Tag Archives: Empire Mail

The Post Office in Pictures and the BPMA Photography Collection

BPMA’s Digital Content Development Manager Martin Devereux gave a talk in June as part of our photography exhibition The Post Office in Pictures. This talk is now available to download for free as a podcast.

The talk looks at the foundation of the General Post Office Photograph Library in the 1930s, its subsequent development and re-establishment when the Post Office became a statutory corporation in 1969, through to its closure in the 1990s. The Photograph Library’s contents are now part of BPMA’s archive collection (aka the Royal Mail Archive), and in recent years Martin and other members of BPMA staff have been working to make the photographs more accessible.

Cow of Knockcloghrim - A photographer working for The Post Office Magazine in the 1930s tried to make this photo of the village post office more exciting by posing a cow which was grazing nearby in the foreground. Unfortunately the cow kept moving out of shot, hence this rather unimpressive result.

Cow of Knockcloghrim – A photographer working for The Post Office Magazine in the 1930s tried to make this photo of the village post office more exciting by posing a cow which was grazing nearby in the foreground. Unfortunately the cow kept moving out of shot, hence this rather unimpressive result.

You can find the photos dotted about our website, available to browse on our online catalogue, and uploaded to social network sites such as Flickr and History Pin. The photos have also found new lives as greetings cards and print-on-demand products, and been used in several of BPMA’s recent exhibitions including Designs on Delivery, Empire Mail and, of course, The Post Office in Pictures.

In his talk Martin Devereux discusses some of his favourite images from The Post Office in Pictures exhibition and the wider collection, and tells some of the stories behind them.

Noel Edmonds promoting television licensing via a helicopter.

Noel Edmonds promoting television licensing via a helicopter.

Download The Post Office in Pictures and the BPMA Photography Collection podcast for free from www.postalheritage.org.uk/podcast.

De-installation of the Empire Mail Exhibition

by Miriam Hay

As someone doing three weeks work experience at The British Postal Museum & Archive, I was given the opportunity to attend the first two days of the de-installation of the recent Empire Mail exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery. It was a unique chance to see behind the scenes of the BPMA at the work that goes into such an event, much of which will go unnoticed by the public if all goes to plan.

Conservator at work

Conservator at work

The speed with which the exhibition began to be disassembled was quite surprising – by the time I arrived at 10am on Monday it appeared to be the second week at work, rather than only an hour’s worth. Some objects like the telegraph table and blue air mail box had already been removed, and tables for the wrapping of objects and the conservators had been set up instead.

The Morris Minor van is carefully pushed out of the Guildhall

The Morris Minor van is carefully pushed out of the Guildhall

The GPO Morris Minor van which took centre stage in the exhibition was dispatched that morning, steered slowly out through the narrow entrances with a member of BPMA staff at the wheel.  Its accompanying motorcycle followed early the next day. Even after nearly eighty years since their construction the engines had been leaking oil into the drip trays underneath, serving as a reminder that these are not just static and unchanging museum pieces, but were once working machines.

Some pieces featured in the display were to be transported a little further than others: the stamps from the Royal Philatelic Collection are to be returned to their home in St James’s Palace. The large printing press, which had to be carefully lifted back onto its pallet base before having its crate built around it, would be collected and taken back to Holland.

The printing press is lifted back onto its pallet base

The printing press is lifted back onto its pallet base

A lot of thought has to go into displaying all the objects, for example using glass that is both low reflective for easier viewing, and UV filtering to protect the artefacts inside. As much effort has to be spent on removing them, with conservators checking the condition of each object against the original paperwork. Some of the stamps shown were extremely valuable and great care had to be taken in de-installing them.

The pillar boxes have left the building

The pillar boxes have left the building

One of the most time consuming jobs, surprisingly, was removing and packing the information panels, graphics and captions. Attached to the walls with Velcro (another surprise!), they were quick to tear down, being careful not to be squashed by some of the larger ones, but most had to then be individually wrapped in several layers of plastic packaging. While overhead other visitors were viewing the art in the gallery above that opened out onto the exhibition space, we made our way through several enormous rolls of bubble wrap and tape, packaging up frames and the legs from display cases as well.

