Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens and Postal Communication with Dr Tony Williams

Cartoon from Punch's Almanack for 1854

Cartoon from Punch’s Almanack for 1854

Charles Dickens was a prodigious letter writer as well as a writer in other forms. We now have available to us his letters, in twelve large volumes, as the Pilgrim Edition and comprising some 14,252 pieces of correspondence he wrote from the earliest known items from the 1820s through to his final letters in 1870 shortly before he died. What we don’t have, of course, is the correspondence he received from other people because he burnt it all when he moved into Gad’s Hill Place in 1860. Letters keep appearing, like the one which emerged not so long ago, falling out of the covers of a second-hand Bible, and was recently sold for £7,000. Some 300 new discoveries have been published in The Dickensian, the journal of The Dickens Fellowship. There is now also a selection of some 450 letters, edited by Jenny Hartley and published by OUP, which give an excellent flavour of the range of subjects covered. Dickens’s letters are addressed to 2500 known correspondents and 200 unknown: they cover a wide range of topics: letters of business, letters to family, friends; letters home whilst travelling; domestic letters; letters about writing novels and creating characters; about performing and charitable acts; letters in times of personal crisis, birth and bereavements, invitations. Above all they communicate an enormously vibrant sense of his colossal energy and appetite for life.

Dickens was living at a time when the postal system was reformed, especially with the introduction of a standardised penny post in 1840. This led to vast increase in letters sent – threefold in first year and by 1860s eightfold. In major towns and cities there would be ten to twelve deliveries a day: letters posted in the morning would reach their addressee by the late afternoon or evening. It was the 19th century’s new communication medium, much as for us it has been email!

In our talk Dr Tony Williams will explore some of the letters in Dickens’s fiction and his writing about developments in the postal system in his journalism, as well as sharing with the audience some examples of Dickens’s own correspondence. Dr Williams is a frequent speaker on Dickens. He is Associate Editor of The Dickensian and a Senior Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham. From 1999 to 2006 he was Joint General Secretary of the International Dickens Fellowship and a Trustee of the Charles Dickens Museum in London.

Dr Williams will be preceded by Dr Adrian Steel at 6pm who will talk on “The Future of Britain’s Postal Heritage”.  Further details and tickets are available here.

What the privatisation of Royal Mail means to us

Our Director Adrian Steel gives a historical perspective on today’s announcement that Royal Mail will soon be privatised.

The human need to communicate is ever present. But to give a historical perspective on the British postal service – details of the sale of which have been announced today – the usual starting point is the creation of the office of ‘Master of the Posts’ in 1512, its endorsement in 1517, or the Royal Proclamation of 31 July 1635 which effectively saw the opening of the ‘Royal Mail’ to public use. The last of these is most frequently given as the start of what is now the Royal Mail business.

The King's Messenger A.D. 1482, artwork for poster by John Armstrong which was part of a series for schools on the history of communication. This reflects Royal Mail's origins as a messenger service for the monarch and government.

The King’s Messenger A.D. 1482, artwork for poster by John Armstrong which was part of a series for schools on the history of communication. This reflects Royal Mail’s origins as a messenger service for the monarch and government.

Throughout most of its existence the service has been the subject of public and political debate. The tension between the need for it to run as a business and turn a profit (which at times in the 17th century was paid to those who bought what was effectively the ‘farm’ of revenue for a part of the service – we have the accounts in the Royal Mail Archive), and the need for it to provide a socially necessary service, is ongoing and – as underpins Duncan Campbell-Smith’s authoritative 2011 history Masters of the Post – recurrent.

The political importance of the postal service is by and large a constant. For a good part of its early history there were two Postmasters General – (usually) one Whig and one Tory – as shown by our POST 67 archive series containing appointment Letters Patent. The 19th century expansion as a result of postal reform was a transformative national event, one that saw what had by then become known as the Post Office permeate literature from Dickens to Trollope (who was himself a Surveyor for the Post Office and credited with the creation of the pillar box). In the early 20th century the service grew to encompass the infant telephone system, saw politicians such as Austen and Neville Chamberlain and Clement Attlee cut their teeth in government as Postmaster General, and the first extended thought on whether a government department really was the right vehicle for what the Post Office did. Harold Wilson’s government – whose Postmaster Generals include the only surviving holder of this office, Roy Mason and Tony Benn – converted the Post Office into a state-owned corporation via the 1969 Post Office Act. After that, the telephone service was separated and later sold as British Telecom, and in the past 15 years two Postal Services Acts have again changed the status of the organisation. The most recent, that of 2011, is the legislation that has led to today’s announcement.

