Tag Archives: Sir Rowland Hill

Britain’s Postal Heritage

Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer at Bruce Castle Museum, will speak at the BPMA on 8th April. The focus of her talk will be Bruce Castle’s postal history collection, some of which has been highlighted on this blog in recent months.

An embroidered Valentines Day card from Bruce Castle's postal history collection

An embroidered Valentines Day card from Bruce Castle's postal history collection

The BPMA is currently working with Bruce Castle and the Communications Worker’s Union (CWU) to widen access to the Morten Collection, collected by former postal worker W.V. Morten. When Morten died in the 1920’s the Union of Communication Workers (now the CWU) recognised the importance of the collection and purchased it. Since then it has been housed at Bruce Castle, expanding from 8,000 items to more than 30,000.

Highlights of the Bruce Castle Museum Postal History Collection include material related to the TPO (Travelling Post Office), mail coaches, trade union history, stamps, Valentines cards, and Sir Rowland Hill, who at one point lived at Bruce Castle where he was headmaster of a school. The oldest object in the collection is a letter from Normandy sent in 1397.

Bettina Trabant’s talk is free and booking details can be found on our website.

The Rowland Hill Fund

The following blog was written for us by Mary Jeffery, Manager of the Rowland Hill Fund.

The Rowland Hill Fund is a registered charity founded in 1882 as a memorial to the great postal reformer and founder of the modern postal service Sir Rowland Hill, who retired as Secretary to the Post Office in 1864.

Portrait of Sir Rowland Hill

Sir Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill adapted the postal system of the 1830s from one which was slow and inadequate to the introduction of using an adhesive stamp on the letter sheets, and the Penny Black was born. This system meant letters were cheaper to send and Rowland Hill succeeded in making the postal system more efficient and profitable.

Rowland Hill died in Hampstead, London in 1879 and in 1882 the Post Office created the Rowland Hill Fund in his memory for postal workers, pensioners and their dependants in times of need.

In its early days before the existence of the Welfare State organisations such as ours were often the only place that individuals could turn to when in financial distress. Although welfare provision is now an accepted part of society there is nonetheless a need to provide financial support, and the Rowland Hill Fund is still a vibrant concern.

Over the years the Fund has helped thousands of individuals and made grants totalling many hundreds of thousands of pounds. Last year the Fund dealt with 369 new cases distributing close to £250,000 in grant aid to current and retired colleagues, and made more than 50 grants of £1,000 or over.

The support we offer is varied; help with budgeting, respite breaks, home modifications for the disabled, mobility vehicles or an unexpected crisis. The diverse nature of the help provided indicates that there is an ongoing need for the financial support and practical advice we are able to offer. There is a free confidential Helpline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, HELP 0800 688 8777. Here are examples where the Fund has helped.

“A serving colleague’s ground floor belongings were destroyed in the recent floods. She had to move upstairs until the substantial repairs on the ground floor had been completed and needed a temporary electricity supply and a washing machine. We contributed £500 as an emergency payment.”

“For several years a retired colleague had difficulty of movement, and with the help of his wife had managed to continue leading a fairly full life. As she was getting older, she was no longer able to lift him. The Fund helped towards the installation of a stair lift and bath hoist.”

“A couple are travelling daily to visit their son in hospital. Their son was born with a number of heath problems and has been in hospital since birth and will remain there for several more months. They had paid out £720 in travelling expenses and the Fund reimbursed them and will continue to pay their travel costs until their son leaves hospital.”

“A family house had hardly any heating and there was no hot water available except from kettles. Their two young children were particularly affected during the cold weather and had to be shipped off to their grandmothers to stay until the weather improved. The Fund contributed towards the cost of a replacement gas boiler.”

Often people are suffering hardship through no fault of their own and we are here to provide assistance when it is most needed, and in these changing times we want people to know that there is somewhere they can turn to for support. If you know of a Royal Mail Group colleague or pensioner who may be in need of financial or practical support, do let them know about the Fund.

Please support your charity and give what you can to help those who need it the most. For more information, ways to contribute and eligibility criteria, visit our website www.rowlandhillfund.org

Museum Store Tours

Pillar boxes arranged in a line at the British Postal Museum Store

Pillar boxes at the British Postal Museum Store

Throughout the year we open up our Museum Store to visitors. The Store is a working space, where our curators look after our collection of large objects – everything from pillar boxes and cycles, to mail vans and sorting equipment. There are also some interesting surprises, like the desk of Sir Rowland Hill and a Post Office (London) Railway (or Mail Rail) car.

