Tag Archives: letter boxes

Stories from the Store

Last week we invited the public to venture off the beaten track and explore the treasures of our Museum Store at a special after-hours event as part of Museums at Night 2013.

Our Museum Store houses a wonderful collection of the BPMA’s larger exhibits including vehicles and letter boxes. These objects and the stories they tell were brought to life by the Big Wheel Theatre Company in the guise of a suffragette “human letter” and a World War I soldier postman.

Visitors also had the chance to get crafty in workshops with Craft Guerrilla, see our new “Blitz Hill Box”, which contains artefacts from World War II, and indulge in some tea-party style refreshments. Scroll down to view photos from the night.

Before Museums at Night we asked you to guess ‘What’s in the suitcase?’ All was revealed at our Stories from the Store event on Thursday 16 May.

Before Museums at Night we asked you to guess ‘What’s in the suitcase?’ All was revealed at our Stories from the Store event on Thursday 16 May.

The suitcase opened to reveal the story of how the post office went to war. In 1939 the General Post Office was the biggest employer in the country. It played a vital role to keep communication going on the home front and abroad.

The suitcase opened to reveal the story of how the post office went to war. In 1939 the General Post Office was the biggest employer in the country. It played a vital role to keep communication going on the home front and abroad.

Two visitors explore the suitcase, and share their memories of the ‘Save for Victory’ campaign. This public appeal encouraged people to save for the war effort.

Two visitors explore the suitcase, and share their memories of the ‘Save for Victory’ campaign. This public appeal encouraged people to save for the war effort.

Throughout the event stories from the postal past were brought to life by Roland and George from the Big Wheel Theatre Company.

Throughout the event stories from the postal past were brought to life by Roland and George from the Big Wheel Theatre Company.

Roland and George enlisted help from the audience to tell the story of the ‘human letter’. In 1909 two suffragettes ‘posted’ themselves to 10 Downing Street.

Roland and George enlisted help from the audience to tell the story of the ‘human letter’. In 1909 two suffragettes ‘posted’ themselves to 10 Downing Street.

The suffragettes took advantage of a clause in the postal regulations which allowed an individual to be delivered by express delivery. Their aim was to gain publicity for the campaign to gain the vote for women.

The suffragettes took advantage of a clause in the postal regulations which allowed an individual to be delivered by express delivery. Their aim was to gain publicity for the campaign to gain the vote for women.

An audience member takes on the role of the unwitting post boy charged with delivering his human letters to the prime minster.

An audience member takes on the role of the unwitting post boy charged with delivering his human letters to the prime minster.

The suffragettes were intercepted by a police constable who insisted the ‘letter’ had to be returned to the office of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

The suffragettes were intercepted by a police constable who insisted the ‘letter’ had to be returned to the office of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

After all that acting, our visitors were invited to a tea party, with complimentary refreshments served by Hannah, our glamorous Community Learning Officer.

After all that acting, our visitors were invited to a tea party, with complimentary refreshments served by Hannah, our glamorous Community Learning Officer.

Craft Guerilla were also on hand stitching up a storm, helping visitors sew their own suffragette rosette.

Craft Guerilla were also on hand stitching up a storm, helping visitors sew their own suffragette rosette.

Visitors could also wander amongst our collection and discover more stories from the store.

Visitors could also wander amongst our collection and discover more stories from the store.

Before home time there was one more performance from Roland, telling the story of the Post Office Rifles regiment in the First World War.

Before home time there was one more performance from Roland, telling the story of the Post Office Rifles regiment in the First World War.

We run regular tours of the Museum Store but these sell out quickly. More tickets will be available next week so keep checking our website for details.

Visit to the Postal Museum Store

Photography student Stuart Matthews has written this guest blog for us…

On Saturday 6th April I ventured to Loughton, Essex to visit The British Postal Museum Store for the Pillar Box Perfection open day. Currently studying photography at the University of Bedfordshire, I’m now in my final year working on my final major project. The visit was in aid of my university project ‘POST’ a project which looks at pillar boxes and how my generation rarely write any more.

"Pillar box alley" at The British Postal Museum Store.

“Pillar box alley” at The British Postal Museum Store.

We live in an age now where we are constantly tuned into our digital social lives by texting, instant messaging and emailing. In my generation the everyday analogue process of posting a letter is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Postboxes lie dormant, statues and monuments of a bygone era. Fond of analogue tradition I decided I wanted to get myself and as many people involved as possible mailing postcards in the form of photographs.

