Tag Archives: Great Britain

GPO Britain in pictures

The BPMA is the custodian of a photographic collection which includes about 100,000 individual photographs; the earliest is from the late 19th century and the latest ones date from the 1990s. In a previous blog on our photography collection and a talk now available as a podcast we have presented some of this fascinating material and the stories behind it, and our exhibition The Post Office in Pictures features some of the most striking images.

The GPO Britain postcard set.

The GPO Britain postcard set.

The photographs depict life in Britain at the time of the General Post Office (GPO) with its contrasts between modern urban areas and the industrial heartland, and the remote rural regions where the postman or postwoman presented a vital connection to the outside world. We have selected six of the most intriguing images for a new postcard set which is now available from the BPMA Shop.

Man posting a letter holding a cauliflower, 1949. (POST 118/1964)

Man posting a letter holding a cauliflower, 1949. (POST 118/1964)

Many of these photographs have been published in the Post Office Magazine (POST 92), which was first issued in 1934 in order to promote postal services and good relations with the public, aimed at the large postal workforce, their families and friends. The articles often presented the modernity and efficiency of the GPO’s services, such as the Post Office Savings Bank – “Everybody’s Bank” with ten million accounts, according to the author of an article in the September 1935 issue. The story on the bank, which holds “the small savings of ordinary not-very-wealthy folk in the hamlets and towns and cities of Britain”, is accompanied by several images of banking clerks entering the 120,000 daily transactions in the newly adopted accounting machines. The clerks’ efficiency in dealing with the amount of correspondence and day to day business clearly impressed the author – he dubs them ‘super clerks’.

A female clerk at the Post Office Savings Bank, on the cover of the Post Office Magazine September 1935. (POST 92)

A female clerk at the Post Office Savings Bank, on the cover of the Post Office Magazine September 1935. (POST 92)

Other sections of the magazines were regularly dedicated to news from the different UK regions. These focussed on the local postal staff and their achievements, activities and work in their local community, which, to today’s readers, provides some authentic insights into rural British communities in the 1930s and 1940s. The October 1938 Northern Ireland section, for example, features the image of a postman with a pony and trap on a rural road: “The Glenarm Bay postman goes on his delivery in a trap presented to him by local residents” (POST 118/903).

Postman with pony and trap in Northern Ireland, 1938. (POST 118/903)

Postman with pony and trap in Northern Ireland, 1938. (POST 118/903)

Other issues show postmen wading through rivers on horseback (January 1939) to reach the next village or town, or recount the peculiar history of whale bones decorating the post office exterior at Cley-next-the-Sea (March 1938).

Postman on horseback near Withypool, Somerset, 1938. (POST 118/910)

Postman on horseback near Withypool, Somerset, 1938. (POST 118/910)

Main Strain in Cley, Norfolk, 1937. (POST 118/1204)

Main Strain in Cley, Norfolk, 1937. (POST 118/1204)

The GPO Britain postcard set is now available from the BPMA Shop for £3.75.

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150 years of London Underground

It’s the oldest and one of the most famous railway networks in the world, now the London Underground celebrates its 150th birthday on Royal Mail’s first stamp issue of 2013.

Issued today, the London Underground issue features ten stamps; six charting the history of the network, alongside a miniature sheet of four long-format stamps focusing on the design heritage of its iconic posters.

London Underground stamp issue.

London Underground stamp issue.

London Underground miniature sheet.

London Underground miniature sheet.

The issue date coincides with the anniversary of the opening of what was to become London’s Underground: the steam-driven Metropolitan Railway running between Paddington Station and Farringdon Street via Kings Cross. On 9 January 1863 the Metropolitan Railway opened, passengers were able to use the service from 10 January 1863 and within months 26,000 people were using it every day.

Fittingly it’s the Metropolitan Railway that features on the first of two 2nd class stamps, while the other shows railway workers, or Navvies as they were known commonly, excavating a tube tunnel.

London Underground, 2nd Class stamps – 1863 - Metropolitan Railway Opens. A contemporary lithograph of a steam locomotive on the Metropolitan line near Paddington Station. 2nd Class – 1898 - Tunnelling Below London Streets. Railway construction workers, known as Navvies, shown excavating a ‘deep cut’ tube tunnel.

