Tag Archives: postman

The Postman’s Snuffbox (Part 1)

While on holiday in London Kenneth Grey Wilson and his wife found a snuffbox owned by a British postman. In trying to find the relatives of this postal worker he came across a few unexpected surprises. This week (in a two-part post), Kenneth will be sharing his story and that of the snuff box owner.

We all love a good treasure-hunting story; accounts of buried pirate booty, lost gold mines, or Roman coins found in a farmer’s meadow seem to capture the attention of nearly everyone. Most of us are not fortunate enough to discover a buccaneer’s hoard behind a chimney stone, but it seems that we all in our way do a bit of treasure hunting—keeping an eye out for a Picasso at a jumble sale, searching for bargains at Debenhams, or just looking for forgotten change in vending machines.

My wife and I are both collectors and treasure-hunters of a sort, and when traveling we look for inexpensive curios in antique shops, shop windows or flea markets—objects that seem to convey history, hold a strong visual appeal, and ideally some level of mystery. The object might be a hand-made toy, a piece of jewelry, an old postcard or a faded photograph, but it must convey a human touch or story that communicates across time. On a recent trip to London we spent hours in the British Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, and the Museum of London, but what really excited us was the prospect of discovering small treasures in the many flea markets of the city.

On a damp, grey Sunday—the kind of day that makes tourists feel that they are in the London of Sherlock Holmes or Charles Dickens—we ventured out to the Old Spitalfields Market in the East End, an area of London outside the old medieval walled city that has seen buying, selling, haggling and trading of all sorts for hundreds of years. The historic market looked promising—crowded aisles between stalls filled with bits and pieces of other times and other lives.  The odors of age and dust were greatly improved by the smells of of Cornish pasties and meat pies and we eagerly took to the hunt.

While bargaining over some small metal hooks that might find use in our bathroom, I noticed a small, nickel-plated snuffbox with the words, “A. Whittard, Postman, Dursley” marked on the lid. The letters had been stamped into the metal, one at time, with hand tools. The repetition of the letter “X” turned on its side had created a border around the words.  My wife and I immediately thought that this intriguing find had enough clues to trace it to its original owner, and that mission might serve as a fun challenge. The snuffbox would be our map. The owner would be the treasure.

Snuffbox

Snuffbox

I made a cash deal with the seller for both the bathroom hooks and the snuffbox and my wife and I went happily back to our hotel room to rest up for the next day’s adventures.  A week later, back at home in Texas, I searched the Internet for Dursley, and found that it was a small market town in Gloucestershire. A search for A. Whittard, Postman, Dursley, quickly turned up a link to an online forum for past residents of Dursley and a comment by Julie Smith from Ohio, USA, about growing up in the town, along with a mention of her late brother, Alan Whittard, who had been a Dursley postman.

Parsonage St., Dursley, circa 1910. The old post office was on this street. Postcard from Kenneth's collection.

Parsonage St., Dursley, circa 1910. The old post office was on this street. Postcard from Kenneth’s collection.

It appeared that we had a win on the first spin of the wheel, but in further investigation, we recognized that Alan was too young to be our snuffbox owner, and what’s more, no one remembered him ever using snuff. Julie offered to contact a friend in Dursley, Jennifer Rennie, known as “Paddy.” As it turned out, Paddy’s maternal grandfather was Arthur Whittard, a Dursley postman at the turn of the 20th century. So, unknown to Julie, she and her “friend” Paddy were actually distant cousins…

If this story inspired you to do some family history research of your own, or you just want to find out more about a family member who worked for the British postal service, the BPMA has range of records in its collection that may help you find out more.

On the map, the History Pin map

Hello, I’m Nicola and I’ve been volunteering for the BPMA since the end of January. It has been such a fantastic experience for me so I wanted to write a little blog to share what I have been working on. Interestingly, I gained my volunteer position at the archives because my cousin had put out message on twitter asking about volunteer opportunities to which Martin Devereux, our digital content manager replied, so I am as grateful to her as to Martin and everybody else at the BPMA. I have been very lucky with this volunteer placement because it has allowed me to explore my two greatest passions in life, history and photography, in an area that I had been previously unfamiliar with, that of postal history.

