Tag Archives: postmen

Picture Post

The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) is proud to present Picture Post, an innovative community outreach project run in collaboration with Holborn Community Association, London, and Artsite Ltd, Swindon.

Family groups in both regions will work with artists and photographers to produce artistic responses to fascinating photographs from the BPMA collections.

During the 1930s-40s, the General Post Office (GPO) began using photography to support their newly established public relations activities. These promotional images were used in the Post Office magazine and on posters, travelling exhibitions and displays promoting the GPO.

Postman delivering mail to Kent hop farm, 1935 (POST 118/467)

Postman delivering mail to Kent hop farm, 1935 (POST 118/467)

The photographs show sorting clerks busy at work, fleets of motor vehicles, historic letter boxes, notable GPO buildings, engineers, travelling post offices and, of course, postmen and women delivering letters across Britain – from blitz-torn London to remote lighthouses.

In August 2010, the BPMA was one of four nationally important collections to benefit from the Designation Development Fund, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) council. The BPMA received £40,000 from the fund to improve conservation of the photographs, as well as access and understanding of its collections.

Picture Post was developed to increase access to the photography collection, and enable different groups to learn more about them, and postal history in general.

The London sessions are led by the BPMA in collaboration with staff and families from the Holborn Community Association and photographer Dan Salter. So far, these have involved using the museum handling collection of uniforms to recreate favourite photographs, and arts and crafts activities using photos for inspiration.

Choosing favourite photos

Choosing favourite photos

Charlie interpreting his favourite photo

Charlie interpreting his favourite photo

Rahim models postman's uniform

Rahim models postman's uniform

Dan setting up Charlie as Moses Nobbs the mail coach man

Dan setting up Charlie as Moses Nobbs the mail coach man

The artistic responses created by the families in the sessions will form part of a new travelling display, which will tour community spaces in London and Swindon during 2011.

Archive photos and images from the project can be viewed on Flickr

Badges of the GPO

by Terry Carney, BPMA Volunteer 

Some of the many badges worn by GPO and Royal Mail employees over the years

Some of the many badges worn by GPO and Royal Mail employees over the years

Although I have been interested in Military badges for many years it was only a few years ago after being given a small collection of GPO and Royal Mail badges that I became interested in this subject. In an attempt to find out more about the badges worn with GPO uniforms, I decided to visit the British Postal Museum and Archive. Unfortunately the items I was interested in seeing are not on show at present. However there is an album of photographs which show many of the BPMA collection of badges enlarged, available to anyone wishing to do their own research. Using the research facilities I found several lists and documents referring to a large number of metal and embroidered badges worn by Postmen and Postwomen over the years.

Since then I have been making a list of as many of these items as possible, with the intention of adding illustrations to the list. One of the documents that I found most useful was the Pattern Register for the period 1948-1966, which lists most of the badges worn at the time. Each badge being given its own pattern number, many of the entries contain a brief description and details regarding who the badges were intended for, however some entries carry little or no information and require further research.

I was very fortunate in being given the opportunity of becoming a volunteer at the archives and helping staff catalogue some of the badges in the BPMA collection. While working with the badges I came across some with labels which had been attached many years ago giving details which had not been included in the pattern register enabling some of the gaps to be filled in. Apart from making badges for their own employees the GPO were also responsible for having badges made for other organisations through their suppliers. I am hoping to complete my list shortly and will be supplying a copy for the BPMA. I am sure amongst readers that there will be several including former GPO staff, who are knowledgeable on this subject who will be able to add further information and any corrections that are necessary.

To find out more about volunteering at the BPMA please see our website.

Conducting Family History Research at the BPMA

by Richard Wade, Archives Assistant

As Royal Mail or the GPO, as it was known, was at one time the largest employer in the country, many people find they have a relative that was employed in some regard by them. Luckily, the GPO kept records of its staff which were organised centrally, and consequently the majority have survived. This means that they are a great resource for researching the lives of past family members, at least as far as their employment was concerned.

