Tag Archives: Essex

The Mystery of the Tolhurst Envelope: Case Closed

Regular readers may remember my blog, ‘The Mystery of the Tolhurst Envelopes’, a beautiful story of communication via illustrated envelopes, which were sent to various members of the Tolhurst family. Since writing about the mystery, we’ve uncovered some exciting new pieces of the story. Image 7 After the blog was published, we quite quickly received an e-mail from a descendant of Charles Frederick Tolhurst, informing us that she was Vera Tolhurst’s niece, Frederick Charles Tolhurst’s granddaughter, and that she had found the BPMA’s Tolhurst blog when looking up the family surname on Google. We were, obviously, extremely excited and arranged a meeting. Image 3 When we met Tolhurst’s descendants, Brenda and Sandy, they brought with them a large collection of previously unknown of illustrated envelopes, which were made by Charles Frederick Tolhurst and sent to his son Reginald, their father. Reuniting the illustrated envelopes sent to Reginald with those sent to Vera, one appreciated the scale of the communication and the amount of time and effort put into this correspondence. Image 11 Years after sending mail art to his children, Charles Frederick Tolhurst sent illustrated envelopes to his grandchild. Themes of warfare are again depicted as the Second World War had by then broken out. The letters which accompany the illustrated envelopes are in the family’s collection, bringing us into direct contact with Charles Frederick Tolhurst’s voice for the first time. One such letter and illustrated envelope was sent on his granddaughter’s first birthday, in September 1939. The letter sends ‘many happy returns’ but hopes for happier birthdays ‘than the present one, because we are at war with Germany and you are away with your Dear Mother from home in consequence of the disturbing times that modern warfare brings. May happier days soon be with us.’ The accompanying illustrated envelope is far more solemn than those Tolhurst usually sent to children and depicts a mile stone engraved with ‘1 MILE’ and a sign post pointing to ‘LIFE’S JOURNEY’. Image 10 In May 1940, Tolhurst wrote to his granddaughter again of war, and sent the letter in an envelope which he had illustrated with grey tanks, aeroplanes and parachutes. He wrote “Not a happy looking envelope but in days to come, you will hear of people talking about the war at times they will mention those things on the envelope.” He goes on to say “no doubt when you reach the age of 21 you will consider [the envelopes] interesting.” It seems Tolhurst was hoping to capture his experience of warfare through his artwork, so that his family might remember and make sense of it in the future. Image 5 This family’s mail art story continues today as Charles Frederick’s granddaughter sends mail art to her friends and family – this is a family tradition of communication and illustration spanning over 100 years. Image 6 It was wonderful to meet the Tolhurst family, learn more about their story and close the mystery of the Tolhurst envelopes. -Joanna Espin, Curator

The Mystery of the Tolhurst Envelopes

We love a mystery at the British Postal Museum & Archive and the identity of the artist behind the illustrated ‘Tolhurst’ envelopes has intrigued us for years.

2014_0038_103

2014-0038/103

The first step in identifying the artist was to research the address to which the majority of the envelopes were sent: St Lawrence, Ernest Road, Hornchurch. Staff at Havering Museum, where a selection of the envelopes were recently displayed, found that the 1911 census showed the occupants as George, Amelia, Frederick and Amy Tolhurst. Frederick and George Tolhurst, father and son, were frequent recipients of the illustrated envelopes.

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

Locating the census record enabled the identification of all but one recipient: Vera. Vera received the majority of the illustrated envelopes in the collection, and the majority of Vera’s letters were sent to the Hornchurch address. However, she did not appear in the census record, nor could we find her in the birth records of the General Register Office, due to lack of information. Not put off, we used the information we had accumulated to construct a family tree.
Returning to the envelopes, we found a vital piece of information: the initials ‘FC’ or ‘FCT’ appeared in the corner of several illustrations. Using the family tree, we narrowed down the identity of the artist to Frederick Charles Tolhurst.

