Tag Archives: messenger boy

Suffragette “human letters”

This week there have been a number of commemorations and memorial events marking the 100th anniversary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, the suffrage campaigner who famously ran on to the course at the Epsom Downs Derby and was knocked down by the King’s horse. While Davison’s was one of the most extreme acts of protest in the campaign for votes for women, other lesser-known stunts are just as noteworthy.

On 23rd February 1909 two suffragettes, Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan, posted themselves to 10 Downing Street in an attempt to deliver a message personally to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. At this time Post Office regulations allowed individuals to be “posted” by express messenger, so the two women went to the East Strand Post Office and were placed in the hands of A.S. Palmer, a telegraph messenger boy, who “delivered” them to Downing Street. There, an official refused to sign for the “human letters” and eventually Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan were returned to the offices of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

A.S. Palmer delivers Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan to 10 Downing Street, 23rd February 1909.

A.S. Palmer delivers Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan to 10 Downing Street, 23rd February 1909.

The Royal Mail Archive holds a file on this event (POST 30/1655a), which includes a Post Office Express Service form showing that the suffragettes were charged 3d and that the recipient did not sign for the “letters” delivered by A.S. Palmer.

Post Office Express Service form for the delivery of the suffragettes, 23rd February 1909. (POST 30/1655a)

Post Office Express Service form for the delivery of the suffragettes, 23rd February 1909. (POST 30/1655a)

As per Post Office regulations, Palmer had to write a report explaining why he had not obtained a signature for the delivery of the “letters”. This is also within the file; it reads:

23 February 1909

The Postmaster,

Sir, I beg to state in reply to the above report that I took the Ladies to Mr Asquith’s house but the police would not let them go in. I went in but the butler would not sign the form because he did not have the letters to sign for, because the ladies themselves said they were the letters. And Mr Asquith refused to see them.

I am

Sir

Your Obedient Servant

A.S. Palmer

[Messenger number] 25

A.S Palmer's report explaining why he did not obtain a signature for the delivery of the suffragettes, 23rd February 1909. (POST 30/1655a)

A.S Palmer’s report explaining why he did not obtain a signature for the delivery of the suffragettes, 23rd February 1909. (POST 30/1655a)

This fascinating and little-known story of women’s suffrage was the subject of a podcast featuring Dr Katherine Rake. Listen and download BPMA Podcast #3 – Human Letters for free from BPMA Podcast, iTunes or Soundcloud.

See large scans of the documents mentioned in this blog in our Flickr set Human Letters.

The Central Telegraph Office as I knew it

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In this, his final article, he tells us what he remembers of the Central Telegraph Office.

The Central Telegraph Office (CTO) was located on the corner of Newgate Street and St Martin’s Le Grand. It was originally five stories high but was reduced to one as a result of the bombing during the 1940 blitz. A second, brick built, story was added in 1946/7. This floor was used to re-house much of the admin staff such as the typing pool, Chief Inspector of Messengers, etc.

Central Telegraph Office - bomb damaged interior, 1941 (POST 118/5169)

Central Telegraph Office – bomb damaged interior, 1941 (POST 118/5169)

The Central Telegraph Office exterior, decorated for King George V Silver Jubilee, 1935 (POST 118/1130)

The Central Telegraph Office exterior, decorated for King George V Silver Jubilee, 1935 (POST 118/1130)

The function of the CTO was to act as a clearing house for both inland and overseas telegrams. It was connected to most major cities in the world by teleprinter (the forerunner of the fax machine). It was also linked to almost all of the central London post offices by a pneumatic tube. By placing a telegram awaiting despatch into a container, that resembled a 25lb shell case covered in felt like material, it was possible to send the telegram via an underground tube direct to the CTO or the smaller tube officer located in the basement of King Edward Building, for despatch. Alas most of this system was destroyed during the war, although a large part was reinstated when the roads were repaired during the rebuilding of inner London.

Plaque giving instructions for operating Pneumatic Tubes (2002-0376)

Plaque giving instructions for operating Pneumatic Tubes (2002-0376)

Just across the road from the CTO was another building. This building was almost as big as the CTO and was known as Angel Street. This building was connected to the CTO by a bridge built at the second floor level. The function of this building was to provide rest rooms, locker rooms and a restaurant for the many staff employed at the CTO. These facilities were needed as many of the staff worked split shifts and were required to work, say, from 7am to 11am, then they would be required again until 2pm when they would work until 6pm. This building was also badly damaged at the same time as the CTO. The surviving part was used to provide a ground floor restaurant whilst the upper two floors were used as locker/rest rooms for the messengers and girl probationers (the equivalent of the boy messengers). The remaining areas, because it contained undamaged basements and sub basements was asphalted over and used as air raid shelters. It was locked-up when the war ended and never re-opened.

