Tag Archives: General Post Office

Postal posters exhibition in Swindon

From Tuesday 19th March to Thursday 27th June 2013 selected posters from The BPMA’s Designs on Delivery exhibition will be on display at Great Western Hospital, Swindon.

Design played a crucial role in promoting social progress and technological change across Britain between 1930 and 1960. The commercial poster reached cultural maturity during this period and became the most eloquent of the mass media.

Please pack parcels very carefully, 1957. Designer: Tom Eckersley. (POST 110/2592)

Please pack parcels very carefully, 1957. Designer: Tom Eckersley. (POST 110/2592)

From the 1930s onwards the Post Office became a leader in the field of poster design, commissioning some of Britain’s most recognized artists and designers. This success owes much to the appointment of Stephen Tallents as the Post Office’s first public relations officer in 1933. Under his guidance a Poster Advisory Group composed of key figures in the arts and business led the commissioning process.

Buy stamps in books, 1959. Designer: Pieter Huveneers. (POST 110/2536)

Buy stamps in books, 1959. Designer: Pieter Huveneers. (POST 110/2536)

Some of the posters commissioned were commercially driven. Others were intended simply as self-publicity or for creating goodwill among its publics. The Post Office’s rich store of material could also, wrote Tallents in 1935, make a contribution to the ‘picture of Britain’.

Post your letters before noon, 1941. Designers: Jan Lewitt and George Him. (POST 110/3184)

Post your letters before noon, 1941. Designers: Jan Lewitt and George Him. (POST 110/3184)

GPO posters included work by those associated with both fine art and graphic design, demonstrating the blurring of the boundaries between high art and popular culture that poster design encouraged. This exhibition showcases the best of these posters.

The exhibiting of Designs on Delivery has been made possible through a partnership with Paintings in Hospitals. Paintings in Hospitals is a registered charity that uses visual art to create environments that improve health, wellbeing and the healthcare experience for service users, their families and staff.

The Post Office handles 23,000,000 letters a day, 1947. Designer: G R Morris (POST 109/195)

The Post Office handles 23,000,000 letters a day, 1947. Designer: G R Morris (POST 109/195)

Designs on Delivery will be exhibited in the Temporary Exhibition Space (Main Entrance – Ground Floor) at the Great Western Hospital. The exhibition is open daily. Entry is free of charge and open to all. For opening hours, please see the Hospital’s website www.gwh.nhs.uk or for more information on the exhibition please see our website.

If you would like to share your feedback on the exhibition, please contact the BPMA Exhibitions Officer on dominique.gardner@postalheritage.org.uk.

Dominique Gardner – Exhibitions Officer

Postmasters General

The head of the Post Office has been known by many different titles, but from 1657 to 1969 the holder of this position was called the Postmaster General. Postmasters General were Cabinet-level ministers, selected by the Prime Minister from amongst the members of Parliament or the House of Lords.

One notable Postmaster General was Henry Fawcett, Member of Parliament for Hackney under Prime Minister William Gladstone. Although only Postmaster General for four and half years (1880-1884), Fawcett was responsible for introducing the Post Office Savings Bank savings stamp, the Parcel Post, postal orders and the sixpenny telegram, amongst other things. A Liberal, Fawcett was also Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge University, an early supporter of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, a campaigner for women’s suffrage, and the husband of suffragist and political activist Millicent Garrett Fawcett. In 2009 Philip Jeffs of the Royal National Institute of the Blind blogged for us on Fawcett’s disability; having been blinded in a shooting accident at the age of 25 Fawcett reportedly told his father: “Well, it shan’t make any difference in my plans of life!”

Henry Fawcett, Postmaster General 1880-1884. (2012/0129-02)

Henry Fawcett, Postmaster General 1880-1884. (2012/0129-02)

Other famous Postmasters General include Neville Chamberlain, Postmaster General 1922-1923 and Prime Minister 1937-1940, Clement Attlee, Postmaster General 1931 and Prime Minister 1945-1951, and Tony Benn, who was Postmaster General from 1964-1966 and later held a number of other cabinet positions including Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in 1974. Tony Benn’s tenure as Postmaster General is remembered as being a time of change, when the portrait of the monarch was removed from stamps in favour of the cameo head.