London Underground, 2nd Class stamps – 1863 – Metropolitan Railway Opens. A contemporary lithograph of a steam locomotive on the Metropolitan line near Paddington Station. 2nd Class – 1898 – Tunnelling Below London Streets. Railway construction workers, known as Navvies, shown excavating a ‘deep cut’ tube tunnel.

Edwardian commuters travelling in from the suburbs are depicted on one of the 1st class pair of stamps, while the other features the Piccadilly Line’s Boston Manor, an example of many art deco stations built in the 1920s and 30s.

London Underground, 1st Class stamps – 1911 – Commute from the Suburbs. A carriage of Edwardian ladies and gentlemen illustrated on their commute to work from the suburbs. 1st Class – 1934 – Boston Manor Art Deco Station. Suburban expansion of the Piccadilly Lines in the 1920s and 30s led to the construction of many iconic art deco stations.

London Underground, 1st Class stamps – 1911 – Commute from the Suburbs. A carriage of Edwardian ladies and gentlemen illustrated on their commute to work from the suburbs. 1st Class – 1934 – Boston Manor Art Deco Station. Suburban expansion of the Piccadilly Lines in the 1920s and 30s led to the construction of many iconic art deco stations.

Classic rolling stock travelling on the tube’s ‘deep cut’ lines in 1938 and Sir Norman Foster’s Canary Wharf Station make up the £1.28p pair.

London Underground, £1.28 stamps – 1938 - Classic Rolling Stock. The classic trains introduced on the tube’s deep cut lines in 1938 became a London icon. £1.28 – 1999 – Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf. Designed by Sir Norman Foster Canary Wharf Station is one of the most recent additions to the Underground network.

London Underground, £1.28 stamps – 1938 – Classic Rolling Stock. The classic trains introduced on the tube’s deep cut lines in 1938 became a London icon. £1.28 – 1999 – Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf. Designed by Sir Norman Foster Canary Wharf Station is one of the most recent additions to the Underground network.

Each of the stamps features a timeline across the lower quarter of the stamps using different livery colours taken from London Underground lines.

The miniature sheet features a total of 12 classic London Underground posters across four long-format (60mm x 30mm) stamps.

London Underground miniature sheet. 1st Class stamp – London Underground Posters – Golders Green, By Underground to fresh air and Summer sales. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: Golders Green (1908) by an unknown artist 1908; By Underground to fresh air (1915) by Maxwell Armfield; Summer Sales (1925) by Mary Koop.

London Underground miniature sheet. 1st Class stamp – London Underground Posters – Golders Green, By Underground to fresh air and Summer sales. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: Golders Green (1908) by an unknown artist 1908; By Underground to fresh air (1915) by Maxwell Armfield; Summer Sales (1925) by Mary Koop.

London Underground miniature sheet. 77p stamp – London Underground Posters –For the Zoo, Power and The seen. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: – For the Zoo (1921) by Charles Paine; Power (1931) by Edward McKnight-Kauffer and The seen (1948) by James Fitton.

London Underground miniature sheet. 77p stamp – London Underground Posters –For the Zoo, Power and The seen. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: – For the Zoo (1921) by Charles Paine; Power (1931) by Edward McKnight-Kauffer and The seen (1948) by James Fitton.

London Underground miniature sheet. 87p stamp – London Underground Posters – A train every 90 seconds, Thanks to the Underground and Cut travelling time. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: A train every 90 seconds (1937) by Abram Games; Thanks to the Underground (1935) by Zero (Hans Schleger) and Cut travelling time, Victoria Line (1969) by Tom Eckersley.

London Underground miniature sheet. 87p stamp – London Underground Posters – A train every 90 seconds, Thanks to the Underground and Cut travelling time. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: A train every 90 seconds (1937) by Abram Games; Thanks to the Underground (1935) by Zero (Hans Schleger) and Cut travelling time, Victoria Line (1969) by Tom Eckersley.

London Underground miniature sheet. £1.28 stamp – London Underground Posters – The London Transport Collection, London Zoo and The Tate Gallery by Tube. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: The London Transport Collection (1975) by Tom Eckersley; London Zoo (1976) by Abram Games and The Tate Gallery by Tube (1987) by David Booth (Fine White Line Design).

