Tag Archives: postal service

Postal Mischief podcast

In April we invited the writer, broadcaster, artist and musician David Bramwell to the BPMA to give a talk on the history of postal mischief. This turned out to be a fascinating and highly entertaining event, looking at the work of key players in this field including the ‘King of Mail Art’ Ray Johnson, Victorian prankster Reginald Bray and musician Genesis P.Orridge, who inadvertently changed the postal laws (owing to the ‘colourful’ nature of his homemade postcards).

Colourful mail art referenced in David Bramwell's talk.

Colourful mail art referenced in David Bramwell’s talk.

David also shared his own exploits in mail art, which saw him and a friend post unusual objects to each other – much to the amusement of local Post Office and Royal Mail staff.

Post Office staff were amused when this set of false teeth came in to be posted!

Post Office staff were amused when this set of false teeth came in to be posted!

You can now listen to or download David Bramwell’s talk as a podcast via our website, iTunes or SoundCloud. And if David has inspired you to engage in some postal mischief do let us know about it!

A tropical leaf which was posted to David Bramwell.

A tropical leaf which was posted to David Bramwell.

Find out about our upcoming talks and other public events on the Events page of our website.

Masters of the Post wins award

The Business Archives Council (BAC) has announced that the winner of the 2011 BAC Wadsworth Prize for British Business History is Duncan Campbell-Smith for Masters of the Post – the Authorized History of Royal Mail. The prize was presented to Mr Campbell-Smith by the Chairman of the BAC, Dr Terry Gourvish, on 8 November.

Duncan Campbell-Smith blogged for us last year on the process of researching the book at the Royal Mail Archive. You can also see a video of Duncan Campbell-Smith at the Archive on YouTube.

Masters of the Post is the first complete history of the Royal Mail up to the present day. It presents the whole story of Britain’s postal service — how it was built, how it led the world for two hundred years and how it has struggled to survive in the face of mounting odds since the arrival of the internet.

Masters of the Post - The Authorized History of the Royal Mail

Purchase your copy of Masters of the Post from our online shop.

GPO Christmas Posters

The tendency of many people to post letters at the very last minute poses a considerable problem to the Post Office and Royal Mail especially in the run-up to Christmas. The large volume of post, late in the day or only a few days before the Christmas holidays, has made the allocation of resources and the efficient provision of service much more complex and costly since the 1930s. When the GPO Public Relations Department was created in 1934, a poster campaign to educate the public to “Post Early this Christmas” started and some striking and wonderful poster designs were produced. We wrote about this successful campaign in a previous blog and now want to present some of our favourite poster images to set the mood for Christmas – and to remind you to “Shop Early – Post Early.”

Shop Early – Post Early poster (Holly Leaf) by Derek Hass from 1953 (POST 110/4243)

Shop Early – Post Early poster (Holly Leaf) by Derek Hass from 1953 (POST 110/4243)

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Post Office commissioned well-known designers like Jan Lewitt & George Him, Tom Eckersley or Barnett Freedman for posters informing the public about the correct use of the postal service. Just like modern advertising campaigns, the designers used animals, striking colours and humour to get their message across. Tom Eckersley’s “Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early” poster from 1955 features a pantomime horse in two halves: the front half (“Be First”) is smiling, the back half (“Not Last”) frowning. Dogs, Cats, Reindeer, Doves and Owls were equally popular motives to educate the public and prevent the Christmas rush.

Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early by Tom Eckersley from 1955 (POST 110/1340)

Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early by Tom Eckersley from 1955 (POST 110/1340)

Post Early (Dachshund) by Leonard Beaumont from 1950

Post Early (Dachshund) by Leonard Beaumont from 1950

Santa Claus himself also appears in different shapes and sizes – “on wheels” with his beard flying in the wind (Manfred Reiss, 1952), skating on ice (POST 110/3213 John Rowland Barker c.1951), or flying over a smoking chimney with a bag of parcels (Eric Fraser, 1946).

Travel Shop Post Early (Father Christmas) poster by John Rowland Barker a.k.a. Kraber from 1951 (POST 110/3213)

Travel Shop Post Early (Father Christmas) poster by John Rowland Barker a.k.a. Kraber from 1951 (POST 110/3213)

Post Early and get 20% off BPMA Christmas cards!

Buy your Christmas cards by the 19 November 2012 from the BPMA Online Shop and receive 20% off your Christmas cards order over £10 (before Postage & Packaging). Enter POSTEARLY2012 discount code at checkout, or visit our Public Search Room in London.

Thurloe and the Secret Room

As today’s episode of The Peoples Post highlighted censorship and the interception of mails remains a sensitive subject. As recent public outrage against phone hacking has shown, people expect their communications to be private and letters from one private individual to another were once seen as being as sacred as the voicemail messages of a celebrity or crime victim. However, at certain times in the past the government has covertly or overtly intercepted mail as part of its efforts to maintain national security. Through the records held here at the BPMA a special insight into this can be gained.

