Tag Archives: photography

GPO Britain in pictures

The BPMA is the custodian of a photographic collection which includes about 100,000 individual photographs; the earliest is from the late 19th century and the latest ones date from the 1990s. In a previous blog on our photography collection and a talk now available as a podcast we have presented some of this fascinating material and the stories behind it, and our exhibition The Post Office in Pictures features some of the most striking images.

The GPO Britain postcard set.

The GPO Britain postcard set.

The photographs depict life in Britain at the time of the General Post Office (GPO) with its contrasts between modern urban areas and the industrial heartland, and the remote rural regions where the postman or postwoman presented a vital connection to the outside world. We have selected six of the most intriguing images for a new postcard set which is now available from the BPMA Shop.

Man posting a letter holding a cauliflower, 1949. (POST 118/1964)

Man posting a letter holding a cauliflower, 1949. (POST 118/1964)

Many of these photographs have been published in the Post Office Magazine (POST 92), which was first issued in 1934 in order to promote postal services and good relations with the public, aimed at the large postal workforce, their families and friends. The articles often presented the modernity and efficiency of the GPO’s services, such as the Post Office Savings Bank – “Everybody’s Bank” with ten million accounts, according to the author of an article in the September 1935 issue. The story on the bank, which holds “the small savings of ordinary not-very-wealthy folk in the hamlets and towns and cities of Britain”, is accompanied by several images of banking clerks entering the 120,000 daily transactions in the newly adopted accounting machines. The clerks’ efficiency in dealing with the amount of correspondence and day to day business clearly impressed the author – he dubs them ‘super clerks’.

A female clerk at the Post Office Savings Bank, on the cover of the Post Office Magazine September 1935. (POST 92)

A female clerk at the Post Office Savings Bank, on the cover of the Post Office Magazine September 1935. (POST 92)

Other sections of the magazines were regularly dedicated to news from the different UK regions. These focussed on the local postal staff and their achievements, activities and work in their local community, which, to today’s readers, provides some authentic insights into rural British communities in the 1930s and 1940s. The October 1938 Northern Ireland section, for example, features the image of a postman with a pony and trap on a rural road: “The Glenarm Bay postman goes on his delivery in a trap presented to him by local residents” (POST 118/903).

Postman with pony and trap in Northern Ireland, 1938. (POST 118/903)

Postman with pony and trap in Northern Ireland, 1938. (POST 118/903)

Other issues show postmen wading through rivers on horseback (January 1939) to reach the next village or town, or recount the peculiar history of whale bones decorating the post office exterior at Cley-next-the-Sea (March 1938).

Postman on horseback near Withypool, Somerset, 1938. (POST 118/910)

Postman on horseback near Withypool, Somerset, 1938. (POST 118/910)

Main Strain in Cley, Norfolk, 1937. (POST 118/1204)

Main Strain in Cley, Norfolk, 1937. (POST 118/1204)

The GPO Britain postcard set is now available from the BPMA Shop for £3.75.

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Visit to the Postal Museum Store

Photography student Stuart Matthews has written this guest blog for us…

On Saturday 6th April I ventured to Loughton, Essex to visit The British Postal Museum Store for the Pillar Box Perfection open day. Currently studying photography at the University of Bedfordshire, I’m now in my final year working on my final major project. The visit was in aid of my university project ‘POST’ a project which looks at pillar boxes and how my generation rarely write any more.

"Pillar box alley" at The British Postal Museum Store.

“Pillar box alley” at The British Postal Museum Store.

We live in an age now where we are constantly tuned into our digital social lives by texting, instant messaging and emailing. In my generation the everyday analogue process of posting a letter is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Postboxes lie dormant, statues and monuments of a bygone era. Fond of analogue tradition I decided I wanted to get myself and as many people involved as possible mailing postcards in the form of photographs.

The premise is simple:

  1. Take a photograph of a pillar box (Has to be taken landscape)
  2. Get the photo printed at the 6×4 (Postcard size)
  3. Once printed, write directly on the back of the photograph (Write whatever comes to mind, your thoughts on pillar boxes, maybe the digital age, something personal? A quote, or song lyrics? Maybe describe the location of the photo?)
  4. Then stick on a stamp, add my address and send it to me in the post:
    166 Vandyke Road
    Leighton Buzzard
    Bedfordshire
    LU7 3HS
Postcard showing a Queen Elizabeth II wall box.