Tony Benn, Postmaster General 1964-1966. (P9183)

Tony Benn, Postmaster General 1964-1966. (P9183)

In 1969 the Post Office became a Corporation headed by a Chairman, and government responsibility for the organisation came under the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. When that ministerial position was abolished in 1974 postal services came under the Department of Industry. Today Royal Mail Group is overseen by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, and headed by Chairman Donald Brydon and Chief Executive Moya Greene.

For a complete list Postmasters General and the holders of other senior positions see our webpage on Leadership of the Post Office. Photographs of a number of Postmasters General and Assistant Postmasters General can be viewed on Flickr. For more on 20th Century Postmaster General see Adrian Steel’s blog post The Office of Postmaster General: Its holders in the Twentieth Century.

Valentines Greetings Telegrams

At this time of the year the postal service is kept busy delivering love letters and cards on Valentine’s Day, but in the 20th Century cards and letters weren’t the only ways to send a romantic message. In 1936 the General Post Office introduced the Valentine’s Day greetings telegram, which enabled people to send a 9 word message for just 9d. This was 3d more expensive than sending a standard telegram, but it meant that the message would arrive on a specially-designed form.

Valentine's greetings telegram, issued 14th February 1936, designed by Rex Whistler.

Valentine’s greetings telegram, issued 14th February 1936, designed by Rex Whistler.

Greetings telegrams were introduced in Denmark in 1907, and in Sweden in 1912. By the time Britain introduced them in 1935 most of Europe, the USA and many other countries had such a service. Between 1935 and the cessation of the service in 1982 a variety of greetings telegrams forms had been issued, enabling customers to send greetings for weddings, birthdays, coming of ages, Christmas and the Coronation, as well as Valentine’s Day.

The 1936 Valentine’s Day greetings telegram was seen as an experiment by the GPO, and it was the first telegram form to be printed in multiple colours. 50,000 Valentines telegrams were sent in 1936, which provided a much-need boost to the telegram service at a time when it was facing stiff competition from the telephone service.

During the Second World War the greetings telegram service was downscaled, and an “all in one” telegram form was introduced in 1942. It was less elaborate and colourful (to save on ink and paper during wartime shortages), and was carefully designed to be appropriate for many occasions. The design shows a village scene: a young couple have just been married in the church, an older couple are sitting on a bench together (perhaps having a low-key wedding anniversary celebration, or consoling each other after a loss), and a stork is delivering a baby to another couple.

War economy greetings telegram, issued 20th June 1942, designed by Kathleen Atkins.

War economy greetings telegram, issued 20th June 1942, designed by Kathleen Atkins.

Valentine’s Day greetings telegrams returned in 1951, with new forms issued in both 1952 and 1953. Thereafter it became common to re-issue greetings telegram designs from previous years. Rosemary Kay designed the last new Valentine’s Day greetings telegram form in 1961.

Valentine's Day greetings telegram, issued 14 February 1961, designed by Rosemary Kay.

Valentine’s Day greetings telegram, issued 14 February 1961, designed by Rosemary Kay.

– Alison Bean, Web Officer

Visit us on Flickr to see a selection of Valentine’s Day greetings telegram forms and Valentine’s Day greetings telegram form artwork.


New Acquisition: Sir Francis Freeling’s Certifying Seal

When an object is offered to the museum, there are certain things that are considered before it is formally accepted into the collection and accessioned. Is the object in good condition? Often materials can degrade not only causing damage to the object in question but sometimes threatening the condition of items already in the collection. BPMA already has a large collection and we try not to duplicate items too much. Sometimes having more than one of an object can be an advantage as it means we can display objects for longer, or still allow access for research whilst an original is on display. However, we must be careful to have a balanced collection that represents a wide breadth of stories. This brings me on to the final and perhaps most important thing to consider, does the object meet our Collecting Policy? In other words does it have a postal connection in the story it can tell and how it can enrich our knowledge and understanding of communication, past and present.

Recently we were offered an item that was in good condition, was not already represented in the collection and certainly has an interesting story to tell. This object was a Certifying Seal used by Sir Francis Freeling during his time as Secretary of the General Post Office. Sir Francis Freeling was Secretary of the Post Office from 1797 to 1836 and was one of the longest serving administrators of the Post Office in the 19th Century. Amongst other things, Freeling helped establish a system for recording minutes and reports, which forms the foundation on which today’s Royal Mail Archive is built.