There are records of most staff from postmen and sorters to the Postmaster General, as well as the various clerks and officers in between. There are also records of telegraph staff as it would not have been possible to separate these out from those for postal staff. All of these records are held here at Freeling House.

Pensions and Gratuties records can provide important information about your ancestors career

Pensions and Gratuties records can provide important information about your ancestor's career

The most important and informative of the staff records are the pension records. We have these for the majority of staff from 1859 to 1959. You can usually find out from these the places people worked, the job they did and a brief history of their employment, including their various positions throughout their careers and the associated salaries. There will also be information about any particularly good conduct and any notable events or actions made during their careers, for example, if they went to fight with the Post Office Rifles (the Post Office’s own battalion) in the Great War, or work related achievements, such as gaining a long service award. Conversely, the records will also mention any black marks gained or anything they did they could be less proud of, such as drinking on the job. What you won’t find out from them are any personal details such as private addresses or information about their next of kin.

People received pensions at the age of 60 in the Post Office, unless they retired early for ill health. Where women were concerned, they could not work once they were married, so we have marriage gratuities for them from the year in which they got married. If people died whilst they were still employed then there would have been a death gratuity. However, the death gratuity and marriage gratuity records are often only indexes, so you may not get as much information as what you would for ordinary pension records.

We also have appointment records for the vast majority of employees, but these are nowhere near as informative as the pension records, as they generally only give the name of the employee and the date of the appointment. In some cases, the position they were appointed to is given, but even this is not guaranteed.

Another resource that can be used is our collection of minute books, which have information about certain offices, arranged either by place or by department. There are also records within the minute books of dismissals, where you may find people you can not find elsewhere.

Another option is the Establishment books, which list some of the more senior staff by department. They were produced each year, so you can trace people through the years to try and work out when they left if you do not know already. Some of the later books also contain lists of Postmasters.

Establishment books list key members of GPO staff

Establishment books list senior members of GPO staff

Finally, it is sometimes worth looking in the Post Office magazines; unfortunately, these are not indexed in any way so it is a question of just trawling through them. They mention people who had gone over and above their duty, comic and bizarre requests from customers, staff who have done particularly long service, and sometimes list staff who have retired recently. It will be especially worthwhile looking at the staff magazines if you know of an ancestor being involved in any of the sports teams, or playing in one of the Post Office bands or something similar, as these feature heavily in the magazines and will tell you about a side of a person that you wouldn’t find out about from the more formal records.

Postwomen in 1914. We have many photos which show Post Office employees in their uniforms.

Postwomen in 1914. We have many photos which show Post Office employees in their uniforms.

We also have a huge selection of photographs here, so if you wanted to find out about the type of clothing your relatives wore, or the type of places they worked in, you can do this too.

If you want to find out more about researching family history at the British Postal Museum & Archive, please see the Family History Pages of our website, which can be found in the visiting section – and while you’re there you can download our updated Family History Research Guide. If you wish to visit us and search our records, please do drop in and we’ll be happy to help.

200 Years of Australia Post

by Alison Bean, Website Officer

Over the weekend philatelists and postal heritage buffs in Australia celebrated Australia Post’s bicentenary. As you might expect of a former British colony, Australia’s postal service was much influenced by Britain’s. Browsing Australia Post’s fascinating 200th Anniversary website I discovered many interesting parallels and connections between the two postal services.

The postal service began in Australia with the appointment of Isaac Nichols – a former convict who had been transported to New South Wales for stealing – as the first Postmaster of Sydney on 25th April 1809. Mail distribution prior to Nichols’ appointment was “haphazard” according to Australia Post’s website. It also says of this period:

“Life was often bleak and lonely for the first settlers as they waited for news from home. It could be many months before a ship was sighted offshore and this was enough to generate near pandemonium on the wharves.”

