Tag Archives: Mount Pleasant Mail Centre

New Postal Museum


Plans for a new home for a new home for The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) were announced today by the BPMA, Royal Mail Group and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The new Postal Museum will provide access to the BPMA’s unique collections of 400 years of postal, social and design history, including photographs, posters, vehicles, pillar boxes, employment records of millions of people and a world-class stamp collection.

Under a plan endorsed by the Government, the new centre will be established at Calthorpe House, on London’s Mount Pleasant site, where the country’s oldest mail centre is located. It is close to the existing home of the BPMA at Freeling House, which has very limited space for exhibitions and displays.

Calthorpe House

Calthorpe House

Royal Mail Group will grant a lease of 999 years for Calthorpe House, a property which will provide a secure foundation for the BPMA once redeveloped and extended. Agreements have been signed with Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd (POL) for a £6m long term, low interest loan to fund the conversion of Calthorpe House to meet the basic needs of the organisation. In addition, Royal Mail and POL are providing other support, including a £500,000 grant.

A fundraising campaign by the BPMA will be launched shortly to raise the remaining funds required to create a state of the art museum and visitor facility. The BPMA is an independent charity set up in 2004 to care for two significant collections: The Royal Mail Archive and the collections of the former National Postal Museum. It is the BPMA’s mission to increase public access to these collections, making the story they tell of communication, industry and innovation accessible to everyone.

The new centre will allow the BPMA to exhibit objects from its fascinating museum collection, which is currently held in storage. It will also include educational facilities for visiting schools.

Visualisation of the new museum and archive, Calthorpe House (Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

Visualisation of the new museum and archive, Calthorpe House (Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

Donald Brydon, Royal Mail Group’s Chairman said: “These plans will give our postal heritage a world-class home. The history of Royal Mail is a key part of the history of postal services worldwide. I am delighted, therefore, the Group’s Board has agreed to support the BPMA’s ambitious plan to provide a new, permanent home for its unique collection of postal artefacts, stamps and equipment, as well as allowing greater access to the archive”

Dr Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA, said: “We are aiming to create a state-of-the-art, sustainable home for a unique part of our national heritage. The new centre will showcase the UK’s pioneering role in developing postal communications, which has shaped the world we live in.”

Norman Lamb, Postal Affairs Minister, said: “This exciting new home for the British Postal Museum and Archive is a great initiative, to which I hope people will lend their support. Celebrating the history of Royal Mail in this way will bring to life a key part of our nation’s cultural heritage. The many and varied items in the archives will show how Royal Mail has been at the heart of British life for centuries, and it is great news that the museum will contain an educational facility to allow young people to engage with the history of our postal services in an innovative way.”

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Retrieval of Post Office underground railway cars

by Chris Taft, Curator

After 85 years underground in a now closed workshop Friday 27May 2011 saw the only known surviving example from the original rolling stock used on the Post Office Railway see the light of day. Shackled to a mini crane and hoisted vertical from the car depot of Royal Mail’s underground railway network the dark green metal rail car was brought to the surface ready to enter the BPMA collection. After much planning, coordinating of dates and a few logistical nightmares the day had finally arrived when two train units were to be removed from the railway.

Chris Taft with the car in the Mail Rail yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London.

Chris Taft with the car in the Mail Rail yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London.

The now closed underground railway, officially known as Mail Rail, first opened in 1927 to move mail between central London sorting offices and two mainline railway stations, Liverpool Street and Paddington. The line finally ceased operation in 2003 when the levels of use had declined, in part due to the closure of some of the offices and in part also as the mainline stations aboveground were no longer being used as termini of the mainline mail carrying trains.

Since its closure the BPMA have been working closely with Royal Mail to ensure the important aspects of its history are collected and that its story can be told through the BPMA’s collection. The BPMA’s collection relating to Mail Rail was always reasonable, but a notable gap was the original mail carrying vehicle from 1927, which was preserved in the network after some restoration in the 1970s, and a decent example of a 1930 train that replaced this first type of unit.

The operation to hoist the two trains from underground went very smoothly. Professional art freight movers Mtec were employed to carry out the uplift, assisted by the Royal Mail engineers who maintain the network, and me on behalf of the BPMA. The trains were pushed along tracks to the bottom of a shaft providing the only access above ground for any sizable equipment. They were then shackled to a mini crane brought onto site especially for the job and hoisted to the yard at Mount Pleasant. The 1930 train was lifted first, being taken up in three parts and placed on the ground. This was followed by the 1927 car which lifted straight up the access shaft where it would have descended 85 years previously.

The first of two 1930 motive units being lowered in to the yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London

The first of two 1930 motive units being lowered in to the yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London

From there the two trains, one still in three parts were lifted over a storage building and onto a waiting lorry. This last stage caused a little disruption within the Mail Centre while 40 tonne lorry blocked one of the access roads in Mount Pleasant but the job was quickly accomplished. Everything was then secured in place ready for the journey to the BPMA Museum Store.

