Tag Archives: Horsham

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 BPMA at Blists Hill, Shropshire

by Alison Norris, Ironbridge Project Assistant
Canal Street

Canal Street

Over the last year the BPMA has been working with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust (IGMT) on developing a replica Victorian Post Office and contemporary exhibition, The Post Office in the Community, at the Blists Hill Victorian Town site in Shropshire.

In 2008 the BPMA and IGMT were awarded a £126k grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Wolfson Foundation to help fund the joint venture.

Blists Hill Post Office

Blists Hill Post Office

Blists Hill is a popular visitor attraction set in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage site, the birth place of the Industrial Revolution. It is one of ten sites run by the IGMT, and over the past few months has undertaken a huge new development project, building an entire new street from scratch. This street, Canal Street, opened to the public on 4th April 2009 and features a Drapers, Fried Fish Dealers (they were not called Fish & Chip shops until later!), Sweet Shop, Photographers and the Blists Hill Post Office. A new artisans’ quarter has also been recreated with a Plasterer, Tinsmith and Plumber all practising traditional ways of working. Other streets and shops already existed on the site, and include a Bakers, Bank, Chemist and Printers. Each of the businesses are reconstructed to appear as they might have done in the late Victorian or Edwardian period, and traditional goods are sold by costumed staff from the premises. These demonstrators are also able to answer any questions visitors may have both about the various shops and life between 1890 and 1910.

Goods for sale in the stationers

Goods for sale in the stationers

All of the buildings and shop interiors on Canal Street have been carefully researched to ensure that they represent authentic buildings from the local area. The Royal Mail Archive holds a file on the Post Office that was once in Shifnal, a nearby market town. This file has been used to help recreate the Blists Hill Post Office, which will also share its premises with a stationers, as was common practice for the time .

Attention to detail has been paramount throughout the Canal Street project, and has been enthusiastically undertaken by Michael Vanns, Interpretation Project Manager. Bricks have been specially made, as have window frames and other architectural features. Period shop fittings have been sourced from around the country, and the Post Office sorting office will soon have a de-accessioned sorting frame, donated from the BPMA museum collection.

The Blists Hill Postmaster

The Blists Hill Postmaster

As well as the new Postmaster, a Postman will also be welcomed to Blists Hill. This ‘postie’ will be based on a real worker identified from the records of The Royal Mail Archive, and his uniform will be created using references from both the Archive and the BPMA museum collection.

The Post Office in the Community

Above the Blists Hill Post Office there will be a contemporary exhibition produced by the BPMA, which will examine the role of the Post Office in the community. Moving away from the Victorian era, this will be a contemporary exhibition looking at all periods of history, and will use many objects from the extensive BPMA collection. This exhibition will broadly look at four different areas: Counter Services Over Time, Delivering the Mail, Letter Boxes and Changing Times. The exhibition will open later in 2009.

Hen & Chicks, circa 1882

Hen & Chicks, circa 1882

This will be a unique opportunity to see so many pieces from the BPMA collection in one place. These will include a Hen & Chicks centre-cycle, originally invented and patented by Edward Burstow, an architect from Horsham, Sussex in 1882. Postal officials at Horsham tried out these cycles for both postal and telegraph delivery work. Although the centre-cycle did not prove popular elsewhere, the Horsham postal workers wrote a letter of appreciation to Mr Burstow, praising the cycle.

The exhibition promises to be a unique addition to Canal Street, offering visitors a greater insight to the effect the Post Office has had on our communities during its history.

Further information

If you would like any further information about the Blists Hill Post Office or the forthcoming BPMA exhibition, please contact Alison Norris, Ironbridge Project Assistant, on 0207 239 5174 or alison.norris@postalheritage.org.uk.