Postman delivering mail to a large group of hop pickers, Kent, 1935. (POST 118/467)

Postman delivering mail to a large group of hop pickers, Kent, 1935. (POST 118/467)

When I first came to volunteer at the BPMA, Martin talked to me about a few different areas that I could potentially work on but I told him I wanted to do all of them. So I have spent the past few weeks scanning, cataloguing and rehousing glass plate negatives, tagging and creating labels for online photographs, researching a couple of mysterious Victorian albums and other general archiving tasks, including working with the CALM collections database. Alongside these more recent activities, I also dedicated my first few sessions to promoting the BPMA on History Pin. This website is a photographic archive which allows organisations to share their photograph collections with the public.

Each organisation has its own channel on the website where it can upload photographs and then attach them to Google’s map to show where the photograph was taken. Each photograph or ‘pin’ can then be overlayed on top of Google Street View, allowing the public to compare the location with the original photograph. This is enhanced with the sliding tool which changes the opaqueness of the photograph on top to reveal the Google image underneath; I had great fun playing with this!

The photographs that I uploaded from the postal heritage archives depict a variety of places and people ranging from a postman delivering mail at Dover Castle to a mail van parked next to Loch Lomond in Scotland. I uploaded photographs that I thought were either visually appealing or had an interesting subject matter (or both) and had great fun searching through the archives.

Mail van by Loch Lomond. (POST 118/134)

Mail van by Loch Lomond. (POST 118/134)

As well as these singular photographs I also created three collections of photographs connected to certain subjects and events. One contained images relating to transport in postal history, another was about the opening of the Mersey tunnel in 1934 and my favourite one was about delivering mail to the hop farms in Kent. I was very pleased to hear that the first photograph from this collection was made ‘pin of the day’ a few days after I uploaded it and appeared on the Historypin homepage.

Postman delivering mail to Dover Castle. The postman, standing in front of his mail van, hands mail to a soilder. A young boy stands next to the men, pointing at the postmans mail bag. 1935. (POST 118/421)

Postman delivering mail to Dover Castle. The postman, standing in front of his mail van, hands mail to a soilder. A young boy stands next to the men, pointing at the postmans mail bag. 1935. (POST 118/421)

It has been such a great experience to volunteer at the BPMA and I have learnt so much about archiving and all the different roles in an organisation such as this. It has definitely inspired me to consider archiving, especially if related to photography in my future career.

Join the BPMA on History Pin today!

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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Stock-take 2013

Our more regular users may have noticed that we have been closed for two weeks during May for our annual stock-take; an important housekeeping exercise that allows us to focus on tasks we find difficult to fit in during the normal course of the year.

I may speak only for myself in describing stock-take as an almost therapeutic experience (‘housekeeping’ may not be everyone’s cup of tea), but carrying out audits, weeding out duplicate material, and boxing and listing uncatalogued material are all necessary tasks, requiring a methodical approach and producing gratifying results.

Auditing Second Review files.

Auditing Second Review files.

Archives Assistant, Penny McMahon, assisting with the Second Review audit and reboxing.

Archives Assistant, Penny McMahon, assisting with the Second Review audit and reboxing.

It was a successful stock-take, with a number of tasks being completed. These included the much needed creation of more space in our repository by reorganising shelves, and the auditing of ‘second-review’ material (we are gradually undertaking a process whereby records that have not been archived, and which are more than 25 years old, undergo an appraisal of their historical value and retention needs). In addition, a number of boxes of miscellaneous material were appraised (always an interesting foraging exercise), photographic negatives of GPO/PostOffice/Royal Mail posters were digitised for our online catalogue, and a large number of records from our Museum Store at Debden were relocated to the Royal Mail Archive at Freeling House.

