Tag Archives: Bruce Castle

Britain’s Postal Heritage

Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer at Bruce Castle Museum, will speak at the BPMA on 8th April. The focus of her talk will be Bruce Castle’s postal history collection, some of which has been highlighted on this blog in recent months.

An embroidered Valentines Day card from Bruce Castle's postal history collection

An embroidered Valentines Day card from Bruce Castle's postal history collection

The BPMA is currently working with Bruce Castle and the Communications Worker’s Union (CWU) to widen access to the Morten Collection, collected by former postal worker W.V. Morten. When Morten died in the 1920’s the Union of Communication Workers (now the CWU) recognised the importance of the collection and purchased it. Since then it has been housed at Bruce Castle, expanding from 8,000 items to more than 30,000.

Highlights of the Bruce Castle Museum Postal History Collection include material related to the TPO (Travelling Post Office), mail coaches, trade union history, stamps, Valentines cards, and Sir Rowland Hill, who at one point lived at Bruce Castle where he was headmaster of a school. The oldest object in the collection is a letter from Normandy sent in 1397.

Bettina Trabant’s talk is free and booking details can be found on our website.

Morten Collection Object of the Month: January 2010

Each month, for ten months, we’ll be presenting an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

If you have any comments on the objects or the Collection we’d be grateful to hear them. At the end of the ten months we hope we’ll have given you an overview of the Collection, highlighting individual items but also emphasising the diverse nature of the material. For further information on the Morten Collection, please see our blog of 16th December 2009.

This month’s object: Travelling Post Office Mail Bag Apparatus

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

The Travelling Post Office (TPO) was first introduced in January 1838, travelling on the Grand Junction between Birmingham and Liverpool. The TPO is closely linked with Rowland Hill’s penny postage, which led to an increase in letter writing and the need to transport more mail at speed. The TPO ceased operation in 2004 as more and more people used emails rather than letter writing to communicate.

Travelling Post Offices functioned as mobile sorting offices, allowing post officers to sort up to 2000 mails an hour while on the move. In its heyday there were some 77 services from London to Plymouth, Bristol, Newcastle and others.

In 1936 the GPO Film unit produced a film about the TPO entitled Night Mail that contained a poem by W.H. Auden and music by Benjamin Britten.

The picture featured here shows a wooden and metal model of a mail bag exchange apparatus and forms part of a set consisting of track, carriages, a hut and smaller items relating to the Travelling Post Office.

Mail bag exchange apparatuses like this were used between 1852–1971 on Travelling Post Offices to pick up and put down mails without the need for trains to stop. The concept of exchanging mail whilst in transit is nothing new to railways and was used before where mail bags were often thrown onto and off coaches while in motion.

Mail bag exchange apparatuses operated in the following way: Mail was simply put into leather pouches weighing between 20lb and 60lb that were attached to an arm which would suspend it 5ft above the ground and 3ft away from the carriage side. The carriage was equipped with an extendable net, fitted to the body side, with an opening into the carriage behind it to catch incoming pouches.

It is alleged that the duty of putting the bags on poles was so unpopular that some postmen paid others to do the duty for them.

For more on TPO’s see the BPMA’s online exhibition The Travelling Post Office.

The Morten Collection at Bruce Castle

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

Greetings from Bruce Castle, Tottenham, North London – the former home of Sir Rowland Hill!

Today Tottenham is part of the thriving London Borough of Haringey and home of the famous football club Tottenham Hotspur, but over 150 years ago it was a small village and home to Sir Rowland Hill, future inventor of the postage stamp. He lived at Bruce Castle, a16th Century manor house, from 1827 where he was headmaster of a school for boys.

Today the former manor house is grade 1 listed and houses the Museum and Archive of Haringey. Among its exhibits we find many things related to the local area such as a 1930s office, World War II photographs, the history of the building, as well as a large collection of postal history objects, books and documents.

Two pages from the Visitors Book from the Hotel d'Europe, 1817-1826

Visitors Book of Mail Coach travellers staying at Hotel D’Europe between 1817-1826. The book is bound and consists of 361 pages.

This is thanks to former postal worker W.V. Morten and the Union of Communication Workers (now the Communication Worker’s Union). Very little is known about W.V. Morten himself, other than his complete devotion to the postal service, studying and collecting things on every aspect. When he died in the 1920s the Union of Communication Workers realised the importance of his collection and bought it for safekeeping and to prevent it from being broken up or going to America. As the Union had no storage or exhibition facilities, Bruce Castle with its postal connection seemed the obvious place for it to go.

Painting of mail train going past a mail bag apparatus point

Painting of mail train going past a mail bag apparatus point

In the decades following the Collection has expanded and now comprises of some 30,000 pieces including advertising posters, Victorian newspaper cuttings, mail box models, photographs, drawings, postmarks, stamps, mail coach tickets, books and even a vet’s receipt for a horse. We hold material ranging from a14th century telegram to a 1980s advertising brochure for a telephone system.

A letter from Normandy, 1397

Mail from Normandy, 1397

In recent years the museum as a whole shifted its emphasis away from postal history to the local history of Haringey. As a consequence of this the Morten Collection was somewhat neglected and when I came to work at Bruce Castle as part of Pistols, Packets and Postmen, a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involving the London Borough of Haringey, the Communication Workers Union and the British Postal Museum & Archive, I found a mountain of work waiting for me. Documents have to be catalogued and old information computerised, objects stored to modern conservation practice, digitised and sorted. The entire collection has to be brought back to life from the obscurity of the museum’s storage area through educational activities, exhibitions and talks.

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

This is not a one-person job, and I’m relying on the help of volunteers. A retired union worker is helping with the re-housing of the collection and an aspiring librarian catalogued large sections of the postal history books. A retired postal worker says: “I love coming to the museum as it gets me out of the house and makes use of my knowledge of the postal service. I have met some nice people too!”

A poster advertisement for accomodation at the Lion Hotel, Clumber Street, Nottingham, and a new mail coach called Little John, leaving every day at 1 O'Clock (except Sundays) and travelling to Mansfield, Warsop, Cuckney, Worksop, Retford, Tickhill, Doncaster and Sheffield.

Poster advertisement for accommodation at the Lion Hotel, Nottingham and a new Mail Coach

Whether you are an aspiring archivist or museum professional, a postal heritage enthusiast or just a retired person seeking a challenge, Bruce Castle wants to hear from you! At present we have opportunities for volunteers to help with re-housing, digitisation and basic cataloguing. No experience or PC skills are needed, just enthusiasm and the willingness to learn new skills.

If you are interested send me an email at: Bettina.Trabant@haringey.gov.uk or ring me on 02088088772.

Over the next few months we’ll be giving BPMA blog readers a glimpse of the Morten Collection through a series of Object of the Month articles as part of Pistols, Packets and Postmen – keep visiting!