Tag Archives: Post Offices

Built for Service

Despite the importance of the post office in the lives of our communities, it has surprisingly been overlooked by architectural studies: furthermore, historians of the Post Office have by and large concentrated on its administrative history, with only passing reference to its buildings. In an attempt to redress the balance Built for Service: Post Office Architecture (published by the BPMA in 2010) chronicles the history and development of the post office building in Great Britain from the mid-19th century to the 1970s.

Derby Post Office (1870) (architect James Williams)

Derby Post Office (1870) (architect James Williams)

Southampton Post Office (1894) (architect Sir Henry Tanner)

Southampton Post Office (1894) (architect Sir Henry Tanner)

Hull Post Office (1908) (architect Walter Pott)

Hull Post Office (1908) (architect Walter Pott)

Northwich Post Office (1915) (architect Charles Wilkinson)

Northwich Post Office (1915) (architect Charles Wilkinson)

Maesteg Post Office (c.1935) (architect Henry Seccombe)

Maesteg Post Office (c.1935) (architect Henry Seccombe)

Plymouth Post Office (1957) (architect Cyril Pinfold)

Plymouth Post Office (1957) (architect Cyril Pinfold)

Hitchin Post Office (1962) (architect J.O. Stevens)

Hitchin Post Office (1962) (architect J.O. Stevens)

Although new post office buildings were commissioned by the Post Office, execution of the work was the responsibility of another Government department, the Office of Works and its successors. This duality of purpose, with the tensions that it created up until the First World War, is described in the book, and means that historians are required to research in two major repositories: for plans and contract drawings (where they have survived), the National Archives at Kew; and for the role of the Post Office, the British Postal Museum and Archive, although they are by no means mutually exclusive.

One of the joys of study in the BPMA Archive is of course working with the catalogued material, which reveals how assiduously the Post Office took its responsibilities with regard to the fitting-out of its buildings and the welfare of its staff, but also with the extensive ephemeral material in the Portfolio files. Here may be found a wealth of unique material (such as programmes of opening ceremonies), revealing details about dates of opening of new post offices, and names of architects, as well as correspondence, press cuttings, unpublished research papers and a fine selection of photographs.

Souvenir programme of the Opening of the New Post Office, Clevedon. One of many such items in the BPMA Portfolio collection.

Souvenir programme of the Opening of the New Post Office, Clevedon. One of many such items in the BPMA Portfolio collection.

The recent spate of post office closures has begged the question: what happens to redundant post office buildings? Do they still have a presence on the high street, and if so, what has happened to them?. Many Victorian and Edwardian post offices have been statutorily listed as Grade II structures. This generally means that their external appearance is protected, while the interiors can be altered to suit a new purpose. Many inter-war post offices, no longer required by the service, have also survived demolition. The nature of these buildings, featuring a large open space on the ground floor, has meant that it has been relatively easy to convert them into public houses, nightclubs, and chain restaurants. The names of many of the public houses recall the former association – “The Last Post”, “The Old Post Office”, “The Penny Black”, and so on.

“The Penny Black”, Bicester (1914) (architect Henry A. Collins)

“The Penny Black”, Bicester (1914) (architect Henry A. Collins)

“The Last Post”, Loughton (c.1930) (architect Archibald Scott)

“The Last Post”, Loughton (c.1930) (architect Archibald Scott)

“Zizzi”, Surbiton (c.1895)

“Zizzi”, Surbiton (c.1895)

In many cases, the upper floors of these buildings have been converted into residential use.

Built for Service serves as an introductory guide to the post office building, but it is supplemented by a website. This is an alphabetical illustrated guide, detailing years of opening, names of architects, archive sources for further research, bibliographical references, and current use (if no longer a post office), with links to further information available online.

– Julian Osley

More cigarette card images

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

Sydney (New South Wales) Postman, City Uniform

Sydney (New South Wales) Postman, City Uniform

Images of cigarette cards from the Wilkinson Collection will soon be added to our online catalogue so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some more of the cards with you beforehand.

Many of the cigarette cards examine aspects of postal systems in countries across what was then the British Empire. They look at the uniform worn by postal workers, the different buildings that functioned as post offices and how the systems coped with extreme weather conditions. Four cards from a set produced by Royal Mail in conjunction with Wills in c.1930 illustrate this point well by showing the workings of the Australian Post Office.

This first card (2010-0383/14) shows the fetching uniform worn by city postmen in Sydney, New South Wales which is where the first Australian post office was established in 1810. The distinctive red jacket and the white helmet are both different from the uniform of London postmen at the time, harking back to an older military style of dress.

In contrast to this, 2010-0383/06 shows a Post Office established in a new gold town in Australia. Quite different from the impression given by the formal attire of the City postman, this post office seems quite understated amongst the tents. However, it shows how important the Post Office was, that

even the most adventurous cling to home and civilization through this visible link, the Post Office.