Ultimately, our stock-take work is aimed at making our archive collections more accessible to the public by accounting for records, getting them in order, and then on to our catalogue. These processes are all the more important in light of our move to Calthorpe House, planned for 2015.

POST 110/3084, c.1980s - Poster scanned for archive catalogue

POST 110/3084, c.1980s – Poster scanned for archive catalogue

POST 110/2746, c.1989 - Poster scanned for archive catalogue

POST 110/2746, c.1989 – Poster scanned for archive catalogue

POST 110/2813, c.1946 - Poster scanned for archive catalogue.

POST 110/2813, c.1946 – Poster scanned for archive catalogue.

Stock-take is beneficial not only to the efficient functioning of our archives, but also to staff, in providing a break from normal routine and ongoing projects. It also allows staff to work with unfamiliar areas of the collections, and to re-engage with the grass roots of the archives, the records themselves! Indeed, being an archivist doesn’t necessarily mean that you spend your time poring over old records since much of the process of maintaining an archive is also administrative.

One of the major benefits I derive from stock-take is acquainting myself with areas of our archives with which I have little contact (being a primarily cataloguing archivist, I tend to work on specific collections). The most entertaining find I came across was a 1998 Royal Mail good practice guide on ‘Dealing with Dog Attacks’!, covering ‘ultrasonic dog deterrent devices’ (‘not to be directed at humans’) and listing goats and geese as animals to potentially ‘ferocious’ animals! Obviously less amusing when you acknowledge that it was a serious guide for a genuine threat to postmen (626 of whom suffered serious dog bites in 1997 alone).

Staff guide on dealing with dog attacks, 1998.

Staff guide on dealing with dog attacks, 1998.

Given that there are always records to be appraised, sorted and catalogued, and a long list of preparations we need to make for our move to our new home in 2015/16, there will be plenty of work to get our teeth stuck into in next year’s stock-take, and I gladly hand the baton over to the next willing coordinator!

– Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)

Bloomsbury Festival

Saturday 20th October sees the BPMA once more take part in the fantastic Bloomsbury Festival – a celebration of the cultural activities and community fun to be had in this vibrant area of London.

Members of staff from the BPMA will be offering a wide range of activities across the weekend – and moving around across Russell Square in order to meet as many people as possible.

Our postman from the past.

Our postman from the past.

Back, due to popular demand, is our Pedal Powered Postman from the Past – who will be at the Festival from 10am ’til 4pm on Saturday 20th, riding around on a vintage postman’s parcel tricycle. The tricycle will be full of children’s activities for all ages – with a retro postal theme. Be sure to ask the Postman from the Past all about the red and blue Victorian postal uniform that he will be wearing too.

Victorian parcel tricycle.

Victorian parcel tricycle.

For both the Saturday and the Sunday we will have the Poetry Postie at the Festival, from 10am ’til 4pm. The Poetry Postie, otherwise known as Sally Crabtree, will also be riding around Russell Square. Sally will have a fantastic array of arty activities and crafts, which may include items such as singing telegrams or letters written as a poem. Sally is guaranteed to bring an arty twist to any postal items – and will ensure you never simply write a letter or a card in the same way again!

On the Saturday from 12.30 to 5pm the BPMA will be based at the October Gallery for our Write Away event- following on from our popular collaboration with the October Gallery at last year’s Festival. We will be making and writing our own retro postcards and providing free postage. You can send your retro postcard with a unique design to friends and family by posting it into one of our unusual replica pillar boxes.

With so many stalls and activities to see and do, all celebrating the creativity and community of Bloomsbury, the Festival promises to be a weekend not to be missed. Our events with a postal twist will be innovative and inspiring – we look forward to seeing you there!

Royal Mail cigarette cards

The collections we care for at BPMA are very diverse, ranging from vehicles and sorting equipment to stamps and personnel records. Our goal is to collect things that reflect the role of people in the postal service, and the innovations in technology to meet the demands of a changing world – the cigarette cards in our collection certainly do that!

