Tag Archives: messengers

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.