London Underground miniature sheet. £1.28 stamp – London Underground Posters – The London Transport Collection, London Zoo and The Tate Gallery by Tube. Reproductions of three classic London Underground Posters: The London Transport Collection (1975) by Tom Eckersley; London Zoo (1976) by Abram Games and The Tate Gallery by Tube (1987) by David Booth (Fine White Line Design).

Philip Parker, Royal Mail Stamps spokesperson, said:

The London Underground has a unique status as the oldest and one of the busiest underground railway networks in the world.

For this first stamp issue of 2013 we have tried to capture the incredible history behind ‘the Tube’, which for millions of people is an integral element of their daily lives and an iconic part of London’s identity.

Both London Underground and Royal Mail share a rich and extraordinary design heritage, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate a dozen classic Underground posters, featuring several artists who also designed posters for the General Post Office (GPO).

Please pack parcels very carefully, a poster designed for the GPO by Tom Eckersley. Several of Eckersley’s posters appear on the London Underground miniature sheet.

Please pack parcels very carefully, a poster designed for the GPO by Tom Eckersley. Several of Eckersley’s posters appear on the London Underground miniature sheet.

You can see a selection of GPO posters in our online exhibition Designs on Delivery. The Design on Delivery exhibition will be seen at the Great Western Hospital, Swindon, from 19 March as part of the Paintings in Hospitals scheme.

Royal Mail stamps and stamp products are available at most Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/underground and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

A Cup of Tea and its Consequences

Chris West explains how he came to write the book First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps.

Chris West

Chris West

Like many of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, I had a stamp collection. A rather mediocre one… But one Sunday, I went to tea with my great uncle.

I happened to mention that I collected stamps, and Uncle Frank said he’d done that too. He disappeared and came back with a dark blue ‘Lincoln’ album. Inside was a treasurehouse of stamps featuring Edward VII and Queen Victoria – including a Penny Black (it had a corner missing, but still…) Frank then said that he didn’t really bother with them any longer – did I want them? The album became my pride and joy. I even took it to school to show everybody. Sadly, one viewer was so impressed that he stole half the stamps. The collection never felt the same afterwards, and vanished into an attic. Forty years later, I was cleaning out the attic when I came across the album. For a moment an old fury came back, but then I decided that a much healthier reaction was to reassemble the collection.

The 'Seahorse' stamp.

The ‘Seahorse’ stamp.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

As I did this, I found myself ever more intrigued with the stamps, as items of beauty but also as tiny pieces of history. Who stuck this Penny Black on an envelope, and what was in the letter? More generally, what was Britain like at the time? I found envelopes that had been sent in Ireland around the time of the appalling famine, a Seahorse sent just before World War One, a stamp celebrating the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 (an event I had never heard of, but which was as big as the Olympics in its day), an envelope that had enclosed a censored letter from World War Two, the classic 4d stamp celebrating the 1966 World Cup win… Stamps, I realised, tell stories.

Finally, I assembled these stories into a book, that would tell the nation’s tale through its stamps – or 36 of them, anyway. It’s been a joy to research and write. And all thanks to my great uncle and a cup of tea one Sunday afternoon.

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps by Chris West (cover)

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps is available from the BPMA online shop.

Chris West will give a talk based on First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps at the BPMA on Thursday 21 February 2013.

Ringing the Change: Post Office promotion of the telephone and telegraph service, 1925-1939

On Thursday 8 November the BPMA are delighted to host our guest speaker, David Hay, Head of Heritage at BT Group PLC. David Hay will be exploring the radical change in Post Office telephone marketing strategy in the 1930s in a talk entitled Ringing the Change.

"Telephone rates" publicity leaflet, c. 1930 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 9)

“Telephone rates” publicity leaflet, c. 1930 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 9)

Between 1925 and 1928 the Post Office invested almost £1 million a month in the telephone network as it began the roll-out of automatic telephone exchanges, enabling subscribers to make local calls directly without involving a telephone operator. The result of this new technology, together with the introduction of new mass-produced telephone instruments using early plastics, was that the cost of having a telephone gradually began to fall. The Post Office also introduced new services during this period, such as the first transatlantic radio telephone service in 1926, direct telephone communications with countries in Europe and the expansion of the public telephone kiosk network.

Cover of Automatic Exchange leaflet (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 637).

Cover of Automatic Exchange leaflet (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 637).