I certainly will not be able to go to another exhibition now without picturing all the hard work put into it, both before and after, or without trying to peer behind the information panels to see what was used to attach them!

Empire Mail: last chance to see

Our exhibition Empire Mail: George V and the GPO ends this Sunday after almost three months at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Putting together the exhibition was a huge undertaking for our curators and exhibitions team, as well as many others.

Empire Mail: George V and the GPO at the Guildhall Art Gallery

Empire Mail: George V and the GPO at the Guildhall Art Gallery

We were particularly pleased to work in partnership with the Royal Philatelic Collection – one of the greatest collections of stamps and postal history in the world – and to exhibit some of its treasures alongside our own.

Treasures from the Royal Philatelic Collection on display

Treasures from the Royal Philatelic Collection on display

While there are no plans to re-mount Empire Mail, we have now uploaded photos of the exhibition to Flicker, and you can continue to enjoy the online version of the exhibition on our website.

Illustrating Empire Mail: George V and the GPO

by Jennifer Flippance, 2010 Exhibitions & Projects Manager

The BPMA’s major exhibition this year – Empire Mail: George V and the GPO – runs until 25 July at Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London.  Big exhibitions like this take several years of planning, starting with a theme and developing the story around it. Objects must be selected and conserved (including any loans from other institutions), text and captions written and images chosen to bring the story to life. Empire Mail explores the reign of George V (1910-1936), innovations in the General Post Office and George V as a stamp collector – one of the finest of his time.

Selecting images to use in an exhibition can certainly be a challenging task.  Each image has to earn its place, illustrating a different aspect of the exhibition’s story.  Inevitably there will be many wonderful images that don’t quite make it.

I wanted to share some of these as I think they still deserve to be seen.  If you haven’t yet been to see Empire Mail: George V and the GPO, you might wonder which ones were chosen!

1. Field Post Office, First World War

Field Post Office, First World War

We used two other photographs of First World War Field Post Offices in the exhibition, so this one didn’t make it, but I still really like the image. Sending and receiving mail was vital for troop morale and Field Post Offices would be set up in any appropriate location. Notice the F.P.O sign on the windowsill and the poster promoting war savings certificates as an appropriate gift for a sweetheart!  Unfortunately we don’t know where or when this photo was taken.

2. Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Two women posting into a special aerial post box at the officers of the Windsor Chronicle.  The 1911 Coronation Aerial Post was the world’s first regular airmail service.  One of these red, wooden post boxes (on loan from Windsor & Royal Borough Museum) can be seen in the exhibition and we would have liked to include this image of it in use. Unfortunately, because this is an image from a newspaper it would have been very poor quality once blown up to the size needed for display.

3. Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

We had some good images of the September coronation airmail flights and the rehearsals the month before, so this one did not make the grade. It shows a postman with mail sack approaching one of the planes during a rehearsals. (This particular plane – a Valkyrie Monoplane – was used in the rehearsal, but not the actual mail flights.)

There were 20 flights in total (16 from Hendon to Windsor and 4 on the return leg) each generally carrying 2 mail sacks with a combined weight of about 50lbs.  Only special postcards and envelopes were carried, examples of which can also be seen in the exhibition.

4. Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

The exhibition team all liked this pleasant rural scene from the 1930s with the iconic George V Morris van, however the image didn’t quite fit in with the exhibition themes. The photograph was most likely taken for the Post Office magazine, illustrating the work of Post Office employees in different parts of the country.  We do have one of the Morris vans on display.  Moving it into the gallery took some very careful manoeuvring!