Sir Francis Freeling’s Certifying Seal

Sir Francis Freeling’s Certifying Seal

This seal would have been used by Freeling to seal official correspondence. The main seal is made of a red ochre coloured material, possibly a sort of stone, whilst the handle has an embossed floral design. In the centre of the impression is the Royal coat of arms with a crown at the top. In three scrolls across the bottom of the coat of arms is inscribed ‘GENL. POST OFFICE’ and across the bottom appears the word ‘SECRETARY’.

Sir Francis Freeling’s Certifying Seal

Sir Francis Freeling’s Certifying Seal

Another thing to consider when an object enters the collection is its provenance: where it came from, who owned it. This certifying seal was kindly donated to the BPMA from the Talbot family who are connected to the Freeling family through the marriage of Charles Henry Waring and Lucy Freeling, the latter was the grand-daughter of Sir Francis Freeling. This kind of personal connection adds a personal touch to the story of the object.

Sir Francis Freeling was an important character in the history of the Post Office, it is for this reason that our current home, Freeling House, is named after him and we are therefore especially pleased to accept this item into the collection.

Emma Harper – Curator (Move Planning)

View items from the Royal Mail Archive and British Postal Museum collection in the Collections & Catalogue section of our website.

Postal Vehicles

When people come on one of our Museum Store tours they often remark on the wide range of postal vehicles we have in our collection. The vehicles we care for range from bicycles and motorcycles to large delivery vans.

Today’s Royal Mail vehicles fleet is sourced for a small number of suppliers, but in the early days a great many manufacturers were used. It would be impossible for us to collect and maintain an example of every different type, but we do have photographic records and other material related to many of these vehicles in the Royal Mail Archive.

Recently we uploaded a small number of photographs showing some unusual and interesting postal vehicles to our Flickr site. Amongst these are the first motor vehicle used for mails in Scotland and a Motor Parcel Coach, both dating from circa 1908.

First motor vehicle used for mails in Scotland, c. 1908. (POST 118/5725)

First motor vehicle used for mails in Scotland, c. 1908. (POST 118/5725)

Also of interest are postal vehicles in interesting settings, such as the General Post Office (GPO) trolley basket parked at the base of the Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway in Devon and a Postbus parked near spectacular cliffs on the coast of Barra in the Outer Hebrides.

Lynmouth cliff railway and General Post Office trolley basket, Devon. (POST 118/1300)

Lynmouth cliff railway and General Post Office trolley basket, Devon. (POST 118/1300)

Finally, petrolheads may be interested in several images from the GPO repair shop in Harrow showing mechanics at work servicing vehicles.

For more on postal vehicles see our online exhibition Moving the Mail.

BPMA Collections Out and About

Current work at the BPMA is focussed around plans for our New Centre at Calthorpe House and especially for the design of a permanent exhibition space in which to show the many different objects in our collection. This will support and expand on the work we already do through our accredited museum at the Museum of the Post Office in the Community and our travelling exhibitions. Another aspect of our work however, is our loans to other museums as far apart as Cornwall and Scotland to name but a few.

The collections of the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth consist of a range of objects from boats to art as well as extensive archives that help tell the maritime heritage of Cornwall. An important part of this is a display on The Falmouth Packet Service, 1789-1851 which is where the objects from the BPMA can be found: two Flintlock Pistols issued to help protect the ships and the mail they carried, and two Maritime handstamps, one for the Falmouth Packet Service itself and the other for postage paid at St Ives port for a Ship Letter. These objects help tell the story of how Falmouth became a central hub of communication for over 150 years. They sit alongside objects from the museum’s own collection such as a mail bag from HM Packet Ship Crane and letters sent via Packet Ships.

Flintlock pistol on display at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth.

Flintlock pistol on display at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth.

Objects loaned from the BPMA can also be seen at the opposite end of the country. The Riverside Museum in Glasgow is Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel, which opened in 2011 after a major development project. The museum includes many innovative ways of interpreting transport collections such as a ‘car wall’ and a suspended bicycle velodrome display. Amongst the displays is one on the role of the Telegram Messenger boy.

