Tag Archives: Dr Beeching

Oh, Doctor Beeching!

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dr Richard Beeching’s The Reshaping of British Railways which led to a major reduction and restructuring of the country’s railway route network (these measures became popularly known as the Beeching Axe). Two long-term effects of Beeching on mail transport were increases in transport by road and routing via London.

Controversial both at the time and subsequently, Beeching’s first report (he followed up two years later with a second, The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes) identified 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of railway line for closure, representing 55% of all stations and 30% of route miles; the intention being to address increased competition by road transport through cutting less profitable rail services. Beeching had been tasked to write the report by a former Postmaster General, Ernest Marples (who had moved to the Ministry of Transport).

There are a number of files in The Royal Mail Archive which reflect the impact of the report on the General Post Office, some of which have recently gone on our online catalogue among the last batch of files from the decentralised registry POST class, POST 122. 18 April 1963 saw a special Postal Controllers’ Conference held at GPO HQ to discuss the effects of Beeching’s report (POST 73/183). A Steering Group within the Post Office had also been set up meeting regularly throughout 1963. At a wider level, the Post Office was represented on an inter-departmental Working Party.

 POST 73/183, Postal Controllers’ Conference with copy of the Beeching report (from POST 18/208)

POST 73/183, Postal Controllers’ Conference with copy of the Beeching report (from POST 18/208)

Despite these arrangements, Director of Postal Services Brigadier K S Holmes made this assessment at the April Conference:

…it did not seem that Dr Beeching’s proposals would be likely to cause us grave difficulties from a service angle.

For those interested in matters concerning the transport of mail by rail these files should give an insight into a period of great change in the British railway network.

Gavin McGuffie – Archive Catalogue and Project Manager

The Office of Postmaster General: Its holders in the Twentieth Century

by Dr Adrian Steel, Acting CEO

The office of Postmaster General (PMG) was abolished upon the creation of the Post Office Corporation by the Post Office Act of 1969, forty years ago this year. BPMA is holding a talk about this great change in the Autumn. We are occasionally asked about some of the politicians who held the office and went on to great fame, notably Clement Attlee (Postmaster General in 1931, Prime Minister 1945-1951, and one of only two Labour Prime Ministers to use their given first name) and Neville Chamberlain (Postmaster General 1922-1923, Prime Minister 1937-1940). However, 32 politicians held the office between 1902 and 1969, and of the others there are some notable points of interest.

Neville Chamberlain’s half-brother Austen was PMG from 1902-1903, the only holder of the office to subsequently win the Nobel Peace Prize. He was honoured for his role in negotiating the Locarno treaties of 1925, aimed at bolstering peace and stability in post-Great War Europe, and the following year French and German statesmen were similarly recognised.

Sir William Joynson Hicks (PMG 1923) later became Home Secretary in Stanley Baldwin’s 1924-1929 Conservative government. As such, during the 1926 General Strike he was the hate figure of the trade unions, whose propaganda used the shortened name ‘Jix’ to enable better-rhyming abuse to be created. PMG in the 1924-1929 government, Sir William Mitchell-Thompson, was at the helm at the inception of television. Later, as Lord Selsdon, he chaired a 1930s commission on the introduction of public television and was one of few people to appear on the first day of BBC broadcast television in 1936.

As PMG under Harold Macmillan in the late 1950s, Ernest Marples oversaw the first Premium Bonds draw. He later found greater fame as the transport minister who appointed the railway-axing Dr Beeching to chair British Rail, and as the introducer of the parking meter. His life ended in controversy, he died in Monaco having fled Britain amid claims of tax evasion on a large scale.

Tony Benn is perhaps the most famous ex-PMG still alive, but at age 96 his successor, Edward Short, PMG from 1966-1968, and now Lord Glenamara, is at present the oldest living parliamentarian.

Tony Benn as Postmaster General

Tony Benn as Postmaster General

The Travelling Post Office

Travelling Post Offices (or TPOs) were railway carriages specially adapted for Post Office workers to sort mail in whilst it was being carried to its destination. They were introduced in 1838, a mere eight years after the first public railway (which ran between Liverpool to Manchester) was opened and proved to be a faster and more efficient method of delivering mail than Mail Coaches.

The layout of TPOs evolved very early on, driven by the unique nature of the work involved. The sorting frames were normally on the right looking towards the engine with a well table (sunken recess to hold mail) below for emptying mailbags into. Opposite this were metal pegs with destination bag labels attached in readiness to hang mail bags for sorted mail.

Early TPOs were quite primitive in their facilities with oil lighting, low, flat roofs and no heating or toilets! In the 1860s, gradual improvements were made as ventilators and better lights were installed and arched roofs introduced along with floor matting, padding and seats.

The TPO service ran until early 2004. It had been in a gradual decline since World War 2, with Dr Beeching’s 1963 report on the railways having a particular impact on the service. Transport technology was changing too, with it becoming more economical to move mail by road or air. Problems with service level agreements and concern for the health and safety of staff were the final nails in the coffin.

In 1999 the BPMA purchased a TPO dating from 1908, which was restored at the London & North West Railway (LNWR) workshop at Crewe. It is on display at The Crewe Heritage Centre, which is open on weekends and bank holidays from Easter to the last weekend in September.

The BPMAs TPO: before restoration.

The BPMA's TPO: before restoration.

The BPMAs TPO: after restoration

The BPMA's TPO: after restoration

For more information on TPOs please see our Online Exhibition The Travelling Post Office.