Tag Archives: mail coach guard

Mail Coach Guard Moses Nobbs is ready for his close-up

Our conservation team is very busy getting objects ready to be moved and, in some cases, displayed in The Postal Museum and Mail Rail galleries. Conservators Jackie and Barbara need the best equipment to help repair and preserve objects, such as a long overdue microscope.

Today we received a very nice surprise – the delivery of a brand new microscope! We wanted to replace the old machine that had been in service in the studio since the iron-age with a modern machine and thanks to a lot of gently persuasive requests our wish was finally granted.

The machine was immediately put to good use on an object that had been in the studio awaiting treatment.

The object is a painting of Moses James Nobbs, ‘The Last of the Mail Coach Guards’ painted c.1890 by H.E.Brown and is described as a watercolour on paper. The image shows a man with white beard and whiskers wearing a black top hat, a red coat with gold double buttons and black collar and cuffs.


Undergoing treatment using our new micrscope

When we first received this painting and assessed it, no particular damage to the paint layer was detected. Once the surface had been put under the magnifying lens of the microscope we were able to discover an area of micro-cracks that could potentially lead to the paint layer flacking off. Indeed this had already happened in some small parts of the painting.

Armed with this new knowledge we decided to proceed with a treatment of the paint layer to be performed under magnification, an operation that was made possible thanks to the real-time video feed of the microscope.

Close-up showing the cracks in the painting

Close-up showing the cracks in the painting

The new microscope proved popular with other members of staff at BPMA too, with many coming over to the studio to check things like dirt on their fingers, what hair really looks like and what creatures live on common surfaces… The youngest visitor, a 9 years old with lots of probing scientific questions really enjoyed the close up inspection of the bench surface!

As we move closer to opening The Postal Museum look out for more conservation updates from Jackie and Barbara, giving you a sneak peek at the objects that will be going on display and the preparations taking place in the galleries themselves.

-Barbara Borghese, Conservator

Put Your Stamp on the New Centre Exhibition Space

We have been working hard with our appointed creative designers Haley Sharpe Design on early plans for the main exhibition space of the Calthorpe House New Centre. The 500m2 gallery will be split into five zones, each covering an era of postal history.

Zone 1 will look at the early days of the Royal Mail, with the BPMA’s 18th Century Mail Coach as its centrepiece, whilst in Zone 2 visitors will meet Rowland Hill – a visionary Victorian, who devised solutions to the short-comings of the postal service in its early days. On display visitors will find a variety of objects and records related to the design of the Penny Black, the world’s first postage, as well as other examples of great Victorian inventions that facilitated the sending and receiving of mail.

Visualisation of Zone 2: "Reform and Innovation".

Visualisation of Zone 2: “Reform and Innovation”.

Between Zones 2 and 3, visitors can read profound and moving stories reflecting events from postal history during the early 20th Century, such as the story of the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic, the suffragettes who posted themselves to the Prime Minister, and the role of the Post Office during WWI.

Visualisation of Zone 3: "The Post Office in Conflict".

Visualisation of Zone 3: “The Post Office in Conflict”.

In Zone 3, visitors will step into a reconstruction of life in WWII London, whilst Zone 4, by contrast, will present a bright, visual feast, vividly demonstrating the time from the 1930s to the 1960s when the Post Office was a leader in style and design in Britain.

Visualisation of Zone 4: "Style and Design".

Visualisation of Zone 4: “Style and Design”.

Zone 5 will consider the modern Post Office, including the competition and challenges of 21st Century Communications, as well as the role of the service at the heart of isolated rural communities.

Work is currently underway to work up a long-list of objects and records from the Museum and Archive collections to populate the exhibition and illustrate the stories and themes outlined above. Whilst the ‘usual suspects’ (such as items from early Mail Coach Guards and the many photos and posters held in the Archive) are, of course, under consideration, the BPMA are keen to include ‘hidden gems’ that may not have been seen in previous exhibitions – something for which we would like your help…

Tell us which artefacts from the BPMA collections you would like to see on display in the new exhibition!

