Tag Archives: Hen & Chicks

My Favourite Object: Pentacycle

In this month’s edition of My Favourite Object, find out why the Pentacycle is Head of Fundraising Emma’s absolute favourite.

Perhaps the perfect symbol of the Victorian spirit of invention, often seen as eccentric by today’s standards, the Pentacycle was invented in 1882 – not long after the more famous “Penny-farthing” and before safety bicycles, more recognisable as ancestors of the bikes we ride today, were introduced.

Front of Player's Cycling cigarette card showing four postmen on Centre cycles, otherwise known as 'Hen and Chicks'.

Front of Player’s Cycling cigarette card showing four postmen on Centre cycles, otherwise known as ‘Hen and Chicks’.

Designed by Edward Burstow, an architect from Horsham in Sussex, the Pentacycle was conceived to enable larger postal loads to be carried and delivered with ease. Although popular with postal delivery workers in Horsham, it did not catch on more widely, and certainly does not look an easy or comfortable ride by today’s standards!

I have a couple of reasons for choosing the Pentacycle as ‘My Favourite Object’; firstly because it is just such a fantastic looking machine. It is large, awkward-looking and, although I have no idea what it would be like to ride, certainly does not look user-friendly (and that’s with its capacious mail baskets empty). Yet, despite all of this the very concept feels ambitious and visionary…why wouldn’t it catch on? It’s this sense of optimism and spirit of adventure that really make me connect with the Pentacycle.

Me with the Pentacyle at our Museum Store in Debden.

Selfie with the Pentacyle at our Museum Store in Essex.

I also love its nick-name “the Hen and Chicks”. The reason for this excellent name can be understood simply from viewing the image below, and lends such personality to this ungainly invention. It perhaps conveys the affection with which the postmen who rode the bikes referenced them, and the interest visitors to the collection are still compelled to show the Pentacycle on seeing for the first time.

Pentacycle Debden

Pentacyle at our store in Essex.

 

Although the Pentacycle, or a 1930s replica of one, is currently housed at the BPMA’s Museum Store in Debden, Essex, it will be the central object on display in the ‘Revolutionising Communications’ exhibition zone of The Postal Museum when it opens. This gives it an important role, along with many other unique and surprising objects which will be on permanent display to the public from late 2016, in providing a window on the past through the perspective of the postal service.

View from below

View from below

Working at the BPMA I feel uniquely privileged to have more of an insight into the collection, and to be able to explore and connect with items such as the Pentacycle or ‘Hen and Chicks’. Bringing remarkable items, such as this, to a wider audience than ever before is exactly why The Postal Museum and Mail Rail will be so important. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing visitors of all ages explore, experience and be inspired by this history of adventure and the pioneering spirit that has driven communications forward over the past 500 years and will continue to do so into the future.

-Emma Jhita, Head of Fundraising

The Post Office in the Community

Part of today’s episode of The Peoples Post on BBC Radio 4 was recorded at Blists Hill Victorian Town, in Shropshire. It is there back in 2009 that a reconstructed late Victorian Post Office was opened in partnership with The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA). The office itself is part of the much larger site, re-creating life in late Victorian England. On the upper floor of the office however is a much more modern exhibit for visitors. In this specially constructed gallery space is the Museum of the Post Office in the Community. The Museum was created by the BPMA and designed to tell the story of the vital role post offices have played throughout history and as a centre point of communities.

Inside the reconstructed late Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill (Photo courtesy: Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust).

Inside the reconstructed late Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill (Photo courtesy: Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust).

For towns such as Blists Hill the post office would have been a very important focal point of the community; a place not only where postal business would have taken place but also a centre for gossip and the arrival of news.

When the BPMA got the opportunity to develop a museum on this site the story of the Post Office and its community role was the obvious one to take. The exhibition space was divided down into four sections, each exploring a different aspect of the community story.

In the first part the exhibition looks at the rise and fall of the different services offered by post offices and places them in a chronology alongside other events in postal history. The next section looks at delivery methods and includes a display of the differing postal caps used throughout history, part of the iconic uniform of the postal worker. Also on display is one of the BPMA’s five-wheeled cycles, the Hen and Chicks, this remarkable machine was introduced in the 1880s when the post office took on the parcels post and it continues to catch the imagination of the visitor.

The Hen and Chicks on display at the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

The Hen and Chicks on display at the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

The third part of the museum looks at the letter box and how it has developed, brought about by the need to improve methods of using the postal service following the success of postal reform. In this section there is a rare survivor of a very early letter box, a green and gold, highly decorative roadside letter box. The final section looks at changing times and explores the more recent history of the post office and especially how that story fits with the community role.

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is proving to be an interesting method of allowing visitors to the popular Blists Hill site to explore in depth the history of something very familiar and something still at the heart of many communities.

