Tag Archives: Courier

Media Matters in the Archive

Last month on the BPMA blog, I wrote about how we catalogue archives. Since then I’ve primarily been working in the areas of the Archive concerned with Post Office media campaigns, PR and communications (POST 108 and POST 118). In this month’s cataloguing update I’ll tell you about some of the challenges presented by this material.

Matt contemplates the range of media types to be catalogued.

Matt contemplates the range of media types to be catalogued.

The picture above shows a sample of (mostly duplicate) archives from the boxes I’m cataloguing in the POST 108 backlog. As you can see, these archives aren’t just paper! I’m cataloguing VHS training videos, audio tapes of press interviews, and reams of promotional publications sent out to staff, business clients, and the press. There are also CD-ROMs containing digital documents. The reel you can see resulted from a 1980s Royal Mail programme to microfilm thousands of paper reports from earlier years, and I’ve got a box of nearly 60 reels to catalogue!

All these relatively new media are at odds with the traditional image of archives as being old and paper-based, but they’re archives all the same. At the moment we still have the technology to access information held on obsolete media like VHS tapes, but how will they be accessed in the future when no one is making devices that play them? In the longer term, it may be necessary to migrate audio/video/digital archives to new media. For now, though, I’m concentrating on cataloguing these hundreds of archives as rapidly as possible, ready for them to be opened in line with the 20-year rule.

A big task for me in the coming weeks is to catalogue several hundred files produced during the publication of Courier, the Royal Mail Group staff magazine that’s still published today. These files are being transferred from the POST 108 backlog to POST 118, joining related archives already on the catalogue, and the work is being ably assisted by our new volunteer Leanne, who joined us in September.

The files contain all the photographs collected during production of each monthly Courier edition in the 1970s and 1980s. The photographs don’t merely illustrate high-level business stories; they were also collected to accompany articles on local news from all over the UK. Best of all, the files include the images that were rejected for publication. Thanks to the Archive, they have escaped oblivion.

A sample of uncatalogued photographic files from the Courier archives.

A sample of uncatalogued photographic files from the Courier archives.

The immediate priority is preservation. As you can see from the image above (a handful of files from one of seven crates!), the photos were originally stored in batches inside office dividers. Some sets of prints, like the one on the bottom left, are still in their original glassine envelopes. This isn’t optimal for long-term preservation – photos can stick together over time – so I’ll need to transfer them to individual polyester pockets stored within acid-free archival folders.

There are cataloguing challenges, too. While many photographs were taken by Post Office staff, many more were simply bought from third-party agencies. It’s not always possible to determine copyright ownership, as some prints are unlabelled. My job as an archivist is helped by the slips attached to many prints, identifying their subjects and the Courier editions for which they were selected. The bottom-right print in the photograph above is an example. Unfortunately, standard practice was apparently to date images by month… but not by year! Ultimately, even after cataloguing is complete, it may be necessary to cross-reference these photographic files with the published Courier editions held in POST 92 to exploit this resource fully.

Repackaged and catalogued Courier photographs. This portrait (POST 118/14028.jpg) shows Dorothy Fothergill, appointed Director of the London Postal Region in 1971.

Repackaged and catalogued Courier photographs. This portrait (POST 118/14028.jpg) shows Dorothy Fothergill, appointed Director of the London Postal Region in 1971.

With hundreds of archives in the POST 108 backlog that need special packaging and cataloguing, there’s a mountain of work to do! Once it’s finished, though, it will enrich the picture of the Post Office’s more recent history. This is just one part of the ongoing cataloguing work being undertaken by colleagues and volunteers at the BPMA.

– Matt Tantony, Project Archivist (Cataloguing)

Royal Mail’s Paralympics Hero

Much has been written about how Paralympians have overcome adversity to achieve sporting success. It is also notable that many Paralympians compete in more than one discipline. Team GB’s first London 2012 Paralympics Gold Medal winner Sarah Storey has overcame her disability to win multiple medals in several sports. The same is true with Royal Mail’s Paralympics hero Ian Hayden.

Royal Mail's Gold Medal Winner stamp issued today commemorating Sarah Storey's gold medal win in the Cycling: Track Women's C5 Pursuit.

Royal Mail’s Gold Medal Winner stamp issued today commemorating Sarah Storey’s gold medal win in the Cycling: Track Women’s C5 Pursuit.