Postcard showing a Queen Elizabeth II wall box.

By getting people to photograph postboxes I hope to create a large topology to showcase the results, which will I hopefully display in a gallery space. For the time being I’ve set up a blog site where I’ve regularly up load all the entries sent to me. Which you can visit here: www.thegreatpostproject.wordpress.com.

As I love a challenge, I am hoping that my project will make people take notice of postboxes again and in the grander scheme get younger people involved in writing letters and postcards. Although it may be wishful thinking, only time will tell.

Postcard showing the message "What's the Rush!!".

Postcard showing the message “What’s the Rush!!”.

The open day at The British Postal Museum Store was a great way to learn more about the history of the pillar box. Discovering the different types whilst being able to identify them I found it to be a rewarding experience. It really has helped me, by giving me a historical outlook which I can now apply to the project.

The staff were tremendously helpful giving talks throughout the day, and answering all my questions. A big thank you to those who work and are involved in The British Postal Museum & Archive you generosity hasn’t been unnoticed.

Their generosity also allowed me to visit London this week to participant in my very own From Pillar to Post: GPO London walking tour as I was unable to go last month! (It was only natural that I dropped in to say Hello at the Royal Mail Archives)

If you are reading this and feel intrigued by my project feel free to visit the POST blog site and get involved, and last but not least please do visit the The British Postal Museum Store when you can, it is worth it!

The Post Office in Pictures and the BPMA Photography Collection

BPMA’s Digital Content Development Manager Martin Devereux gave a talk in June as part of our photography exhibition The Post Office in Pictures. This talk is now available to download for free as a podcast.

The talk looks at the foundation of the General Post Office Photograph Library in the 1930s, its subsequent development and re-establishment when the Post Office became a statutory corporation in 1969, through to its closure in the 1990s. The Photograph Library’s contents are now part of BPMA’s archive collection (aka the Royal Mail Archive), and in recent years Martin and other members of BPMA staff have been working to make the photographs more accessible.

Cow of Knockcloghrim - A photographer working for The Post Office Magazine in the 1930s tried to make this photo of the village post office more exciting by posing a cow which was grazing nearby in the foreground. Unfortunately the cow kept moving out of shot, hence this rather unimpressive result.

Cow of Knockcloghrim – A photographer working for The Post Office Magazine in the 1930s tried to make this photo of the village post office more exciting by posing a cow which was grazing nearby in the foreground. Unfortunately the cow kept moving out of shot, hence this rather unimpressive result.

You can find the photos dotted about our website, available to browse on our online catalogue, and uploaded to social network sites such as Flickr and History Pin. The photos have also found new lives as greetings cards and print-on-demand products, and been used in several of BPMA’s recent exhibitions including Designs on Delivery, Empire Mail and, of course, The Post Office in Pictures.

In his talk Martin Devereux discusses some of his favourite images from The Post Office in Pictures exhibition and the wider collection, and tells some of the stories behind them.

Noel Edmonds promoting television licensing via a helicopter.

Noel Edmonds promoting television licensing via a helicopter.

Download The Post Office in Pictures and the BPMA Photography Collection podcast for free from www.postalheritage.org.uk/podcast.

Duty and service in the Post Office in Pictures

Our current The Post Office in Pictures exhibition at The Lumen URC was conceived to show how ordinary peoples’ lives were changed through the service that the Post Office has provided. Through images of postmen and women delivering mail and serving communities in all sorts of conditions, we have endeavoured to show a unique service, second to none. What we’ve also found through our research, is how service has shaped the lives of those choosing to serve.

One of the more surprising and moving stories is that of John Rooney. A wonderful image of him rowing towards Trannish Island on Upper Lough Erne, Northern Ireland is featured in the exhibition but, were it not for a tip off from Peter Howe, the former Post Office photograph librarian, we would not have known of the richer, more heartbreaking and, ultimately wonderful story that surrounded his service in a remote part of the United Kingdom.

John Rooney rowing towards Trannish Island.

John Rooney rowing towards Trannish Island.

When discussing the exhibition, Peter told me that John was not the first Rooney to be postman for Lough Erne and proceeded to tell me the desperate tale of his brothers, William and James.

William Rooney was the postman before John and it was he that would row across the lough to each island, delivering the mail to each inhabitant. On a very cold evening on Friday 29th December 1961 he was returning across the lough to his home on the island of Innishturk. The lough had frozen over and William had to break the ice in front of him. Close to home, the ice became much worse and held his boat fast.

