Oliver Carter-Wakefield, a research student at Kings College London, gave a talk at The Royal Mail Archive recently on disease and occupational illness amongst Post Office staff during the latter half of the 19th Century. It may not sound like the most interesting of subjects but Oliver’s talk generated a great deal of comment from our audience, and you can now hear a recording of it on our podcast.
Oliver’s findings were discovered through his research at The Royal Mail Archive. Consumption, necrosis and mental derangement were just some of the conditions Victorian postal workers suffered.
This and other previous talks we’ve presented are available to download for free from our website or from iTunes. Amongst the speakers you can hear are Tony Benn and the designer Brian Webb. Other podcasts cover topics including wartime, poster design, women’s suffrage and the production of stamps.
General Post Office medicine bottle
This Saturday is a very busy day for us. Apart from taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Show, we also have our annual Archive Open Day, organised as part of the Archive Awareness Campaign.
This year’s theme for the Archive Awareness Campaign is Science, Technology and Medicine. Archives around the country will open their files to uncover the stories behind some of the most groundbreaking inventions from the nineteenth century, and to highlight the role of the men and women who made outstanding contributions to the field. At the BPMA our focus will be Sickness and Disease in the Post Office, in particular, Vaccination and Quarantine.
1870 GPO notice encouraging staff to get vaccinated for smallpox
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Post Office employees were medically inspected before appointment and this inspection included checking for marks of primary and secondary smallpox vaccination. If signs of vaccination were not present the candidate was required to either undergo vaccination prior to appointment, or to obtain a statutory declaration of conscientious objection. In the early twentieth century concerns were raised regarding the safety of vaccination, and a few postal employees suffered severe side effects or death after being vaccinated. Files on this subject will be on display in the BPMA Search Room on the day.
1972 Post Office poster promoting influenza vaccination
At around the same time Post Office employees were also required to stay away from work if an infectious disease such as Scarlet Fever, Smallpox, Cholera, Typhus or Typhoid was present in their households. This led to questions as to whether employees required to be absent under these conditions should still receive pay, and how long absence should be enforced for. Records in Royal Mail Archive contain guidelines on how an infectious patient should be separated from the rest of the household, and how the room should be subsequently disinfected.
Alongside this, the BPMA also has files on how the Post Office treated mail from countries suffering from epidemic diseases.
Comparisons with the material in the archives will also be drawn with modern day medical issues such as the concerns surrounding the MMR vaccine, the handling of the swine flu epidemic, and employers offering (encouraging) seasonal flu vaccinations.
Find out more about the Archive Open Day on our website.
12th November is Follow an Archive Day on Twitter. Follow us and see what others are saying using the hashtag #followanarchive.
Posted in Archive, Events, Postal History
Tagged Archive Awareness Campaign, cholera, disease, disinfected mail, flu, General Post Office, GPO, GPO posters, influenza, medicine bottle, open day, Post Office, postal workers, Royal Mail, Royal Mail Archive, scarlet fever, sickness, smallpox, smallpox vaccine, typhoid, typhus, vaccination