Central Telephone Exchange - telephone operators at a telegraph board (2010-0412/2). Telephones were once under the control of the General Post Office.

Central Telephone Exchange – telephone operators at a telegraph board (2010-0412/2). Telephones were once under the control of the General Post Office.

During the debates on the 2011 Act, concern was expressed across the political spectrum that Britain’s postal heritage, as cared for by the BPMA, should be safeguarded. At the time I took part in correspondence with a number of interested politicians and Ministers and we had visits from All-Party Groups, individual Peers and MPs from all parties (and none), and from Coalition ministers. Amendments were tabled and discussed and eventually a clause added to what was already in the then Bill, ensuring that the heritage of the postal service was properly cared for and reported to Parliament upon even after a privatisation such as was announced today. With this protection and support behind us, plans for our new home well advanced, and ongoing support from politicians, Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd, BPMA looks forward to providing a first class home for this great service’s history for generations to come.

Visualisation of BPMA's New Centre at Calthorpe House.

Visualisation of BPMA’s New Centre at Calthorpe House.

For more on the history of the Royal Mail see our online exhibition The Peoples Post.

Duncan Campbell-Smith, author of Masters of the Post – The Authorized History of the Royal Mail will speak on The Royal Mail Past and Present at the Guildhall Library on 24 October 2013.

Charles Dickens stamps

Mr Bumble, Mr Pickwick and Mr Micawber are all instantly recognisable creations of Charles Dickens, one of Britain’s greatest novelists. To commemorate the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth Royal Mail is celebrating his life and work of with ten new stamps issued today.

The stamps feature iconic characters from some of Dickens’ most famous novels, including Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist, Mr Micawber from David Copperfield and Captain Cuttle from Dombey and Son. Six of the stamps feature original illustrations adapted from Character Sketches from Charles Dickens, by Joseph Clayton Clarke (otherwise known as Kyd) and originally published around 1890.

2nd Class – Mr Bumble – Oliver Twist; 1st Class – Mr Pickwick – The Pickwick Papers; 77p – The Marchioness – The Old Curiosity Shop; 87p – Mrs Gamp – Martin Chuzzlewitt; £1.28 – Captain Cuttle – Dombey and Son; £1.90 – Mr Micawber – David Copperfield.

2nd Class – Mr Bumble – Oliver Twist; 1st Class – Mr Pickwick – The Pickwick Papers; 77p – The Marchioness – The Old Curiosity Shop; 87p – Mrs Gamp – Martin Chuzzlewitt; £1.28 – Captain Cuttle – Dombey and Son; £1.90 – Mr Micawber – David Copperfield.

Royal Mail is also issuing a miniature sheet of four stamps of illustrations by Hablot Knight Brown (known as Phiz), who illustrated ten books by Dickens.

1st Class - Nicholas Nickleby; 1st Class - Bleak House; 1st Class - Little Dorrit; 1st Class - A Tale of Two Cities.

1st Class – Nicholas Nickleby; 1st Class – Bleak House; 1st Class – Little Dorrit; 1st Class – A Tale of Two Cities.

The presentation pack that accompanies the issue is written by Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, who takes a look at her great, great, great grandfather’s life and works.

Charles Dickens or his work has appeared on three previous stamp issues: Literary Anniversaries (1970), Christmas (150th Anniversary of A Christmas Carol, 1993) and Musicals (Oliver! 2011).

Four stamps from the Literary Anniversaries issue, 3 June 1970. 5d – Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller – Pickwick Papers; 5d – Mr and Mrs Micawber – David Copperfield; 5d - David Copperfield and Betsy Trotwood – David Copperfield; 5d - Oliver asking for more – Oliver Twist.