The focus of the display is a motorcycle used by messengers on delivery. It was the thought of riding one of these that often encouraged boys to join the Post Office. However, the role of the Telegram Messenger involved far more than just this, as is explored via a series of touch-screens where visitors can play a game to see who can deliver their telegrams most efficiently. Next to this is a manikin dressed in a Telegram Messenger boy’s uniform complete with waterproof leggings, motorcycle goggles, helmet and gloves all from BPMA’s collection as well as the standard issue jacket and pouch.

These objects provide a wider context to the display of a vehicle, helping to bring the object and the stories connected with it to life. Indeed, the display has provoked the memories of many visitors, just like those Jim has shared with us in previous blogs.

Telegram messengers display at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow.

Telegram messengers display at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow.

Finally, from 30 January an F type pillar box from the BPMA collection will be on display at the Design Museum, London as part of their Extraordinary Stories exhibition.

Elizabeth II Type F Twin Pillar Box (OB1994-50i)

Elizabeth II Type F Twin Pillar Box (OB1994-50i)

The F type pillar box was a revolutionary design by the industrial architect David Mellor. It was developed in response to a request from the London Postal Region for a box with three apertures. One way of providing this facility was by utilising a ‘square’ shape so that boxes could be used in modular format, either as single, double or triple units. In the event, following eight years of trial and failure, a three-apertured variant never did get used. However from 205 boxes constructed, some 200 boxes were put into use across the country in both single and double format. The failure to produce a durable protective finish to the sheet steel panels (themselves a radical departure from the usual cast iron traditionally utilised) meant that the boxes promptly rotted, particularly the bases.

None of the boxes survive in use in the street today (the last to be removed was in the late 1980s) but a handful survive in museum and private collections. The design was not entirely dispensed with; the cast iron G type pillar box leans heavily upon Mellor’s design, many of the G type boxes continue to provide excellent service today.

BPMA holds examples of both single and double units in its collection, also another solo box partially stripped to allow the special ‘easy clear’ internal mail mechanism developed by Post Office Engineers to be seen. The single box can be seen as part of the exhibition at the Design Museum until January 2014. The other examples can be seen at events and tours taking place at the Museum Store. They will be a particular focus during the Pillar Box Perfection event taking place at the store on Saturday 6th April 2013.

By lending objects to other museums the BPMA increases access to its own physical collection and conveys the important human story of communication that is shared by everyone.

– Emma Harper, Curator (Move Planning)
– Julian Stray, Curator

From Pillar to Post: GPO London Walking tour

From Pillar to Post is a London walking tour centred on the history of the GPO (General Post Office), specifically its early presence and impact in central London. It is a brilliant way to spend a weekend morning, discovering the fascinating history hidden within London’s streets. The two hour tour starts in Farringdon and ends in Bank, uncovering along the way the rich postal heritage of London’s roads and buildings, interwoven with the City’s wider history.

The tour began outside the old Metropolitan Railway Parcels office at Farringdon station. Like today, there was no monopoly on the parcel post and you could pay many different companies to deliver your parcel for you. The various disparate railway companies provided a regular, well honed parcel service, if a little complicated and expensive when utilising more than one company at a time. In an endeavour to create a nationwide service the GPO commenced its own Parcels Post in 1883. They initially made a loss having overestimated the number of parcels that would be delivered.

The Metropolitan Railway Parcels Office is still part of Farringdon station.

The Metropolitan Railway Parcels Office is still part of Farringdon station.

The telephone kiosks introduced by the GPO are well illustrated in Smithfield meat market, with an eye-catching row of the iconic K2 and K6 red kiosks. Both were designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (later Sir). Sir Gilbert Scott also designed Battersea power station and Bankside Power station, now Tate Modern. The K2 kiosk is almost certainly based on the tomb of Sir John Soane, the celebrated architect. Sir John Soane’s tomb is one of only two grade one listed tombs in London – the other tomb is that of Karl Marx.

K2 and K6 telephone kiosks in Smithfield's Market.

K2 and K6 telephone kiosks in Smithfield’s Market.

Next stop on the tour was St Bart’s Hospital, West Smithfield, where we passed an old and inconspicuous wall box. Companies would often have their own wall box for their mail that they would then pay the GPO to collect from. The large ‘A’ sized example at Bart’s not only incorporates two peculiar angled apertures, but also a door situated outside the hospital so that may can be collected even if the gates are shut.