– Chris Taft, Curator

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

Visit by the Loughton Beaver Scouts to Museum Store

by Chris Taft, Curator

On 27 September 2010 we welcomed 22 children to the Museum Store from the Loughton Beaver Scout group. Beaver Scouts are the youngest of the British Scout Association’s groups made up of both boys and girls aged from 6 to 8. The Loughton group, based close to our store in Debden, meet regularly and have in the past visited our Store. This year they wished to visit once again, meeting in the early evening after the children finish school.

Drawing of the Queen Victoria London Ornate (Science and Art) Pillar Box

Drawing of the Queen Victoria London Ornate (Science and Art) Pillar Box

Julian Stray and I met the group of 20 children all eager and very excited to have a look round the Store. Some had been previously and were very keen to share with their friends what they had remembered seeing in the past and what their favourite objects were.

Drawing of the Queen Victoria 'Suttie' Scottish Pillar Box

Drawing of the Queen Victoria 'Suttie' Scottish Pillar Box

Their visit began with a closer look at some of the common objects associated with the post office, we began by discussing the bicycle and the pillar box, things that are very familiar to all the children and something that they have all used. We looked initially at typical examples of these from the collection and discussed some of the main features.

We then went on to look at some more unusual examples of letter boxes including some of the very rare examples within the museum collection. The children really enjoyed discussing some of the earlier designs and suggesting why things like vertical posting apertures might have been introduced and the difficulties of sighting the aperture on the top of the box, exposed to the wind and the rain!

Drawing of the Queen Victoria Fluted Pillar Box

Drawing of the Queen Victoria Fluted Pillar Box

After a brief break for juice and biscuits we looked together at some of the more unusual cycles in the collection. Having discussed the very familiar bicycle the children were fascinated to consider a five-wheeled variant, known as the Hen and Chick this type of machine was introduced in the 1880s to help with the parcels post and we also looked at a tricycle that at around 100 years old undertook a similar role. Whenever we have welcomed younger visitors to the Store they have always been fascinated by the age of some of the objects in our care.

Drawing of the Hen and Chicks pentacycle

Drawing of the Hen and Chicks pentacycle

For their final activity we handed each a blank postcard and asked them to look closely at one of the objects we had been discussing and draw it on their card. The drawings that were created were wonderful and showed just what attention to detail some of the children had. These activities really give groups the chance to consider everyday objects more closely and to look at things in a new light. Once addressed the postcards had special stamps marking the centenary of the Scouts Association affixed and were posted into one of the letter boxes from the BPMA’s handling collection. From there they were then passed to the Special Handstamp Centre in London for a special BPMA cancellation to be applied before being sent home.

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community – official launch

On 4th December 2009, BPMA staff and guests made their way up to Blists Hill for the official launch of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

Among the guests were David Wright, MP for Telford, and members of the local postal history society.

Guests enjoy festive food and mulled wine before the speeches

Guests enjoy festive food and mulled wine before the speeches

Roger Green from Royal Mail using a special cancellation mark to commemorate the occasion.

Roger Green from Royal Mail using a special cancellation mark to commemorate the occasion.

The event started with mulled wine and speeches, and the opportunity to send a special cover marking the occasion. This was followed by tours of the Blists Hill site, and BPMA curator Chris Taft then gave more detailed tours of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

Speeches from Adrian Steel (BPMA Director), Barrie Williams (Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Chairman of Trustees), and Brian Goodey (BPMA Chairman of Trustees).

Speeches from Adrian Steel (BPMA Director), Barrie Williams (Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Chairman of Trustees), and Brian Goodey (BPMA Chairman of Trustees).

Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust staff give tours of the Blists Hill site.

Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust staff give tours of the Blists Hill site.

Chris Taft gives tours of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

Chris Taft gives tours of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.

We were also joined by Colin and Margaret Bedford, members of the March Veteran and Vintage Cycle Club, who came dressed as a period postman and postwoman, complete with Hen & Chicks and parcels!

Colin and Maragret Bedford dressed as a Victorian postman and postwoman, with the Hen & Chicks pentacycle.

Colin and Maragret Bedford

Colin Bedford riding his Hen & Chicks outside the Blists Hill Post Office

Colin Bedford riding his Hen & Chicks outside the Blists Hill Post Office

The launch was a success, and the exhibition will now be open permanently to the public. To find out more please go to http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/visiting/ironbridge

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community opens

After several years work by our Curatorial team, The Museum of the Post Office in the Community opened to the public yesterday. The launch of the Museum was the final stage in our project at Blists Hill Victorian Town, which saw the BPMA collaborate with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust to build a replica Victorian Post Office and a permanent exhibition exploring the history of the British postal service.

The replica Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill. The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is located above the post office.

The replica Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill. The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is located above the Post Office.

You can read all about the process of the project on this blog or by visiting our website. And for those unable to visit Blists Hills we have also produced an online version of the Post Office in the Community exhibition.