In the worsening conditions William’s brother, James, set out in another boat to find him and bring him home. Neither brother returned and, when a search took place the next morning, both were found dead in their boats on the lough.

I was able to verify Peter’s story from a poignant article written by S.G. Coulson in the Post Office magazine from February 1962.

Tribute to William Rooney, The Post Office Magazine, February 1962.

Tribute to William Rooney, The Post Office Magazine, February 1962.

It seems then, that after the tragedy that befell his brothers, John Rooney took up the service of delivering mail to the inhabitants on Lough Erne.

Peter also told me other details about John Rooney that I’ve yet to confirm. One of these is that postal workers across Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom began a fund to help the Rooney family in their hour of need. Enough money was raised to build a house for John’s and his mother.

I have found John Rooney featured in a story for The Courier, the Post Office’s in-house newspaper, in August 1972. The article describes his route across Lough Erne and the people he serves. The postmaster at Enniskillen declares;

It doesn’t matter how far off the beaten track people live – they’re still entitled to a postal service. And it’s thanks to people like John Rooney that they get it.

The Post Office in Pictures photo exhibition is at The Lumen URC, Bloomsbury, London until Friday 31 August. Visit the BPMA website to see an online preview. Images from the exhibition are available as greetings cards.

Solent Male Voice Choir

On Saturday 18th August, at 7pm, the Lumen Church will be hosting a summer concert alongside the BPMA exhibition currently on display there – The Post Office in Pictures.

Staying with the postal theme of the exhibition, we are delighted to announce that performing at the Lumen will be the Solent Male Voice Choir – also known as the Postman’s choir! This remarkable group of postmen formed the choir in 1961, whilst working at the Head Post Office in Portsmouth.

Solent Male Voice Choir

Solent Male Voice Choir

The idea came about when the postal workers found out how much they enjoyed singing whilst sorting the mail, and went on to form a choir. The original name of the choir was the Portsmouth Post Office Choir; whilst the name of the choir and its members, have since seen some changes, they are still proud of their roots as singing postmen. On the night they will be singing an eclectic repertoire from Verdi to Elvis Presley. There will also be a special ensemble performance in honour of the postal theme of the evening, of ‘Return to Sender’.

Before and after the choir performance, visitors will also be able to view The Post Office in Pictures exhibition on display at the Lumen Church. The exhibition showcases 30 iconic photographs taken from the vast archives of the BPMA, dating from the 1920s right through to the 1980s. The photographs focus in particular on the intrepid and unusual conditions often faced by postal workers as they deliver the mail. It is certainly fitting that both the exhibition and the choir can be enjoyed together, on what promises to be a fantastic evening.

Solent Male Voice Choir

Solent Male Voice Choir

The photographs in the exhibition are as pioneering as the postal workers they portray. In 1934 the General Post Office (GPO) established its Public Relations Department. Headed by the entrepreneurial Sir Stephen Tallents, its aim was to promote good relations with the public, to provide a guide to postal services, and to gather and interpret customer use and opinion to help shape the work of the GPO.

One of the key tools used by the PR Department to reach and engage with the general public was through photography. In order to supply the Post Office Magazine with interesting, professionally-produced photographs, members of the GPO Photographic Unit began to accompany the magazine’s journalists, creating visually appealing, informative and often humorous articles recording daily life in Britain.

From pastoral climes to the industrial heartland of the county, The Post Office in Pictures shows the Post Office doing what it does best – serving the nation in times of need and in times of leisure.

Please join us for what promises to be a fantastic evening of music and photography.

Doors open at 6.30pm on Saturday 18th August. The Choir begins at 7pm, with an interval scheduled. Free entry, donations welcomed. Visit our website for further information on the event.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition runs at the Lumen Church until August 31st 2012.

The Post Office in Pictures: Free Family Fun

As part of our photo exhibition The Post Office in Pictures at the Lumen URC, Bloomsbury, we will be running activities for families from Wednesday 25 July until Wednesday 29 August. Join us for free afternoons of fun doing, making and playing all things postal!

Free craft activities for families

Free craft activities for families

No is booking required, just drop in to take part in any of the following:

Wednesday 25 July, 2-5pm
Create your own magazine cover with you as the star!