Previously we have blogged on cigarette cards from the Wilkinson Collection and others produced by Wills’s focusing on the Australian Post Office but now we have added a set of 50 cards on the theme of “Royal Mail” to our Flickr site.
The Royal Mail cigarette cards were produced by W. Clarke & Son (and later reissued by Ogden’s) in the early 20th Century. They show people, equipment and events connected with the postal service up to the late 19th, or possibly early 20th, century.

'A Mail Coach in a Snow-Drift' - Ogden's Cigarette Card (2010-0469/09)

‘A Mail Coach in a Snow-Drift’ – Ogden’s Cigarette Card (2010-0469/09)

While many of the cards look at postal operations in Great Britain, such as mail coaches and the Travelling Post Office, others show postal services in what was then the British Empire. A mail coach in a snow-drift in rural England contrasts with the “Mashonaland Zebra Mail Team”, depicted crossing a river near Fort Tuli in South Africa.

'The Mashonaland Zebra Mail Team.' - Ogden's Cigarette Card (2010-0469/17)c

‘The Mashonaland Zebra Mail Team.’ – Ogden’s Cigarette Card (2010-0469/17)

Similarly, the military-style uniform of the New South Wales postman is markedly different to the dress of the African postal runner, who “in youth, perchance, owed allegiance to a Zulu chief”.

'Postman, Sydney, N.S. Wales' - Ogden's Cigarette Card (2010-0469/21)

‘Postman, Sydney, N.S. Wales’ – Ogden’s Cigarette Card (2010-0469/21)

'An African Postal Runner' - Ogden's Cigarette Card (2010-0469/22)

‘An African Postal Runner’ – Ogden’s Cigarette Card (2010-0469/22)

Also amongst the cards are several intriguing postal stories, including the much-loved Mail Coach attacked by a lioness (as previously blogged about), and the more obscure St Kilda Mail Bag, a strange and possibly unreliable method of sending mail from this remote island to the mainland.

Visit Flickr to see the Royal Mail cigarette cards.

Foreign Postal Workers

Like many Museums and Archives, we have a number of items in our collection which we don’t know very much about. The recent cataloguing of lantern slides, mostly dating from the early 20th Century, brought to our attention a number which show images of postal workers from around the world. While many are illustrative of the British Post Office’s international operations (there are a few showing Indian postal workers and the Indian Post Office was under British control at this point) it is unclear exactly why these lantern slides were produced.

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a group of men and women Post Office officials. (2012-0030/19)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a group of men and women Post Office officials. (2012-0030/19)

One theory is that they could have been shown to students at the London Postal School (LPS), which trained postal workers in a variety of duties. Perhaps the slides were used to highlight to the trainees that by working for the General Post Office (GPO) they were part of a global communications network? However, this does seem a little counter to the very practical emphasis at LPS, where a typical lesson saw students role-playing various scenarios, including counter transactions.

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a Landes postman on stilts delivering a letter to a woman, France. There is another woman standing on the door-step behind and a man seated in front of a spinning wheel in the bottom right hand corner. (2012-0030/04)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a Landes postman on stilts delivering a letter to a woman, France. There is another woman standing on the door-step behind and a man seated in front of a spinning wheel in the bottom right hand corner. (2012-0030/04)

Another theory is that the slides were used in magic lantern slide shows, which were a very popular form of entertainment at the turn of the 20th Century. Lanterns shows could cover a variety of subjects, and slides such as the ones in our collection may have been produced for GPO lantern shows or acquired from other shows due to their postal connection.

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a parcel postwoman standing beside the horse of the horse-drawn mail coach, Germany. (2012-0030/02)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a parcel postwoman standing beside the horse of the horse-drawn mail coach, Germany. (2012-0030/02)

Whatever the reason for their existence, these slides give us a fascinating insight into postal operations around the world, including the myriad of uniforms and modes of transport employed by different postal administrations. One particularly nice example shows a postman in a top hat riding a donkey!