Join us throughout 2010 for an afternoon or evening tour led by one of our curators. There are also several special events at the Museum Store this year, including Britain Loves Wikipedia and an Open Weekend (more details to follow).

Museum Store Tours 2010
Afternoon Tour, March – Wednesday 3rd March, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, April – Wednesday 7th April, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, May – Wednesday 5th May, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, June – Wednesday 2nd June, 2.00-4.00pm
Evening Tour, June – Monday 7th June, 6.00-8.00pm
Evening Tour, July – Monday 5th July, 6.00-8.00pm
Afternoon Tour, July – Wednesday 7th July, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, August – Wednesday 4th August, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, September – Wednesday 1st September, 2.00-4.00pm
Evening Tour, September – Monday 6th September, 6.00-8.00pm
Afternoon Tour, October – Wednesday 6th October, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, November – Wednesday 3rd November, 2.00-4.00pm 

Museum Store Special Events 2010
Britain Loves Wikipedia – Saturday 20th February, 10.30am-4.00pm
Open Weekend – Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th May, 10.00am-4.00pm

The Morten Collection at Bruce Castle

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

Greetings from Bruce Castle, Tottenham, North London – the former home of Sir Rowland Hill!

Today Tottenham is part of the thriving London Borough of Haringey and home of the famous football club Tottenham Hotspur, but over 150 years ago it was a small village and home to Sir Rowland Hill, future inventor of the postage stamp. He lived at Bruce Castle, a16th Century manor house, from 1827 where he was headmaster of a school for boys.

Today the former manor house is grade 1 listed and houses the Museum and Archive of Haringey. Among its exhibits we find many things related to the local area such as a 1930s office, World War II photographs, the history of the building, as well as a large collection of postal history objects, books and documents.

Two pages from the Visitors Book from the Hotel d'Europe, 1817-1826

Visitors Book of Mail Coach travellers staying at Hotel D’Europe between 1817-1826. The book is bound and consists of 361 pages.

This is thanks to former postal worker W.V. Morten and the Union of Communication Workers (now the Communication Worker’s Union). Very little is known about W.V. Morten himself, other than his complete devotion to the postal service, studying and collecting things on every aspect. When he died in the 1920s the Union of Communication Workers realised the importance of his collection and bought it for safekeeping and to prevent it from being broken up or going to America. As the Union had no storage or exhibition facilities, Bruce Castle with its postal connection seemed the obvious place for it to go.

Painting of mail train going past a mail bag apparatus point

Painting of mail train going past a mail bag apparatus point

In the decades following the Collection has expanded and now comprises of some 30,000 pieces including advertising posters, Victorian newspaper cuttings, mail box models, photographs, drawings, postmarks, stamps, mail coach tickets, books and even a vet’s receipt for a horse. We hold material ranging from a14th century telegram to a 1980s advertising brochure for a telephone system.

A letter from Normandy, 1397

Mail from Normandy, 1397

In recent years the museum as a whole shifted its emphasis away from postal history to the local history of Haringey. As a consequence of this the Morten Collection was somewhat neglected and when I came to work at Bruce Castle as part of Pistols, Packets and Postmen, a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involving the London Borough of Haringey, the Communication Workers Union and the British Postal Museum & Archive, I found a mountain of work waiting for me. Documents have to be catalogued and old information computerised, objects stored to modern conservation practice, digitised and sorted. The entire collection has to be brought back to life from the obscurity of the museum’s storage area through educational activities, exhibitions and talks.

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

This is not a one-person job, and I’m relying on the help of volunteers. A retired union worker is helping with the re-housing of the collection and an aspiring librarian catalogued large sections of the postal history books. A retired postal worker says: “I love coming to the museum as it gets me out of the house and makes use of my knowledge of the postal service. I have met some nice people too!”

A poster advertisement for accomodation at the Lion Hotel, Clumber Street, Nottingham, and a new mail coach called Little John, leaving every day at 1 O'Clock (except Sundays) and travelling to Mansfield, Warsop, Cuckney, Worksop, Retford, Tickhill, Doncaster and Sheffield.

