by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum
Greetings from Bruce Castle, Tottenham, North London – the former home of Sir Rowland Hill!
Today Tottenham is part of the thriving London Borough of Haringey and home of the famous football club Tottenham Hotspur, but over 150 years ago it was a small village and home to Sir Rowland Hill, future inventor of the postage stamp. He lived at Bruce Castle, a16th Century manor house, from 1827 where he was headmaster of a school for boys.
Today the former manor house is grade 1 listed and houses the Museum and Archive of Haringey. Among its exhibits we find many things related to the local area such as a 1930s office, World War II photographs, the history of the building, as well as a large collection of postal history objects, books and documents.
This is thanks to former postal worker W.V. Morten and the Union of Communication Workers (now the Communication Worker’s Union). Very little is known about W.V. Morten himself, other than his complete devotion to the postal service, studying and collecting things on every aspect. When he died in the 1920s the Union of Communication Workers realised the importance of his collection and bought it for safekeeping and to prevent it from being broken up or going to America. As the Union had no storage or exhibition facilities, Bruce Castle with its postal connection seemed the obvious place for it to go.
In the decades following the Collection has expanded and now comprises of some 30,000 pieces including advertising posters, Victorian newspaper cuttings, mail box models, photographs, drawings, postmarks, stamps, mail coach tickets, books and even a vet’s receipt for a horse. We hold material ranging from a14th century telegram to a 1980s advertising brochure for a telephone system.
In recent years the museum as a whole shifted its emphasis away from postal history to the local history of Haringey. As a consequence of this the Morten Collection was somewhat neglected and when I came to work at Bruce Castle as part of Pistols, Packets and Postmen, a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involving the London Borough of Haringey, the Communication Workers Union and the British Postal Museum & Archive, I found a mountain of work waiting for me. Documents have to be catalogued and old information computerised, objects stored to modern conservation practice, digitised and sorted. The entire collection has to be brought back to life from the obscurity of the museum’s storage area through educational activities, exhibitions and talks.
This is not a one-person job, and I’m relying on the help of volunteers. A retired union worker is helping with the re-housing of the collection and an aspiring librarian catalogued large sections of the postal history books. A retired postal worker says: “I love coming to the museum as it gets me out of the house and makes use of my knowledge of the postal service. I have met some nice people too!”
Whether you are an aspiring archivist or museum professional, a postal heritage enthusiast or just a retired person seeking a challenge, Bruce Castle wants to hear from you! At present we have opportunities for volunteers to help with re-housing, digitisation and basic cataloguing. No experience or PC skills are needed, just enthusiasm and the willingness to learn new skills.
If you are interested send me an email at: Bettina.Trabant@haringey.gov.uk or ring me on 02088088772.
Over the next few months we’ll be giving BPMA blog readers a glimpse of the Morten Collection through a series of Object of the Month articles as part of Pistols, Packets and Postmen – keep visiting!