Tolhurst signature, 2014_0038_110

The artist’s initials

The identity of Vera continued to elude us, however. We considered whether Vera was a nickname, or perhaps an acronym, but we had no evidence to confirm either of these theories. We drew a step closer to the truth last week when we discovered a postcard which was addressed to Vera and signed ‘with love & kisses from your Mama & Papa’.

with love from mama and papa 2014_0038_112_back

The evidence that steered our search

We searched the birth index for Vera Tolhurst and identified a Vera Sylvia Tolhurst, born in 1908 in the district of Lambeth. A copy of the birth certificate arrived at the BPMA yesterday: listed as Vera’s father is Frederick Charles Tolhurst, and listed as his occupation is Lithographic Artist Journeyman. By 1911, Tolhurst’s occupation had changed to Trade Union Secretary, but his artistic talent was maintained in the mail art he frequently sent to his family.

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

I’ve been inspired by the Tolhurst envelopes to try my hand at mail art. Why don’t you have a go and let us know if they arrive by Tweeting @postalheritage using #mailart.

My attempt at mail art

My attempt at mail art

Joanna Espin, Curator

Museums at Night – Stories from the Store

Venture off the beaten track on Thursday 16th May and explore the treasures of the British Postal Museum and Archive (BPMA) Museum Store at a special after-hours event.

Behind its unassuming façade, the Museum Store houses a wonderful collection of the BPMA’s larger exhibits – each with a story to tell. As part of Museums at Night 2013, come and find out about some of these stories as they are brought to life by The Big Wheel Theatre Company!

Morris van at the Museum Store.

Morris van at the Museum Store.

What can you do on the night?

Big Wheel Theatre Company

Stories will be revealed by some fascinating characters from our postal past! Through some exciting interactive performances and activities find out about the Suffragette ‘human letters’ fighting for the right to vote and see how the Post Office had to adapt to the demands of war with new services. Mingle with these characters from history to truly understand all that they went through and achieved. (You can find out more about the ‘human letters’ by listening to episode #3 of our podcast.)

Anti Suffragette postcard. (2011-0365)

Anti Suffragette postcard. (2011-0365)

Craft Guerrilla

Show your support for our resident Suffragette for the evening by making your own rosette, reminiscent of those worn by the campaigners who fought for Women’s rights. East London craft company, Craft Guerrilla, will be running the activity. All materials provided for free, just bring your creativity and enthusiasm!

Discover how the post office went to war

Explore our Second World War handling box. Dress up like a wartime post man, and write a telegram to a loved one.

Write your own Post Office Telegram.

Write your own Post Office Telegram.

Postal fun at the Museum Store!

Postal fun at the Museum Store!

Have a browse

Take a walk down ‘letter box alley’ or take a look at our fleet of postal service vehicles illustrating the long history of moving the mail in a self led exploration of the collection. BPMA staff will also be on hand to answer questions about the collection. When you leave you will be able to recognize a hen and chicks bike, a K2 telephone kiosk and an Edward VIII pillar box!

Hen and chicks cigarette card.

Hen and chicks cigarette card.

Refreshments

At an event celebrating stories from our past it only seemed right to have a vintage themed refreshment stand! Help yourself to a selection of home made cakes and finger sandwiches, cloudy lemonade or a hot drink – all absolutely free.

Date and Time

Thursday 16th May, 6.00pm-9.00pm.

Cost and Booking

Free – no booking necessary

Visit our website to find out more about our Museums at Night event.

Pillar Box Perfection – Open Day at the Museum Store

Here at the British Postal Museum and Archive we are firm believers in hugging pillar boxes. Why, you ask? Because not only does it show your love for their intriguing history and vast variation in design of course, but it can reveal something very important about their story…

Join us on Saturday 6th April, 10am-4pm as we open the doors of our museum store to reveal some of these fascinating tales. There will be a range of activities for all ages to celebrate this British icon – the pillar box.

Pillar boxes at the Museum Store.

Pillar boxes at the Museum Store.

What can you do on the day?