The premise is simple:

  1. Take a photograph of a pillar box (Has to be taken landscape)
  2. Get the photo printed at the 6×4 (Postcard size)
  3. Once printed, write directly on the back of the photograph (Write whatever comes to mind, your thoughts on pillar boxes, maybe the digital age, something personal? A quote, or song lyrics? Maybe describe the location of the photo?)
  4. Then stick on a stamp, add my address and send it to me in the post:
    166 Vandyke Road
    Leighton Buzzard
    Bedfordshire
    LU7 3HS
Postcard showing a Queen Elizabeth II wall box.

Postcard showing a Queen Elizabeth II wall box.

By getting people to photograph postboxes I hope to create a large topology to showcase the results, which will I hopefully display in a gallery space. For the time being I’ve set up a blog site where I’ve regularly up load all the entries sent to me. Which you can visit here: www.thegreatpostproject.wordpress.com.

As I love a challenge, I am hoping that my project will make people take notice of postboxes again and in the grander scheme get younger people involved in writing letters and postcards. Although it may be wishful thinking, only time will tell.

Postcard showing the message "What's the Rush!!".

Postcard showing the message “What’s the Rush!!”.

The open day at The British Postal Museum Store was a great way to learn more about the history of the pillar box. Discovering the different types whilst being able to identify them I found it to be a rewarding experience. It really has helped me, by giving me a historical outlook which I can now apply to the project.

The staff were tremendously helpful giving talks throughout the day, and answering all my questions. A big thank you to those who work and are involved in The British Postal Museum & Archive you generosity hasn’t been unnoticed.

Their generosity also allowed me to visit London this week to participant in my very own From Pillar to Post: GPO London walking tour as I was unable to go last month! (It was only natural that I dropped in to say Hello at the Royal Mail Archives)

If you are reading this and feel intrigued by my project feel free to visit the POST blog site and get involved, and last but not least please do visit the The British Postal Museum Store when you can, it is worth it!

Ask A Curator

On Wednesday three members of our Curatorial team will be taking over our Twitter account as part of Ask A Curator Day.

Our curators manage our existing collections and actively acquire new objects to add more detail to the story of the British postal service. The objects within our collection include letter boxes, stamps, postal vehicles, paintings, hand stamps, archive documents and much more.

The three curators tweeting will be:

11am-1pm – Sarah Jenkins, who works with our collections including the recently digitised lantern slides.

1-3pm – Chris Taft, our Senior Curator. He has recently been working on our Mail Rail project to preserve rolling stock from this fascinating underground railway.

3-5pm – Emma Harper, who is organising the curatorial aspects of our move to a new home at Calthorpe House, and has previously worked with the Wilkinson Collection of pillar box memorabilia.

Chris Taft poses with Mail Rail rolling stock recovered from the underground tunnels at Mount Pleasant Sorting Office in London.

Chris Taft poses with Mail Rail rolling stock recovered from the underground tunnels at Mount Pleasant Sorting Office in London.

If you have any questions for our curators tweet them on @postalheritage this Wednesday. Don’t forget to include the hashtag #AskACurator.

Open Day with the Post Office Vehicle Club

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Post Office Vehicle Club (POVC) whose members document, preserve and operate a wide range of postal and telephones vehicles. On Saturday 15th September there is a rare opportunity to see some these vehicles exhibited alongside items from our own collection at an Open Day at our Museum Store in Debden, Essex.

The Museum Store is where we house our larger exhibits, including letter boxes, sorting equipment, furniture and vehicles. Until we are able to provide a full museum experience at our new home at Calthorpe House the Museum Store offers the only opportunity to get up close to our collection. We run regular guided tours of the Store but these are very popular and only a few tickets are available for the remainder of this year. The Open Day will offer a great opportunity to see items from our collection as well as some of the vehicles preserved by POVC members.

Morris series Z telephone utility in original wartime colours with blackout markings.

Morris series Z telephone utility in original wartime colours with blackout markings.

