Tag Archives: drawings

192,000 postmen’s inside legs, and other measurements in the Archive

In last month’s cataloguing update I wrote about the London sub-post office record books I’d discovered in the Archive. Since then I’ve been cataloguing records from the area of our collections devoted to the sorting and circulation of inland mail (POST 17 in the catalogue). I’ve added nearly 130 files to the catalogue this month, and edited existing descriptions for hundreds more. The records cover subjects like mail sorting machinery, the development of postcodes, and all kinds of technical details – some of them slightly odd. Here are some of my favourites.

POST 17/482 is a 1969 engineer’s study entitled Measurements of Postmen. The aim was to improve sorting office machinery ergonomics by finding out the average size of a British postman. The heights, arm lengths, and outside and inside leg measurements of thousands of postmen were collected and studied – there were 192,000 measurements for the legs! Getting all those postmen to proffer their legs for the engineer would have been an impossible (and traumatic) challenge. Instead, he studied all the sizes of uniforms ordered that year, to everyone’s benefit and, one suspects, relief.

Matt contemplates the awesome 1969 undertaking to collect and study 192,000 postmen’s inside leg measurements.

Matt contemplates the awesome 1969 undertaking to collect and study 192,000 postmen’s inside leg measurements.

On the subject of measurements, I spent several days cataloguing three large sets of engineering standard drawings from the 1970s and 1980s (POST 17/533-535). The drawings – over 450 in total – cover all aspects of automated mail sorting and circulation: conveyor belts, facing tables, coding desks, chutes, signage, even Morris delivery vans.

Two excerpts from a set of engineering standard drawings: a view of a retractable parcel chute (left) and an operational diagram of a packet storage hopper (right). (POST 17/533)

Two excerpts from a set of engineering standard drawings: a view of a retractable parcel chute (left) and an operational diagram of a packet storage hopper (right). (POST 17/533)

These standards contain the official dimensions of equipment to be manufactured for Royal Mail, including explanations of the jobs they were intended to do. In the case of postal vehicles, the standards go as far as specifying the turning circles of each model. Combined with the reports, brochures and technical specifications found elsewhere in POST 17, there’s a vast amount of information here for anyone interested in recent postal mechanisation developments.

There are also records dating back to the very early days of postal mechanisation. One of my favourite discoveries was a little book that was used between 1907 and 1930 to record staff suggestions for improving the mail handling process.

Several entries in the inventions and suggestions index. (POST 17/523)]

Several entries in the inventions and suggestions index. (POST 17/523)]

Sometimes staff put forward inventions, and the notes include technical sketches, such as the entry above for a time-saving rolling date stamp. The entries sometimes record whether the suggestions were taken forward. Some are appealingly optimistic, such as the 1909 idea of asking the public to tie their Christmas cards into bundles of ten or more before posting them. Other innovations seem like second nature today. The example below is a 1924 suggestion: envelopes with transparent address windows.*

Envelopes with windows, suggested in 1924. (POST 17/523)

Envelopes with windows, suggested in 1924. (POST 17/523)

I hope my unscientific little selection of examples from a single theme shows the incredible variety of material you can consult in our Search Room. Some of the files I catalogued this month, including records from the creation of the postcode system, can’t be opened for another few years. This is due to the 20-year rule governing public records. But cataloguing them now ensures they’ll be ready and waiting in their archive boxes when the time comes to open them.

As for the Measurements of Postmen, studying 192,000 orders for trousers found the average postman’s inside leg measurement in 1969 to be 30.2 inches. The average British postman was determined to be two inches shorter than his American equivalent.

Cumulative relative frequency of postmen’s leg measurements, 1969. (POST 17/482)

Cumulative relative frequency of postmen’s leg measurements, 1969. (POST 17/482)

All these files and more will be published to our online catalogue in the coming months.

– Matt Tantony, Project Archivist (Cataloguing)

* Sadly this wasn’t an original idea, according to Wikipedia Americus F. Callahan of Chicago, Illinois, in the United States, received the first patent for a windowed envelope on 10 June 1902.

New records released on our online catalogue

Thankfully, our recent problems with the online catalogue appear to be resolved. We apologise for the inconvenience you may have suffered in recent weeks.

The online catalogue service began switching itself off when we upgraded the catalogue system software. We noticed that our web server was having problems with the new software almost immediately. Although we did test the system before we installed it on our web server, a bug in the system did not become apparent until the online catalogue interface began asking for data from the system database. We’ve now reverted to a stable version of the system so hopefully we will not have any more unplanned interruptions to the online catalogue service.

On a more positive note, we can reveal that 4752 records have been added to the online catalogue and these are now available to the public. These include:

POST 91: Buildings, Furniture and Fittings – over 3000 descriptions of plans, blueprints, photographs, illustrations and documents relating to Post Office sites and installations across the United Kingdom between c.1780 and 2002. We’ve digitised a small number of these records and we hope to attach these to their descriptions in the following months.

King Edward Building - two keyboard operators at Single Position Letter Sorting Machine (SPLSM), November 1971 (POST 118/6024)

King Edward Building - two keyboard operators at Single Position Letter Sorting Machine (SPLSM), November 1971 (POST 118/6024)

POST 118: Post Office Photograph Library – 450 descriptions of photographs from 1967-1999. These images form part of a series of photographs compiled by library staff during the course of their work. They include many colour medium-format photographs of sorting offices, technical photographs of equipment and postmen and women on delivery. These records often include digital images of the photographs themselves. Further records from this series will be released in the future.

From the museum collection we have added an additional 450 detailed descriptions of textile and uniform, many of which include photographs of the uniforms. Other significant releases from the museum collection include an additional 114 prints and drawings, and a further 210 handstamps.

Coat Jacket - British Postal Agency (Tangier), c. 1950 (2011-0338)

Coat Jacket - British Postal Agency (Tangier), c. 1950 (2011-0338)

From our philatelic collections, King George VI Overprints are now available, including postage due label overprints. This collection of definitives, commemoratives, high value definitive stamps and postage due label registration sheets include overprints relating to the official use of these stamps in various territories under British control, including the Gulf and former Italian colonies in Africa, occupied by British troops during Word War II.

KGVI 6d purple, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 12 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated (POST 150/KGVI/O/BRA/ICL/0008)

KGVI 6d purple, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 12 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated (POST 150/KGVI/O/BRA/ICL/0008)

Holding particular political and historical significance today, registration sheets overprinted for ‘British Military Administration’ and ‘British Administration’ in ‘Tripolitania’, a historic region in the former province of Libya are included in the collection. These stamps provide a reminder of British domination of this former Italian colony, both in terms of its military administration and also on a civilian basis. Tripolitania included Tripoli in the old system and these registration sheets document the fact that Britain actually set up the combined state of Libya. The British backed King Idris to become Emir of Tripolitania who also proclaimed an independent Emirate of Cyrenaica in 1949.

Various postal agencies in the Gulf used British overprinted stamps after 1948, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Muscat and Qatar.

– Martin Devereux, Acting Catalogue Manager

Search our online catalogue at www.postalheritage.org.uk/catalogue.