Below are some photos of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community, which is located above the Blists Hill Post Office.

The stairwell leading up to The Post Office in the Community exhibition

The stairwell leading up to The Post Office in the Community exhibition

The Counter Services display with GPO2 model and Hen & Chicks

The Counter Services display with GPO2 model and Hen & Chicks

Counter Services display

Counter Services display

Counter Services display with BSA Bantam motorcycle

Counter Services display with BSA Bantam motorcycle

Delivering the Mail display

Delivering the Mail display

Letter Boxes display

Letter Boxes display

The Hen & Chicks pentacycle, which was trailed for mail delivery in Horsham, Sussex in 1882

The Hen & Chicks pentacycle, which was trailed for mail delivery in Horsham, Sussex in 1882

Changing Times display

Changing Times display

The BPMA at Blists Hill – July update

by Alison Norris, Ironbridge Project Assistant

Following a great deal of work by BPMA staff, the contemporary BPMA museum at Blists Hill Victorian town, Shropshire is due to open in late September. Blists Hill is one of ten sites run by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (IGMT), and receives around 200,000 visitors a year. This means that the BPMA will now be able to show parts of its unique collection to a great many more people.

The Blists Hill Post Office

The Blists Hill Post Office

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community can be found above the Blists Hill Victorian Post Office on Canal Street. Canal Street was carefully constructed earlier this year, with some buildings being moved brick by brick from original locations, others recreated using the IGMT archive, and each has been fitted out to show a selection of trades, industries and professions from the Victorian era. Many of these buildings are manned by staff in period costume that interpret the contents and demonstrate their functions.

The BPMA Museum of the Post Office in the Community

The museum will be split in to four different sections, each exploring a different theme around the Post Office in the Community.

As well as images and objects, there will also be three audio booths throughout the museum. In each booth, visitors will be able to listen to many different types of people who have either worked at, or used the Post Office, and their thoughts on how it has affected them and those around them.

Post Office Counter Services

A timeline will tell the story of the wide range of services that have been offered over the counter at the Post Office. It will cover services such as pensions, Postal Orders, National Savings Bank, telegrams, telephones and TV licences. A display case will hold objects such as home safes, Post Office Savings Bank books and an early telegram, all of which will help bring depth to the timeline.

Delivering the Mail

The story of the delivery of mail in the community will be made up of three sub-sections. These will cover the local ‘postie’ and their role in the community, delivery equipment such as carts and cycles, and the Post Bus service. 

The Letter Carrier

This section will outline the history of the delivery of letters in the community and the evolution of the letter carrier of the early 18th century to the postman / woman of today. A display of hats will demonstrate changes that took place in the uniforms of letter carriers and postmen.

Delivery Equipment

The Hen & Chicks is one of the key objects on display, and will be in this section. Visitors will also be able to see a BSA Bantam motorcycle, fondly remembered by many messenger boys that rode them. More modern electric vehicle trials by Royal Mail will also be looked at. 

Stour Valley Post Bus

Stour Valley Post Bus

The Post Bus

Introduced in 1967, the Post Bus can provide a vital service to rural communities. Here, its influence and decline will be explored.

Letter Boxes

In this section visitors will be able to see a number of types of letter boxes, all of which have, or still do, provide an important service to the community. When pillar boxes were introduced in 1852, they provided convenient and easy posting facilities but only served large towns and cities. In 1857 a cheaper type of box was introduced to serve more rural communities, this was called the wall box.  Lamp boxes were originally introduced in 1896 in fashionable London squares for residents who wanted late night posting facilities but are now more commonly seen in rural areas.

Pillar Box. Moor Park, Hertfordshire

Pillar Box. Moor Park, Hertfordshire

Changing Times

The final section will conclude the exhibition by telling the story of the UK postal service today and the loss of Royal Mail’s monopoly and rise of competitor mail companies.

Building the Exhibition

Following a competitive tender process, the BPMA appointed the Hub as the fit-out contractors for the Blists Hill exhibition.

Based in Birmingham, the Hub was established four years ago and has been involved in a number of well-known exhibitions and projects. Most recently they have worked on elements of the Ceramics Galleries at the V&A, which will open in September 2009.

Further information and how to get there

Blists Hill is part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust. The Ironbridge Gorge is on the River Severn, 5 miles (8km) south of Telford town centre in Shropshire.

Take junction 4 from the M54. Follow brown and white signs to Ironbridge Gorge.

Once on the A442 follow signs for Blists Hill Museums.

Please remember that the BPMA exhibition will not be opening until late September 2009.

Contact details

For more information on directions, or the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust, please go to www.ironbridge.org.uk

To find out more about the exhibition itself, please visit our website www.postalheritage.org.uk/ironbridge. Or contact Alison Norris (Ironbridge Project Assistant) at alison.norris@postalheritage.org.uk or 020 7239 5174.