain’s stamps, designed by wildlife artist Ken Lilly, featured the barn owl, pine marten, wildcat and natterjack toad.

Nature Conservation stamps, 1986

Nature Conservation stamps, 1986, designed by wildlife artist Ken Lilly

In 1998 Royal Mail released a set of Endangered Species stamps, highlighting endangered flora and fauna. The stamps were designed by Robert Maude, who four years later designed the London’s Bridges stamps with Sarah Davies. The common dormouse was the only mammal to appear on the set.

Endangered Species stamps, 1998

Robert Maude's Endangered Species stamps, 1998

The striking work of Kate Stephens was featured on the 2004 stamp issue Woodland Animals. 10 mammals are on the set, including the endangered wildcat.

Woodland Animals stamps, 2004

Woodland Animals stamps, 2004, designed by Kate Stephens

The Mammals stamps are now available from Royal Mail.