Tag Archives: Post Office transport

The Travelling Post Office

Travelling Post Offices (or TPOs) were railway carriages specially adapted for Post Office workers to sort mail in whilst it was being carried to its destination. They were introduced in 1838, a mere eight years after the first public railway (which ran between Liverpool to Manchester) was opened and proved to be a faster and more efficient method of delivering mail than Mail Coaches.

The layout of TPOs evolved very early on, driven by the unique nature of the work involved. The sorting frames were normally on the right looking towards the engine with a well table (sunken recess to hold mail) below for emptying mailbags into. Opposite this were metal pegs with destination bag labels attached in readiness to hang mail bags for sorted mail.

Early TPOs were quite primitive in their facilities with oil lighting, low, flat roofs and no heating or toilets! In the 1860s, gradual improvements were made as ventilators and better lights were installed and arched roofs introduced along with floor matting, padding and seats.

The TPO service ran until early 2004. It had been in a gradual decline since World War 2, with Dr Beeching’s 1963 report on the railways having a particular impact on the service. Transport technology was changing too, with it becoming more economical to move mail by road or air. Problems with service level agreements and concern for the health and safety of staff were the final nails in the coffin.

In 1999 the BPMA purchased a TPO dating from 1908, which was restored at the London & North West Railway (LNWR) workshop at Crewe. It is on display at The Crewe Heritage Centre, which is open on weekends and bank holidays from Easter to the last weekend in September.

The BPMAs TPO: before restoration.

The BPMA's TPO: before restoration.

The BPMAs TPO: after restoration

The BPMA's TPO: after restoration

For more information on TPOs please see our Online Exhibition The Travelling Post Office.

Posters from the Post Office Publicity Department

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

I have recently started cataloguing some of the posters forming part of POST 110, a class in our archive which consists of printed material designed to publicise Post Office services. Although the posters cover the period from 1934 (when the Post Office Publicity Department was created) to the present day, I am focussing on the earliest ones, with a view to making a listing available via the online catalogue.

I am going to write a bit here about two of the main series of posters: those with publication number IRP (Internal Relations Panel) covering the period from 1950 to 1967, and those with publication number PRD (Public Relations Department), covering the period from 1934 to 1968. This gives a flavour of what we hold; in future blogs I will focus on particular gems of the collection.

The IRP series is formed of posters produced by the JPC (Post Office Joint Production Council) for internal usage. They were designed to promote staff efficiency by reminding them of established procedures and recommending attention to detail. Staff are variously encouraged to focus on productivity, to handle mail correctly, to be aware of the need for security, to work as part of a team and to provide good customer service.

These posters were also used to encourage staff to be thrifty, with messages such as: ‘Save usable lengths of string. Avoid waste!’, ‘Save lead seals. Recovered lead is worth £90 per ton!’ and ‘Do not mis-use mailbags. They cost money’.

Some of the earliest posters in the PRD series were offered free of charge to schools and other educational establishments. They consist of sets of four posters illustrating particular themes.

The first in the series was produced by Harold Sandys Williamson on the theme of Post Office transport; images include ‘Mails for the packet steamers at Falmouth, 1833’ and ‘Loading airmails for the Empire, Croydon 1934’.

Such was the success of this series that it was followed by several other sets of posters, by artists such as Duncan Grant, Eric Fraser and John Armstrong. One key set by John Vickery entitled Outposts of Empire draws to mind a bygone era, featuring scenes from Barbados, Central Australia, Ceylon and Southern Rhodesia.

Other posters in the PRD series formed part of major publicity campaigns including those encouraging people to post early in the day, post early for Christmas, address their letters clearly and, with the introduction of postal coding in the 1960s, to include postcodes when addressing mail.

The BPMA exhibition Designs on Delivery: GPO posters 1930-1960 will open at the London College of Communication on 7th October and run until 4th November. For more information please visit our website.