Very little material survives from the period of the Civil War but the oldest item in the Royal Mail Archive suggests a focus on centralisation and ensuring the correct monopoly for the postal service rather than on interception and spying on the contents of the mail.

Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull relating to the establishment of the public postal service, by the setting up of new or improved posts on the five principal roads of the kingdom, those to Dover, Edinburgh, Holyhead, Plymouth and Bristol. (POST 23/1)

Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull relating to the establishment of the public postal service, by the setting up of new or improved posts on the five principal roads of the kingdom, those to Dover, Edinburgh, Holyhead, Plymouth and Bristol. (POST 23/1)

However, as the Civil War progressed and in particular under the regime of Oliver Cromwell it became more widespread – particularly under the leadership of the first Postmaster General, John Thurloe, depicted in a print held in the BPMA museum collection.

The Right Honourable John Thurloe Esqr. Secretary of State to the Protectors Oliver and Richard Cromwell (2010-0398)

The Right Honourable John Thurloe Esqr. Secretary of State to the Protectors Oliver and Richard Cromwell (2010-0398)

Thurloe’s state papers, some of which can be viewed online, include letters from private individuals to others (so, not to Thurloe!) which he has clearly intercepted and kept because of the detail they contain.

Thurloe became a great survivor and his operation was so valued by his opponents that after the Restoration he was rescued from capital charges of treason on condition he worked for the new royalist regime of Charles II, which he did. His character anchors the Thomas Chaloner series of murder mysteries by Susanna Gregory, which bring to life the world in which Thurloe’s operations supported the British state. A real-life depiction is given in a biographical work held in BPMA’s search room library: the Dutchman Mr Dorislaus, employed by Thurloe,

had a private roome allotted him adjoyning to the forreigne Office, and every post night about 11 a clock he went into that roome privately, and had all the letter[s] brought and layd before him, to open any as he should see good, and close them up again, and there he remained in that room, usually till about 3 or 4 in the morning, which was the usuall time of shutting up the male, and in the processe of time the said Dorislaus had got such a knowledge of all hands and seals, that scarcely could a letter be brought him but he knew the hand that wrote it; and when there was any extraordinary occasion, as when any rising was neare or the like, then S. Morland [a secretary of Thurloe’s] went from Whitehall between 11 and 12, and was privately conveighed into that roome, and there assisted Mr Dorislaus, and such letters as they found dangerous he brought back with him to Whitehall in the morning.

– Adrian Steel, Director

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage The Secret Room. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.

Selling the Air Mail service

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

With the rapid development of Air Mail services from the 1920s onwards, the Post Office was faced with the challenge of marketing the concept to the British public. Brigadier General Sir Frederic Williamson, Director of Postal Services, summed up the problem in a lecture to the Post Office Telephone and Telegraph Society of London in November 1933 (POST 50/24, p 14): “the British user of the Postal service is extremely conservative” “it takes a long time and a considerable amount of persuasion to induce him to take up readily or on a large scale any new service” “what is essential in a new service such as this is to bring its advantages under the notice of those who are likely to use it”.

The question of appropriate publicity for the developing service was one of the major items for discussion by a specially appointed ‘Air Mail Committee’ at this time; as early as March 1930 Air Mail labels were issued in the three shilling stamp book, services were also advertised in a special leaflet and in the Post Office Daily List, but take up was slow.

Publicity ideas developed over time; a suggestion for the use of advertising posters on mail vans in December 1930 was dismissed as “undesirable” (POST 33/2912A file 16), but by 1933 a Post Office Circular dated 31 May (p 208) announced that a poster on the subject of air mail services was to be displayed on mail vans until the end of August (a copy of this poster can be found in POST 33/2912A file 22). The display of this poster tied in with the launch of a successful press campaign which helped to achieve a “growth of something like half a million Air Mail letters” (POST 50/24, p 14).

Building on this achievement, the newly formed Public Relations department produced a number of posters designed to sell the service, some of which can be seen in the exhibition: Designs on delivery: GPO posters from 1930 to 1960.
 
Brigadier General Sir Frederic Williamson suggested back in 1933 (POST 50/24, p 14) that it would be a good idea to “familiarise the youthful mind with the possibilities of air services”; accordingly two key posters from the 1930s were produced for use in schools. One of these formed part of a series on the theme of ‘Overseas Communications’, it shows airmails for the empire being loaded at Croydon in 1934 (PRD 142, POST 110/3174C).

Loading air mails for the Empire: Croydon 1934

Loading air mails for the Empire: Croydon 1934

The second displays a map of ‘Air Mail routes’ and was designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer in 1937 (PRD 146, POST 110/3177). 

Airmail routes

Airmail routes designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer

Kauffer was also responsible for designing a poster to be displayed in Post Offices in 1935; this poster emphasised the speed of the service (PRD 111, POST 110/2488).