Poster advertisement for accommodation at the Lion Hotel, Nottingham and a new Mail Coach

Whether you are an aspiring archivist or museum professional, a postal heritage enthusiast or just a retired person seeking a challenge, Bruce Castle wants to hear from you! At present we have opportunities for volunteers to help with re-housing, digitisation and basic cataloguing. No experience or PC skills are needed, just enthusiasm and the willingness to learn new skills.

If you are interested send me an email at: Bettina.Trabant@haringey.gov.uk or ring me on 02088088772.

Over the next few months we’ll be giving BPMA blog readers a glimpse of the Morten Collection through a series of Object of the Month articles as part of Pistols, Packets and Postmen – keep visiting!

The first Christmas card

With Royal Mail’s last posting day fast approaching many people are hurriedly finishing off their Christmas cards. For despite the growing popularity of Christmas greetings sent online, cards are still popular, with Royal Mail delivering 750 million Christmas cards every year. Perhaps it is the personal touch of a handwritten card that keeps this tradition alive.

Like many Christmas traditions, Christmas cards date from the Victorian era. Queen Victoria sent the first official Christmas card, and Sir Henry Cole, who amongst other things was an assistant to Sir Rowland Hill in the introduction of the penny post and the first Director of the V&A, commissioned the first commercial Christmas card in 1843. 1000 of the cards designed by painter John Callcott Horsley were printed lithographically and then hand-coloured by the professional colourer Mason. Cole used as many of these cards as he required and sold the rest for one shilling each under the pseudonym Felix Summerly. An advert in the Athenaeum paper for the cards read “Just published. A Christmas Congratulation Card: or picture emblematical of Old English Festivity to Perpetuate kind recollections between Dear Friends.”

An example of the first Christmas card from our collection, sent by Leonore A N Bell to Annette Caroline Ramsden

An example of the first Christmas card from our collection, sent by Leonore A N Bell to Annette Caroline Ramsden

Horsley’s design depicts two acts of charity – “feeding the hungry” and “clothing the naked” – and a family party scene, in which three generations are drinking wine to celebrate the season. The depiction of children drinking wine proved to be controversial, for this was an era when the temperance movement was gaining in popularity in the UK, but this did not stop people buying the cards and more were printed to satisfy demand.

Very few of the first Christmas cards remain in existence. Four years ago one was sold at auction for £8,500, while another is part of our collection of postal ephemera. In 1993 the V&A re-printed the design, to celebrate 150 years of the Christmas card; we also have an example of this in our collection.

For more on Christmas traditions and the post see our online exhibition The Post of Christmas Past.

Rowland Hill’s Postal Reforms

If there is one man who can be said to have changed the face of the postal service forever it is Rowland Hill. Hill was a noted reformer in the Victorian era, pioneering pupil-focused mass education and working for the South Australian Colonisation Commission, but he also had an interest in the postal service. In 1837 he published and circulated the pamphlet Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability. During the 1830’s there were growing calls for postal reform and Hill’s pamphlet proved influential, ultimately leading to the introduction of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black, in 1840.

A cross-written letter

A cross-written letter

Prior to 1840 the postal system was expensive, confusing and seen as corrupt. Letters were paid for by the recipient rather than the sender, and were charged according to the distance the letter had travelled and the number of sheets of paper it contained. As a result cross-writing, the practice of writing in different directions, was a common method of saving paper and money, and envelopes were rarely used.

For ordinary people the cost of receiving a letter was a significant part of the weekly wage. If you lived in London and your relatives had written to you from Edinburgh you would have to pay one shilling and one pence per page – more than the average worker earned in a day. Many letters were never delivered because their recipients could not afford them, losing the Post Office a great deal of money.

But while ordinary people scrimped and saved to use the postal system, many items, such as newspapers, were not subject to charge, and Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords had the right to frank and receive letters for free. Well-connected individuals could thus ask their MP to frank their mail for them, further reducing Post Office revenue.

After the Napoleonic Wars postage rates were high – a sly method of taxation – and there were many other anomalies and a number of local services with different charges. The system was ripe for reform.

Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill’s solution was prepayment, and a uniform rate of one pence for all letters weighing up to one ounce. Hill made no mention of the method of prepayment but later proposed the use of stamped covers (an idea previously suggested by Charles Knight). At an official inquiry into the Post Office, Hill outlined his ideas further and suggested that “a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash” be used. When the inquiry reported it recommended Hill’s plan to reduce postal charges and appended samples of stamped covers to the report.

