Tag Archives: Duncan Campbell-Smith

The Royal Mail – Past and Present

Join me, Duncan Campbell-Smith, on the 24th October at the Guildhall Library where I will be giving a fascinating talk addressing some of the great innovations of the past that have reshaped the Royal Mail. Reviewing the origins of the post as a state-owned service and subsequent moves to reform it from time to time, I will show why some of the most important postal reformers – from Ralph Allen and John Palmer to Rowland Hill himself – might have identified strongly with the logic behind this month’s privatisation.

Duncan Campbell Smith in the BPMA archive search room.

Duncan Campbell Smith in the BPMA archive search room.

Turning to the 20th century, I will look at the attempts to launch a privatisation of the Mail and examine some of the reasons why it did not come sooner. The demands of the Second World War and the security of the state postponed serious consideration of any sale until the 1960s, but it then became a recurring theme of the postal story for more than a half-century.

The talk will use the ups and downs of the privatisation debate as a way of surveying the broad trends in postal history over the centuries. As the author of the Royal Mail’s official history, Masters of the Post, I will also be sure to include some of my favourite anecdotes from the book.

– Duncan Campbell-Smith

Book for Duncan’s talk The Royal Mail – Past and Present via EventBrite. There will be a drinks reception from 6pm, following by the talk from 7pm.

Masters of the Post wins award

The Business Archives Council (BAC) has announced that the winner of the 2011 BAC Wadsworth Prize for British Business History is Duncan Campbell-Smith for Masters of the Post – the Authorized History of Royal Mail. The prize was presented to Mr Campbell-Smith by the Chairman of the BAC, Dr Terry Gourvish, on 8 November.

Duncan Campbell-Smith blogged for us last year on the process of researching the book at the Royal Mail Archive. You can also see a video of Duncan Campbell-Smith at the Archive on YouTube.

Masters of the Post is the first complete history of the Royal Mail up to the present day. It presents the whole story of Britain’s postal service — how it was built, how it led the world for two hundred years and how it has struggled to survive in the face of mounting odds since the arrival of the internet.

Masters of the Post - The Authorized History of the Royal Mail

Purchase your copy of Masters of the Post from our online shop.

Masters of the Post – Video

Economic journalist and researcher Duncan Campbell Smith discusses how he researched his book Masters of the Post – the Authorized History of the Royal Mail at The British Postal Museum & Archive.

Masters of the Post is the first complete history of the Royal Mail up to the present day. It presents the whole story of Britain’s postal service — how it was built, how it led the world for two hundred years and how it has struggled to survive in the face of mounting odds since the arrival of the internet.

Purchase your copy from our online shop.

Masters of the Post

As the author of a new history of the Royal Mail (Masters of the Post, published by Penguin Allen Lane today), I have to say that no book could possibly capture more than a fraction of the riches to be found in the archives held by the BPMA. Just penning this blog on my own experience in the archive has left me feeling only too aware of all the extraordinary records to which I could only devote the tiniest amount of space.

Duncan Campbell Smith in the BPMA archive search room.

Duncan Campbell Smith in the BPMA archive search room.

What marvellous tales, for example, must still lie undiscovered in those 1,185 volumes of the Treasury Letter Books (all in POST 1)! What charming stories have yet to be extracted, from the wonderful Peover Papers – the letters of Colonel Whitley written to postmasters all over the country in 1672-7, and so conveniently for us turned into modern typescripts by the Post Office in 1902 (see POST 94/12-24)! And what a chronicle of the First World War yet remains to be written, on the basis of the thirteen confidential reports on the work of the Royal Engineers Postal Service units (see POST 33/5506)!

Photo of letter to Mr Watts from the Peover Papers

Photo of letter to Mr Watts from the Peover Papers

My challenge in attempting a general history, of course, was always about how to make extensive use of the postal records without drowning in them. Step One was to take full advantage of the BPMA’s comprehensive library of secondary sources, to assemble a broad outline of each historical episode as I came to it – then to draw on the generous help of the BPMA’s staff in compiling lists of the archive files most likely to bear on the narrative of that episode. And in reading through those files, I always tried to leave myself plenty of time to call up other, perhaps only loosely related papers that might just harbour surprises. Pot luck accounted for some of my happiest discoveries.

Photo of a REPS unit on the Western Front in WW1 (POST 56/6)

Photo of a REPS unit on the Western Front in WW1 (POST 56/6)

I hope the resulting book will, at the very least, provide a useful chronology of postal history for those approaching the archive in future. Those with very specific family queries might appreciate a bit of wider context. And those in search of their own narrative may find Masters of the Post can help them define the broad questions they want to answer. The scale and depth of the BPMA’s archive is all very well. But for those with less than a single lifetime to explore it, productive research needs to start with an outline agenda. That’s what converts an open ocean, merely to swim in, into a river that can be fished.

– Duncan Campbell Smith

Images from the BPMA collection which appear in Masters of the Post can be seen on Flickr. Charts and statistics which illustrate the fluctuating fortunes of the Post Office and Royal Mail over the past 170 years can be found on our website.

40th Anniversary of the Post Office Act 1969

On Tuesday 13th October we will be welcoming author and historian Duncan Campbell-Smith to the BPMA to deliver a talk on the Post Office Act 1969. Duncan Campbell-Smith is well placed to speak on this topic as he is currently researching an authorised history of the British Post Office, due to be published in 2011.

The logo of the General Post Office

The logo of the General Post Office

The Post Office Act 1969 brought about one of the most momentous changes to the Post Office since Charles I allowed his subjects to use the postal service (or Royal Mail) in 1635. The 1969 Act meant that the General Post Office ceased to be a government department and became a statutory corporation. The office of Postmaster General was replaced by a Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, and the word “General” was dropped from the organisation’s name. At the same time telecommunications were split from postal services, resulting in two separate entities with two separate budgets – Post Office Telecommunications and the Post Office – allowing each organisation to focus on its area of specialty.

Over the next four decades there were further structural and names changes, one of the most significant being that in 1981 postal and telecommunications services were separated entirely, resulting in British Telecommunications and Royal Mail (responsible for post and parcels, Post Office counters and National Giro). This complicated business history and the reasons behind it will no doubt be fully examined in both Duncan Campbell-Smith’s talk on the Post Office Act 1969 and his upcoming book.

To book for the talk 40th Anniversary of the Post Office Act 1969 please see our website.