5. Light aircraft about to leave Newtownards airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

Light aircraft about to leave Newtonard airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

There were many good airmail photos to choose from and unfortunately this one is from just outside the dates covered by the exhibition. Airmail was still a relative novelty during the 1930s; here a small plane is operating out of a small airfield with a grass runway. But even this scene was advanced compared to images of the open wood and fabric aircraft making that first airmail flight just 24 years previously!

6. Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

This photograph was almost chosen for the section illustrating the development of motorised mail transport. We are lucky to have one of the original BSA B33 motorbikes on display, a unique survivor from the introduction of motorcycle telegrams delivery in the early 1930s. Messengers had to be at least 17 years old and were expected to ride at 15mph – something I suspect they didn’t always adhere to!

7. Post Office London Railway, 1926

Post Office London Railway, 1926

This fascinating illustration shows the route of the Post Office underground railway that runs from Whitechapel to Paddington Station and also how the mail was transported from the sorting offices via chutes and lifts to the railway below. This image is rather busy and in the end we chose to use a simpler map of the route alongside plans, photographs and original objects.

An online version of Empire Mail: George V and the GPO can be found on the BPMA website.

Treasures of the Archive

by Zoe van Well, Archives Assistant

Hi, I am Zoe van Well and this is the first time I have blogged for the BPMA. So why now? Well, recently I contributed to the leaflet for the Treasures of the Archive exhibition. It is housed in the Search Room of the Archive and is free for all to view. You can also download a copy from our website.

In writing the leaflet I was able to not only test my knowledge built up over the past year as an Archives Assistant but also to gain more! I found it so exciting to make connections between the themes highlighted by the Treasures of the Archive exhibition.

The Machin Head mould

The Machin Head mould

One item is The Machin Head mould. Other themes include; Stamps That Never Were, featuring a page from David Gentleman’s design book, and also a World Cup Stamp commissioned for the Scotland team; Design in the GPO, The Mail Coach; and the list goes on!

I found that so many pivotal moments of postal history exposed by the exhibition directly influenced each other. The Machin Head, for example, is a mould sculpted and cast by Arnold Machin and was used to create the definitive stamp still in use today. (Everybody will have used one at some point in their life!) After I read some of Douglas Muir’s book on the topic, titled A Timeless Classic and sold in the search room, I became aware of the challenges which arose during the design process. In particular I realised the roles David Gentleman and the then Postmaster General Tony Benn played, given they were questioning the very use of the Monarch’s Head being present on stamps!

Colour trials for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929

Various colours were trialled for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929. Eventually, grey was selected.

This lead to me realising special stamps were very limited in number until the 1960’s, full stop! The Postal Union Congress commemorative stamps featuring George V (of which the £1 Stamp, 1929 is displayed in the exhibition) was only the second Commemorative Stamp to be commissioned. The first were designed for the British Empire Exhibition held in1924 and 1925. These stamps can currently be viewed at the Empire Mail: George V and the GPO exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

I must say though, whilst looking into these stamps I unearthed other research material which can sometimes be overlooked, including supplements issued in the Philatelic Bulletin. The Philatelic Bulletin is a small newsletter published by Royal Mail, and it includes articles on special stamps about to be issued. One supplement in particular does a great job of explaining the difference between definitive and special stamps. We have a complete collection of these Bulletins in the search room and they can be a great starting point for projects undergone by school pupils. They are also a great way for everybody to learn about events in philatelic history. Of course, if you become interested in an event and would like to see original material relating to it, either I or one my colleagues in the Search Room will be pleased to help you locate some if you wish!

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

Getting back to the Treasure of the Archive Exhibition, don’t forget we also have on display a Penny Black Proof Registration sheet (1st April 1840), of which there are only eight and all are cared for here at the British Postal Museum and Archive. We also have a Queen Victoria Channel Islands Pillar Box, one of the very first to be made and which were trialled on the Channel Islands during 1852 and 1853.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit us while this exciting and rare material is still on display! Why not make a day of it by browsing our catalogue either online or in our search room after viewing the exhibition. You may also prefer to take inspiration from the search room information sheets such as Travelling Post Offices, Mail Rail, Animals in the Post Office, The Post Office in the Second World War, Women in the Post Office and Airmail. If you find something takes your interest, we can help you find a particular item and produce it for you from the repository.