Blog readers are invited to suggest a museum object or archive record that they would like to see included in the new gallery displays, with an explanation as to why you have chosen that particular item. The best suggestion, as selected by the BPMA Access and Learning Team, will win a signed copy of Julian Stray’s book Mail Trains. Results announced in January.

Please send your suggestions by 30 November 2012 to: Andy Richmond – BPMA Access & Learning Manager, andy.richmond@postalheritage.org.uk.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one

Taking the bare elements of this incident, it sounds somewhat like a farce, or bad joke. The scene: a coaching inn, on a quiet Wiltshire road. The characters: a mail coach complete with guard and passengers, an escaped lioness and its owner, a former race horse, and a dog. But truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction – this blog post relates to a real historic event: the attack of a Lioness on the Mail Coach in 1816.

'Lioness Attacking the Exeter Mail, At Winterston Hut near Salisbury, on the Night of Sunday the 20th of October, 1816' - colour engraved print by A Sauerweid, 1817 (2009-0024)

'Lioness Attacking the Exeter Mail, At Winterston Hut near Salisbury, on the Night of Sunday the 20th of October, 1816' - colour engraved print by A Sauerweid, 1817 (2009-0024)

Our regular readers may recall this blog from several years ago; given the airing of The Peoples Post episode on Mail Coaches this is the perfect occasion to revisit the event and examine each part in more detail.

The scene: Winterslow Hut (now the Pheasant Inn) was a famous coaching inn, situated on the post road from Salisbury to Andover. “Hut” was apparently the local name for a road suitable for coach travel.

The mail coach: On the night of 20th October 1816, the London to Exeter mailcoach was on its ‘up’ route, destined for London. Nicknamed ‘Quicksilver’ due to its speed, it was carrying mail, a mail coach guard, paying passengers, and a coach driver.

The lioness: had escaped from a travelling menagerie, stationed in nearby Salisbury Plain. She trotted alongside the mail coach, which whilst alarming the horses, did not perturb the driver, who mistook her for a calf. When the mail coach pulled into its scheduled stop at Winterslow Hut, the lioness pounced and attacked one of the horses.

The horse: ‘Pomegranate’ had been a race-horse, but as his temperament was difficult he was sold to become a coach horse, which was felt would break his fiery spirit. Pomegranate now found himself with the jaws of the raging lioness around his neck.

The passengers: fearing for their lives, stormed the inn and barricaded themselves inside, shutting out not only the mail coach guard, but also, according to one account, another passenger who subsequently became so traumatised by that night’s events he was committed to an asylum for life.

The Mail Coach Guard: One Joseph Pike, reached for his regulation blunderbuss. The role of the mail coach guard was to ensure the safety and security of the mail, and to this end were heavily armed. The guard carried a ‘brace’ of pistols, and a blunderbuss – and Pike was ready to use it.

Blunderbuss, c. 1788-1816 (OB1995.338)

Blunderbuss, c. 1788-1816 (OB1995.338)

The menagerie owner, his assistants and dog: Before Pike could fire, the owner of Ballard’s Menagerie appeared and begged the guard not to fire, stating how much the lioness had cost, and how his investment would be lost. Either his financial argument worked, or as some have stated the owner threatened Pike with a pistol – either way Pike did not shoot. The owner set his Newfoundland dog onto the lioness – who promptly turned her attentions from the horse to the dog, and then hid under a granary.

The lioness’ capture was reported in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal the following week:

Her owner and his assistants…followed her upon their hands and knees, with lighted candles, and having placed a sack on the ground near her, they made her lie down upon it; they then tied her four legs and passed a cord round her mouth, which they secured; in this state they drew her out from under the granary, upon the sack, and then she was lifted and carried by six men into her den in the caravan… the lioness lay as quietly as a lamb during her removal to the caravan.