Post Office at Gold Diggings, Australia

Post Office at Gold Diggings, Australia

The other two cards are representative of the nature of the terrain and weather experienced by Australia and how, inevitably, this affected the transportation of mails across the country. In the 19th century, most people relied upon the mail coach for intercommunication: as the third card, 2010-0383/04 depicts, it was able to cover great stretches of the country in a relatively short amount of time.

Mail Coach - Western Australia

Mail Coach - Western Australia

As has been the case recently, Australia can also be subject to some extreme weather conditions. 2010-0383/05 displays this, showing a postman delivering mail to Kiandra in New South Wales, a mountainous district and, incidentally, an old gold mining town. The postman, fully equipped with his skis, trudges through the snow with the mail slung over his shoulder; as is printed on the card

In no other business could the work be done so expeditiously.

Carrying Mails to Kiandra, New South Wales

Carrying Mails to Kiandra, New South Wales

All the cards mentioned, and many more, will soon be on our online catalogue.

Autumn Stampex 2010

 by Jennifer Flippance, 2010 Exhibitions & Project Manager

Stampex at the Business Design Centre

Stampex at the Business Design Centre

If your interest in stamps and postal history has been piqued by our blog posts or any the events that have taken place this year as part of the London 2010: Festival of Stamps, why not go along to Stampex next week.

Stampex takes place twice a year at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London. It’s free and 2010 Autumn Stampex is on 15-18th September.

There are many dealers’ stands, including a substantial presence from Royal Mail. Get the new stamps (Medical Breakthroughs) from their first day of issue on Thursday and from Friday you can get brand new pictorial Post & Go stamps. Don’t miss the instant Smiler booth.

I like to stock up on attractive commemorative stamps I’ve missed during the year to use on my own post. It’s always much nicer for someone to receive a special stamp.

Competitive stamp displays at Stampex

Competitive stamp displays at Stampex

Everyone who attends Stampex gets a free postcard and the opportunity to buy other special products only available at the show. There are also displays from the National Competitions of the Association of British Philatelic Societies.

The BPMA Friends will be manning a stand as usual. Pop over to say hello and pick up the brand new free 2010 postcard featuring George V. We’ll also have a selection of our postal themed products on sale, including the popular new Post Offices book by Julian Stray.

Kids auction at Stampex

Kids auction

One of my favourite parts is the children’s auction on Saturday, which is always great fun to watch. Any young philatelists who come along get the chance to collect points by doing activities and these can then be spent at the auction on stamps. There’s always a lot of tactical bidding!

For more details including directions and opening times see – http://www.stampex.ltd.uk/

Post Offices

Cover of Post Offices by Julian Stray

Cover of Post Offices by Julian Stray

The local post office has a special place in the social history of Britain. A new book, published by Shire Publications and written by the BPMA’s Assistant Curator Julian Stray, provides an historical overview of the development of this public institution – from “letter receiving house” to familiar high-street presence.

Outlining the range of services post offices have provided over time – from stamps, pensions and postal orders, to airmail, savings certificates, dog and TV licences – and highlighting the “heyday of the GPO” during the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Julian Stray recalls childhood memories of post office counters selling stamps and sweets, the weekly pension queue, and the friendly local postmaster.

Also examined are the many different types of post offices, from the village sub-office to mobile post offices in tents used in bombed areas during the Second World War.

The sub-post office at Shipton-under-Wychwood opened before 1847, but relinquished its title as England’s oldest post office when it closed in 1975.

Shipton-under-Wychwood Post Office, Oxfordshire c.1900

Shipton-under-Wychwood Post Office, Oxfordshire c.1900

By the late 1920s, post office frontages were heavy with advertising. Notices relating to overseas mail and telephone services were a common sight.

The branch office at Southampton Row, Bloomsbury, London, c. late 1920s.

The branch office at Southampton Row, Bloomsbury, London, c. late 1920s.

During the Second World War mobile, tented post offices were produced for quick deployment to areas that had lost their office as a result of enemy bombing.

Mobile post office set up in a bombed area of London, 1941

Mobile post office set up in a bombed area of London, 1941

After 1969, when the Post Office became a public corporation and its relationship with the Ministry of Works ended, local architects designed new offices.

Guildford’s North Street post office (1970-72), by architects Roman Halter and Associates, was a radical departure from previous offices; the building incorporated wrap-around glazing and a projecting gazebo.

Guildford’s North Street post office (1970-72), by architects Roman Halter and Associates, was a radical departure from previous offices; the building incorporated wrap-around glazing and a projecting gazebo.

Post Offices by Julian Stray is a celebration of a very British institution now threatened by modern-day forces. It is now available from the BPMA online shop.