The CTO was connected to the other three local buildings by underground passages and despite the damage suffered during the war it was still possible to use this method of contact.

The CTO was finally demolished in 1967. When the site was being prepared for redevelopment a large Roman mosaic floor was discovered. During the subsequent excavation a Roman burial ground was also uncovered. The Romans wrapped the bodies in a form of straw matting and placed them into slots in the wall as their final resting place…

I thought at the time how ironical it was that people should shelter from the bombs in a burial ground.

Memories of a boy messenger – Part 3

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In Part 3 he tells us his progression as a Messenger.

I started delivering telegrams by easy stages firstly by delivering the addresses close to the office then as my confidence and knowledge grew to addresses further away. On occasions we were sent to more outlying places to help build up our knowledge. Not only did I have to cope with learning the area but all of us had to get used to the consequences of power cuts. (All power was cut off between 2pm and 4pm each working day.) Normal deliveries still had to be made during the period, so if you arrived at an office and the delivery had to be made to the sixth floor, you just had to walk up. I continued to learn the area until one I was asked whether I would like to become a cycling messenger. I immediately agreed and was told that I would have to pass a test first. This entailed cycling up the narrow road at the rear of the CTO and turning round without falling off. A senior messenger watched and he decided whether you had passed or failed.

Central Telegraph Office delivery room, 1947. Jim (Dusty) Miller pictured on the right. (POST 118/1788)

Central Telegraph Office delivery room, 1947. Jim (Dusty) Miller pictured on the right. (POST 118/1788)

So, I started life as a cycling messenger, we were rewarded the daily sum of 6p (2½p) for keeping our bicycles clean and “ship shape”. We had various adventures including the very bad winter of 1947. I remember when the snow started, I had just returned from my tea break and was the only messenger in the delivery room. A very apologetic Inspector explained that he had four “Death Telegrams” which had to be delivered and as I had to go out I might as well take the remainder of the telegrams for the places en route. I remember cycling along Aldersgate Street and wondering what all the fuss was about. I eventually reached Torrence Stret (the furthest point in our delivery). As I turned into St Johns Street to come back the full force of the storm hit me and I realised then that I had been cycling with the wind behind me. I delivered the remainder of the telegrams and returned to the CTO about 7.30pm. To my surprise the other boys on my shift were waiting for me. They had refused to go home until they were sure I was safe. In order to remove my overcoat they had to chip the ice away from the button holes with a bicycle spanner and when I removed the coat it was frozen it stood up in the centre of the room unaided. For almost a week after the snow fell we had to deliver all telegrams by foot as it was decided that it was too dangerous to allow us to cycle.

Messenger Boy with cycle, 1930s (2011-0443/02)

Messenger Boy with cycle, 1930s (2011-0443/02)

Although I was unaware of it at the time the Post Office was very much in a transitional period. I remember coming back from a take and was told by a variety of messengers that we were being given a rise of 18/- (90p) and we would be given our arrears before Christmas. What we didn’t know at the time was how this rise would effect our conditions of service. The first thing was that there would be no more General Exams (these exams were designed to help messengers and girl probationers decide their futures). The next exam was due to be taken in a few months time and would be the last one. It would be open to all staff below the age of 18, however only 5 telegraph operator places would be available. In future Messengers would be known as Young Postmen and would progress within the service by various exams open to all grades. Our uniforms and hats changed to that of a postman and our cap badges were altered but other than this it had little on us at this stage.

The biggest upset was when the school leaving age was raised to 15 years. We lost a steady stream of messengers either to promotion or entering the forces to complete their National Services, our complement dwindled to 11 messengers (8 on delivery duties and 3 on indoor work). This compared to the 40 plus who were available when I first arrived. Instead of taking out 10 or 12 telegrams per “take” we now had to take out between 30 and 40 messages. Apart from the strain it put on the messengers it caused unacceptable delays to the telegrams. The GPO solved the problem by diverting ex-forces personnel awaiting training as telephonists to the CTO to act as male messengers and here they remained until the GPO was able to recruit boy messengers again. In total the telephonists stayed at the CTO for about eighteen months.

