Tag Archives: Postal History

Royal Mail Archive added to UNESCO Memories of the World Register

Recently the BPMA has received some exciting news. The Royal Mail Archive, which we look after, has been added to UNESCO’s Memories of the World Register. The archive spans the years 1636 to 1969 and covers a wide range of items from promotional posters to the Penny Black and employment records to telegrams about the Titanic.


Telegram telling of the sinking of the Titanic

UNESCO was impressed by the unique insight the archive offers into the development of communication within the UK and abroad and the way it reflects the social and personal impact that the postal service has had upon people across the country.


GPO poster

Head of Archives Vicky Parkinson tells us about being added to this year’s list of inscriptions:

“Back in 2011 my colleagues attended that year’s inscription reception following the successful nomination of the work of the GPO film unit, which was a joint application with our colleagues in the BFI and BT. On the back of that success we felt that the Royal Mail Archive was worthy of inscription and the nomination paperwork was submitted in January of this year.

We were delighted to hear that the UNESCO committee agreed with us and on the 19 June 2014 Helen Forde, Chair of our Board of Trustees, and I travelled to Edinburgh to attend the award ceremony, along with the other successful nominees.

Vicky and Helen

Vicky and Helen at the reception. Photo by Lesley Ann Ercolano

The reception, hosted by Lloyds Banking Group at their iconic site on the Mound in Edinburgh, was about celebrating the UK’s outstanding history and raising awareness about some of the country’s documentary riches. For me it was a wonderful reminder of how the archive, and the work we do to look after it and make it available, fits into the bigger picture of how history, and more importantly the original records, still play a vital role in today’s society.


One of the thousands of photos in the collection – women mending parcels at the Home Depot during the First World War

For those of us lucky enough to work with the archive on a day to day basis it’s easy to see just how significant the collection is, documenting the vital role the postal service has played in the UK. Having that importance recognised by schemes such as UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register and the Arts Council’s Designation scheme is a vital way of spreading awareness of the riches we have in our custody.”

It is these stories and more that will be told in The Postal Museum when it opens in 2016. To hear some of these fantastic stories, and see the wealth of objects all of our collections hold, before then keep an eye on the blog. Over the coming months BPMA staff will be telling you all their favourite stories and showing you all manner of intriguing and enticing objects.

Last Post: Remembering the First World War

The First World War was a major turning point in the history of the Post Office. To mark the year of the centenary, our First World War exhibition, Last Post, is now open at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums group.

The exhibition explores the contribution of millions of people to wartime communication and the far reaching role of thePost Office on both the battlefield and the home front.

Field Post Office

Field Post Office

An Oxo tin among other things

Demonstrating the huge variety of items that could be sent through the post in wartime, you can see on display an OXO tin posted home from the fighting front by William Cox, a former Post Office worker. He posted the OXO tin back to his brother and sister, containing a button from the tunic of a fallen soldier and a piece of shrapnel.

Cox's OXO Tin

OXO tin sent home by Cox

Battlefield will and a favourite plant

You can also view the story of Private Leonard Eldridge of the 8th London Regiment (The Post Office Rifles). Soldiers were encouraged to write battlefield wills whilst on the Front. Private Eldridge’s will is on display in the exhibition.

Eldridge writes: ‘everything I possess except the aspadastras plant of mine, I give to you. The plant, I, with my last wish, leave it, and must be given to, Miss Florence Smith… She must be treated in my absence as my lover with every respect.’

Post Office Rifles

8th London Regiment – The Post Office Rifles

Wilfred Owen

Also on display in the exhibition are two original poems written by local Shropshire-born First World War officer and poet Wilfred Owen, kindly lent to us for the exhibition by The British Library.

‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, perhaps Owen’s most iconic poem, is on display. The poem was written in October 1917 and revised a few months later, in early 1918. Owen sent the poem to his mother, Susan Owen, with the message: ‘Here is a gas poem done yesterday, (which is not private, but not final).’

Field Post Box

Soldiers waiting for post

We also fittingly have on display Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘The Letter’. The poem depicts a soldier writing a letter to his wife back home. Whilst writing the letter, the soldier is fatally hit, and a comrade finishes the letter off for him.

The poem highlights the importance of letter writing to soldiers and also the danger present at all times in the trenches. It also illustrates that the contents of letters home may not have accurately depicted the conditions of everyday life for soldiers.


The exhibition is open Monday to Friday, until 27th March 2015 and entrance is free.

If you are unable to visit the exhibition in person, we have launched a simultaneous online exhibition in partnership with the Google Cultural Institute.

Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Crowdsourcing IWM paintings and BPMA images

The BPMA has been active on Historypin since last year and yesterday we hosted a Putting Art on the Map event with Historypin in the Search Room. This event focused on crowdsourcing information about the selected images and paintings. The selected images depicted post and telecommunications during the First World War.

A3 copies of the paintings and images that were up for discussion.

A3 copies of the paintings and images that were up for discussion.

After Dr Alice Strickland introduced the IWM paintings and the artists behind them, Gavin McGuffie (Archive Catalogue and Project Manager at the BPMA) introduced the primary resources on offer from the archive for participants to use. This was the first event of its kind to have primary sources on offer for participants.

Even us 'non-experts' jumped in. Alex, Project Officer at Historypin, looks through a resource from our archive. Photo credit: Historypin

Even us ‘non-experts’ jumped in. Alex, Project Officer at Historypin, looks through a resource from our archive. Photo credit: Historypin

Participants were then let loose on the A3 copies of the paintings and images, and zoom-able digital images of the IWM paintings to see what they could come up with. Over the next two hours, participants worked feverishly to find out detailed facts about these pieces. Using Ancestry.co.uk one participant was even able to identify the woman seated on the far right of the below painting!

Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps Signallers, Base Hill, Rouen : Telephones. Forewoman Milnes and Captain Pope. Copyright Imperial War Museum.

Despite this brilliant session, there is still plenty to discover about these artworks and images, both on the Putting Art on the Map project and our Historypin channel. You don’t need to be an expert to do so; as we proved in this event, sometimes all you need is a good eye for detail, adequate search skills and, of course, determination.

Wrap-up discussion of all the images and paintings.

Wrap-up discussion of all the images and paintings. Photo credit: Historypin

Historypin will  be adding all the information, data, comments and questions collected to the artworks on Putting Art on the Map and our Historypin channel. You can then continue the conversation and help discover the story behind the places and people in these pieces.

Do you have an interest in aviation and want to participate in an event like this? Then join Historypin at the next event at Imperial War Museum Duxford on the 22 February.

-Rachel Kasbohm, Digital Media Manager

Tenth Anniversary of the Final Traveling Post Office Journeys


Men stand in front of the first train coach used to sort mail on the North Eastern Railway.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the last journeys of Royal Mail’s Travelling Post Offices. First used in 1838, they revolutionised the way mail was moved across the country. From romantic images of steam engines to the brutal realities of the Great Train Robbery, TPOs were an instantly recognisable part of the national fabric until they were phased out in 2004.

To mark this anniversary, BPMA has written a guest blog for the National Railway Museum which can be found here. An online version of our Great Train Robbery exhibition, The Great Train Robbery, the aftermath and the Investigations: A Story from the Archive, marking the most infamous episode in the history of the TPO can be viewed on Google Cultural Institute’s website.

Christmas through the post

With only a few days left until Christmas Day we have been collaborating on an exciting new exhibition that explores the fundamental importance of the post at Christmas time.

Our festive exhibition, Christmas through the post, has been developed in collaboration with Beverley Art Gallery. The exhibition, now on display at Beverley Art Gallery, explores the practise of sending post at Christmas time.

Christmas advance posting notification c.1902

Christmas advance posting notification c.1902

Christmas has been celebrated through the post for 170 years. The first known Christmas card was commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843, in the same year as Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’, was published. The BPMA holds one of Cole’s 1843 cards in its collection.

Christmas through the post at Beverley Art Gallery reveals Christmas postal history through a series of images drawn from the collections of the BPMA. On display are iconic images of ‘Post Early for Christmas’ posters and images of Victorian Christmas cards within the BPMA collection.

Exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery

Exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery

Promoting early posting for Christmas is the longest running campaign in Royal Mail’s history. The images in the exhibition are taken from the iconic GPO advertising poster collection, held at the BPMA, illustrating the promotion of the services offered by the GPO and the campaign to encourage people to ‘Post Early for Christmas’. The images on display are testament to the breadth and variety of designs that have been used in the ‘Post Early’ campaign, for over 100 years.

Also on display are a small selection of Victorian Christmas cards- illustrating the naturalistic and often pagan designs of the early cards, and their very small size, compared to today’s cards. We also have on display Christmas stamp artwork facsimiles illustrating the designs and creativity of the Christmas stamps and the festive designs by children. Christmas stamps were only introduced in 1966 but remain the most popular stamp sets sold throughout the year. Following the first Christmas stamps in 1966, special Christmas stamps have continued to be issued every year- with designs of either a religious or a secular nature (largely alternating between the two).


Festive worksheets and activities will be available to accompany the exhibition at Beverley Art Gallery. You can also download the BPMA children’s worksheet designed by Katy Holmes – http://www.katypotaty.co.uk.