Wall box front, St Barts Hospital.

Wall box front, St Barts Hospital.

We then came across the four huge buildings that formerly made up a GPO empire. The King Edward building, former GPO headquarters and previously a home to the National Postal Museum, is now owned by Merrill Lynch. A hint of its former GPO importance is indicated by a sculpture in the wall of the building depicting a Caduceus; a Staff with two entwined snakes, belonging to Mercury/ Hermes, messenger to the Gods. Around the corner stands the statue of a hero of the GPO, Rowland Hill – the creator of the Uniform Penny Post. This is known to most as that which gave us the 1d black postage stamp, the first in the World, helping to open the postal service to all.

Statue of Rowland Hill.

Statue of Rowland Hill.

The tour continued on the other side of the road with a walk through Postman’s Park, adjacent to another former GPO Head office – GPO North. The park has a rich history of its own but it was so called because of its proximity to the former GPO buildings and the popularity of the park with GPO workers resting there between duties. In the park is also sited a memorial established by the painter George Frederick Watts. This consists of a series of plaques that commemorate those often unheralded elsewhere, who had performed heroic deeds (some of whom were children) and all of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice. As you exit the park be sure to notice the bench dedicated to ‘the Central Telegraph Office female staff who helped keep communications open during two world wars’.

We then passed close by St Paul’s station, previously called simply Post Office. Opened in 1900, this station was named Post Office because of its close proximity to the number of large, important and impressive GPO buildings in that area. At the time, another station nearby was known as St Paul’s, and has since been renamed Blackfriars.

The guide continued with stories of the days when the mail was carried by mail coaches across the country, revolutionising mail delivery and the speed at which it travelled and could be received. John Palmer, a theatre owner from Bath, conducted a successful trial run of a mail coach travelling from Bath to London in 13 hours (with the usual time taken being nearly triple this). From then on the time gained by delivering mail by mail coaches was clear and postal delivery was revolutionised. Many of the mail coaches set off from London along the Great Roads from The General Post Office. Just prior to the First World War this office was pulled down to widespread public outcry. Already proving too small for the increase in mail volume, it had earlier proved popular as a gathering point for the public who would assemble to observe the spectacle of the departing mail coaches. Smaller mail vans were hazardous to the unwary; Charles Dickens recorded the death of a pedestrian under the wheels of a galloping mail van in a neighbouring street in Little Dorritt.

The tour also touched on the Post Office Underground Railway that runs underneath some of the areas traversed on the tour. Work on the Railway began prior to the First World War, and was then halted due to the War – with the underground tunnels used to store artworks from museums and galleries such as the National Gallery. The railway opened in 1927. It was used to transport mail using driverless trains, underneath London, to the mainline stations which provided access across the country. Built partially to avoid the traffic congestion overhead, some might argue that little has changed in London today. However, with the closure of most of the large sorting and distribution offices, routing of mail outside London and cessation of use of the London railway termini for mail purposes meant that the requirement for a bespoke underground railway, by now renamed Mail Rail, was no more.

By the time of Mail Rail, the transport revolution had been going for many years with the GPO availing themselves of the opportunities available. Mail was first carried on overland trains in 1830. Again the innovation of the GPO is evident; mail carried by trains was instituted soon after experimentation with the railways and train travel first began.

We came across quite a few pillar boxes on our journey around London. The well known novelist, Anthony Trollope, is credited with the introduction of the first British pillar box, when working as a Surveyors Clerk for the GPO. The pillar box was trialled in the Channel Islands in 1852 and similar boxes were introduced to the streets of the UK mainland by 1853. The first pillar boxes appeared in London in 1855 though no examples of these survive today. Possibly one of the most popular of all the pillar boxes is the Penfold, the only pillar box named after its designer and famously used as the name of Dangermouse’s sidekick.

Towards the end of our tour we came across Post Office Court EC3 near to where the former Lloyds coffee house is situated. Lloyds coffee house provided the shipping news and therefore was very popular with those travelling overseas. Some of the many Coffee Houses in the area acted as Letter Receiving Houses for a burgeoning postal service, though there were many accusations of improper payments and favouritism.