I remained an outdoor Messenger until I was about 16½ (by this time I was 6ft tall) when I was given an indoor job helping mainly in the typing pool. Just before by 18th birthday I was summoned to the Chief Inspectors room and told that the day after my birthday I was to report to Eastern District Office where I would start life as a Postman. So my life as a Boy Messenger came to a rather abrupt and somewhat unexpected end.

Keep visiting this blog for more of Jim (Dusty) Miller’s memories.

Memories of a boy messenger – Part 2

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In Part 2 he tells us what it was like to work as a Messenger.

The delivery room was a fairly large room with some of its windows still bricked up following the war. It had three large desks in the corner set in an L shape. The Inspectors in charge sat at two of them, one was responsible for sending the boys out on deliveries. He worked out the time it took to deliver the telegrams by allotting a time for the farthest point of call then adding 2 minutes for each other telegram. The other one booked you back in and decided when you should have your meal break, etc.

A London telegraph messengers' despatch room - artwork for a poster by Grace Golden, 1948 (POST 109/183)

A London telegraph messengers’ despatch room – artwork for a poster by Grace Golden, 1948 (POST 109/183)

He also had the responsibility to make sure that messengers who were being punished by being given “full time” did not have any of the privileges given to the other messengers, such as going home early or having an extra give minutes to their meal breaks. Full time could be given for a variety of reasons, such as not wearing your hat when on a delivery, answering the Inspector back, or taking too long to deliver the messages without a valid reason.

The room also contained a number of wooden forms where messengers sat between deliveries, and it also contained a number of bicycles. These were the heavy old red bicycles used by the Post Office at the time. Each bicycle had a number painted on the frame just below the saddle and was allocated to a particular messenger. The room next door was responsible for enveloping and addressing the envelopes for dispatch. They would then be sent to the delivery room via a conveyer belt.

A group of telegram messenger boys sat in rows on wooden benches in the L.P.S. Boy Messengers Retiring Room, c. 1930-40 (2012-0049/05)

A group of telegram messenger boys sat in rows on wooden benches in the L.P.S. Boy Messengers Retiring Room, c. 1930-40 (2012-0049/05)

The area covered by the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) was broken into 10 walks (or “takes” as we called them); nine of these consisted of the local streets whilst the 10th was for internal mail. It was the Inspectors’ responsibility to see that the walks were cleared every 10 minutes thus no telegram would be delayed by more than 10 minutes in the delivery room. It was common practice to send more than one walk out with a Messenger at one time. The walking Messengers usually got walks 1 to 4 whilst the cycling messengers took the deliveries further away.

Before the war the CTO was designated a “walking office” this meant that because of the small area involved plus the fact that a lot of the deliveries had to be made in small alley ways it was thought to be quicker to walk. However the war changed all that because as various local offices were bombed and had to be closed down the CTO delivery area grew in size. Despite this and the fact that bicycles had to be supplied in order to cover the distances involved the Post Office still refused to supply the correct cycling equipment. As a result we had to supply our own gloves and had to shorten our long overcoats to prevent them catching in the wheels.

When I arrived in the delivery room I was allocated to a Senior Messenger whose job it was to teach me the walking part of the area. I was told that I would be taught by him for two weeks then I would go to a School in Chelsea for a two day course to learn about the forms we were expected to use then I would be sent out on my own (a daunting prospect).

Telegram messenger boys on the steps outside of a main entrance (possibly the London Postal School), c.1930-40 (2012/0049-03)

Telegram messenger boys on the steps outside of a main entrance (possibly the London Postal School), c.1930-40 (2012/0049-03)

To be fair, because of the bomb damage it was probably easier to learn the area than it would be now. For instance, it was possible to walk from Newgate Street to Ludgate Hill across flattened area caused by the bombing; the area now occupied by the Barbican and Museum of London complexes were completely raised to the ground. The only three buildings left standing were the Redcross Street Fire Station, the Golden Lane theatre and the Morgue, just opposite the Theatre. The remainder of the area was non existent. The authorities built small brick walls between the pavement and the bombed basements to prevent people falling into them.