We enjoy showing you original material as it can often be a thrilling experience; both for staff and visitors, whether it is a time bill, a report or a list of ingredients for cancellation inks!

Treasures of the Archive can be viewed in our Search Room until April 2011. For information on visiting the Search Room please see http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/visiting.

Walking Tours of GPO London

Our ever popular walking tours are running again this year, between May and September. Guided by our curators, these tours will visit the key postal history locations in the City of London, including former coaching inns, and the sites of early and important Post Offices buildings.

As part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps we will also be offering highlights walking tours, lasting half the length of our regular tours. The highlights tours will conclude at the Guildhall Art Gallery, enabling attendees to visit the exhibition Empire Mail: George V and the GPO. Full length tours lasting three hours will also run this year.

One key postal heritage location visited on the walking tour is the former site of the office of the Postmaster General in Lombard Street. In 1680 this was the only place in London at which mail could be posted. At this time there were only 77 workers employed by the Post Office in London, and only 316 Post Office staff in the entire country!

The courtyard of the General Post Office, London, 1700s

The courtyard of the General Post Office, London, 1700s

As the Post Office expanded and became an increasingly important institution, larger buildings were needed. In 1829 GPO Headquarters moved to St Martins-Le-Grand. Here the mail coaches for other parts of the country departed each night, a spectacle which drew crowds of curious onlookers, as documented by the artist James Pollard.

Mail coach and horses departing from the General Post Office white neoclassical building designed by Smirke and located in St Martins-le-Grand. Some boys run alongside, waving hats and hands. The men in the painting wear top hats.

The Royal Mail's departure from the General Post Office, London by James Pollard

In 1910 GPO Headquarters moved again, to King Edward Building on King Edward Street. This grand building had a façade of Portland stone and a 160 x 60 foot public office on the ground floor, which boasted a full-length mahogany counter and marble floors. Since 1997 this building has been the London home of Merrill Lynch, but the statue of postal reformer Rowland Hill still stands outside.

King Edward Building Public Office, 1947

King Edward Building Public Office, 1947

Walking Tours 2010

Extended Walking Tours
Saturday 8 May, 2-5pm
Sunday 5 September, 2-5pm

Highlights of GPO London Tours
Saturday 26 June, 2-3.30pm
Tuesday 13 July, 2-3.30pm

Booking details on our website

If philately is the new black, GPO posters are the rock ‘n’ roll!

Royal Mail’s Classic Album Covers stamp issue isn’t the first time that the Post Office has gone ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ – it also happened back in the 1930s when the Post Office began a wide-ranging artist-commissioning programme to drive its public information campaigns. This led to some of the most exciting work produced in what is now known as ‘mid-century modern’ poster design.

The BPMA is fortunate in holding a treasure trove of Twentieth-Century poster design, a small portion of which was the subject of our recent exhibition, Designs on Delivery: GPO Posters 1930-1960. The exhibition included many excellent examples of public information campaign posters produced by the Post Office and we were delighted with the positive response to it. The Guardian online included a slideshow version of highlights from the exhibition and the winter issue of Illustration Magazine featured an article on our poster collection.

A GPO poster encouraging people to pack parcels carefully is illustrated by a shattered cow-shaped milk jug. The cow has a tear in its eye.

Please Pack Parcels Very Carefully by Tom Eckersley

Also smitten were the designers at ‘poptastic’ greetings card producer Umpen Editions who have developed ‘Post Modern’, a new range of cards based on eight posters from our collection. This includes several featured in the exhibition. The ever-popular, if heart-rending (please somebody put him back together!!!) ‘please pack parcels very carefully’ broken dog design by Tom Eckersley is included, making this design now available in greetings card, print-on-demand poster, fridge magnet, and fridge magnet with virtual gift formats.  A cow design from the same campaign is featured, as is Pat Keely’s poster artwork for the GPO film, Night Mail. Lesser known, but equally visually appealing work by artists Harry Stevens and Robert Broomfield are in the range, along with a wartime poster image from artist Hans Schleger (aka Zero). We are delighted with the new cards – everyone in the office has their own personal favourite.