Post Office Court EC3 street sign.

Post Office Court EC3 street sign.

The tour ends outside the National Exchange and the imposing Bank of England, by Bank station. Here stands a First World War memorial that also commemorates the role of the London Regiment, City of London Battalions and the 8th Battalion (Post Office Rifles), providing a fitting and sombre end to the tour.

War Memorial outside the Bank of England.

War Memorial outside the Bank of England.

I would very much recommend the walking tour for its fascinating overview of the City’s streets, buildings and secret histories. I have only touched on some of the subjects and sights experienced. A subsequent visit to our museum store in Debden is a great way to complement the tour and see the actual objects that are part of this rich tapestry of postal history.

The walking tours are run in conjunction with the BPMA, and led by Cityguides. The next tour is on Saturday 26 January at 11am. There’s no need to book, just turn up on the day. For more information please see our website.

– Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

The mail boats of St Kilda

By the late 1890s a unique system of mail dispatch had developed on the remote Scottish islands of St Kilda: letters were enclosed in a waterproof receptacle attached to a homemade buoy or buoyant object and launched into the sea in the hope that they would wash ashore and be forwarded on by whoever chanced upon them.

The idea had been developed by John Sands, a journalist who found himself stranded on the islands in 1876. In the years that followed Sand’s experiments the St Kilda “mail boats” were regularly used by the islanders. An article in The Sketch in 1906 recorded that during the longer winter months when vessels did not call at the islands letters were dispatched by placing them…

…in a waterproof, buoyant case and cast upon the waters. Usually this remarkable mail-packet is picked up on the coast of Norway, to be forwarded later to the Foreign Office. Four packages out of six reach their destination.

The St Kilda islanders constructed many types of mail boats using the materials they had to hand. The letters and coins might be placed in bottles, cocoa tins or leather bags – any container that was waterproof – while the waterproof container would be attached to something that would survive the journey, such as a wooden vessel, a hollowed log or a buoy made from an inflated sheepskin.

A St Kilda "mail boat".

A St Kilda “mail boat”.

Some of these crafts made it to British shores, a Shetland Islands newspaper c.1904 reported that:

There was picked up on St Ninian’s Isle Dunrossness, a St Kilda mail bag. The ‘bag’ is that usually employed by the St Kildians to communicate with the outside world, consisting of a sheepskin bag inflated to which was attached a tin canister, wrapped round with cotton wool, and covered with cotton sewn around it end tarred, the served with stout twine. The bag was forwarded to Lerwick Post Office. The tin was found to contain two letters and eight postcards, which were duly forwarded to their destination. A shilling was also enclosed. The bag had been sent off on 21st June so that it had taken two months and one day between St Kilda and Shetland.

Another type of St Kilda "mail boat".

Another type of St Kilda “mail boat”.

The mail boats weren’t just used by the islanders, tourists who came to St Kilda by steamer in the summer months would make a mail boat as part of the St Kilda experience. But for the locals the boats were more than a novelty, they were the best available option. According to files held in the Royal Mail Archive the General Post Office investigated establishing a regular mail service to improve communications between the islands and the mainland – one suggestion was to pay local fishing vessels to deliver and collect mail – but it was found to be too difficult to establish a regular service via these means. A sub post office was established on St Kilda in 1900 and by 1906 steam trawlers which visited the area were able to bring mail as often as six times a year, but the islanders still needed to use the mail boats.

A St Kilda islander launches a "mail boat". (Early 20th Century)

A St Kilda islander launches a “mail boat”. (Early 20th Century)

The ultimate problem for the GPO was that the small population on the islands did not justify the effort of establishing a regular service. Considerable efforts were made in the early 20th Century, but the First World War had a big impact on the islands: not only did the population decline as a result of men going off to fight, but the islanders’ expectations increase as communications technology improved.

After the war, more efforts were made to secure a regular mail service but by 1928 the population had declined to 37 and in 1930 the remaining residents were evacuated the mainline. A final mail boat was sent before the islanders left for good and three months later it landed in Norway.

St Kilda is now a UNESCO World Heritage site cared for by The National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Ministry of Defence. Tourists visiting St Kilda still send mail boats as the St Kilda Ranger’s diary reported in 2011.