Ian Hayden joined the Army in 1970 but suffered injuries to his back, legs and shoulders after being attacked on guard duty in 1974. While this ended his Army career, Ian Hayden was obviously not a man to rest on his laurels – within two years he had started a business and formed the charity All About Ability. He also became active in a variety of sports after leaving the Army, including horse riding, cycling, golf and athletics.

After being asked to open the new disabled entrance to a local Post Office, Ian became an Equal Opportunities Officer and Employment Consultant at Royal Mail Oxford.

Royal Mail’s staff magazine Courier reported in January 1992 that Ian Hayden had been selected for the Barcelona Paralympics. He had previously won two Gold Medals and one Silver Medal at the Seoul Paralympics in 1988, and was also the World Record holder in javelin, discus and shot in the standing position.

Ian Hayden with his medals from the Seoul Paralympics and other championships, with Royal Mail managing director Bill Cockburn. (Courier, January 1992)

Ian Hayden with his medals from the Seoul Paralympics and other championships, with Royal Mail managing director Bill Cockburn. (Courier, January 1992)

Later that year, in the July issue of Courier, it was reported that Ian had been forced to switch from competing in the standing position to competing from a wheelchair. But this proved not to be a problem, as he then went on to break three new records at the national championships, and to break two of them again in international competition.

At the Barcelona Olympics itself Ian Hayden won two Silver Medals, despite injuring his arm whilst getting out of the bath at the Olympic village. The October 1992 issue of Courier reported that this injury caused Ian a great deal of pain, as apart from his physical disabilities Ian was also a haemophilic. Reporter Graham Harvey wrote that Ian “ignored the pain to take silver in the shot and javelin”. Ian himself said of his experience at Barcelona “I was beginning to bleed pretty badly after competing so I had no choice but to withdraw from the discus”, the implication being that had he been able to compete he may have medalled in that event too.

Ian Hayden with his two Barcelona Paralympics Silver Medals, which he won despite an arm injury. (Courier, October 1992)

Ian Hayden with his two Barcelona Paralympics Silver Medals, which he won despite an arm injury. (Courier, October 1992)

Ian Hayden had hoped to go to the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics but injured his back during qualifying. However, in 1995 he completed a sponsored ride from John O Grots to Lands End on a hand-powered bicycle, which raised £100,000 for the British Paralympics Association, so he still managed to contribute to British Paralympics success in Atlanta.

Ian Hayden (front left) with fellow Paralympian Tanni Grey (later Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson), receiving a cheque for £200,000 from postman Brian Burnham (top left) on TV-am in 1992. Also pictured is TV-am presenter Katharyn Holloway. The money was raised for the British Paralympic Team by Royal Mail employees. At this time Royal Mail was the only sponsor of both the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. (Courier, September 1992)

Ian Hayden (front left) with fellow Paralympian Tanni Grey (later Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson), receiving a cheque for £200,000 from postman Brian Burnham (top left) on TV-am in 1992. Also pictured is TV-am presenter Katharyn Holloway. The money was raised for the British Paralympic Team by Royal Mail employees. At this time Royal Mail was the only sponsor of both the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. (Courier, September 1992)

Ian Hayden died aged 64 in 2011, and his obituary appeared in the Oxford Times. The obituary notes that Ian was awarded the MBE in 1994 for services to equal opportunities. His family reflected that “Ian led an amazing life.”

Stamps featuring all Great Britain’s Paralympics gold medal winners will be issued within 24 hours of victory. Visit your Post Office today to buy the stamps, or buy online at www.royalmail.com/goldmedalstamps.

The Royal Mail Archive in London holds back issues of Post Office and Royal Mail staff magazines, which are an invaluable resource for family historians and researchers. Find out more at www.postalheritage.org.uk/genealogy.

Duty and service in the Post Office in Pictures

Our current The Post Office in Pictures exhibition at The Lumen URC was conceived to show how ordinary peoples’ lives were changed through the service that the Post Office has provided. Through images of postmen and women delivering mail and serving communities in all sorts of conditions, we have endeavoured to show a unique service, second to none. What we’ve also found through our research, is how service has shaped the lives of those choosing to serve.

One of the more surprising and moving stories is that of John Rooney. A wonderful image of him rowing towards Trannish Island on Upper Lough Erne, Northern Ireland is featured in the exhibition but, were it not for a tip off from Peter Howe, the former Post Office photograph librarian, we would not have known of the richer, more heartbreaking and, ultimately wonderful story that surrounded his service in a remote part of the United Kingdom.

