Tag Archives: mail trains

The Great Train Robbery exhibitions

If you visit the Royal Mail Archive today you can see our special exhibition The Great Train Robbery, the aftermath and the Investigations: A Story from the Archive. It marks the 50th anniversary of the robbery, and is presented in conjunction with a talk to given by author Andrew Cook tonight.

Around 3am on 8th August 1963, £2.6 million (£45 million in today’s money) was stolen from a Travelling Post Office (TPO) en route from Glasgow to London. The audacity and violence of the crime, which later became known as The Great Train Robbery, stunned the general public and made international celebrities of some of the robbers.

Ronnie Biggs mugshot. (POST 120/100, pg1-2)

Ronnie Biggs mugshot. (POST 120/100, pg1-2)

Our exhibition tells the story of the investigations that followed, particularly the key role The Post Office Investigations Department (POID) played in helping police uncover the events of the robbery. The exhibition also looks more widely at the effects the robbery had on the role of the TPO and the security changes brought in by the GPO, as well as exploring the history and work of the POID both then and now.

Travelling Post Office. (POST 118/5743)

Travelling Post Office. (POST 118/5743)

Some of the images in the exhibition come from the Thames Valley Police Museum and these show several of the crime scenes, including one of the train carriages.

The carriage following the robbery. © Thames Valley Police

The carriage following the robbery. © Thames Valley Police

Also on display in the Royal Mail Archive today are original objects from our collections which are directly linked to the Great Train Robbery and the POID. After today a touring version of the exhibition will be on show at venues around the country – see our website for further details.

In addition, we have partnered with the Google Cultural Institute (GCI) to make the exhibition available on their website. This enables anyone, anywhere in the world, to discover the truth behind the Great Train Robbery legend through original material from our collection.

The Great Train Robbery exhibition on the Google Cultural Institute website.

The Great Train Robbery exhibition on the Google Cultural Institute website.

The Google Cultural Institute, created in May 2011, is a platform that provides access to works of art, landmarks and archive exhibits with just a few clicks of the mouse. All the content is chosen by Google’s 290 partners, which include museums as well as cultural institutions and associations. The purpose of the Cultural Institute is to preserve and highlight a variety of cultural heritage by providing free and simple access to all visitors through the use of web technology.

– Alison Bean, Web Officer

View our Great Train Robbery exhibition online at the Google Cultural Institute.

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.

Britten Films: An Exploration

The young Benjamin Britten wrote:

1936… finds me earning my living – with occasionally something to spare – at the GPO film unit… writing music and supervising sounds for film

In 1933 Britten became a member of the General Post Office film unit, which was originally set up to produce sponsored films relating to the GPO’s activities. As a result of Britten composing the music for the short films, there was a quick turnaround time and this helped Britten to refine and nurture his compositional tools.

The nine short films he worked on – covering subjects ranging from postage stamps to pacifism, the abolition of the slave trade to the electrification of the London-Portsmouth railway – are wonderfully made and fascinating historical documents. For example, Night Mail is a documentary about a London, Midland and Scottish railway mail train. The rhythm of the poem imitates the stages of the train journey, where the increasing rhythmic pace throughout the poem symbolises the acceleration of the mail train.

A still from Night Mail showing the mail train on its journey

A still from Night Mail showing the mail train on its journey

Britten’s music brilliantly reflects, amplifies and underpins the screen images with scores of rich variety and invention. It is a celebration of composer’s craft and filmmaker’s technique, an insight into 1930s Britain, and a snapshot of the art of propaganda before the term became besmirched forever by the extreme forces of political repression.

Aldeburgh Festival will be screening Britten’s nine GPO films in June with a live orchestra in the event Britten Films. Before the screening commences there will be an illustrated discussion, Britten Films: An Exploration, looking at the astonishing artistic collective which was the GPO film unit and how some of Britten’s very first professional commissions were to leave a powerful impression on his future creative life.

For more information on the events visit www.aldeburgh.co.uk or phone 01728 687100. The website’s ‘visiting us’ page helps you find out about where to eat, where to stay, and how to find us of course. Tickets can be purchased from the website and through the box office on 01728 687110.

Leanne Cox – Aldeburgh Festival

The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit is available from the BPMA Shop.

Mail Trains book

Now available from our shop is the book Mail Trains, telling the fascinating story of the development and history of carrying mail by rail, from the 1800s until today. The book is written by Julian Stray, one of our Assistant Curators.

Mail Trains by Julian Stray

Central to the prompt delivery of the nation’s mail is its efficient and speedy transit the length and breadth of the country. From 1830, the Post Office relied ever more heavily on the overland rail network to provide what was for decades the ideal form of transport. Railway Post Offices, Sunday Sorting Tenders and District Sorting Carriages were amongst the services introduced.