The event captured the public’s imagination, being recounted in newspapers nationwide. Two artists were inspired to create a visual interpretation of the event, and their resulting prints have been described in this blog. The Pollard print (below) is often considered the more realistic account, the artist it is believed having spoken to the mail coach guard and the inn owner. However, if you take a closer look at the men in the top windows of the inn, it is believed Pollard depicted Charles James Fox, Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt – none of whom were at the event, and one of whom had died 10 years previously!

'The Lioness Attacking the Horse of the Exeter Mail Coach' – print by James Pollard, 1817 (2009-0010)

'The Lioness Attacking the Horse of the Exeter Mail Coach' – print by James Pollard, 1817 (2009-0010)

The animal’s story did not finish with the capture of the lioness. The menagerie owner showed further financial prowess, purchasing the now injured coaching horse, Pomegranate, and displaying him with his wounds the very next day. Pomegranate, the lioness, and the dog all became part of the menagerie’s displays, receiving top billing in this fair.

Poster advertising Ballard’s Grand Collection of Wild Beasts (P8167)

Poster advertising Ballard’s Grand Collection of Wild Beasts (P8167)

Whether this is the actual dog is in question, as according to most accounts the dog died due to injuries received from the lioness. Pomegranate was eventually returned to his owner who received compensation for the injuries suffered. We know the lioness was exhibited at the 1825 Bartholomew Fair.

– Vyki Sparkes, Assistant Curator

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

Morten Collection Object of the Month: June 2010 – London to Glasgow mail coach ledger

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

In the 21st Century travelling has become part of our everyday lives. Most people will have been abroad at some point, even if just on a day trip to Calais, and almost everyone will have been on a bus, plane or train to a place away from where they live. Travelling has become relatively comfortable, easy and very fast.

This has not always been the case. In previous centuries very few people travelled. For the entire year of 1780 for example we have 15 English tourists in France. Travelling was slow, dangerous and burdensome. It was mainly the upper classes that travelled and the three most common reasons were health, religion and work. People often made their will before they went on a journey. Coaches could travel 7mph in the summer and 5mph hour in the winter. When going up hill passengers had to get off and walk, unless they were rich enough to be carried by their servants.

Between 1660 and 1840 it was customary for upper class boys to take the Grand Tour through Europe after leaving Oxford or Cambridge. As they were young and poorly supervised that often provided opportunities for their first encounters with members of the opposite sex.

Apart from owning your own horse and or coach, the two main ways to travel where either by mail or stage coach. Mail coaches were quicker, but not geared towards passenger travel, and sometimes passengers had to break off halfway through their meal as the coach was rearing to continue its journey. Stage coaches on the other hand were designed for passengers’ comfort, but slower, as they would stop frequently.

Prior to the existence of mail coaches, letters would have been conveyed by postboys on horses riding between posts that were placed in 20 mile intervals. John Palmer realised their inefficiency and started the mail coach service during the 18th Century. The delivery of mail from Bristol to London was reduced from 38 hours to 16 hours. Early mail coaches were not owned by the post office and were contracted out. The only post office official on board of a mail coach was a heavily armed guard who was needed to ward off the mail robbers.

In the Morten Collection we hold hundreds of items relating to roads, travelling and mail coaches. The item featured in this month object of the month is a ledger giving details for the accounts of the London to Glasgow mail coach.

London to Glasglow mail coach ledger, from the Morten Collection

London to Glasglow mail coach ledger, from the Morten Collection

Postal uniforms: the early years

by Claire McHugh, Cataloguer (Collections) 

The post office uniform is one of the most easily recognised uniforms worn in the UK as well as being one of the Post Office’s most familiar symbols. As part of my cataloguing of the uniform collection I will provide a brief series of blogs charting the evolution of the postal uniform into what we see today.

Etching: 'Postiglione Inglese', 1772 (2009-0021)

Etching: 'Postiglione Inglese', 1772 (2009-0021)

The earliest reference to a specific dress for postal workers dress dates from 1590, when it is recorded that the Council of Aberdeen ordered a livery of blue cloth with armorial bearing of the town worked in silver on his right sleeve for ‘the post’ carrier (Green Paper 27). But it wasn’t until 1728 when there is mention of a General Post Office item of uniform. In 1728, Joseph Godman (Secretary of the General Post Office) ordered ‘that every letter carrier…shall, as a badge of his employment, wear a brass ticket upon some (the most visible) part of his clothing, with the King’s Arms upon it’ while on duty (St Martin’s le Grand, The Post Office Magazine ,1909).