On display will be 18 vehicles from POVC members including a wartime Morris series Z GGY 20 telephone utility (in original wartime colours, complete with blackout markings), the unique Commer Avenger/Harrington mobile telegraph unit SLO 24, a newly restored Minivan mailvan PTV 231M, and a Bedford HA mailvan KCJ 759P. A selection of Morris Minors and BSA Bantam telegram motorcycles are expected, while two Morris JB mailvans from the 1950s are promised along with a restored Dodge Spacevan television detector van CNJ 423T in arctic blue livery.

Dodge Spacevan television detector van in arctic blue livery.

Dodge Spacevan television detector van in arctic blue livery.

The Open Day with the Post Office Vehicle Club is a free event to which all are welcome. For the enthusiast there will be illustrated presentations from POVC members and our Curator Julian Stray, whilst children will be able to enjoy a range of family-friendly activities.

Pillar boxes at our Museum Store in Essex.

Pillar boxes at our Museum Store in Essex.

For further details of the event and information on how to get to the Museum Store, please see our website.

The Last Post

The final episode of The Peoples Post reminded us of some of the postal service’s great innovations. These included William Dockwra’s Penny Post, the development of the Mail Coach system, Rowland Hill’s postal reforms, the invention of the postage stamp, and the introduction of curb-side letter boxes.

Exterior of a Sub-Post Office, Bristol, 1980 (H11401c)

Exterior of a Sub-Post Office, Bristol, 1980 (H11401c)

Throughout the series we have also heard about how the postcode has changed our lives, and the ways in which cheap postage and telecommunications, developed in Britain, have made it easier to keep in touch and send our love.

With Christmas just two days away many of us are preparing to travel to be with family and friends. Seeing people in person is the ultimate way to communicate, but if you can’t there’s always the post. Leave your views on The Peoples Post series as a comment below, on our Facebook page, or tweet us using the hashtag #PeoplesPost.

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage The Last Post. 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.

Painting of letter boxes during World War II

During World War II, the frequency of normal repainting of letter boxes, telephone kiosks, fire alarm posts etc was suspended. Each Head Postmaster was to decide what painting was necessary though they were expected to spend no more than a quarter of the normal, pre-war, amount on this.

Pillar box in Birkenhead painted with three white lines, 1938

Pillar box in Birkenhead painted with three white lines, 1938

A degree of over-enthusiasm was exhibited in Oxton, Birkenhead in 1938 when the local A.R.P. employed workmen to paint certain obstacles with white lines. The men painted a number of pillar boxes with three bands of white paint. It was reported that the “rapidly promoted sergeants of the sidewalk soon lost their military status” and the boxes were quickly restored to their normal peacetime colour scheme.

More official steps were soon taken to assist in the movement of vehicular traffic during ‘black-out’ conditions.  Local Authorities, acting on instructions from the Ministry of Home Security, applied bands of white paint or ‘other suitable distinguishing marks’ to trees, lamp posts, poles etc. bordering roads. The normal practice was for street objects to be painted with 6” white bands at 6” intervals to a height of 3’ from the ground. The decision on which objects required painting lay with the Local Authority and the Post Office gave authority for pillar boxes, police and fire alarm posts, telephone poles and telephone kiosks to also be painted with white paint if requested. However Local Authorities were advised that the Post Office preference was for just the plinths of pillar boxes to be painted white. If additional white paint was required, authority was given for the projecting rim of the cap to also be painted. Telephone kiosks types K2, K4 and K6 had bases painted white up to the bottom level of the glass panes. Kiosks K1 and K3 already featured stippled light paint and did not require further work. If local authorities pressed strongly for more extensive painting then this was permitted.

At first, Local Authorities were expected to pay for the white paint being applied, but from November 1944, instructions were issued that the Post Office would meet the cost of any white bands applied to Post Office property.

During the war the Post Office agreed with the Home Office that Local Authorities could, where they desired, paint the caps of pillar boxes with yellowish green, gas detector paint. It was thought that this would enable Air Raid Wardens to detect the presence of gas in the event of enemy raids. The Home Office issued instructions that this was not to be carried out until Local Authorities received notification ‘to complete Air Raid Precaution plans’. Regional Head Postmasters were informed by the Authority which boxes had been so painted. In response to tentative enquiry, in late 1944 the Post Office specifically stated that they were not considering the question of camouflage painting of letter boxes.