Children undertake postal themed activities at Beverley Art Gallery

Children undertake postal themed activities at Beverley Art Gallery

If you are unable to make it to Beverley to see the exhibition, we are very pleased to offer here an alternative online Christmas exhibition – our second online exhibition in collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute.

An exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery features the first Christmas stamp designed by children.

An exhibition case at Beverley Art Gallery features the first Christmas stamp designed by children.

Christmas through the post is on at Beverley Art Gallery until 8 February.

Beverley Art Gallery
Treasure House
Champney Road
East Riding
HU17 8HE

Entry: Free

For more information on any of our exhibitions- we have four available for free hire- please contact Dominique on dominique.gardner@postalheritage.org.uk or on 0207 354 7287.

A very happy Christmas from everyone here at the BPMA!

– Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Guest blog: Arts Award students meet Danny Martin, contemporary war poet

Meet our latest guest bloggers Aldis and Max. Two more 'Communicating Conflict' Arts Award students from Haverstock School.

Meet our latest guest bloggers Aldis and Max. Two more ‘Communicating Conflict’ Arts Award students from Haverstock School.

Last week, the students were visited by Danny Martin, a former soldier and war poet, who now works as an English teacher. 

Here’s what Aldis and Max had to say about Danny’s visit:

Danny’s life is one of the most inspiring anyone could ever hear about. It really made us think about the life of a soldier during war and the hardships that they face. Death and injury haunt them every day. Danny’s inspiration for becoming a soldier was when he was around the same age as us when he joined the army cadets.

Danny first started writing poetry after leaving the army whilst studying for a Creative Writing degree in Liverpool. His poems were published in a book of contemporary war poetry called Heroes.

Danny reading his poem: 'The Haddock of Mass Destruction'

Danny reading his poem: ‘The Haddock of Mass Destruction’

Danny’s poem expresses war differently to what we believe it is like. It really made us think about our lives and how we could change them for the better. Danny describes the commodities of war as pain and suffering instead of being a hero and a patriot.

War poet Danny Martin in action

War poet Danny Martin in action

Aldis and Max were very inspired by Danny’s visit:

We learnt the true side of the story, the kind of thing that we don’t hear on the TV. We learnt the consequences of joining the army. We also learnt that all soldiers have their own different stories of army life however others think they all are the same.

A huge thank you to Danny for visiting Haverstock School. Look out for more from our guest bloggers as they continue to work with project poet Joelle Taylor to develop their own poems in response to the First World War stories in the BPMA collection.

Charles Dickens and Postal Communication with Dr Tony Williams

Cartoon from Punch's Almanack for 1854

Cartoon from Punch’s Almanack for 1854

Charles Dickens was a prodigious letter writer as well as a writer in other forms. We now have available to us his letters, in twelve large volumes, as the Pilgrim Edition and comprising some 14,252 pieces of correspondence he wrote from the earliest known items from the 1820s through to his final letters in 1870 shortly before he died. What we don’t have, of course, is the correspondence he received from other people because he burnt it all when he moved into Gad’s Hill Place in 1860. Letters keep appearing, like the one which emerged not so long ago, falling out of the covers of a second-hand Bible, and was recently sold for £7,000. Some 300 new discoveries have been published in The Dickensian, the journal of The Dickens Fellowship. There is now also a selection of some 450 letters, edited by Jenny Hartley and published by OUP, which give an excellent flavour of the range of subjects covered. Dickens’s letters are addressed to 2500 known correspondents and 200 unknown: they cover a wide range of topics: letters of business, letters to family, friends; letters home whilst travelling; domestic letters; letters about writing novels and creating characters; about performing and charitable acts; letters in times of personal crisis, birth and bereavements, invitations. Above all they communicate an enormously vibrant sense of his colossal energy and appetite for life.

Dickens was living at a time when the postal system was reformed, especially with the introduction of a standardised penny post in 1840. This led to vast increase in letters sent – threefold in first year and by 1860s eightfold. In major towns and cities there would be ten to twelve deliveries a day: letters posted in the morning would reach their addressee by the late afternoon or evening. It was the 19th century’s new communication medium, much as for us it has been email!

In our talk Dr Tony Williams will explore some of the letters in Dickens’s fiction and his writing about developments in the postal system in his journalism, as well as sharing with the audience some examples of Dickens’s own correspondence. Dr Williams is a frequent speaker on Dickens. He is Associate Editor of The Dickensian and a Senior Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham. From 1999 to 2006 he was Joint General Secretary of the International Dickens Fellowship and a Trustee of the Charles Dickens Museum in London.

Dr Williams will be preceded by Dr Adrian Steel at 6pm who will talk on “The Future of Britain’s Postal Heritage”.  Further details and tickets are available here.