Four stamps from the Literary Anniversaries issue, 3 June 1970. 5d – Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller – Pickwick Papers; 5d – Mr and Mrs Micawber – David Copperfield; 5d – David Copperfield and Betsy Trotwood – David Copperfield; 5d – Oliver asking for more – Oliver Twist.

150th Anniversary of Publication of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens issue, 9 November 2011. 19p – Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim; 25p – Mr and Mrs Fezziwig; 30p – Scrooge; 35p – The Prize Turkey; 41p – Mr Scrooge’s Nephew.

150th Anniversary of Publication of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens issue, 9 November 2011. 19p – Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim; 25p – Mr and Mrs Fezziwig; 30p – Scrooge; 35p – The Prize Turkey; 41p – Mr Scrooge’s Nephew.

A stamp from the Stage Musicals issue, 22 February 2011. 1st Class - Oliver!

A stamp from the Stage Musicals issue, 22 February 2011. 1st Class – Oliver!

Two first day of issue handstamps are available with the new Charles Dickens stamps. One features Dickens’ initials and Dickens’ sometime pseudonym “Boz”, the other features a book design.

Charles Dickens first day of issue handstamps.

Charles Dickens first day of issue handstamps.

The Charles Dickens stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, online and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

Two Charles Dickens Coaching Prints from our collection can be viewed on Flickr.

Dickens Coaching Prints

Today marks 200 years since the birth of Charles John Huffam Dickens, Victorian novelist and arguably one of the earliest ‘literary celebrities’. Dickens’ works remain popular today for their colourful characters, intricate plots and social commentary, and the anniversary allows me to highlight a couple of items from the BPMA’s collection; namely two hand coloured prints of Dickens coaching scenes.

The prints show scenes from two of Dickens’ novels; David Copperfield and Great Expectations. The artist, Albert Ludovici Jr. (1852-1932), had a particular fondness for the English ‘coaching age’ and these prints are part of a larger series of coaching scenes, probably made in the late 1800’s, featuring episodes from Dickens novels. At least 16 of Ludovici’s Dickens Coaching series were later acquired by R. Tuck and Sons of Bishopsgate, London who produced the prints in the BPMA collection.

David Copperfield arrives in London (2009-0055/1)

David Copperfield arrives in London (2009-0055/1)

In ‘David Copperfield Arrives in London’ the young David can bee seen standing at the back of a mail coach which has stopped in the street outside ‘The Blue Boar/ Posting Establishment’. The coach has a sign at back giving the main stops along the route – in this instance London, Ipswich and Yarmouth. The artist has captured the liveliness of the scene, including some suitably ‘Dickensian’ characters such as a dapper gentleman with an eye patch and an old woman getting off the coach by ladder.

‘The Meeting of Pip & Estella in the Inn Yard’ shows the adult Pip and Estella standing outside ‘The Crosskeys/ Coffee House’. Again, a red and black mail coach form part of the background for the scene.

The Meeting of Pip & Estella in the Inn Yard (2009-0055/2)

The Meeting of Pip & Estella in the Inn Yard (2009-0055/2)

Although today the term ‘Dickensian’ is often used to reflect the Victorian era in general, many of Dickens’ novels, including the two depicted here, are set somewhat earlier, before the development of the railways led to the end of the mail coach service. Certainly, the romance of the mail coach outlasted the service itself, as reflected in the artist’s comments about the series in his memoirs An Artists’ Life in London and Paris:

I cannot help feeling sorry for the present generation, who have no idea of these good old times, and my only regret is that I did not live in the coaching days, which I have so often tried to depict in my Charles Dickens coaching series of pictures.

Both prints have a copyright notice dated 1903 and their clarity suggests that they may possibly be facsimiles of the originals. The prints are lovely items in themselves, and it is arguable that continued reproductions of the images in the early 20th Century simply reflect the enduring popular appeal of many of Dickens’ well-loved characters.

– Sarah Jenkins, Assistant Cataloguer (Collections)

See larger version of these two prints on our Flickr site. Find out more about Mail Coaches on our website, where you can also see items from our collection related to Horse-Drawn Mail.