However, much of this innovation went unnoticed by the public. Indeed, despite the enormous investment in new technology, there was widespread concern by 1931 that Britain was lagging behind other countries in Europe in the take-up of the telephone. Up to 25 per cent of the capacity of the telephone network was lying idle.

"Always at your service", telephone service publicity poster designed by Austin Cooper, 1934 (BT Archives, TCB 319/PRD 76).

“Always at your service”, telephone service publicity poster designed by Austin Cooper, 1934 (BT Archives, TCB 319/PRD 76).

This richly illustrated talk will explore the early attempts of the Post Office to address this and to market the telephone to a wider part of society then before, efforts which were revolutionised in 1933 by the recruitment of Sir Stephen Tallents as the Post Office’s first Public Relations Officer. The decade before the Second World War was in many ways a golden period for GPO marketing, not least in the publicity machine unleashed by Tallents who had a passionate belief in the role of the arts promoting what were then Government services. Tallents and his team commissioned artists, designers, film makers and photographers to project a modern view of the Post Office to its customers and to its own employees.

"Come on the telephone", telephones publicity leaflet, c1933 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 3)

“Come on the telephone”, telephones publicity leaflet, c1933 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 3)

The result was that by the end of the inter-war era many of the GPO’s products and services – such as the Jubilee red telephone kiosk designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, the Speaking Clock and the 999 Emergency Service – had become iconic parts of the nation’s cultural fabric, and remain so to this day. And the Post Office itself, which entered the decade criticised on all sides for failing to promote its telecommunications services and communicate its role generally, was ultimately respected as a national asset vital to the country’s success.

We hope you will join us for what promises to be a fascinating talk!

Tickets are £3 per head or £2.50 for concessions, and can be bought on the door on the night or you can book tickets online.

Pillar box gold

Team GB’s gold medal winning athletes are not only finding themselves appearing on stamps within 24 hours of their victory, they are also being honoured with a gold letter box in their hometown.

One of the gold letter boxes (image from Royal Mail Stamps & Collectables Facebook page)

One of the gold letter boxes (image from Royal Mail Stamps & Collectables Facebook page)

As with the Gold Medal Winner stamps Royal Mail are dispatching staff to re-paint the letter boxes within a day of each athlete’s victory. There are now gold letter boxes from Penzance to Lossiemouth, with (hopefully) lots more to come.

The gold letter boxes are getting a lot of attention in the media and many people have asked us whether it is unusual to see letter boxes in colours other than the traditional red. In fact it isn’t. When letter boxes first appeared in the British Isles they were painted green so as not to intrude on the landscape.

One of the first pillar boxes to be used in the British Isles, introduced in the Channel Islands circa 1852-1853 (OB1996.653)

One of the first pillar boxes to be used in the British Isles, introduced in the Channel Islands circa 1852-1853 (OB1996.653)

Unfortunately the colour green proved too unobtrusive and people were unable to find them. After experimenting with a chocolate brown colour, the Post Office finally settled on the bright red we know today.

The familiar red pillar box, a rare example of one produced during the reign of Edward VIII, 1936 (OB1994.45)

The familiar red pillar box, a rare example of one produced during the reign of Edward VIII, 1936 (OB1994.45)

In the 1930s some boxes were also painted bright blue to promote the new Air Mail service. Our curator Julian Stray restored one of these rare blue boxes several years ago and you can read all about that on this blog.

A rare blue Air Mail pillar box

A rare blue Air Mail pillar box

Visit http://www.goldpostboxes.com/ to see the locations of all the gold boxes, or read our article on Letter Boxes to find out more about their history.

American Independence Day

Today Americans all over the world are celebrating Independence Day, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776 and subsequent independence from Great Britain.

As many readers may already know the BPMA and Royal Mail Archive hold material relating to postal communications from a variety of countries, not just Great Britain, so this seemed an appropriate time to highlight two items in the BPMA’s collection with American connections.

A black and white steel engraving of Benjamin Franklin, c. 1865 (2009-0038)

A black and white steel engraving of Benjamin Franklin, c. 1865 (2009-0038)

This steel engraving of Benjamin Franklin, scientist, politician, Postmaster and ‘Founding Father’ of the United States features an inset image of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The scene shows Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both of whom went on to serve as President of the United States. Benjamin Franklin has also been featured on a Great Britain stamp, issued in 1976 to mark the bicentenary of the Declaration of Independence.