Quickest Way by Air

Quickest Way by Air

Another poster introduced in this year, designed by Theyre Lee-Elliott, showed the upward trend in air mail traffic between the years 1927 and 1933 (PRD 78, POST 110/2487).

Into the Air

Into the Air

Posters for display on mail vans were also produced along with a series of leaflets publicising the expansion of available services; these were meant to further stimulate the appetite of a public, who were increasingly excited by the prospect of a more speedy service for their overseas mail.

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Speed the Air Mails

Speed the Air Mails

South African Air Mail

South African Air Mail

Mails for East and South Africa, India, Malaya etc

Mails for East and South Africa, India, Malaya etc

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Designs on Delivery
Well Gallery, London College of Communication
7th October to 4th November
Online Exhibition – FlickrArchives Hub –  The Guardian

New podcast goes online: The Post Office during the Second World War

by Alison Bean, Website Officer

Peace and Freedom stamp, 1995

Peace and Freedom stamp, 1995

Earlier this year several talks were given at the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms to tie-in with the exhibition Last Post – Remembering the First World War. These covered various wartime and postal history topics, including talks on the Post Office during the First and Second World Wars. The talk The Post Office during the Second World War, given by Mark Crowley, is now available to download as a podcast.

Mark Crowley is a PhD student conducting research at the BPMA, who has previously written for this blog on The Post Office Home Guard. His talk presented a number of interesting insights into Post Office operations during World War 2.

The bomb damage suffered by Greenwich Post Office in 1945

The bomb damage suffered by Greenwich Post Office in 1945

The Post Office played a vital communications role during the War, providing both postal and telegram deliveries, and telephone services. With many Post Office workers now in the forces, women were employed in large numbers to deliver and sort mail, drive Royal Mail vans and maintain the telephone network. Mark’s talk is peppered with stories of the bravery of some of these workers, who managed to keep telephone exchanges and sorting offices running even as the enemy bombs rained down.

Vital infrastructure such as post offices, sorting offices and telephone exchanges were often targets for enemy bombers, and many suffered bomb damage. Mobile Post Offices, offering telephone and counter services were set up in effected areas.

A Mobile Post Office in a bombed area, 1941

A Mobile Post Office in a bombed area, 1941

Unfortunately, many of the archive images referred to in the talk cannot be included with the podcast due to copyright reasons, but we hope to make some of these available in the future.

The British Postal Museum & Archive Podcast can be downloaded through iTunes or from our website. Last Post – Remembering the First World War is currently on a national tour.

What does the Post Office mean to you?

by Julian Stray, Assistant Curator

What does the Post Office mean to you? An interesting question and probably not one that we often consider. Is it the loss of our favourite local post office, or is it the continued success of this everyday resource with a friendly face behind the counter, where a single stamp is provided with the same enthusiasm as a bulk dispatch of eBay packages? What do you think of when a holiday postcard is dropped onto your doormat? It is unlikely that any of us spare a thought to the process that bought it from a resort to our house for the modest cost of a stamp. It is also unlikely that we view with such warmth the steady stream of monthly bills or ‘junk’ mail that invades our homes on a far too regular basis!

An oral history drop-in session in progress.

An oral history drop-in session in progress.

Many of us have spent a few weeks, possibly as a student, working as a ‘casual’ over the busy Christmas period. Or possibly you may have completed ten, twenty, thirty, even forty years service for the Post Office, Royal Mail, Parcelforce or Romec. These days, with a changing mails market, increasing numbers of people are actually employed by competitors within the mail business; employed by TNT, DHL, Business Post, City Link or one of the many others vying for space. How do you feel about these changes in the home mail market?

If you have an opinion on any of the above or other associated matters, The British Postal Museum & Archive are interested in your views. We will be hosting two ‘drop-in’ sessions in 2009 where the one big question will be asked: “What does the Post Office mean to you?” Speaking to one of the BPMA curators, we are offering the opportunity for anyone to have their view recorded, be it a three minute rant or a longer discourse on a fondly remembered service. It is the BPMA’s aim to capture a snap-shot of people’s views and opinions during the most radical shake-up of the domestic mail market seen in over 150 years.

The first of these sessions will be held at the BPMA Museum Store on 21 stMay 2009 (full details below). No booking is necessary; simply turn up to have your views recorded for posterity. Please note that some recordings may be closed from public access for a period of years if deemed necessary. So if you are an employee of Royal Mail, or of one of its competitors or simply an interested member of the public, come and tell us… ‘What does the Post Office mean to you?”

BPMA Oral History Drop-In Sessions 2009
May Drop-In Session – Thursday 21st May, 10am-3pm at the BPMA Museum Store
October Drop-In Session
– Tuesday 20th October, 10am-3pm at The British Postal Museum & Archive