Tag Archives: Edwardian

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 History of the Christmas Card

A talk I am giving at London Metropolitan Archives on December 1st on ‘The History of the Christmas Card’ gives me an excellent opportunity to highlight our most festively appropriate museum collection.

Dating from 1843 up to the present day, our Christmas card collection incorporates a large number of Victorian and Edwardian cards, as well as wartime, National Savings, and General Post Office departmental cards. We also have an original copy of the earliest known surviving British Christmas card, and the first believed to have been sold commercially, which is that commissioned in 1843 by Henry Cole, the first Director of what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum. I will provide more details about the origins of Christmas card-giving, and other contenders for the first card, in my talk.

Winifred M. Ackroyd Christmas card, c.1920 (OB1994.298/3)

Winifred M. Ackroyd Christmas card, c.1920 (OB1994.298/3)

Universal Postal Union Christmas card, 1889-1890 (Acc. No. 0353)

Universal Postal Union Christmas card, 1889-1890 (Acc. No. 0353)

Cards were produced for all tastes and none, and few in the collection display the Christian themes we often see on cards today. Instead, traditional pagan imagery was a popular feature, and ivy, holly, and robins feature on many nineteenth and early twentieth century cards.

St Nicholas Christmas card, 1891-1892 (E1502.20)

St Nicholas Christmas card, 1891-1892 (E1502.20)

Victorian and Edwardian cards were often exchanged between lovers, who covertly conveyed their feelings through the language of flowers to deceive the prying eyes of their elders.

Embossed Christmas card, c.1880 (OB1995.27/5/02)

Embossed Christmas card, c.1880 (OB1995.27/5/02)

The Christmas card became a fashionable and affordable luxury indulged in by those who could afford to spend as little as a halfpenny or as much as five guineas. Aware of the charm of novelty cards, some manufacturers produced designs to appeal particularly to feminine fancies, and we have some very pretty, and well-preserved, examples.

Embossed fan-shaped Christmas card, c. 1880 (OB1995.27/1)

Embossed fan-shaped Christmas card, c. 1880 (OB1995.27/1)

If we are to judge by the quality of the cards alone, their recipients must have been held in high esteem by the senders. Embroidery, paper-lace, gilding and silk adorn several cards, and one wonders which lucky lady was on the receiving end of a Rimmel perfumed card!

Perfume sachet Christmas card with paper-lace and silk, c.1860-1880 (OB1995.27/8/01)

Perfume sachet Christmas card with paper-lace and silk, c.1860-1880 (OB1995.27/8/01)

The seminar, organised by the group ‘Archives for London’, will provide a detailed history of the custom of giving Christmas cards, and their design, production and sale. For more details, and to book a place, please email Jeff Gerhardt at Jeff.Gerhardt@cityoflondon.gov.uk, or telephone 020 7332 3816.

Items from the BPMA’s Christmas card collection can be viewed by appointment. Please contact info@postalheritage.org.uk for details.

– Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)

The BPMA at Blists Hill, Shropshire

by Alison Norris, Ironbridge Project Assistant
Canal Street

Canal Street

Over the last year the BPMA has been working with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust (IGMT) on developing a replica Victorian Post Office and contemporary exhibition, The Post Office in the Community, at the Blists Hill Victorian Town site in Shropshire.

In 2008 the BPMA and IGMT were awarded a £126k grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Wolfson Foundation to help fund the joint venture.

Blists Hill Post Office

Blists Hill Post Office

Blists Hill is a popular visitor attraction set in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage site, the birth place of the Industrial Revolution. It is one of ten sites run by the IGMT, and over the past few months has undertaken a huge new development project, building an entire new street from scratch. This street, Canal Street, opened to the public on 4th April 2009 and features a Drapers, Fried Fish Dealers (they were not called Fish & Chip shops until later!), Sweet Shop, Photographers and the Blists Hill Post Office. A new artisans’ quarter has also been recreated with a Plasterer, Tinsmith and Plumber all practising traditional ways of working. Other streets and shops already existed on the site, and include a Bakers, Bank, Chemist and Printers. Each of the businesses are reconstructed to appear as they might have done in the late Victorian or Edwardian period, and traditional goods are sold by costumed staff from the premises. These demonstrators are also able to answer any questions visitors may have both about the various shops and life between 1890 and 1910.

Goods for sale in the stationers

Goods for sale in the stationers

All of the buildings and shop interiors on Canal Street have been carefully researched to ensure that they represent authentic buildings from the local area. The Royal Mail Archive holds a file on the Post Office that was once in Shifnal, a nearby market town. This file has been used to help recreate the Blists Hill Post Office, which will also share its premises with a stationers, as was common practice for the time .

Attention to detail has been paramount throughout the Canal Street project, and has been enthusiastically undertaken by Michael Vanns, Interpretation Project Manager. Bricks have been specially made, as have window frames and other architectural features. Period shop fittings have been sourced from around the country, and the Post Office sorting office will soon have a de-accessioned sorting frame, donated from the BPMA museum collection.

The Blists Hill Postmaster

The Blists Hill Postmaster

As well as the new Postmaster, a Postman will also be welcomed to Blists Hill. This ‘postie’ will be based on a real worker identified from the records of The Royal Mail Archive, and his uniform will be created using references from both the Archive and the BPMA museum collection.

The Post Office in the Community

Above the Blists Hill Post Office there will be a contemporary exhibition produced by the BPMA, which will examine the role of the Post Office in the community. Moving away from the Victorian era, this will be a contemporary exhibition looking at all periods of history, and will use many objects from the extensive BPMA collection. This exhibition will broadly look at four different areas: Counter Services Over Time, Delivering the Mail, Letter Boxes and Changing Times. The exhibition will open later in 2009.

Hen & Chicks, circa 1882

Hen & Chicks, circa 1882

This will be a unique opportunity to see so many pieces from the BPMA collection in one place. These will include a Hen & Chicks centre-cycle, originally invented and patented by Edward Burstow, an architect from Horsham, Sussex in 1882. Postal officials at Horsham tried out these cycles for both postal and telegraph delivery work. Although the centre-cycle did not prove popular elsewhere, the Horsham postal workers wrote a letter of appreciation to Mr Burstow, praising the cycle.

The exhibition promises to be a unique addition to Canal Street, offering visitors a greater insight to the effect the Post Office has had on our communities during its history.

Further information

If you would like any further information about the Blists Hill Post Office or the forthcoming BPMA exhibition, please contact Alison Norris, Ironbridge Project Assistant, on 0207 239 5174 or alison.norris@postalheritage.org.uk.