Upon arrival at the Museum Store in Debden a HIAB crane was then used lift the trains directly into the store. The 1930 train was then coupled back together with the help of a pallet truck, machine skates and the obligatory couple of bits of wood and was pushed into position within the store. The rigid bodied 1927 car was pushed much more easily into position.

The two trains now join the rest of the BPMA’s collection, including the 1980 stock train which the BPMA now intend to have conserved. It is very important that these important pieces are stabilised to prevent deterioration and allow them to be used and displayed in the future. Our next job is to have a full survey completed. From there we shall have a much better idea of the costs involved and will be able to launch a fundraising campaign to raise the funds necessary to have this important conservation work complete. As this project progresses those interested will be able to monitor progress online, and by visiting the Store will even have opportunity of seeing the trains and any subsequent conservation work.

You can see more images of the Mail Rail retrieval on Flickr.

Phoenix Place – the last undeveloped WW2 bomb site?

by Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)

Opposite the BPMA’s entrance in Phoenix Place is a rundown area of open space currently used as a car park for employees of the Mount Pleasant sorting office. This is how it looks on Google Street View.

There is some speculation, including on Flickr, about the car park’s significance as one of the last undeveloped World War II bomb sites in central London. Since we have lots of plans, maps and photographs in our collections relating to Post Office and Royal Mail property in London, I wanted to see if I could find any evidence that the rumour is actually true.

Immediately I discovered it isn’t. You can see from the photograph below that pre-war buildings were still standing in Phoenix Place in the 1960s.

Photograph of Phoenix Place, looking south towards what is now the BPMA on the left, c.1960

Photograph of Phoenix Place, looking south towards what is now the BPMA on the left, c.1960

The area shown is almost opposite what is now the BPMA (our Archive Search Room and Main Office are located where the tower is in the photograph). The remains of a building are also visible, and this may have been the ‘bombed site’ at No. 4 Mount Pleasant referred to in a meeting held in 1956 to discuss the possible extension of the sorting office into Phoenix Place. Google Street View shows how that area looks now.

The size, location and function of Mount Pleasant sorting office made it a likely target for German bombers, and it was struck numerous times. On 16 September 1940 Mount Pleasant was hit for the first time by incendiary bombs. The Parcel Office received further direct raids from incendiaries and high explosives in October and November 1940, and again in January and April 1941.

Surrounding areas, including Eyre Street Hill, Farringdon Road, the Daily Sketch garage at the corner of Mount Pleasant and Gough Street, and Bideford Mansions in Mount Pleasant, were bombed, causing damage to the sorting office.

Several houses in what is now the car park suffered serious damage, including those owned by the Post Office at 34-40 Gough Street. Numbers 12-26 Mount Pleasant were also bombed and subsequently cleared.

Before the war, there were two additional pubs to the current generous supply of watering holes in the Mount Pleasant area. The Two Blue Posts at 79 Mount Pleasant, and the buildings running to Laystall Street on its left, suffered extensive bomb-damage. They were replaced by the block of flats we see now.

The Two Brewers at 32 Gough Street also suffered considerable damage during the war, but was still standing in 1947 as it received a special licence for the Royal Wedding. You can see from the photograph below that the bomb-damaged neighbouring building had been cleared.

Gough Street, looking south towards Mount Pleasant, c.1960

Gough Street, looking south towards Mount Pleasant, c.1960

References on Flickr suggesting the car park area was home to the Parcel Office during the war are incorrect. The Parcel Office was actually located on the current Mount Pleasant site, and was moved to the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington after a direct hit on 18 June 1943. This created a ‘raging inferno’ that left the building a ‘shapeless mass of twisted girders and smouldering ruins’ (see photograph below) and resulted in two fatalities.

Photograph of the bomb damaged Parcel Office at Mount Pleasant, 1943 (POST 118 -1448)

Photograph of the bomb damaged Parcel Office at Mount Pleasant, 1943 (POST 118 -1448)

After the war, discussions were held about the possible rebuilding and extension of the Parcel Office on the site now occupied by the car park. The area still contained a number of properties, despite being damaged during the war. The map below, from 1952, shows the layout of buildings in the area bordered by Mount Pleasant, Phoenix Place, Gough Street and Calthorpe Street (the red area was Post Office property).

Map showing ownership of property in Phoenix Place c.1952 (POST 122-222)

Map showing ownership of property in Phoenix Place c.1952 (POST 122-222)

In 1956, the Planning Authorities recommended that the Post Office acquire the land now occupied by the car park. The London Postal Region was intending to use this site to provide a new Parcel Section, and the map below shows the dates for the proposed acquisition of the remaining properties. The yellow area was already Post Office freehold whilst the red area, incorporating a food suppliers, and Kemsleys Newspapers, which owned the Sunday Times, The Daily Sketch and The Sunday Graphic, was to be acquired in 1958.