Railway Post Offices, carriages dedicated to sorting mail in transit, became known as Travelling Post Offices (TPOs). TPOs received mail at the start of their journey and at stations or bag exchange points en route. Mail bags were opened by travelling postal staff and the contents sorted and included in new mail bags made up en route and despatched at the appropriate station. One of the most remarkable aspects of TPOS was the bag exchange apparatus. This enabled mail trains to pass stations of minor importance yet still exchange mail bags without halting.

Travelling Post Office - Irish Mail. Mail bag exchange apparatus picking up mail at 60 mph, 1934. (POST 118/0021)

Travelling Post Office - Irish Mail. Mail bag exchange apparatus picking up mail at 60 mph, 1934. (POST 118/0021)

During the Second World War mail volumes carried by rail increased. Letters were essential for maintaining morale and connecting families separated by wartime. The rail network carried immense quantities of mail; in 1943 British railways carried 25 million mail bags and over 90 million parcels.

The final TPO service ran in 2004 and although the volume of mail carried is considerably diminished, mail trains continue to form an important part of the United Kingdom’s postal service to this day.

Mail Trains is available from our online shop. Order before 10 April 2012 and obtain a 10% discount by entering the code BPMAW3BS1TE when you make your payment.

Visit our website to find out what life was like on the TPO in our Travelling Post Office online exhibition.

Hear Julian Stray’s recent talk on Mail Trains by downloading our free podcast. Download the podcast on our website or subscribe to the podcast via Tunes.

Get 10% off at our new online shop

We have just launched our new and improved online shop.

New BPMA online shop

Visit the shop at www.postalheritage.org.uk/shop before 10 April and get a 10% discount off all your purchases. To obtain the discount enter the code BPMAW3BS1TE when you make your payment.

What we sell

The BPMA shop sells a range of products including greetings cards, postcards, publications, philatelic products, DVDs & CDs, models & keyrings, homewares and stationery. New products on offer include Gift Republic’s “Stamp Collection” mug, notebooks and greetings cards featuring the Machin design, and the publications The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit and Mail Trains.

Gift Republic's "Stamp Collection" Machin greetings card

Gift Republic's "Stamp Collection" Machin greetings card

Events booking

You can also book for our paid events through the shop. Book online now for the upcoming talks Disaster at Sea! and The Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica.

Mail Trains

Last year our Curator Julian Stray gave a public talk on Mail Trains; this is now available to download as a podcast. The talk looks at the long and often strained association between the Post Office and the rail companies.

Interior of Travelling Post Office, by George Charlton, 1935 (POST 109/375)

Interior of Travelling Post Office, by George Charlton, 1935 (POST 109/375)

Both underground and over, in sealed vans and Travelling Post Offices, mails have been conveyed, sorted and accelerated since 1830. Suffering the occasional mishap or celebrated by film makers (such as in the film Night Mail), the carriage of mail is considerably reduced today. Julian Stray’s talk touches on what went wrong, what changed, and why.

The talk is based on extensive primary research completed for the upcoming joint BPMA/Shire publication Mail Trains.

Download or subscribe to the BPMA podcast by visiting our website or through iTunes.

Visit our website to view a selection of items from our collection on the theme of Mail by Rail.

BPMA Open Afternoon

Join the staff and Friends of the British Postal Museum & Archive at our annual Open Afternoon on Tuesday 6 December 2011.

Interior of Travelling Post Office

Interior of Travelling Post Office, 1935 (POST 109/375)

See a showcase of our fascinating collections, take part in a range of activities, talks and tours, and find out more about who we are, what we do and what we’ve been up to in the last year. Events will run from 1pm until 8pm, and everyone is welcome to drop in at any time and share a mince pie with us!

Activities include…

Hands-On Family Research: Was your ancestor a postie? Our Archive Search Room Team will show you how to research your family tree.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition – for the first time in London! View the iconic photographs of the Post Office at work in the community sourced from the BPMA Archive.

Behind the Scenes Tours: Discover the treasures of the Archive – from GPO Posters to philatelic gems – led by our Archive & Curatorial Teams.

Tour of our Archive collections which fill over 2.5 miles of shelving and cover social, postal and design history from 1636 to today – at 2pm, 4pm and 5.30pm.

Tour of the Philatelic Studio led my our Curator, Philately at 3.30pm.

Booking welcome; subject to availability.

The History of the Christmas Card: Learn more about the origin of this custom with material provided by our Cataloguing team.

Preservation Surgery: Ask for advice from our conservator on caring for your own collection of family history records, postal history, stamps or photographs – bookings welcome!

Learning Activities Sample Sessions: Find out how our Access & Learning team engage school children and young people in our postal heritage with a range of activities and resources.

Mail Trains: Watch the classic Auden-Britten film production Night Mail (1936), talk to our curators about the Travelling Post Office and join a talk about the history of delivering the mail by rail at 7pm.

Still from Night Mail

Still from Night Mail

For more information and for booking a place on a tour or the Preservation Surgery, please call 020 7239 2037.