The poster for Night Mail shows a railway track and railway signals at night.

Pat Keely's poster for Night Mail

Poster campaigns, public information films, and documentary photography emerged from the Post Office during the 1930’s under the auspices of its first Public Relations Officer, Sir Stephen Tallents, who joined the department in 1933 towards the end of George V’s reign. Indeed it was the social change, coupled with developments in mass communications techniques and processes which had occurred earlier during the King’s reign which enabled production not only of some of philately’s now most loved stamp issues (‘British Empire Exhibition’, ‘Seahorses’ and ‘PUC Pound’ issues for example) but that also laid the basis for a subsequent ‘heyday’ of GPO poster design.

The events and innovations of this extraordinary period in philatelic design history will be the focus of the BPMA’s major exhibition for 2010: Empire Mail: George V and the GPO at London’s Guildhall Art Gallery. The exhibition, part of the London 2010 Festival of Stamps, will look at the passions of King George V, the ‘philatelist king’, alongside an extraordinary period of innovation in the General Post Office which took place during his reign.

The Post Modern card range will be available shortly from the BPMA’s webshop.

New London 2010 postcard available 8th January

The fourth in a series of philatelic postcards promoting London 2010: Festival of Stamps has now been issued. Postcard #4 features the original metal master die for Bertram Mackennal’s ‘Seahorse’ design with three colour trials, one of the treasures of the British Postal Museum & Archive’s philatelic collection. The postcard comes free with the February 2010 issue of Stamp & Coin Mart magazine sold in WH Smith from 8 January 2010. 

The postcard shows the original metal master die for the Seahorse design with colour trials (September 1912)

Original metal master die for Seahorse design with colour trials (September 1912). As the Union Flag on the shield was heraldically inaccurate, the flag was removed from the transfer roller and re-engraved on each master die for the different values.

Postcard #4 is exclusive to Stamp & Coin Mart, but postcards #2 and #3 can be obtained free of charge by visiting our Archive Search Room. Postcard #1 is no longer available, but limited edition complete sets of London 2010 postcards will be available for purchase later in the year.

The ‘Seahorse’ high value definitives were some of the most iconic stamps produced during the reign of George V.  A noted philatelist, George V, took great interest in the production of the ‘Seahorse’ definitives and suggested they be recess (intaglio) printed. The ‘Seahorse’ stamps are just one of the postal treasures and innovations from the reign of King George V that will feature in the exhibition Empire Mail: George V and the GPO, at Guildhall Art Gallery from 7 May – 25 July 2010.

For more on London 2010: Festival of Stamps visit http://www.london2010.org.uk/.

BPMA Curator of Philately Douglas Muir will be speaking on the stamp, medal and coinage designs of Bertram Mackennal at the BPMA on 7 October 2010. See our website for details.

Walking back through 400 years of postal history

by Jennifer Flippance, London 2010 Project Officer

K2 and K6 phone kiosks at Smithfield Market

K2 and K6 phone kiosks at Smithfield Market

For the last three years BPMA has been running popular walking tours, which take you into the heart of old GPO London, exploring 400 years of postal history and developments in the iconic street furniture of telephone kiosks and letter boxes.

The full tour lasts around 3 hours but next year, as part of our programme of activities to celebrate the London 2010: Festival of Stamps, we’re developing a ‘highlights’ version that will last around 1.5 hours and finish up at Guildhall Art Gallery. This will give you the opportunity to visit the fascinating exhibition, Empire Mail: George V and the GPO which will contain many significant objects and items of postal history from the reign of George V, when the GPO (General Post Office) was at its height.