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a rural postman in Dominica, British West Indies, wearing a light blue top hat, white trousers and a blue jacket whilst riding a white donkey. (2012-0030/16)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a rural postman in Dominica, British West Indies, wearing a light blue top hat, white trousers and a blue jacket whilst riding a white donkey. (2012-0030/16)

In addition to the images illustrating this blog we have uploaded a number to our Flickr site. Search our online catalogue to see more of our lantern slides.

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.

Our paintings on Your Paintings

The BPMA is the custodian of two main collections: the archive of the Royal Mail and the BPMA Museum Collection. The vast influence the postal industry has had in shaping British society, and the world, is reflected throughout our collections. They include photographs, films, ephemera, weapons, uniforms, vehicles, trains and letterboxes – and artwork, including a number of works in oil.

The subject matter of our oil paintings includes portraits of people who had a significant impact on postal services, such as past Postmaster Generals or Secretaries of the Post Office, as well of those of unnamed postal workers.

Portrait of a Postman (Alex Buchanan) by Thomas Patterson (2004-0077)

Portrait of a Postman (Alex Buchanan) by Thomas Patterson (2004-0077)

Specific historical events are depicted, such as the bombing of Mount Pleasant Parcel depot in the Second World War, while others are more general scenes of times past, including extensive representations of the Mail Coach era.

The Halfway House: A Mail Coach outside the 'Greyhounds Inn' by James Pollard (OB1995.519)

The Halfway House: A Mail Coach outside the ‘Greyhounds Inn’ by James Pollard (OB1995.519)

Changing transport methods, from the seas to the skies, and road to rails, is also captured in these works.

Mobile Post Office, Henley by Adrian Keith Graham Hill (POST 109/203)

Mobile Post Office, Henley by Adrian Keith Graham Hill (POST 109/203)

Landmark buildings – such as the GPO Tower and the old GPO building in the City of London – sit next to depictions of local post offices and more domestic scenes; the excitement of receiving a letter is portrayed more than once.

The Postman by Thomas Liddall Armitage (OBB 1997.5)

The Postman by Thomas Liddall Armitage (OBB 1997.5)

Recently our collection of oil paintings was made available on the Your Paintings website, a partnership between the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation which aims to show the entire UK national collection of oil paintings. Paintings from thousands of museums and other public institutions appear on the site.

Visit the BPMA page on Your Paintings to see our collection of works in oil, or search the site to view postal-themed paintings from other institutions. We like Army Post Office 3, Boulogne by John Lavery from the Imperial War Museum, and Post Office, Port Sunlightby Keith Gardner from The Port Sunlight Museum. What’s your favourite?

Pedal Powered Postmen from the Past

From Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd October 2011, Bloomsbury’s open spaces and venues will be coming alive with an amazing programme of dance, music, arts, guided walks, theatre, workshops, talks, secret sessions and much, much more as part of the Bloomsbury Festival 2011. BPMA is delighted to be taking part in this year’s Festival.

Children’s Activities

On Saturday 22 October we will be running sessions throughout the day from the children’s tent in Russell Square. We will be using a vintage postman’s parcel tricycle from the Learning team’s handling collection and offering an array of family activities, including the chance to:

  • Take part in a postal pop quiz
  • Make a craft keepsake to take away
  • Meet a postman from the past
  • Find out more about BPMA

If weather and technology permits, we hope to be able to ride the tricycle around the square to attract attention, with Access and Learning Manager Andy Richmond dressed as a postman from the past. Find out more on the Bloomsbury Festival website.

Our parcel tricycle

Our parcel tricycle

Letter Writing and Mailart

Other events of interest are Letter Lounge, a workshop at the October Gallery to write the letters you never have time for, and 2 to the power of 10, a mailart project at the Orange Dot Gallery bringing together 32 contemporary Bloomsbury artists and creative types.

The Bloomsbury Festival is completely free to attend – we hope to see lots of BPMA support there on the day!