Tag Archives: BT

Royal Mail Archive added to UNESCO Memories of the World Register

Recently the BPMA has received some exciting news. The Royal Mail Archive, which we look after, has been added to UNESCO’s Memories of the World Register. The archive spans the years 1636 to 1969 and covers a wide range of items from promotional posters to the Penny Black and employment records to telegrams about the Titanic.

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Telegram telling of the sinking of the Titanic

UNESCO was impressed by the unique insight the archive offers into the development of communication within the UK and abroad and the way it reflects the social and personal impact that the postal service has had upon people across the country.

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GPO poster

Head of Archives Vicky Parkinson tells us about being added to this year’s list of inscriptions:

“Back in 2011 my colleagues attended that year’s inscription reception following the successful nomination of the work of the GPO film unit, which was a joint application with our colleagues in the BFI and BT. On the back of that success we felt that the Royal Mail Archive was worthy of inscription and the nomination paperwork was submitted in January of this year.

We were delighted to hear that the UNESCO committee agreed with us and on the 19 June 2014 Helen Forde, Chair of our Board of Trustees, and I travelled to Edinburgh to attend the award ceremony, along with the other successful nominees.

Vicky and Helen

Vicky and Helen at the reception. Photo by Lesley Ann Ercolano

The reception, hosted by Lloyds Banking Group at their iconic site on the Mound in Edinburgh, was about celebrating the UK’s outstanding history and raising awareness about some of the country’s documentary riches. For me it was a wonderful reminder of how the archive, and the work we do to look after it and make it available, fits into the bigger picture of how history, and more importantly the original records, still play a vital role in today’s society.

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One of the thousands of photos in the collection – women mending parcels at the Home Depot during the First World War

For those of us lucky enough to work with the archive on a day to day basis it’s easy to see just how significant the collection is, documenting the vital role the postal service has played in the UK. Having that importance recognised by schemes such as UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register and the Arts Council’s Designation scheme is a vital way of spreading awareness of the riches we have in our custody.”

It is these stories and more that will be told in The Postal Museum when it opens in 2016. To hear some of these fantastic stories, and see the wealth of objects all of our collections hold, before then keep an eye on the blog. Over the coming months BPMA staff will be telling you all their favourite stories and showing you all manner of intriguing and enticing objects.

The ringing red icon – a whistle-stop look at telephone boxes

You may wonder why a blog is being written by The British Postal Museum & Archive about telephone kiosks. The reason behind it is that 100 years ago, in 1912, the General Post Office (GPO) took over the majority of the UK’s private telephone service – and were responsible for the telephone service until responsibility for this was taken on by the newly formed British Telecom in the 1980’s.

Street furniture

With the increasing popularity of the telephone in the early 20th century, it was only a matter of time before telephones kiosks were seen in the street. Telephone kiosks based inside hotels, stations and other handy places already existed and were known as Silence cabinets.

Those placed on the streets took on various, often ornate guises. The GPO needed to develop its own street furniture in order to open up the service to the general public but also advertise the GPO simultaneously. In 1920, the first telephone kiosk under the GPO was introduced, the K1 (Kiosk 1). Whilst K1’s remained on our streets for many years they were made out of concrete, rather than the GPO’s preferred medium of cast iron. Although relatively cheap to produce they were not seen as an attractive addition to the streets. Some councils even tried putting thatched roofs on top of K1’s to improve their appearance! Though the K1 was never a permanent solution thousands were produced with a handful surviving today.

Grand style statement

K2 telephone kiosk and pillar box.

K2 telephone kiosk and pillar box.

The GPO’s quest for a telephone kiosk that was hard wearing and aesthetically pleasing was answered in 1924 when architect Giles Gilbert Scott designed the cast iron K2. GPO officials deemed that the now iconic K2 was to be red – standing proud as the colour of pillar boxes.