Welcome to 2013

This year will be an exciting year at The British Postal Museum & Archive. While many staff are working hard to develop our new museum and archive others are continuing to organise events and exhibitions.


The first of our talks takes place next month and features Chris West, author of First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps. In his talk Chris will discuss the book and go in depth on some of the stories. Last year Chris wrote a blog for us about how he came to write his book, and you can buy a copy from our online shop or purchase one at the event.

In March Oliver Carter-Wakefield of Kings College London will speak on Illness and Absence in the Victorian Post Office. Consumption, necrosis and mental derangement were just some of the reasons Victorian postmen called in sick – and they weren’t always skiving!

Postal Mischief with David Bramwell.

Postal Mischief with David Bramwell.

In April David Bramwell will present a slide-show talk on how the postal system was used for the purposes of mischief making, and in June BPMA Curator Emma Harper will explore a less weird but just as wonderful use of the Royal Mail when she explores the culture of letter writing in 19th and 20th Centuries.

Tickets for all our talks are only £3.00 (or £2.50 concession) and can be booked online.


Our ever popular tours will be held throughout 2013. Bookings are now open for three tours of the Royal Mail Archive and six tours of our Museum Collection. These guided tours are led by our archivists and curators, who will give you a rare behind the scenes look at our collections storage facilities and an insight in to what they care for. Book now for these tours as they sell out quickly!

Walking tours of postal London run once a month and are operated by our partners Cityguides. Tours start at Farringdon Station and end at Bank, taking you in to the City of London which was once the heartland of the British Post Office. There is no need to book for these tours – just turn up on the day. See our website for details.

See the sights of postal London on our walking tours.

See the sights of postal London on our walking tours.

Special Events

The Museum Store, where we are house our full of collection of pillar boxes and vehicles, will play host to two special events this year. The first, Pillar Box Perfection, taking place on 6 April, will offer a range of activities for all ages based around the iconic pillar box. The second, Museums at Night at the Museum Store, is part of an initiative taking place in May in which museums stay open in the evening. We’ll tell you more about this event nearer to the time. Both of these special events are free of charge.


Visitors to the Royal Mail Archive in London can still see our Diamond Jubilee display of stamps from the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. We also have a permanent exhibition, The Museum of the Post Office in the Community, at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shorpshire. The Museum is located above a recreated Victorian post office – a fascinating place to visit in itself – and is free to visit as part of your entry to Blists Hill.

Part of our much-loved collection of General Post Office posters from the 1930s-1960s will go on display at the Great Western Hospital, Swindon in March. This is part of the Paintings in Hospitals scheme, and the public may visit the exhibition in the Hospital’s designated display area during their opening hours.

Please pack parcels very carefully, poster by Tom Eckersley - this will be on display as part of Designs on Delivery.

Please pack parcels very carefully, poster by Tom Eckersley – this will be on display as part of Designs on Delivery.

Also on tour is our exhibition Last Post: Remembering the First World War, which can be seen at the Museum of Army Flying, Hampshire from March and at Aysgarth Station Heritage Site, North Yorkshire in May. The exhibition looks at the role of the Post Office during the Great War.

Visit our website for full details of our programme of events and exhibitions.

Use your postcode at Christmas

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster promoting the use of postal codes when sending Christmas mail, 1968 (POST 110/1550)

Poster promoting the use of postal codes when sending Christmas mail, 1968 (POST 110/1550)

In the 1960s when this poster was produced most mail was still sorted by hand but the Post Office was hatching an ambitious plan to reshape the entire network and it needed the public to change with them. A new breed of sorting office was being developed, filled with “coding desks” at which staff would operate keyboards in order to register the mail as it entered the system. Postcodes, which compressed the information in every address were key to making this new type of sorting office work.

A line of postmen operating coding desks at Croydon Head Post Office, 1969. (POST 118/5424)

A line of postmen operating coding desks at Croydon Head Post Office, 1969. (POST 118/5424)

Between 1966 and 1974 every address in the United Kingdom was given a postcode and this poster from 1968 was part of the accompanying publicity campaign. Royal Mail was still promoting the postcode using posters and other methods as recently as the 1990s, a reflection of how long it takes to effect major change. You can read more about postcoding in our blog post Publicising the postcode or in our article on Postcodes on our website.