Tag Archives: manhole cover

Walking Tours of GPO London

Anyone walking through the City of London will note weird and wonderful street names such as Cheapside, Poultry and Undershaft, or the more mundane Milk Street, Bread Street and Oat Lane, and get a sense of the Square Mile’s past history as part over-crowded slum, part burgeoning centre of trade. But the history of postal communication can also be seen in the City, with Postman’s Park and Post Office Court being merely the most obvious examples. These and other sites will be explored as part of the BPMA’s programme of GPO London walking tours.

In 1643 the first General Post Office was established in the City, with the site most likely to have been in Cloak Lane, near Dowgate Hill. This came just eight years after Charles I made the Royal Mail available to his subjects, although it was Oliver Cromwell who formally established the Post Office in 1657.

At this time Coffee Houses were considered more reliable mail providers than the newly formalised Post Office. Many Coffee House owners collected letters and made arrangements with ship masters for their delivery overseas. This practice was illegal for it infringed the Post Office monopoly, but the service continued to be popular. It is not coincidental that so many early Post Offices were also established in the City of London.

The site of the Garraways Coffee House (rebuilt 1874) and Lloyds Coffee House (1691-1785) will be visited on the tour, along with the sites of the former GPO Headquarters at Lombard Street and St Martin’s-le-Grand.

Other notable sites visited on the tour are King Edward Building (the former Chief Post Office now occupied by Merrill Lynch), and GPO North. Also in the vicinity was the Central Telegraph Office where Guglielmo Marconi demonstrated wireless telegraphy to William Preece, Engineer to the GPO.

There will also be an opportunity to explore a range of operational GPO street furniture from many eras, including manhole covers, telephone kiosks and letter boxes.

The tours last around 3 hours and are conducted by BPMA Curators. For more information and booking details please see our website.

BPMA Walking Tours, 2009
GPO London – Tuesday 30th June 2009, 1.00-4.00pm
GPO London – Saturday 19th July 2009, 2.00-5.00pm
GPO London – Tuesday 26th September 2009, 1.00-4.00pm

GPO Street Furniture Discover Session

This Saturday our Curators will be throwing open the doors of our Museum Store, where some of the larger items in our collection are housed, and helping people view and explore some of the classic items of street furniture which shape our urban and rural landscape.

Few of us take notice of the humble pillar box at the end of our street, yet it is an essential part of our lives. Such everyday items have a fascinating history and have been through many changes in their history. From the size and design of the aperture, to the colour, shape and internal workings of the box itself, each evolution reflects both changing technologies and changing needs.

A Scottish lamp box bearing the Scottish Crown instead of the EIIR cypher

A Scottish lamp box bearing the Scottish Crown instead of the EIIR cypher

Lamp boxes were first trialled in 1896 for residents in fashionable London Squares who required a nearby posting facility so their letters written late at night could catch the midnight or early morning collections.

There have also been regional differences in street furniture design. In Scotland Royal Mail street furniture, vehicles and buildings bear the Scottish Crown rather than the cypher of Queen Elizabeth – EIIR. This is due to complaints that Her Majesty is not the second Queen Elizabeth of Scotland, but the first.

Street furniture produced for Royal Mail and the Post Office has often been innovative. A telephone kiosk in the BPMA’s collection includes a stamp vending machine, perhaps a pioneering example of the current trend in technology for convergence.

Other topics to be covered on the day include wall boxes, Stamp Vending Machines, sub-stations, manhole covers, milestones, signage, pouch boxes and PODS. So, if you’ve ever wondered what’s inside a pillar box, why telephone kiosks have sloping floors or how ‘posties’ manage to deliver to so many homes from such a small mail bag, join us at the Museum Store this Saturday.

The GPO Street Furniture Discover Session will take place at the BPMA’s Museum Store on Saturday 20th June from 11am-3pm. For further information, and to book, please see our website. A Discover Session on Square Pillar Boxes will take place on Saturday 19 September.