The K2’s domed roof was believed to echo the ornate design of the tomb of Sir John Soane, a fellow architect. The K2 was beautifully designed and functional. Rain water was directed off by vertical grooves down its sides. The ventilated crown at the top was handily placed far enough away from the speaker so that their conversation could not be heard outside, whilst still providing fresh air. Another design feature included was a sloped floor… to offset possible unsavoury use as a urinal. Many K2’s remain in the street today, predominantly in London. This was partly the downfall of the K2 – it was too expensive to produce in bulk to send out across the country. All K2’s today are listed.

Everything to everyone

Let us pass swiftly by the K3, the cream concrete version of the K2, (although there is one still inside London Zoo), and only briefly mention the K4, designed in 1925. The K4 tried to be everything to everyone – a combination telephone kiosk, stamp vending machine and post box. Sadly, it was not practical. Making a phone call in a kiosk that was next to a noisy road (enabling a quick collection of letters by the postal worker) simply did not work. An ideal site for a kiosk was not necessarily the same for a post box. Only 50 K4’s were made.

Two views of the K4 telephone kiosk, currently on show at our Museum Store.

Two views of the K4 telephone kiosk, currently on show at our Museum Store.

Triumphant (and cheaper)

I will also miss out altogether the prototype K5 and come instead to 1935 when the now Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed the K6. The triumphant (and cheaper) alternative to the K2 had been found.

The K6, designed in King George V’s Silver Jubilee year and referred to as the Jubilee Kiosk, eventually hit our streets in 1936. At least 60,000 were produced and can still be seen up and down the country today. Many councils disliked the red colour and as long as the bars across the doors remained red, the box itself could be painted a more muted colour such as grey or green.

The K6 was a slimmer, less fancy version of the K2; and, of course, it was practical. The central horizontal panes of glass on the doors of the K6 were elongated- to allow internal advertising to be viewed through the doors. In short, the K6 was a triumph.

Reflecting a newer, post-war era

The K8 telephone kiosk.

The K8 telephone kiosk.

The K6 stood the test of time. It was not until the early 1960’s when another prototype, the K7, was introduced, and it was 1968 when a successor, the K8, was introduced as an alternative. The K8, the last of the cast iron kiosks, was designed by Bruce Martin. Glazed on 3 sides with a large single glass panel per side, it reflected a newer, post-war era. Gone is the crown, coinciding with discussions about whether the Queen’s head should be removed from stamps, and also with the crown being removed from pillar boxes.

An end to kiosks under the GPO

From 1981 BT took over the telephone communication service and the GPO’s involvement ceased. The kiosks and the telephone service still remain an important part of the BPMA’s story, however, highlighting the visible face of the GPO and its importance in the fabric of communication. The BPMA’s treasure trove Museum Store in Debden holds examples of many of the kiosks discussed in this article. The only way to easily distinguish between the kiosks is to come and view them side by side at our Store! Come and decide on your favourite- mine is the K2.

Dominique Gardner – Exhibitions Officer

See our website for the schedule and booking details for Guided Store tours, or alternatively please contact Curator Emma Harper for enquiries about bespoke tours emma.harper@postalheritage.org.uk.

The National Telephone Kiosk Collection is held at the Avoncroft Museum near Bromsgrove.

Archive stock-take 2012: Transfer of material to BT Archives

Our annual stock-take is a necessary period of spring-cleaning for our archive service and collections, allowing us to tackle important jobs we don’t otherwise get time for.

My task this year was to identify, pull together and check off records that have been awaiting transfer to their more rightful home at BT Archives.

Telegram and telephonist posters which will be transfered to the BT Archives

Telegram and telephonist posters which will be transfered to the BT Archives

As a consequence of the British Telecommunications Act, 1981, which transferred the responsibility for telecommunications services from the Post Office to British Telecom, a lot of material has been transferred by us to BT Archives since they were established in 1986. They have their own collecting policy, which essentially concerns historical material reflecting the development and operations of BT and its predecessors.