The establishment of a parliamentary Select Committee chaired by fellow postal reform campaigner Robert Wallace followed, and at the same time a Mercantile Committee on postage was set up by merchants to campaign for lower postal rates. Rowland Hill was a member of the Mercantile Committee.

The Select Committee recommended Hill’s ideas in early 1839, but favoured a uniform rate of 2d. After public pressure was put on the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, the uniform rate was reduced to 1d, and on 15th August 1839 a bill was passed in favour of a universal penny post. The same bill abolished free franking and introduced prepayment in the form of stamped paper, stamped envelopes and labels.

Penny Black and Twopence Blue

Penny Black and Twopence Blue

Rowland Hill was appointed to the Treasury to oversee the implementation of the bill and the uniform penny post was introduced on 10th January 1840. Covers, envelopes and the world’s first adhesive stamps, the Penny Black and Twopence Blue, were introduced in May 1840. The stamps quickly proved themselves to be most popular method of prepayment.

Rowland Hill’s idea for a universal penny post was quickly vindicated. The number of chargeable letters in 1839 had been only about 76 million. By 1850 this had increased to almost 350 million and continued to grow dramatically. The Post Office’s revenue was initially cut but with the increase in the number of letters it soon recovered.

Adhesive postage stamps were gradually introduced throughout the world and with the change to charging by weight, envelopes became normal for the first time. Hill’s brother Edwin invented a prototype envelope folding machine, enabling increased production to fulfil the growing demand.

The rapid increase in the use of the postal service is also partly credited with the development of the transport system, particularly the railways, and improved opportunities for businesses in the Victorian era and beyond. The lower charges also had wide social benefits and the increasingly literate working classes took full advantage of the now affordable postal system.

Death Centenary of Rowland Hill stamp, 1979

Death Centenary of Rowland Hill stamp, 1979

Rowland Hill continued to influence the Post Office, becoming Secretary to the Postmaster General in 1846 and Secretary to the Post Office in 1854. During this period Hill established the Post Office Savings Bank, which encouraged more people to save, and introduced postcodes to London – essential in a city made up of lots of little villages all growing into each other, where streets in different parts of the city often had the same name.

Fittingly, Rowland Hill and his reforms have been celebrated on several postage stamps, including four stamps released to mark his death centenary in 1979, and the 1995 Communications stamps which commemorate the campaign for a universal penny post and the introduction of the Penny Black. Rowland Hill has also been honoured by three public statues and is buried in Westminster Abbey, a mark of how important his work was. There is also an awards scheme named after Hill for innovation, initiative and enterprise in the field of philately, and the Rowland Hill Fund, established in 1882, offers financial aid to past and present Royal Mail workers in times of need.

Pioneers of Communication: Rowland Hill stamps, 1995

Pioneers of Communication: Rowland Hill stamps, 1995

For more on postal history during the Victorian era please see our online exhibition Victorian Innovation.

BPMA Museum Store

The structure of the BPMA often causes confusion. At present the BPMA is split between two locations, Freeling House and the Museum Store. Freeling House (part of the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre complex in Central London) is where we house our publically-accessible Archive Collection and have a small Exhibition space. The Museum Store, in Debden, Essex, is where our Museum Collection is kept.

Each year there are a number of opportunities to visit the Museum Store and view the objects kept there. These include vehicles, sorting desks and machinery, an assortment of letter boxes and telephone kiosks, and even Sir Rowland Hill’s desk.

BPMA Curators will take you around the Store, telling the stories behind some of the objects. If you’re a vehicles enthusiast, interested in the development of the pillar box or just curious, we’d welcome your visit.

Museum Store Opening Times, 2009
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 1st April, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 6th May, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Evening – Monday 1st June, 6.00-9.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 3rd June, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 1st July, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Evening – Monday 6th July, 6.00-9.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 5th August, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 2nd September, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Evening – Monday 7th September, 6.00-9.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 7th October, 2.00-4.00pm
Open Afternoon – Wednesday 4th November, 2.00-4.00pm

Special Events at the Museum Store, 2009
Family Open Day – Saturday 13th June, 10.00am-5.00pm
Discover Session: GPO Street Furniture – Saturday 20th June, 11.00am-3.00pm
Discover Session: Square Pillar Boxes – Saturday 19th September, 11.00am-3.00pm

Group bookings are welcome.

For more information on the Museum Store and directions, please click here.