Create your own magazine cover

Create your own magazine cover

Wednesday 1 August, 2-5pm
Find out all about animals in the Post Office and make and take home your own toy animal.

Make your own Post Office animal

Make your own Post Office animal

Wednesday 8 August, 2-5pm
Create your own terrific telegram – special messages for special people.

Create your own telegram

Create your own telegram

Wednesday 15 August, 2-5pm
Sunshine Super Stencilling! Using special photographic paper, design a picture based on the exhibition and then use the sun to develop it.

The Post Office Magazine, November 1938

The Post Office Magazine, November 1938

Wednesday 22 August, 2-5pm
First Class Card Making: design your own greetings card and post it with a free stamp in our Victorian post box!

Wednesday 29 August, 2-5pm
Make your own mini photo album or scrap book to take home for your favourite keepsakes.

The Post Office Magazine, June 1934

The Post Office Magazine, June 1934

All activities are suitable for children aged 5 and above.

Visit the BPMA website for more information on these events.

The BPMA photography collection

One of the greatest pleasures of my work is finding out new things about the material in our archive and museum collections. Many of our items and documents are very familiar to both staff and the public, and the stories they tell are often well-known and well-loved; but new discoveries can make it possible to view the collections and the stories they tell in a new light.

Polruan - postman standing at quayside (POST 118/250)

Polruan – postman standing at quayside. (POST 118/250)

Cataloguing the photographs in the Royal Mail Archive over the last few years has made these kinds of discoveries more frequent. The photographs can often shed light on the more personal stories that define the relationship that the public has with the Post Office; the times when personal endeavour and commitment to service really touches the individuals and the communities whom the Post Office serves.

A postman pushes his bicycle across a causeway while delivering mail to Osea Island, Maldon, Essex, 1987. (003-012-001)

A postman pushes his bicycle across a causeway while delivering mail to Osea Island, Maldon, Essex, 1987. (003-012-001)

The photographs also show the Post Office’s growing aptitude with marketing and public relations at a time when such words were not in most people’s vocabulary and certainly not on the lips of most government officials.

Postman John Rooney rowing across Lough Erne in Ulster. (003-013-001)

Postman John Rooney rowing across Lough Erne in Ulster. (003-013-001)

In my talk on 7 June at The Lumen URC, I’ll be talking about the foundation of the General Post Office Photograph Library in the 1930s, its subsequent development and re-establishment when the Post Office became a statutory corporation in 1969, through to its closure in the 1990s. As we take this journey through the 20th Century I’ll also show you some of my favourite images from the exhibition and the wider collection and tell you some of the stories behind them. Finally, I’ll show you how we’re making them accessible with the new social media technology at our disposal and how you can find out more.

Martin Devereux – Digital Content Development Manager

Martin Devereux will speak about The BPMA Photography Collection at The Lumen URC, Bloomsbury on 7 June as part of The Post Office in Pictures, a exhibition of photographs from our collections. Tickets for the talk are £3/£2.50 concession, please book online. The exhibition is free and runs until 31 August 2012.

BPMA Open Afternoon

Join the staff and Friends of the British Postal Museum & Archive at our annual Open Afternoon on Tuesday 6 December 2011.

Interior of Travelling Post Office

Interior of Travelling Post Office, 1935 (POST 109/375)

See a showcase of our fascinating collections, take part in a range of activities, talks and tours, and find out more about who we are, what we do and what we’ve been up to in the last year. Events will run from 1pm until 8pm, and everyone is welcome to drop in at any time and share a mince pie with us!

Activities include…

Hands-On Family Research: Was your ancestor a postie? Our Archive Search Room Team will show you how to research your family tree.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition – for the first time in London! View the iconic photographs of the Post Office at work in the community sourced from the BPMA Archive.

Behind the Scenes Tours: Discover the treasures of the Archive – from GPO Posters to philatelic gems – led by our Archive & Curatorial Teams.

Tour of our Archive collections which fill over 2.5 miles of shelving and cover social, postal and design history from 1636 to today – at 2pm, 4pm and 5.30pm.

Tour of the Philatelic Studio led my our Curator, Philately at 3.30pm.

Booking welcome; subject to availability.

The History of the Christmas Card: Learn more about the origin of this custom with material provided by our Cataloguing team.

Preservation Surgery: Ask for advice from our conservator on caring for your own collection of family history records, postal history, stamps or photographs – bookings welcome!