Sources:
BPMA  POST 78/311
BPMA POST 78/312
BPMA POST 78/313

BPMA POST 78/314
BPMA POST 56/23
, Post Office A.R.P. Manual VIII 13, 1940
Post Office Magazine November, 1938

‘Centuries of Innovation and Industry’ at Royal Mail Letters

An early pillar box on display at Rathbone Place

An early pillar box on display at Rathbone Place

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

Recently a small display of objects from the BPMA’s collection was installed in the new reception area of Royal Mail Letters at Rathbone Place. Rathbone Place is a busy mail centre and this hopefully means that the display will be seen by many people, both from within Royal Mail itself as well as any external visitors to the building.

On their website Royal Mail describe themselves as having ‘centuries of innovation and industry making our business what it is today’ and it is this theme that we have taken as the basis for the display. This includes looking at ‘First Innovations’ such as the introduction of the Penny Post, letter boxes and standard time; a section entitled ‘From Land to Sky’ charting the many different forms of transport that have been used to carry mail; and, linked to this, ‘Mail by Rail’ concentrating on the Post Office underground railway (aka Mail Rail) that connected sorting offices in London to mainline railway stations.

Emma Harper installs objects at Royal Mail Letters, Rathbone Place

Emma Harper installs objects at Royal Mail Letters, Rathbone Place

Highlights of the objects on display include a model Mail Coach, a Mail Guard’s timepiece, a railway sign that used to hang on the Post Office railway station at Rathbone Place and an early example of a letter box. We hope these objects will not only show how important Royal Mail’s heritage is, but also promote our role in preserving and presenting their long history. It is for this reason that we are always pleased to work with Royal Mail on displays such as this and hope that it will be enjoyed by those who see it.

Morten Collection Object of the Month: April 2010

Each month, for ten months, we’ll be presenting an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

If you have any comments on the objects or the Collection we’d be grateful to hear them. At the end of the ten months we hope we’ll have given you an overview of the Collection, highlighting individual items but also emphasising the diverse nature of the material. For further information on the Morten Collection, please see our blog of 16th December 2009.

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

Red letter boxes have been a familiar sight around Britain and are popular with tourists; tins and pencil sharpeners are only some of the many letter box shaped souvenirs available. However, very few people are aware of variations in their design or indeed know anything about their history.

Letter boxes are in fact a relatively recent phenomenon in the British Isles and their introduction has to be seen very much in conjunction with Rowland Hill’s postal reforms, together with the increase in literacy due to the demands of the industrial revolution. With an increase in literacy and therefore an increase in letter writing the old system of a post boy walking around the streets ringing a bell for people to come out and hand deliver him the letters to be posted was no longer efficient. The need for letter boxes, as used in Paris from as early as 1653, became apparent.

It was thanks to Anthony Trollope (who worked for the Post Office before finding fame as a novelist) that letter boxes were introduced to the UK. Trollope installed four pillar boxes in St Helier, Jersey, as an experiment on 23rd November 1852. The trial was successful, and in 1853 pillar boxes were erected in mainland Britain.

A wooden post box which is part of the Bruce Castle postal history collection

A wooden post box which is part of the Bruce Castle postal history collection

In the collection at Bruce Castle we hold a poster that shows the development and variation of pillar boxes prior to the red design familiar to us. Very early pillar boxes differ in two respects. Firstly, they do not bear the monarch’s cipher, and secondly they were green in colour, making them less visible to passers by, resulting in a number of people walking into them!

For this Object of the Month I have chosen a model of an 1857 pillar box, of which we hold two slightly different copies. The model is made of wood, is about 50cm high, has a slot for letters, and a plate with times and prices on it.

More on Letter Boxes can be found on the BPMA website.

Welcome to the London 2010: Festival of Stamps

After a long time planning and a lot of work by many people at the BPMA and other organisations the London 2010: Festival of Stamps will soon begin.

A 1963 US stamp depicting a broken chain and the words "Emacipation Proclamation", produced to celebrate 100 years since the abolition of slavery.

Stamp from the United States of America, 1963. Courtesy of Sands of Time

We will be making a buzz throughout 2010 about stamps and introduce many new people to the wonderful world of stamps, stamp design and postal heritage. One of the first events of the Festival is Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world (18 January – 30 June 2010). This new display in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery of the Museum of London Docklands looks at how the abolition of slavery has been commemorated through the everyday postage stamp. 

The Festival continues with an exciting programme of exhibitions and events planned, with something to appeal to everyone.