Letter from General Eisenhower to Captain Crookshank, congratulating engineering and postal staff on their contribution to the war effort (POST 118/1596)

Letter from General Eisenhower to Captain Crookshank, congratulating engineering and postal staff on their contribution to the war effort (POST 118/1596)

One of my colleagues showed me this signed letter from General Dwight D Eisenhower shortly after I started as a Cataloguer at BPMA. As an enthusiastic new recruit and having recently listened to our podcast on the Post Office during the Second World War, I was struck by the seemingly sincere appreciation of the Post Office’s hard work and dedication during the conflict.

Dated 22nd June 1944, whilst Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and addressed to the Postmaster General Captain H.F.C. Crookshank, the letter reads:

The build up of the necessary forces for the current operations has involved the construction of a vast network of communications radiating from key centers of vital importance in the United Kingdom. The greater part of this work has been undertaken by the Engineers and Staff of the General Post Office. It is my great pleasure, on behalf of the Allied Expeditionary Force, to ask you to pass on to them my sincere appreciation for their contribution and for the long hours they have worked and for the excellent cooperation they have given toward our success.

Sarah Jenkins – Assistant Cataloguer

Both of these items are available to view on our online catalogue.

A selection of lantern slides showing United States Post Office buildings can also bee seen on our Flickr site.

Thurloe and the Secret Room

As today’s episode of The Peoples Post highlighted censorship and the interception of mails remains a sensitive subject. As recent public outrage against phone hacking has shown, people expect their communications to be private and letters from one private individual to another were once seen as being as sacred as the voicemail messages of a celebrity or crime victim. However, at certain times in the past the government has covertly or overtly intercepted mail as part of its efforts to maintain national security. Through the records held here at the BPMA a special insight into this can be gained.

Very little material survives from the period of the Civil War but the oldest item in the Royal Mail Archive suggests a focus on centralisation and ensuring the correct monopoly for the postal service rather than on interception and spying on the contents of the mail.

Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull relating to the establishment of the public postal service, by the setting up of new or improved posts on the five principal roads of the kingdom, those to Dover, Edinburgh, Holyhead, Plymouth and Bristol. (POST 23/1)

Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull relating to the establishment of the public postal service, by the setting up of new or improved posts on the five principal roads of the kingdom, those to Dover, Edinburgh, Holyhead, Plymouth and Bristol. (POST 23/1)

However, as the Civil War progressed and in particular under the regime of Oliver Cromwell it became more widespread – particularly under the leadership of the first Postmaster General, John Thurloe, depicted in a print held in the BPMA museum collection.

The Right Honourable John Thurloe Esqr. Secretary of State to the Protectors Oliver and Richard Cromwell (2010-0398)

The Right Honourable John Thurloe Esqr. Secretary of State to the Protectors Oliver and Richard Cromwell (2010-0398)

Thurloe’s state papers, some of which can be viewed online, include letters from private individuals to others (so, not to Thurloe!) which he has clearly intercepted and kept because of the detail they contain.

Thurloe became a great survivor and his operation was so valued by his opponents that after the Restoration he was rescued from capital charges of treason on condition he worked for the new royalist regime of Charles II, which he did. His character anchors the Thomas Chaloner series of murder mysteries by Susanna Gregory, which bring to life the world in which Thurloe’s operations supported the British state. A real-life depiction is given in a biographical work held in BPMA’s search room library: the Dutchman Mr Dorislaus, employed by Thurloe,

had a private roome allotted him adjoyning to the forreigne Office, and every post night about 11 a clock he went into that roome privately, and had all the letter[s] brought and layd before him, to open any as he should see good, and close them up again, and there he remained in that room, usually till about 3 or 4 in the morning, which was the usuall time of shutting up the male, and in the processe of time the said Dorislaus had got such a knowledge of all hands and seals, that scarcely could a letter be brought him but he knew the hand that wrote it; and when there was any extraordinary occasion, as when any rising was neare or the like, then S. Morland [a secretary of Thurloe’s] went from Whitehall between 11 and 12, and was privately conveighed into that roome, and there assisted Mr Dorislaus, and such letters as they found dangerous he brought back with him to Whitehall in the morning.

– Adrian Steel, Director

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage The Secret Room. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.