Tag Archives: Edinburgh

Volunteer Week: Spotlight on Post Office Architecture expert Julian Osley

Our volunteers have a range of interests, from design to postal history and everything in between. Some of these interests are what motivate them to join us, others they discover while here. To celebrate volunteer’s week Julian Osley tells us about Post Office architecture, a passion he discovered while volunteering at the BPMA.

The Uniform Penny Post prompted an enormous increase in the level of business, however the Post Office was slow to provide suitable premises in which to manage the transaction of business.

By 1840 major post offices had been built in London, Edinburgh and Dublin but, it was not until the 1860s that serious attention was given to improving the quality of post office buildings in provincial urban areas. For the most part these buildings were designed by architects in the Office of Works, and followed prevailing architectural fashions, such as the Italianate style of design which can be seen today in the former post offices at Derby, Maidstone, Sheffield, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Hull and Wakefield, to name just a few.

Maidstone post office

Maidstone post office


Typical of the more flamboyant Edwardian era are the buildings at West Hartlepool, Aldershot, Esher, Canterbury and Sheffield. After the First World War, for reasons of economy, and also to foster the image of post office as an approachable, yet solid and dependable institution, the style known as “Post Office Georgian” was adopted, its characteristics being the use of brick on a domestic scale in order to achieve harmony with the local environment.  A ‘Brighter Post Office’ campaign was launched in the late 1920s in order to make post office interiors more attractive. For a few years after Second World War, new post office buildings followed the Georgian tradition (although in a stripped-down format), but following the Festival of Britain of 1951, this was finally abandoned in favour of a modern approach.

Wakefield post office

Wakefield post office

Because the post office became so important in the lives of a community after the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post, the opening of a new building was an event to be celebrated. Often it was made available for inspection before the official opening ceremony, to be attended by Post Office officials and local dignitaries, who would make congratulatory speeches; on occasion, the architect would be invited to give a tour of the building, and then tea would be taken in the sorting office. A programme of the day’s events might be printed, and the local newspaper would report the proceedings at length, while at the same time providing a detailed description of the building. Critics would use the correspondence pages of the paper to air their views over the poor location of the building, the lack of an external clock and inadequate street lighting, but in general these buildings were praised for their “commodious” accommodation and regarded as having contributed significantly to civic pride.

Maidstone post office

Maidstone post office

To find out more about volunteer’s week visit http://volunteersweek.org/about or head to our twitter page see what other exciting things our volunteers get up to.

The Commonwealth Games on stamps

The 19th Commonwealth Games opens tomorrow in New Delhi, with more than 70 nations fielding a team. The Commonwealth Games takes place every four years and is the third largest multi-sport event in the world.

Teams from member states of the Commonwealth of Nations (countries who were formerly part of the British Empire) are eligible to compete. In the Commonwealth Games the United Kingdom does not compete as one nation, but splits into England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Crown Dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.

Host countries of the Commonwealth Games generally celebrate the Games philatelically, as do some of the competing nations. According to Thaindian News India Post has issued five stamps to mark the New Delhi Games, and there is even a Post Office in the Games village.

England, Wales and Scotland have all previously hosted the Commonwealth Games, with Glasgow due to host in 2014. Since 2000 a Youth Commonwealth Games has also been staged. Edinburgh was the inaugural host and The Isle of Man will host next year. Most of these Games have (or probably will be) commemorated on stamps, here’s a brief look at preview British Commonwealth Games issues:

1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Cardiff

1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Cardiff commemorative stamps

The Postmaster General initially rejected the request for a stamp issue to commemorate the 1958 Games on the grounds that it would break the GPO policy of strictly limiting commemorative issues. Following further discussion and external pressure this policy was changed; special stamp issues would now appear every two years or so, “selecting for the purpose current events of outstanding national or international importance”.

The artists invited to submit designs for the 1958 Commonwealth Games issue were asked to include themes symbolic of the Games as well as the Welsh Dragon, or some other symbol which would indicate the association of the Games with Wales. The selected designs by Reynolds Stone, W.H. Brown and Pat Keely all feature the dragon, with Brown’s also including the then symbol of the Commonwealth, the Crown surrounded by a chain.

1970 Ninth British Commonwealth Games, Edinburgh

1970 Ninth British Commonwealth Games, Edinburgh commemorative stamps

The stamps commemorating the Ninth Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh were designed by Andrew Restall and showed progressive action shots of athletes competing in running, swimming and cycling events. This issue divided opinion; one critic compared the designs to “a load of ectoplasm emerging from a sewer”, whilst others praised Restall for his contemporary approach.

1986 Thirteenth Commonwealth Games, Edinburgh and World Hockey Cup for Men, London

13th Commonwealth Games, Edinburgh & World Hockey Cup for Men, London stamps (1986)

Artist Nick Cudworth, known for his work in oil and pastel, designed five stamps to commemorate the 13th Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh and the World Hockey Cup for Men in London. Cudworth took a more traditional design approach than Andrew Restall, but still managed to capture the action and excitement of elite sport.

2002 17th Commonwealth Games Manchester

2002 17th Commonwealth Games Manchester

The designer of the Manchester Commonwealth Games stamps, Madeline Bennett, wanted to capture the speed and excitement of competition as sportsmen and women raced to the finish line – so she stretched the stamps to make the point. Bennett had previously worked on the Barcelona Olympics, winning a Designers’ and Art Directors’ Association award for the most outstanding graphics poster campaign. After her work on the Commonwealth Games stamps, Bennett was commissioned to design the stamp issues celebrating the 21st Birthday of Prince William, and the 2006 World Cup.

Another tale of postie heroism

Wandering Genealogist’s recent blog on a mail coach accident involving his ancestor reminded us of two photos in our collection relating to another mail coach tragedy which occurred in Southern Scotland.

On the morning of 1st February 1831 mail coach driver John Goodfellow and mail coach guard James McGeorge set out from Dumfries to Edinburgh. This article on the Scottish Memories website relates:

Snow had begun to fall heavily as they boarded their mail coach bound for Moffat and they had occasionally to force the vehicle through deepening drifts to complete this stage of their journey: but both…were experienced middle-aged men with a strong sense of duty and “a bit of snow” was not going to stop them.

Having taken on two more horses and some extra passengers the coach continued through the intensifying snow until after a mile and a half Goodfellow and McGeorge were forced to abandon their efforts.

While two male passengers returned to Moffat on some of the horses to raise the alarm, and several female passengers sheltered inside the coach, Goodfellow and McGeorge decided to proceed on horseback with the mail. Tragically, both men succumbed to the snow after a few more miles, although their horses made it to a nearby farm.

Postie Stone as seen in 1938.

Postie Stone as seen in 1938.

A monument to the pair, shaped a little like post box and now known locally as Postie Stone, was erected in 1931 on the spot where the men died. Photos in the BPMA archive of the monument, which were taken in 1938 by the GPO Photographic Unit, show three men, one of whom is a postman, inspecting the memorial. The surrounding landscape looks bleak, although a more recent photo which appears on The Gazetteer for Scotland website shows the area to be green and verdant.

Sadly, this tragedy is one of many which have occurred in the history of the British postal service. But like the posties on the RMS Titanic, the commitment to deliver the mail shown by Goodfellow and McGeorge is notable.