Learning Activities Sample Sessions: Find out how our Access & Learning team engage school children and young people in our postal heritage with a range of activities and resources.

Mail Trains: Watch the classic Auden-Britten film production Night Mail (1936), talk to our curators about the Travelling Post Office and join a talk about the history of delivering the mail by rail at 7pm.

Still from Night Mail

Still from Night Mail

For more information and for booking a place on a tour or the Preservation Surgery, please call 020 7239 2037.

The Post Office in Pictures opens

Our photo exhibition The Post Office in Pictures is now open! It showcases a selection of inspiring images sourced from our vast collections.

Down Wapping Way

Down Wapping Way, 1935 - Part of the Post Office Magazine series ‘The Postman Everywhere’, which demonstrated the wide ranging experiences of postmen across the country. Postman Mr J Anthony is shown here in an area of Wapping, East London. The author of the accompanying article described the area as ‘narrow, dirty and unsalubrious...’ (POST 118/252)

From strange creatures sent through the post, to the daily deliveries by land, sea and air to every corner of the country, the photos featured offer a fascinating series of windows on Britain from the 1930s to 1980s – including some of the more unusual, unexpected and unseen activities of the Post Office and its people.

Public House & Post Office

Public House & Post Office, c. 1989 - A pint, a pie... and a pension at the Swan public house in Little Totham, near Maldon, Essex. Publican’s daughter Christine Baxter serving a postal customer in the bar of her parents’ pub. (010-018-002)

The exhibition is at The Post Modern Gallery in Swindon until 5 November. The Gallery is open from 11am to 5pm Monday to Saturday – for full details see our website.

Special drop-in events accompanying the exhibition include:

Explore The Post Office in Pictures
Wednesday 12 October, 6pm to 8pm
Craft Session & Late Opening
Join us for an evening exploring crafty connections between the photographs on display and a range of arts and crafts techniques. Enjoy a glass of wine, see practical demonstrations, and then have a go at something yourself, inspired by the fascinating images featured in The Post Office in Pictures.

The Post Office in Pictures Family Fun Days
Wednesday 26 and Thursday 27 October, 11am to 4pm
Half-Term Activities
Come to The Post Office in Pictures during half-term for a host of free family activities:

  • Put yourself in the Picture and create your own magazine front cover with you as the star! Use real post office uniforms for added authenticity.
  • Create your own Finger Puppet Postman from felt, and make a cap badge or armband based on what you can see in the exhibition. Real objects will be available to handle for added inspiration.
  • Why not bring along your camera to the fun day and take part in our Photographic Scavenger Hunt? Pick up the clues from the Post Modern, search Swindon for the postal items and snap as many as you can, and then return to the gallery to record your time – the fastest family over the two days will win a fantastic prize.

For more on The Post Office in Pictures see our online exhibition. Large versions of the images from the exhibition can be seen on Flickr. Photos from the exhibition are available to buy from our Print on Demand website.

The Post Office in Pictures – Photography Competition Winners

We are very pleased to announce the two winners of our photography competition. They are…

Under-16 winner – Eleanor Bennett from Cheshire for her photo Last in the Village

Last in the Village by Eleanor Bennett

Last in the Village by Eleanor Bennett

Eleanor says:

I thought I had no chance of winning. The post office has always been very important to me when entering art/photography competitions. I love being able the walk down to my village when I know of people whose post offices are miles and miles away. Me and my Mum don’t drive so it is very important that local people use their local post offices.

Over-16 Winner – Mark Massey from Essex for his photo The Ambassadors

The Ambassadors by Mark Massey

The Ambassadors by Mark Massey

Mark says:

I have been taking photos as a hobby for about 5 years now and over the last couple of years I’ve entered quite a few competitions, but until now I’ve never won a thing. I enjoy taking pictures just for the fun of it, but nevertheless it’s a great feeling to be recognised like this. I have two daughters aged under 4 so my free time is very limited… so I usually carry my camera around and take pictures on the street when I’m on my way to work or in my lunch break, which is when my winning image was taken. This competition is also particularly special to me because the Post Office is close to my heart as my Dad, now retired, was a postman for 20 years.

Eleanor and Mark have each won a prize from audio visual retailer Sight2Sound. You can see their photos, along with those of all the finalists, as part of The Post Office in Pictures, our photography exhibition which opens in Swindon tomorrow.