A boy messenger walks through a bomb-damaged area, c. 1940s (POST 118/1361)

A boy messenger walks through a bomb-damaged area, c. 1940s (POST 118/1361)

Keep visiting this blog for more of Jim (Dusty) Miller’s memories.

Memories of a boy messenger – Part 1

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In Part 1 he tells us about his first day on the job.

I remember how excited I was to receive the letter that told me to report for duty at the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) on 15 May 1946, having passed the medical and scraping in a half inch above the minimum height required of four feet ten and a half inches.

The Central Telegraph Office, c.1930s-40s (POST 118/1379)

The Central Telegraph Office, c.1930s-40s (POST 118/1379)

Despite the good advice I received from my parents I still managed to get lost and arrived later than I intended. As I approached the main door located in St Martin’s Le Grand, I was stopped by the doorman who told me that in future as a Boy Messenger I should use the back door. I was then taken to a man, who seemed to be in charge of most of the telegraph work.

After a brief welcome I was passed from office to office, signing and filling in various forms. I was also given my weekly allocation of meal vouchers each worth 1/- (5p). The restaurant that catered for the CTO staff was open from 8am to 6pm; it provided hot food from 11am to 2.30pm. Despite the rationing it was possible to buy a good hot meal and a sweet for less than 1/-.

Finally, I was taken to the Chief Inspector of Messengers. I remember there were three people in the room, an Assistant Inspector, Inspector and the Chief Inspector. I was passed from one to the other each one telling me about the job and conditions.

My duties would consist of 6 eight hour shifts which could start as early as 7am and finish as late as 7pm. I would be allowed a 40 minute meal break each day plus a breakfast or tea break of 20 minutes at the Inspectors’ discretion. Once thought suitable I would be expected to work 4 hours compulsory overtime every third Sunday increasing to 10 hours a day when I reached 16 (the CTO was required to deliver all telegrams on Sundays with an EC or WC address).

My starting pay would be 21/6 (£1 07½) per week); when you allow for fares to work of about 35p, plus either a morning or afternoon snack at a weekly cost of 15p, I had very little money to spare. However, my pay would rise by yearly increments to 41/- (£2-05p) per week at 18 years. In addition to my pay I would receive 6 meal vouchers per week free until I reached 16 when I would be expected to pay half the cost of the vouchers. They would automatically stop when I reached 18 years.

I would be given two uniforms a year, one winter and one summer weight. I would also receive one pair of shoes and one pair of boots a year, plus overcoat and walking cape (to be replaced when I outgrew them), and a pill box-type hat with badge that was unique to me. My number was TS228 (only the messengers at the CTO and their sister office at Threadneedle Street were allowed to wear the Tube Service or TS motif on their cap badges).

Messenger boy (POST 118/126)

Messenger boy (POST 118/126)

My holiday entitlement was 12 days a year to be taken between May and October. The senior boys had first choice so junior messengers like me had to take our holidays in either May or October.

Having been told all the terms and conditions I was whisked away to the Inspector in charge of the stores in a small office at the rear of Angel Street. Here I was measured for my uniform, given my pouch belt and armband (these had to suffice until my uniform was ready) and walking cape. I was then taken to the delivery room which was located at the rear of the CTO.

Keep visiting this blog for more of Jim (Dusty) Miller’s memories.

Women in the Post Office

Each month we present an item 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) have been working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

In this final blog looking at the Morten Collection, former Royal Mail worker Alison Nunes looks at women postal workers from the Edward period and compares it her own experiences. Alison came to
Britain from Jamaica in 1964. She
worked as a Postwoman and
supervisor from 1967 until 1993.

“As far as I know, during my time employed in the Post Office, messengers were boys from school. They were the cream of the Post Office staff, well looked-after by too many bosses. Boy messengers were encouraged to do sports and were taken on days out. In return, the Post Office gained a trained work force. They were disciplined in time-keeping and dedication to the job, with built-in promotions.

Girl messengers were the forerunners of women working in the Post Office. They were employed on a temporary basis, on a bit less pay than male staff. Women during my time worked duties equally with men – three shifts per twenty-four hours. Some bosses and trade union representatives (all men) did not want or respect us women workers. They were always critical and looking for ways to get someone sacked. Messengers went out of fashion at the same time as apprenticeships were phased out. Recruitment of women in the Post Office started again in 1965-66. They are now a valued part of the workforce.