The first post office employees to be issued with actual uniform were the Mail Coach Guards who, from 1784 wore a scarlet coat with blue lapels and a black top hat with gold band. Also issued were a brace of pistols, a blunderbuss, a cutlass, a post horn and a time piece. Bar the obvious arming of the guard, it was thought that the association of scarlet with military red (which itself was fast becoming a national symbol), coupled with the military styling of the uniform and the hiring of ex-soldiers would deter robbers who had become a great problem on many of the main roads.

Detail of the colour engraving 'West Country Mails at the Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly', 1828 (2009-0080). Note the similarity of the coach men’s uniform with the military gentleman to the bottom left of the picture.

Detail of the colour engraving 'West Country Mails at the Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly', 1828 (2009-0080). Note the similarity of the coach men’s uniform with the military gentleman to the bottom left of the picture.

1792 marked the beginning of discussions on whether London letter carriers should be supplied with a uniform. The Secretary of the Post Office was sceptical, arguing that the expense of clothing the carriers would outweigh any benefits. But eventually it was decided that an introduction of a uniform would have the benefit of easily identify the wearer, therefore deterring them from entering taverns, pawn brokers and other such place when on Post Office duties. It would also deter the practise of letter carriers taking unofficial holidays by replacing themselves with strangers. As to be expected, the suggestion of introducing a uniform was not received with enthusiasm by letter carriers who felt it was a reflection on their character as being dishonest and feared they would become an easy walking target for robbery (POST 61/1).

London letter carrier’s uniform c.1818 (2004-0199).

London letter carrier’s uniform c.1818 (2004-0199).

In 1793 London letter carriers were issued with a uniform that comprised of a beaver hat with a gold band and cockade, a blue cloth waistcoat and a cut away scarlet coat lined with blue calico which had blue lapels and cuffs; the coat fastened with brass buttons on which were inscribed the wearer’s number. The cost of this initial issue of uniforms was roughly £600 (about £33,618.00 today). Unusually for the time and with respect to the amount of uniform being prepared, the uniform was not actually made by army uniform manufacturers but by civilian tailors.

Originally, the uniform was intended to be issued on Queen Charlotte’s birthday (19th May) but the uniforms weren’t ready in time and the issue was delayed until the autumn because the ton would have left London by the summer and the letter carriers would have dirtied their uniform by the time they had returned to town in autumn.

Though this watercolour dates from 1890 it provides a nostalgic image of the twopenny postage letter carrier (2004-0173).

Though this watercolour dates from 1890 it provides a nostalgic image of the twopenny postage letter carrier (2004-0173).

The trickle down of uniforms beyond London was a slow process. It wasn’t until 1834 that letter carriers in principal provincial cities were issued with uniforms. Three years later the uniform allowance was extended to incorporate London’s twopenny post letter carries. The twopenny post marked a slight variation in the uniform, in that its main colour scheme consisted of blue with scarlet trimmings rather than scarlet with blue trimmings. Consequently a twopenny post letter carrier’s uniform consisted of a blue cut-away coat with a scarlet collar, a blue waistcoat and the obligatory beaver hat, with gold band and cockade.

Detail of a satirical Mulready envelope showing the jibes towards the trouser-less letter carrier

Woman: Goodness! Mr Doubleknokk. Won’t you get cold in your stomach, going naked like that? Letter carrier: O no mum! It’s the government dress. Hat, coat & waistcoat & no trousers. - Detail of a satirical Mulready envelope showing the jibes towards the trouser-less letter carrier (POST 118/1039).

