Tag Archives: Liverpool to Manchester railway

Great British Railways

Are trains and railways the most covered topic on British commemorative stamps? A survey of the topic certainly suggests as much. We counted 19 British stamp issues which feature something related to the railways – toy trains, famous trains, railway stations and infrastructure, the invention of steam power and the locomotive, even a pub sign with a train on it. Now a 20th issue – Great British Railways – can join the list.

Great British Railways stamp issue

Great British Railways stamp issue

Great British Railways, issued today, celebrates the ‘Big Four’ railway companies and features some of the classic locomotives manufactured and used in the UK. The stamps also mark the 50th anniversary of the building of the last UK steam locomotive, British Rail’s Evening Star.

By the end of the 19th century, numerous private railway companies competed fiercely across the British Isles, but by 1923, with profits waning due to the increasing competition from cars, buses and lorries, over 120 private railway companies were merged into the Big Four.

These comprised of the London, Midland & Scottish (including the Northern Counties Committee in Northern Ireland), the London & North Eastern, the Great Western – which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year – and the Southern Railways.

After the Second World War the Big Four became British Railways in 1948, and in March 1960, Evening Star brought to an end over 130 years of steam-locomotive building for Britain’s mainline railways, leaving Swindon Works in a blaze of publicity in 1960.

The nostalgia for classic locomotives and trains perhaps explains why the railways have featured so frequently on stamps, along with the historic importance of the railway network to the British postal service. Below are some of the best-known British stamp issues to feature trains, which is your favourite?

150th Anniversary of the Public Railways, 1975

150th Anniversary of the Public Railways, 1975. This issue came about partly as a result of interest amongst philatelists and railway enthusiasts for a set of stamps featuring trains.

150th Anniversary of Liverpool to Manchester Railway, 1980

150th Anniversary of Liverpool to Manchester Railway, 1980. Designed by David Gentleman, these stamps commemorate the world’s first timetabled intercity railway.

Famous Trains, 1985

Famous Trains, 1985. This set was issued to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Great Western Railway Company.

The Age of Steam, 1994.

The Age of Steam, 1994. A celebration of the railways using archival black and white photographs.

Opening of the Channel Tunnel, 1994. Similar designs were also issued in France.

Opening of the Channel Tunnel, 1994. Similar designs were also issued in France.

Classic Locomotives, 2004

Classic Locomotives, 2004. These stamps commemorate some of the UK’s finest preserved steam locomotives.

The Great British Railways stamps are now available from Royal Mail Stamps & Collecting.

The Travelling Post Office

Travelling Post Offices (or TPOs) were railway carriages specially adapted for Post Office workers to sort mail in whilst it was being carried to its destination. They were introduced in 1838, a mere eight years after the first public railway (which ran between Liverpool to Manchester) was opened and proved to be a faster and more efficient method of delivering mail than Mail Coaches.

The layout of TPOs evolved very early on, driven by the unique nature of the work involved. The sorting frames were normally on the right looking towards the engine with a well table (sunken recess to hold mail) below for emptying mailbags into. Opposite this were metal pegs with destination bag labels attached in readiness to hang mail bags for sorted mail.

Early TPOs were quite primitive in their facilities with oil lighting, low, flat roofs and no heating or toilets! In the 1860s, gradual improvements were made as ventilators and better lights were installed and arched roofs introduced along with floor matting, padding and seats.

The TPO service ran until early 2004. It had been in a gradual decline since World War 2, with Dr Beeching’s 1963 report on the railways having a particular impact on the service. Transport technology was changing too, with it becoming more economical to move mail by road or air. Problems with service level agreements and concern for the health and safety of staff were the final nails in the coffin.

In 1999 the BPMA purchased a TPO dating from 1908, which was restored at the London & North West Railway (LNWR) workshop at Crewe. It is on display at The Crewe Heritage Centre, which is open on weekends and bank holidays from Easter to the last weekend in September.

The BPMAs TPO: before restoration.

The BPMA's TPO: before restoration.

The BPMAs TPO: after restoration

The BPMA's TPO: after restoration

For more information on TPOs please see our Online Exhibition The Travelling Post Office.