Last week, Chris Taft, one of the curators at the BPMA who helped to develop and run the tours, took me out on the route of the new walking tour.

The Central Telegraph Office c. 1920s

The Central Telegraph Office c. 1935

It takes in the old GPO heartland around St Martin’s Le Grand, once the bustling hub of communication throughout the empire. This incorporates the majestic former GPO headquarters of King Edward Building – opened in 1910, the front of which is still standing today – and the sites of GPO North, the Central Telegraph Office and GPO East, from where crowds gathered each night to witness the spectacle of racing mail coaches leaving London.

Today King Edward Street is overlooked by a statue of Rowland Hill, the social reformer who revolutionised the postal service in 1840, making mail communication within reach of ordinary people for the first time.

Curator Chris Taft, takes a break beside the statue of Rowland Hill, outside King Edward Building

Curator Chris Taft, takes a break beside the statue of Rowland Hill, outside King Edward Building

Then travel further back in time to the site where the ‘bishop mark’ the world’s first postmark was struck in 1661. Continue to the area of the City where many coffee houses clustered in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Coffee houses were significant in the development of communication because many had the facility for visitors to post letters. Due to the coffee shop owners’ close relationships with ship owners, this was considered a more efficient way of carrying letters overseas than using the Post Office.

A little further on is the site of the office of the Postmaster General. In 1680 this was the only place you could post letters in the country. By 1808 the office was called “the most important spot on the surface of the globe.”

Dates for the new walking tour will be announced later in the year.

The last full-length walking of 2009 takes place on Saturday 26 September (1.00 – 4.00 pm). Click here to find out how to book tickets

The BPMA does Swinpex

by Jo Sullivan, New Centre Project Assistant

Jennifer and Jo man the BPMA stall at Swinpex

Jennifer and Jo man the BPMA stall at Swinpex

On Saturday 13th June, Jennifer Flippance (BPMA’s London 2010 Project Officer) and myself attended Swinpex, a philatelic show hosted by the Swindon Philatelic Society.  Although there primarily to promote the joint aims of the BPMA‘s New Centre Project and the 2010 Festival of Stamps and not to sell (or buy) anything we were given an exceptionally warm welcome by all those involved.  In fact, we received star billing in the programme, our presence described as “a great coup for Swindon philately!”

The crowds at Swinpex

The crowds at Swinpex

Swinpex is one of the largest and best attended philatelic shows in the country and gets around 400 to 500 visitors on the day.  This year organisers reported over 500 people attended and, if the crowds in the main hall were anything to go by, we could well believe it.

The BPMA’s stand was right by the front door and we had a steady stream of people coming over to talk to us throughout the day, lured in no doubt by the promise of free 2010 postcards and free newsletters (free gifts at stamp shows it would appear is manna from heaven).  Here we have to give thanks to the BPMA’s continued communication and PR effort as everyone we spoke to not only knew about the proposed move to Swindon but were enthusiastic and supportive.  In fact, the only complaint people had was that we can’t be open sooner.  

Some of the BPMA leaflets and postcards available on the day

Some of the BPMA leaflets and postcards available on the day

It is not just philatelic societies that can’t wait for us to arrive in Swindon as I also spoke to local history and family history group members and a teacher who was interested in the BPMA’s wealth of Key Stage educational resources.  Those looking forward to next year’s Festival of Stamps were able to see facsimiles of some of the King George V stamp artwork and essays that will be on display as part of the Empire Mail exhibition at Guildhall Art Gallery.

I found out that Swinpex 2010 is being held at one of the BPMA’s neighbours on the Churchward Village site, Steam. Society members were looking forward to having a new venue for Swinpex and being able to see the BPMA’s new home for themselves (although I perhaps should mention to the organisers they will need to provide 500 hard hats and high vis jackets if they want the tour inside the building).  Whilst some were excited that the proximity of the McArthur Glenn Designer Outlet meant they could combine two of their favourite hobbies: shopping and philately!