Tag Archives: mystery

Photography mysteries from the Archive Stocktake

The (mostly figurative) dust has settled after our annual Archive Stock Take, when the whole archive team pulls together for a packed two weeks of communing with the collection. Sorting, listing, arranging, appraising, auditing, measuring – basically all the huge or awkward jobs we can’t fit into the rest of the year, but that are becoming ever more important as we prepare to move our collections to their new home at The Postal Museum.


Adam and Lydianne measuring boxes

As ever, we’ve been left with a few questions that we need to answer – and we’d like your help with them!

One of our tasks was sorting through boxes and boxes of photography, weeding out the prints and negatives that we already had and finding the material relevant to our collections to be preserved. Often we couldn’t find any notes at all about when or where the images came from, so the biggest challenge was to try and work out what it was we were actually seeing.


Vicky sorting through photography negatives

This is where you come in! Are you able to shed any light on where the following photographs were taken? If so, we’d love it if you could help us to solve our Stock Take mysteries.

  1. This interior shot appears to be the control room for a distribution centre – possibly Reading – but we can’t find any details in the photo that give its location away. With its brightly coloured light panels, I think it has a touch of the Bond villain’s lair about it, but perhaps that’s just me…


  1. These shots were found together and seem to be of the same rather quirky-looking building. We think it might be one of the first out-of-town sorting offices, purpose-built to house mechanised sorting equipment. Despite its unusual character, even our expert on Post Office architecture, volunteer Julian Osley, is stumped about where it might be.

4 5 6

  1. Similarly, we came upon these three photos together and they appear to be from the same site. Those fun-looking slides are in fact Safeglide Spiral Chutes, which are specially-designed to allow items added from different levels to work their way down at a controlled speed. We’ve had one suggestion as to where these photos may have been taken – the Parcel Concentration Office at Washington, County Durham (thank you, @RogerEvansAM!) – but any further wisdom would be appreciated.

7 8 9


So there we have it. If you can use your knowledge or detective skills to figure out where any of these were taken – or if you can tell us anything about their contents – please jump right in and comment below, email info@postalheritage.org.uk or tweet us!

-Ashley March, Archives and Records Assistant


The Mystery of the Tolhurst Envelopes

We love a mystery at the British Postal Museum & Archive and the identity of the artist behind the illustrated ‘Tolhurst’ envelopes has intrigued us for years.



The first step in identifying the artist was to research the address to which the majority of the envelopes were sent: St Lawrence, Ernest Road, Hornchurch. Staff at Havering Museum, where a selection of the envelopes were recently displayed, found that the 1911 census showed the occupants as George, Amelia, Frederick and Amy Tolhurst. Frederick and George Tolhurst, father and son, were frequent recipients of the illustrated envelopes.

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

Locating the census record enabled the identification of all but one recipient: Vera. Vera received the majority of the illustrated envelopes in the collection, and the majority of Vera’s letters were sent to the Hornchurch address. However, she did not appear in the census record, nor could we find her in the birth records of the General Register Office, due to lack of information. Not put off, we used the information we had accumulated to construct a family tree.
Returning to the envelopes, we found a vital piece of information: the initials ‘FC’ or ‘FCT’ appeared in the corner of several illustrations. Using the family tree, we narrowed down the identity of the artist to Frederick Charles Tolhurst.

Tolhurst signature, 2014_0038_110

The artist’s initials

The identity of Vera continued to elude us, however. We considered whether Vera was a nickname, or perhaps an acronym, but we had no evidence to confirm either of these theories. We drew a step closer to the truth last week when we discovered a postcard which was addressed to Vera and signed ‘with love & kisses from your Mama & Papa’.

with love from mama and papa 2014_0038_112_back

The evidence that steered our search

We searched the birth index for Vera Tolhurst and identified a Vera Sylvia Tolhurst, born in 1908 in the district of Lambeth. A copy of the birth certificate arrived at the BPMA yesterday: listed as Vera’s father is Frederick Charles Tolhurst, and listed as his occupation is Lithographic Artist Journeyman. By 1911, Tolhurst’s occupation had changed to Trade Union Secretary, but his artistic talent was maintained in the mail art he frequently sent to his family.

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

I’ve been inspired by the Tolhurst envelopes to try my hand at mail art. Why don’t you have a go and let us know if they arrive by Tweeting @postalheritage using #mailart.

My attempt at mail art

My attempt at mail art

Joanna Espin, Curator

Mystery solved?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about an unidentified object which had been transferred to us from the former post office in King Street, Maidstone. This blog prompted numerous suggestions as to what the object was.

The mystery object

The mystery object

In a follow-up blog I added further detail on the object, and we received a few more suggestions.

The mystery object's internal plunger

The mystery object’s internal plunger

Thank you again for all your suggestions, and for all the extra details of when it might have been used and in which department – it’s been really helpful. Together with our curator we seem to have reached a consensus that this object is probably a blower used for removing dust, so thanks goes especially to those who put forward that idea.

We’re going to make a note in our records that this is the likely identity of the object, and we’ll also be recording the fact that this conclusion was reached out of a discussion with our blog, Facebook and Twitter users.

Clare George – Archives Assistant

More on our unidentified object

Thanks for all the ideas about our mystery object which comes from the former post office in King Street, Maidstone, and is believed to date from the mid 19th Century to mid 20th Century.

The mystery object

The mystery object

People have suggested via Facebook, Twitter and this blog that it could be a an ordnance survey map carrier, a fire extinguisher, or a torpedo-style document pneumatic mailing tube or ‘flying fox’, though this last suggestion has already been discounted by our curator as town post offices wouldn’t have used such a thing.

Amongst the best suggestion we think is the possibility that it’s a “blower” used for blowing dust away from postal franking machines. But we’re still not clear why it would have a grooved rubber rim around the open end. And if anyone can suggest the dates it was in use we’d be very pleased to hear from them. Here is another photograph of the object showing the internal plunger.

The mystery object's internal plunger

The mystery object’s internal plunger

Please leave your suggestion as to what this object is as a comment on this blog post.

Clare George – Archives and Records Assistant

Unidentified object

Can you help us identify this object? It was transferred to us last week from the former post office in King Street, Maidstone. It was suggested to us that it could be an air pump.

The mystery object

The mystery object

If anyone has any suggestions about what it is or what it was used for, we’d be pleased to hear from them.