As well as celebrating stamps, London 2010: Festival of Stamps also marks the centenary of the accession of George V – the philatelist king. To mark the occasion, don’t miss the BPMA’s major exhibition Empire Mail: George V & The GPO in co-operation with Guildhall Art Gallery and the Royal Philatelic Collection. The exhibition opens at the prestigious Guildhall Art Gallery on 7 May 2010 and runs until 25 July 2010. Many items from the BPMA’s wonderful collections will be on display in this exhibition that explores the life of King George V, through his personal passions as a philatelist and wider world events. There will also be a display of exquisite stamps and stamp artwork from the Royal Philatelic Collection.

Postal Union Congress £1 stamp, 1929. Shows King George V and an English knight on horseback.

Postal Union Congress £1, 1929. GBR02.25

Later in the year, BPMA will be releasing a new book about George V by our curator of philately, Douglas Muir. Based on extensive research, much of it original, this will be an vital addition to anyone interested in the period, which saw some of the most beautiful and highly regarded of British stamps, such as the seahorses and the PUC £1. 

Alongside Empire Mail: George V & The GPO, the BPMA will also be staging a display of Treasures of the Archive at our Search Room in Freeling House. The exhibition will feature unique pieces from the collections of The British Postal Museum & Archive. This includes a sheet of penny black stamps and the original die, among many other items of unparalleled significance in UK postal history.

EXHIBITIONS AND DISPLAYS

As well as our own exhibitions, the BPMA is co-ordinating an exciting programme of events with partner organisations throughout 2010.

British Library Philatelic Rarities
British Library
1 February – 31 December 2010
The permanent 1,000 frame ‘Philatelic Exhibition’ will be refreshed with new or not recently exhibited material from the British Library’s world class collections. There will also be a programme of educational talks.

An early air mail envelope

Air mail envelope. Image courtesy of The Trustees of the Bath Postal Museum

King George V Exhibition
Bath Postal Museum
1 February – 30 October 2010
The Bath Postal Museum is staging an exhibition depicting the events that occurred during the reign of King George V (1910 to 1936). Items on display will illustrate how events that occurred during this period resulted in changes to peoples’ lives and their standard of living.

Congo (Katanga): 10 F Stamp with Air Katanga airplane tail

Congo (Katanga): 10 F Stamp with Air Katanga airplane tail

Impressions of Africa: money, medals and stamps
British Museum, Room 69a
1 April 2010 – January 2011
In 2010 17 African countries celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence from colonial rule. To mark this occasion the British Museum will be holding a small display looking at the images of Africa presented on coins, banknotes, medals, stamps and seals made for the continent during the past 100 years.

Throughout 2010 the Association of British Philatelic Societies (ABPS) will be holding regional events. Please see the London 2010 website to find out more about shows near you.

Other events are still to be confirmed, so don’t forget to visit our new-look website at www.london2010.org.uk for all the very latest news, visitor information and opening times. And please do check details before travelling as dates may change.

EVENTS AND ACTIVITIES

Alongside exhibitions and displays, the BPMA will also be holding Festival related activities. Highlights are listed below, but please see the London 2010 website, or the BPMA website to find out more.

Central Telegraph Office (GPO West) decorated with flags for the Jubilee of George V.

Central Telegraph Office (GPO West) decorated with flags for the Jubilee of George V. POST 118 290

Walking Tours

This year, for the first time, we have introduced two types of walking tour. The first type introduces Highlights of GPO London (Saturday 26 June and Tuesday 13 July, 1 ½ hours). The tour takes you in to the heart of old GPO London, exploring over 300 years of postal history, and developments in the buildings and iconic street furniture of telephone kiosks and letter boxes.

The second, longer Extended Walking Tour (Saturday 8 May, Sunday 5 September. Approximately 3 hours) offers the chance to explore GPO London in more depth.  

Talks

A special programme of talks has been devised for the Festival, each one covering a different aspect of philately or postal history. The programme starts off on Thursday 11 March (7-8pm, Phoenix centre) with a panel discussion on Stamps in the 21st Century. Guests from across the spectrum of philately and stamp design will discuss stamp design and the future of stamps.

As you can see, 2010 is packed full of events, exhibitions and activities for people to find out more about stamps, postal history and stamp design. We hope you can join us at the London 2010: Festival of Stamps soon!