The records set aside for transfer to BT during stock-take clearly fall under this remit, including some wonderful posters dating from the 1930s to the 1950s promoting telephonist jobs, advising on wartime telephone usage, and advertising overseas telegrams and radiotelegrams to ships at sea. The material also includes telegraph training manuals for the early twentieth century, telephone service instructions for the 1930s, and a large number of files relating to a gas explosion in the telegram-conveying pneumatic tube line beneath Holborn in 1928. There are numerous interesting claims files submitted by local residents, plus one for Fred Astaire and his sister, who were starring in a production of Funny Face at the Princes Theatre (now Shaftesbury Theatre), which was suspended for several weeks as a result of the explosion.

Vital paperwork needs to be completed before a transfer of archive material can take place to ensure accountability and good house-keeping. A complete list of all the records was compiled on a spreadsheet, which was then approved by the BPMA’s Head of Archives and Records Management. This material can then be copied into an Exit/Receipt form, which will then be signed by myself, our Head of Archives and Records Management and the Heritage Collections Manager at BT Archives, a copy of which I will place in a registered file for safekeeping at the BPMA.

All the listing and transfer approval has been dealt with in advance of stock-take to allow sufficient time for any hitches. So what’s left to do now? Essentially carefully packaging and boxing up the material ready for a short taxi ride down to the old Holborn telephone exchange (where the BT Archives are houses), and then updating our records (including those on our catalogue where necessary) to show that the material has been transferred.

Material ready for transfer.

Material ready for transfer.

The transfer of material to BT is by no means a finite process, as our uncatalogued records may well contain telecoms material that will only appear as we work through our backlog. However, as we attempt to get our house in order prior to our big move to Calthorpe House, this upcoming transfer will help to make sure we only take with us material designated for long-term preservation at the BPMA, whilst clearing some much needed space in our repository.

Although I’m sorry to see those lovely telephonist and telegram posters go, at least they will be going to a very good home! Keep your eyes peeled for them on the BT catalogue!

The telephonist has an interesting job - poster by Dorrit Dekk

The telephonist has an interesting job – poster by Dorrit Dekk

Anna Flood – Archivist (Cataloguing)

For an overview of Telecommunications in our collection please visit our website.

Greetings Telegrams

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist

Greetings telegrams were introduced in Great Britain on 24 July 1935; for the payment of an extra 3d (three pence) people could have their telegrams delivered on a specially illustrated form complete with a golden envelope.

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service: "A new way of saying Many Happy Returns"

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service (POST 104/15).

Greetings telegrams had already proved popular in other countries and they were an instant hit with the British public with nearly 25,000 telegrams being sent in the first week.

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service: "Send a Greetings Telegram"

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service (POST 104/15).

For the Post Office, greetings telegrams were a means of revitalising the telegraph service; according to E T Crutchley in his book ‘GPO’ (p140), it gave the service ‘a chance to play its part in the joyful occasions of life’, helping it to ‘dispel that atmosphere of dread and sorrow with which the telegram was so often surrounded in the past’.

In 1935 George V sent a message to the Postmaster General congratulating him on the 300th anniversary of the Post Office, he chose to send his message via the recently launched Greetings Telegram service on a form designed by Margaret Calkin James.  This message was reproduced and displayed in post offices around the country in order to advertise the service.

A reproduction of the greetings telegram sent by George V to the Postmaster General used as advertising in post offices.

A reproduction of the greetings telegram sent by George V to the Postmaster General used as advertising in post offices (POST 104/14).

The Post Office employed several key artists to produce telegrams; these included Frank Newbould, Claudia Freedman, Edward Ardizzone and Rex Whistler. Whistler designed the very first St Valentine’s day greetings telegram in February 1936; it proved popular and thereafter St Valentine’s day greetings telegrams were issued annually.