It should be mentioned in all of these descriptions there are no mention of the supply of trousers to the letter carriers. This is because the employee was expected to supply these themselves. So often there was a juxtaposition between the smartness of the uniform coat with the frayed condition of the wearer’s trousers. Humorists were quick to seize upon this idea of the absence of trousers from the uniform issue by often depicting letter carriers dressed in a chemise, or wearing no trousers at all. The introduction of trousers would not appear in the issued uniform until the mid 19th century.

‘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.

Another tale of postie heroism

Wandering Genealogist’s recent blog on a mail coach accident involving his ancestor reminded us of two photos in our collection relating to another mail coach tragedy which occurred in Southern Scotland.

On the morning of 1st February 1831 mail coach driver John Goodfellow and mail coach guard James McGeorge set out from Dumfries to Edinburgh. This article on the Scottish Memories website relates:

Snow had begun to fall heavily as they boarded their mail coach bound for Moffat and they had occasionally to force the vehicle through deepening drifts to complete this stage of their journey: but both…were experienced middle-aged men with a strong sense of duty and “a bit of snow” was not going to stop them.

Having taken on two more horses and some extra passengers the coach continued through the intensifying snow until after a mile and a half Goodfellow and McGeorge were forced to abandon their efforts.

While two male passengers returned to Moffat on some of the horses to raise the alarm, and several female passengers sheltered inside the coach, Goodfellow and McGeorge decided to proceed on horseback with the mail. Tragically, both men succumbed to the snow after a few more miles, although their horses made it to a nearby farm.

Postie Stone as seen in 1938.

Postie Stone as seen in 1938.

A monument to the pair, shaped a little like post box and now known locally as Postie Stone, was erected in 1931 on the spot where the men died. Photos in the BPMA archive of the monument, which were taken in 1938 by the GPO Photographic Unit, show three men, one of whom is a postman, inspecting the memorial. The surrounding landscape looks bleak, although a more recent photo which appears on The Gazetteer for Scotland website shows the area to be green and verdant.

Sadly, this tragedy is one of many which have occurred in the history of the British postal service. But like the posties on the RMS Titanic, the commitment to deliver the mail shown by Goodfellow and McGeorge is notable.

Moving the Mail: From Horses to Horsepower

You’ve probably noticed the feed from our Flickr account on the right side of this blog. We’re using Flickr as a way of enabling more people to see our exhibitions, such as Moving the Mail: Horses to Horsepower.

Moving the Mail explores the history of road transport and the Post Office, showing how technology and innovation, from Mail Coaches to motorised transport, enabled Royal Mail to increase the speed of mail delivery.

Royal Mail Coach circa 1800

Royal Mail Coach circa 1800

Prior to the introduction of Mail Coaches, Post Boys delivered mail by horse. Post Boys were vulnerable to adverse weather conditions and attacks from highwaymen, and the system was considered slow.

In the late 18th Century, John Palmer, a theatre manager from Bath, proposed an alternative system whereby horse-drawn Coaches would be used. To ensure the maximum speed was maintain the horses would be swiftly changed every 10 miles. When this system was trialled in 1784 it took just 16 hours for the Coach to travel from Bristol to London: a speed considered remarkable at the time. By the end of 1785 Mail Coaches were in use all over England.

Mail Coach Guards carried a blunderbuss and a brace of pistols to protect them from attack. The first recorded hold-up of a Mail Coach took place in 1786; it was unsuccessful as the Guard shot the highwayman dead. This action by the Guard appears to have deterred other highwaymen as no further hold-ups were recorded (unless you count the on a Mail Coach by a lioness, as mentioned previously on this blog).

With the coming of the railways in the 19th Century and other technological advances, Royal Mail began to use vans, motorcycles, push bikes and other vehicles to deliver mail. A range of these are on display at the venues below or can be viewed on Flickr. For more information on road transport and the Post Office see the Moving the Mail: Horses to Horsepower Online Exhibition.

Exhibition Tour Dates

Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton, until 27th September 2009

Grampion Transport Museum, until end October 2009

Bradford Industrial Museum, 18th July – 12th September 2009