And so it wasn’t until two months after his appointment that Nichols performed his first duty, which was to board the brig Experiment as it docked in Sydney Harbour and take delivery of the mail. He then took the mail back to his home in George Street, Sydney, and placed an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette to alert recipients that mail awaited them.

The practise of not home delivering the mail was common at the time. In Britain prior to the introduction of free home delivery, letters would often be delivered to a convenient local place, such as a coffee shop. Although the first “letter carriers” (postmen) were appointed in Sydney in 1828 it appears that home delivery was not free in New South Wales at this time, as recipients paid for letters rather than senders. In Britain free home delivery was not granted to every household until 1897 (this was a concession to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria) although by 1859 93% of letters were not subject to a delivery charge.

Another important milestone for the Australian postal service was the introduction of the first public post boxes in Sydney in 1831. These were receipt boxes placed in front of letter receiving houses for the collection of (unpaid) letters. Receipt boxes were introduced in the UK in 1814 and underwent many stylistic changes throughout their existence, such as changes to the angle of the aperture (letter slot) from vertical to horizontal. The boxes introduced in Sydney in 1831 are likely to have been the same as their British counterparts.

Paris Letter Box 1850, an inspiration for early Australian letter boxes.

The first pillar boxes arrived in New South Wales in the late 1850s, a few years after UK trials had taken place in the Channel Islands. The Postmaster General of New South Wales announced that he would replace the existing receipt boxes with cast-iron letter receivers in Sydney and an invitation to tender was placed in the Government Gazette on 2nd November 1855. The boxes that followed were the famous Bubbs Boxes, which were modelled on those already in use in Belgium and Paris (which had also provided the inspiration for the first British roadside pillars). One of the stamps in Australia Post’s 200th Anniversary stamp issue shows an early Bubbs Box. A slightly different model manufactured in 1870 can be found in the collection of the National Museum of Australia and an image of this and others from the NMA’s collection can be seen on Wikipedia. Flickr shows an image of a similar box manufactured for the Western Australian postal service, bearing the Western Australian emblem of a black swan.

Australia Post’s website also notes that letter sheets pre-stamped with an albino embossing were introduced in New South Wales in 1838, pre-dating the Penny Black by almost two years. There is some debate about whether these letter sheets should be regarded as stamps or postal stationary. Those who feel they are postal stationary note that special letter sheets showing an eagle with the Cross of Savoy were sold in Sardinia in 1819. Either way, the letter sheets were inspired by British postal reformer Rowland Hill. James Raymond, the New South Wales Postmaster at this time, had been in communication with Hill and was much influenced by Hill’s 1837 pamphlet Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability, which recommended the introduction of prepayment for postage using pre-printed envelopes and stamps. But Raymond’s pioneering letter sheets did not prove popular and moves were made to introduce postage stamps. The first postage stamps were released in New South Wales on 1st January 1850. Victoria followed on 3rd January 1950 and other Australian colonies introduced stamps between 1853 and 1860.

Britains first charity stamp, issued in 1975 in support of health and handicap charities.

Britain's first charity stamp, issued in 1975 in support of health and handicap charities.

Another philatelic first claimed by Australia was the release of the world’s first charity stamps in 1897 in New South Wales. The stamps were to honour Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee with proceeds going to a Consumptive’s Home (images of these stamps can be seen on the Stamps of Distinction blog and Linns.com). It is important to note that Greece had released charity stamps in 1831, although the New South Wales Consumptive Home stamps were the first to include a charity surcharge. Britain’s first charity stamp was issued in 1975 to support health and handicap charities.

I am indebted to BPMA Curator Julian Stray for providing much of the information in this post. The following online resources were also extremely useful.
BPMA: Key Dates in the British Postal Service
BPMA: online catalogue
Australia Post: Our History
Australia Post: 200 Years
Wikipedia: Postage stamps and postal history of New South Wales
Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue: Commonwealth & British Empire Stamps