Talks

We will be running a series of ‘spotlight’ talks, where you can hear about the stories behind some of our favourite pillar boxes. Highlights include one of the earliest boxes trialled on the Channel Islands and the ‘Penfold’. Why did Liverpool request a ‘special’ box? What indeed will you learn from hugging a pillar box? Come and find out more, with our staff on hand to introduce you to the wonderful world of pillar boxes!

Our curators will give you a quick introduction to pillar boxes.

Our curators will give you a quick introduction to pillar boxes.

Have a browse

Take a walk down ‘pillar box alley’ or take a look at our fleet of postal service vehicles illustrating the long history of moving the mail in a self led exploration of the collection. BPMA staff will also be on hand to answer questions.

Postal vehicles at the Museum Store.

Postal vehicles at the Museum Store.

Especially for families….

Trail

Past and present, the pillar box has played an important role in a process which has had a remarkable impact on the lives of many – communicating through letters! But what journey does a letter take from it leaving the hands of the sender to it being popped on the door mat of the receiver? Find out by having a go at our trail around the store! Hunt for objects and solve puzzles to reveal this amazing journey.

Here is a teaser from the trail – but you’ll have to come to the store to find out the mystery object!

Can you identify the mystery object?

Can you identify the mystery object?

Craft Activity

Get creative by designing and making your own pillar box! Celebrate the important role it played in the letter sending journey by designing it to hold your important letters – maybe it could store your post cards or letters from pen pals!

What will your pillar box hold? What about your post cards?

This post card from our collection was never delivered, perhaps the rather upset writer of the card received their trotters just before feeling the need to send it!

Tripe but but no trotters - an everyday postcard from the 1890s.(2010-0426/27)

Tripe but but no trotters – an everyday postcard from the 1890s.(2010-0426/27)

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday 6th April at the museum store!

Pillar Box Perfection is a free event taking place at The British Postal Museum Store, Essex, on 6 April 2013. See our website for more information and travel advice.

Family Fun Day

On Saturday 31 March our Museum Store in Loughton, Essex will host a day of activities especially for families. This free event will include short tours of our collections of vintage postal vehicles and post boxes, film screenings, craft sessions, and the chance to handle some original objects and try on postmen’s uniforms.

Postal vehicles at our Museum Store

Postal vehicles at our Museum Store

Our collection of vehicles and post boxes includes the London Ornate pillar box, which has a compass on top in case you get lost whilst posting your letter, and the Inspector’s Bicycle, which has the letters GPO (General Post Office) in the chain wheel. Take a tour with our curators to learn even more about our holdings.

Artist Michelle Reader will be on hand throughout the day to help you make mini sculptures using recycled materials like cardboard, old CDs, plastic objects and buttons. Be inspired by our vehicles and see what you can create.

Try on a postman's hat at our Family Fun Day

Try on a postman's hat at our Family Fun Day

We will also screen films made by the GPO Film Unit, who documented the General Post Office’s work in the 1930s and 1940s. Of particular interest is A Job In A Million which followed John Truman, as he joined the Post Office as a trainee messenger boy.

The Family Fun Day runs from 10am-4pm on 31 March at the BPMA Museum Store, Loughton. The event is free and there is no need to book. Visit our website for full details and travel directions.

The Family Fun Day is part of the 2012 Loughton Festival. The Festival is raising money for Haven House Children’s Hospice. A collection will take place during the event, with all proceeds to this worthy cause.

Museum Store Tours

Ever wanted to see behind the scenes of a museum, and get up close to some fascinating objects? Then book now to join one of our free Museum Store tours.

Postal vehicles at the Museum Store

Postal vehicles at the Museum Store

These tours take place once a month, with extra evening tours added during the summer months. During each tour our curators will be your guide on a journey through several hundred years of postal history. Highlights include a fleet of postal service vehicles illustrating the long history of moving the mail, and over 50 pillar boxes of different types, from one of the first boxes trialled in the UK to modern designs and prototypes.

Pillar boxes at the Museum Store

Pillar boxes at the Museum Store

Also of interest is the Museum Store itself, a working storage facility for our collection, not often experienced by members of the public.

Visit our website to find out more about our Museum Store tours, including dates and booking details.