Map showing proposed Post Office acquisition of Phoenix Place properties c.1958 (POST 122-222)

Map showing proposed Post Office acquisition of Phoenix Place properties c.1958 (POST 122-222)

However, the Parcel Section was never rebuilt on this land and it seems that it has remained empty since, with the crumbling remnants of buildings giving the impression that the whole area has remained a bomb-site.


POST 122/222 – ‘Buildings: rebuilding/extension of Mt Pleasant Parcel Office’,

– ‘ARP arrangements and incidents at Mt Pleasant during the Second World War, 1939-1945’

– ‘Mount Pleasant Parcels Office, air raid damage’ (1943-1946)

http://pubsinuk.com/LondonPubs/Holborn/TwoBluePosts.shtml (24/05/11)

Contemporary Collecting Partnership Project Web Exhibition

On Monday 29th June 2009 a new online exhibition on the BPMA website was launched which was created as part of the Contemporary Collecting Partnership Project, funded by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and managed by the Museum of London. This project began in May 2008 and funded three museums, including the BPMA to “collect material reflecting the experience of newly and recently arrived culturally diverse people belonging to community groups, associations or similar organisations, and to develop sustainable partnerships with them.”

Members of the Mount Pleasant Hindu Association celebrate Diwali

Members of the Mount Pleasant Hindu Association celebrate Diwali

For this project, the BPMA worked with Royal Mail staff that had migrated to London, in particular with members of the Sikh, Hindu and Muslim Associations in Mount Pleasant Mail Centre. The reason for this choice was the wide diversity that exists within Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, only 34% of workers are White British and many different cultural and religious groups are active within the 24-hour workplace. The other two museums involved were Brent Museum who worked with Polish and Brazilian local communities, and Cuming Museum who worked with Gypsy Roma Travellers in the area.

BPMA staff attended four religious festivals organised by these associations in Mount Pleasant (Diwali, Guru Nanak’s Birthday, Vaisakhi and Eid) to collect oral recordings, photographs and objects. The next stage of the project was to use this material to create an online exhibition with help from participants from these groups, giving information on the associations, the festivals they celebrate and the stories of the people within these associations. A facilitator experienced in working with community groups was appointed on a freelance basis to lead sessions with members of the associations to create this web exhibition.

Guru Nanaks Birthday at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre

Guru Nanak's Birthday at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre

Eight sessions were held in Mount Pleasant Learning Centre with fourteen volunteers from the associations, and much of the text and images in the exhibition was created and uploaded by these people. Many of the participants gained new computer skills from being involved in these sessions. Audio clips from interviews with members of the associations have also been added to the web exhibition and there is also the chance for other staff to add their own stories of migrating to London and working for Royal Mail.

Celebrating Eid at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre

Celebrating Eid at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre

This project has been a great opportunity for the BPMA to diversify its collections by collecting material reflecting groups not previously represented. The collection now better represents the diversity of Mount Pleasant and the different religious groups that exist within it. It has also given us the opportunity to build up stronger relationships with staff in Mount Pleasant that are sustainable into the future and to form new partnerships with other museums. 

The exhibition can be viewed on our website so please have a look at all the hard work done by members of these associations or add your own stories of migrating to London or working for Royal Mail.

BPMA Museum Store

The structure of the BPMA often causes confusion. At present the BPMA is split between two locations, Freeling House and the Museum Store. Freeling House (part of the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre complex in Central London) is where we house our publically-accessible Archive Collection and have a small Exhibition space. The Museum Store, in Debden, Essex, is where our Museum Collection is kept.

Each year there are a number of opportunities to visit the Museum Store and view the objects kept there. These include vehicles, sorting desks and machinery, an assortment of letter boxes and telephone kiosks, and even Sir Rowland Hill’s desk.

BPMA Curators will take you around the Store, telling the stories behind some of the objects. If you’re a vehicles enthusiast, interested in the development of the pillar box or just curious, we’d welcome your visit.

Museum Store Opening Times, 2009
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 1st April, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 6th May, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Evening – Monday 1st June, 6.00-9.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 3rd June, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 1st July, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Evening – Monday 6th July, 6.00-9.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 5th August, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 2nd September, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Evening – Monday 7th September, 6.00-9.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 7th October, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 4th November, 2.00-4.00pm

Special Events at the Museum Store, 2009
Family Open Day – Saturday 13th June, 10.00am-5.00pm
Discover Session: GPO Street Furniture – Saturday 20th June, 11.00am-3.00pm
Discover Session: Square Pillar Boxes – Saturday 19th September, 11.00am-3.00pm

Group bookings are welcome.

For more information on the Museum Store and directions, please click here.