The St Valentine's day telegram is bordered with cherubs holding arrangements of leaves and fruits.

St Valentine’s day greetings telegram form 1936 designed by Rex Whistler (POST 104).

The Post Office also issued exhibition souvenir greetings telegrams.

A souvineer telegram from the Post Office Exhibition, Portsmouth & Southsea, 1936. The telegram has a thick blue border and a drawing of a telegram messanger boy aboard a motorcycle.

Souvenir greetings telegram from the Post Office Exhibition, Portsmouth & Southsea, 1936 (POST 104/26).

The telegram has a blue and red border featuring a Christmas tree and an image of a telegram messenger boy.

Souvenir greetings telegram from the Young People’s Post Office Exhibition (POST 104/26).

In 1937, Macdonald Gill was commissioned to produce a special telegram to celebrate the coronation of George VI. In 1953, this idea was used again when Harold Lynton Lamb designed a telegram to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II.

The telegram is bordered by the monarch's coat of arms, surrounded by official flowers of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland

George VI coronation telegram designed by Macdonald Gill, 1937 (POST 104).

Up until December 1940, greetings telegrams were delivered in a distinctive golden envelope, this colour was intended to emphasise the special nature of their contents. The outbreak of war necessitated the introduction of a new envelope, which was printed on white paper in blue to enable telegram delivery boys to read the addresses more easily during blackout periods.

Wartime exigencies brought about the suspension of the Greetings Telegram service on 30 April 1943; prior to this, economies had been made, with telegrams being issued in a more basic format to save on ink and paper.

The service was not reintroduced until November 1950 when the end of paper rationing saw the launch of a new greetings telegram form, designed by Claudia Freedman, together with a new yellow envelope, printed with red and black.

The return of the Greetings Telegram service was welcomed and the ensuing years saw designs by eminent artists such as, Eric Fraser, Balint Stephen Biro and John Strickland Goodall.

On 1 March 1957, in an attempt to boost usage of the service, a special ‘deluxe’ style of greetings telegram was introduced; this was a large folded card which came with a matching envelope, similar to a greetings card. The first of these, designed by Elizabeth Corsellis, was a wedding congratulations telegram, this was the first in a range of telegrams intended for specific occasions including birthdays and new births.

In 1982 the Inland Telegram service was axed by BT, although the Telemessaging service, which involved the sending of special occasion cards containing telephoned or telexed messages, continued to fulfil a similar function to the greetings telegram.

The book Bringers of Good Tidings by Ruth Artmonsky explores the Greetings Telegram is more detail. It is available now from our online shop.

40th Anniversary of the Post Office Act 1969

On Tuesday 13th October we will be welcoming author and historian Duncan Campbell-Smith to the BPMA to deliver a talk on the Post Office Act 1969. Duncan Campbell-Smith is well placed to speak on this topic as he is currently researching an authorised history of the British Post Office, due to be published in 2011.

The logo of the General Post Office

The logo of the General Post Office

The Post Office Act 1969 brought about one of the most momentous changes to the Post Office since Charles I allowed his subjects to use the postal service (or Royal Mail) in 1635. The 1969 Act meant that the General Post Office ceased to be a government department and became a statutory corporation. The office of Postmaster General was replaced by a Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, and the word “General” was dropped from the organisation’s name. At the same time telecommunications were split from postal services, resulting in two separate entities with two separate budgets – Post Office Telecommunications and the Post Office – allowing each organisation to focus on its area of specialty.

Over the next four decades there were further structural and names changes, one of the most significant being that in 1981 postal and telecommunications services were separated entirely, resulting in British Telecommunications and Royal Mail (responsible for post and parcels, Post Office counters and National Giro). This complicated business history and the reasons behind it will no doubt be fully examined in both Duncan Campbell-Smith’s talk on the Post Office Act 1969 and his upcoming book.

To book for the talk 40th Anniversary of the Post Office Act 1969 please see our website.