John Rooney rowing towards Trannish Island.

John Rooney rowing towards Trannish Island.

When discussing the exhibition, Peter told me that John was not the first Rooney to be postman for Lough Erne and proceeded to tell me the desperate tale of his brothers, William and James.

William Rooney was the postman before John and it was he that would row across the lough to each island, delivering the mail to each inhabitant. On a very cold evening on Friday 29th December 1961 he was returning across the lough to his home on the island of Innishturk. The lough had frozen over and William had to break the ice in front of him. Close to home, the ice became much worse and held his boat fast.

In the worsening conditions William’s brother, James, set out in another boat to find him and bring him home. Neither brother returned and, when a search took place the next morning, both were found dead in their boats on the lough.

I was able to verify Peter’s story from a poignant article written by S.G. Coulson in the Post Office magazine from February 1962.

Tribute to William Rooney, The Post Office Magazine, February 1962.

Tribute to William Rooney, The Post Office Magazine, February 1962.

It seems then, that after the tragedy that befell his brothers, John Rooney took up the service of delivering mail to the inhabitants on Lough Erne.

Peter also told me other details about John Rooney that I’ve yet to confirm. One of these is that postal workers across Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom began a fund to help the Rooney family in their hour of need. Enough money was raised to build a house for John’s and his mother.

I have found John Rooney featured in a story for The Courier, the Post Office’s in-house newspaper, in August 1972. The article describes his route across Lough Erne and the people he serves. The postmaster at Enniskillen declares;

It doesn’t matter how far off the beaten track people live – they’re still entitled to a postal service. And it’s thanks to people like John Rooney that they get it.

The Post Office in Pictures photo exhibition is at The Lumen URC, Bloomsbury, London until Friday 31 August. Visit the BPMA website to see an online preview. Images from the exhibition are available as greetings cards.

The Post Office in Pictures opens

Our photo exhibition The Post Office in Pictures is now open! It showcases a selection of inspiring images sourced from our vast collections.

Down Wapping Way

Down Wapping Way, 1935 - Part of the Post Office Magazine series ‘The Postman Everywhere’, which demonstrated the wide ranging experiences of postmen across the country. Postman Mr J Anthony is shown here in an area of Wapping, East London. The author of the accompanying article described the area as ‘narrow, dirty and unsalubrious...’ (POST 118/252)

From strange creatures sent through the post, to the daily deliveries by land, sea and air to every corner of the country, the photos featured offer a fascinating series of windows on Britain from the 1930s to 1980s – including some of the more unusual, unexpected and unseen activities of the Post Office and its people.

Public House & Post Office

Public House & Post Office, c. 1989 - A pint, a pie... and a pension at the Swan public house in Little Totham, near Maldon, Essex. Publican’s daughter Christine Baxter serving a postal customer in the bar of her parents’ pub. (010-018-002)

The exhibition is at The Post Modern Gallery in Swindon until 5 November. The Gallery is open from 11am to 5pm Monday to Saturday – for full details see our website.

Special drop-in events accompanying the exhibition include:

Explore The Post Office in Pictures
Wednesday 12 October, 6pm to 8pm
Craft Session & Late Opening
Join us for an evening exploring crafty connections between the photographs on display and a range of arts and crafts techniques. Enjoy a glass of wine, see practical demonstrations, and then have a go at something yourself, inspired by the fascinating images featured in The Post Office in Pictures.

The Post Office in Pictures Family Fun Days
Wednesday 26 and Thursday 27 October, 11am to 4pm
Half-Term Activities
Come to The Post Office in Pictures during half-term for a host of free family activities:

  • Put yourself in the Picture and create your own magazine front cover with you as the star! Use real post office uniforms for added authenticity.
  • Create your own Finger Puppet Postman from felt, and make a cap badge or armband based on what you can see in the exhibition. Real objects will be available to handle for added inspiration.
  • Why not bring along your camera to the fun day and take part in our Photographic Scavenger Hunt? Pick up the clues from the Post Modern, search Swindon for the postal items and snap as many as you can, and then return to the gallery to record your time – the fastest family over the two days will win a fantastic prize.

For more on The Post Office in Pictures see our online exhibition. Large versions of the images from the exhibition can be seen on Flickr. Photos from the exhibition are available to buy from our Print on Demand website.