Asking a Curator to choose their favourite object is like putting a kid in a sweet shop and then telling them they can only have one! In fact, some of you may remember that I shared my favourite object with you last year, a truncheon issued to Post Office employees before the Chartist riots of 1848. Today however my favourite object is a recent acquisition of a Postman’s Hand, which is not quite as sinister as it sounds, I promise!
Prosthetic hand with letter
Besides all the pun based opportunities this object has provided (for the last few weeks I have been constantly asking my colleagues if they need a hand with anything…) it is actually a very important addition to the BPMA’s collection, as it reveals an often hidden aspect of history.
The hand in question is not a real one but is made of wood covered with leather and has an adaptor to fit it into the wrist unit of a prosthetic arm. Some of the earliest prosthetics in history were also made of wood and leather but this hand fits into the advanced development of prosthetic limbs that occurred after the Second World War to aid rehabilitation of the many soldiers who had limbs amputated as a result of the conflict.
Postman’s hand on adaptor to fit a prosthetic arm.
The Post Office as an employer has always made a concerted effort to advance employment opportunities for disabled people, including veterans, as has been shown in previous posts and this was particularly so after the Second World War. Hands like this were in use from the 1950s through to the 1970s – this example bears its date on it ‘4/11/64’ – and were designed to hold letters. What is particularly revolutionary about this object though is that it has a roller, or wheel, under the thumb which allowed one letter to be removed while still keeping grasp of the others. This enabled disabled employees to sort letters with greater ease and efficiency than with the previous, more basic, prosthetics. Feeling the hand it is quite heavy and it has made me think what it would have been like to use.
Profile of hand
This object was kindly donated to us from the Limb Fitting Centre at the Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton, which was founded to care for soldiers wounded in the First World War, and has since become renowned as a limb fitting and amputee rehabilitation centre. They were able to tell us that the hand had been developed by Hugh Steeper Ltd, major manufacturers of prosthetics at the time. This was the only remaining postman’s hand at Roehampton and it was returned to them by a retiring postman in the early 1970s.
As you can see the BPMA’s collection is constantly developing and this object adds to our knowledge of an important part of our history which is relatively under-represented. It is fascinating objects such as this that will form the bedrock of the new Postal Museum but they are nothing without the stories of the people who used them. If you have a story to share please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and help us achieve our ambition of filling our brand new museum with the voices of real people. Thank you!
-Emma Harper, Curator
Here at the BPMA we welcome students of any age to explore our collections. In this post year 9 student Olivia talks about how our collections helped with her project on censorship in the First World War.
My name is Olivia and I am in year 9 at Channing School in London. Back in October, the whole year was asked to write a project on a topic of their choice. At that time, my grandfather found a letter written by my great-great grandfather from the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. This letter contained some censored material and inspired me to choose the project ‘Censorship and Propaganda in the First World War’.
Olivia and Curator Emma Harper
I noticed that The British Postal Museum and Archive was holding a talk on censorship in the First World War. I contacted the museum to see if it was possible to talk to one of their experts on this topic.
Emma Harper contacted me immediately and we met in early December.
Emma showed me the archive and items from the museum collection, which included not only post-related items but also paintings and uniforms. We also looked at First World War censored letters and postcards, and discussed how censorship worked.
Front and reverse of a postcard sent from the front, showing the censor stamp. All post passed through censorship to ensure vital information was not leaked.
Afterwards, she answered my interview questions and read a copy of my great-great grandfather’s letter. We also discussed why some parts of the letter were censored, yet others were not.
Field Service Postcards were a form of self-censorship whereby soliders simply crossed out what didn’t apply to them. Any additions could mean the card would be destroyed, Obviously the censor who checked this through thought the holiday greeting was harmless enough!
I have now started writing my project and would like to thank Emma for all her help. I hope to share my finished project with the museum and will keep you updated!
-Olivia, Year 9 at Channing School
Looking for more information on how our collections can support First World War learning? Check out our FREE downloadable First World War learning resource for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3.
It’s that time of the year again when Loughton, Essex celebrates its amazing cultural heritage at the Loughton Festival. Once more we’ll be opening the doors to our museum store in Debden to take part in this fantastic community event. There will be a range of great activities on offer over the two days providing entertainment for adults and children alike…
Vehicles, telephone boxes and more all at our Museum Store!
Saturday – Adult Event
On Saturday come and take part in an artist-led workshop, where you will have the opportunity to design your own post-card or letter. From there take a self-guided tour exploring the highlights of our museum collection. From the iconic red telephone kiosks and post boxes to the Morris van, Mail Coach and ingenious Victorian pneumatic rail cars – they all tell the captivating story of communication past and present.
Letters with unusual addresses.
We’ll also be joined by BPMA curator, Emma Harper, who will be giving a fascinating talk revealing some hidden gems from the collection. Relax with some drinks and nibbles, while Emma to takes you on a journey through over two centuries of “the curious culture of letter writing.”
When: Saturday 10 May 2014, Drop in from 10.00am-4.00pm, Evening talk and refreshments 4.00pm-5.00pm
Where: The British Postal Museum Store, Essex
Book in advance for the evening talk
Sunday – Family Event
Drop in on Sunday where you will find an array of family friendly activities. Have a go at discovering mystery objects in our trail and win a prize if you succeed in your task.
For when you are feeling creative there will be craft activities on offer, including design and send your own post card – which you can send to family or friends for free! After that, try designing and building your own mini letter box.
There will also be the opportunity to find out what it was like be a postie from the past through trying on old uniforms and handling some real museum objects – remember to bring your camera!
When: Sunday 11 May 2014, Drop in from 10.00am-4.00pm
Where: The British Postal Museum Store, Essex
-Hannah Clipson, Community Learning Officer