Female postal worker delivers to a farm, c. Mid 20th Century

Female postal worker delivers to a farm, c. Mid 20th Century

All women working for the Post Office in my time were all measured for uniforms. When they arrived about one woman out of ten had a fit. The post-woman in the picture looks well-fitted – hat, boots, and all. Mine did not look anything so special even after they were remade. They were never comfortable to wear, being made of a coarse wool material. It was warm in winter but boiling hot in summer, until a cotton one was provided. Boots or shoes were unwearable. The mail pouch/bag full of mail and packets weighed 27lbs! A lot of what I did was enjoyable, and I met lots of people.”

Illustrating Empire Mail: George V and the GPO

by Jennifer Flippance, 2010 Exhibitions & Projects Manager

The BPMA’s major exhibition this year – Empire Mail: George V and the GPO – runs until 25 July at Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London.  Big exhibitions like this take several years of planning, starting with a theme and developing the story around it. Objects must be selected and conserved (including any loans from other institutions), text and captions written and images chosen to bring the story to life. Empire Mail explores the reign of George V (1910-1936), innovations in the General Post Office and George V as a stamp collector – one of the finest of his time.

Selecting images to use in an exhibition can certainly be a challenging task.  Each image has to earn its place, illustrating a different aspect of the exhibition’s story.  Inevitably there will be many wonderful images that don’t quite make it.

I wanted to share some of these as I think they still deserve to be seen.  If you haven’t yet been to see Empire Mail: George V and the GPO, you might wonder which ones were chosen!

1. Field Post Office, First World War

Field Post Office, First World War

We used two other photographs of First World War Field Post Offices in the exhibition, so this one didn’t make it, but I still really like the image. Sending and receiving mail was vital for troop morale and Field Post Offices would be set up in any appropriate location. Notice the F.P.O sign on the windowsill and the poster promoting war savings certificates as an appropriate gift for a sweetheart!  Unfortunately we don’t know where or when this photo was taken.

2. Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Two women posting into a special aerial post box at the officers of the Windsor Chronicle.  The 1911 Coronation Aerial Post was the world’s first regular airmail service.  One of these red, wooden post boxes (on loan from Windsor & Royal Borough Museum) can be seen in the exhibition and we would have liked to include this image of it in use. Unfortunately, because this is an image from a newspaper it would have been very poor quality once blown up to the size needed for display.

3. Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

We had some good images of the September coronation airmail flights and the rehearsals the month before, so this one did not make the grade. It shows a postman with mail sack approaching one of the planes during a rehearsals. (This particular plane – a Valkyrie Monoplane – was used in the rehearsal, but not the actual mail flights.)

There were 20 flights in total (16 from Hendon to Windsor and 4 on the return leg) each generally carrying 2 mail sacks with a combined weight of about 50lbs.  Only special postcards and envelopes were carried, examples of which can also be seen in the exhibition.

4. Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

The exhibition team all liked this pleasant rural scene from the 1930s with the iconic George V Morris van, however the image didn’t quite fit in with the exhibition themes. The photograph was most likely taken for the Post Office magazine, illustrating the work of Post Office employees in different parts of the country.  We do have one of the Morris vans on display.  Moving it into the gallery took some very careful manoeuvring!

5. Light aircraft about to leave Newtownards airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

Light aircraft about to leave Newtonard airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

There were many good airmail photos to choose from and unfortunately this one is from just outside the dates covered by the exhibition. Airmail was still a relative novelty during the 1930s; here a small plane is operating out of a small airfield with a grass runway. But even this scene was advanced compared to images of the open wood and fabric aircraft making that first airmail flight just 24 years previously!

6. Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

This photograph was almost chosen for the section illustrating the development of motorised mail transport. We are lucky to have one of the original BSA B33 motorbikes on display, a unique survivor from the introduction of motorcycle telegrams delivery in the early 1930s. Messengers had to be at least 17 years old and were expected to ride at 15mph – something I suspect they didn’t always adhere to!

7. Post Office London Railway, 1926

Post Office London Railway, 1926

This fascinating illustration shows the route of the Post Office underground railway that runs from Whitechapel to Paddington Station and also how the mail was transported from the sorting offices via chutes and lifts to the railway below. This image is rather busy and in the end we chose to use a simpler map of the route alongside plans, photographs and original objects.

An online version of Empire Mail: George V and the GPO can be found on the BPMA website.