Tag Archives: stocktaking

Photography mysteries from the Archive Stocktake

The (mostly figurative) dust has settled after our annual Archive Stock Take, when the whole archive team pulls together for a packed two weeks of communing with the collection. Sorting, listing, arranging, appraising, auditing, measuring – basically all the huge or awkward jobs we can’t fit into the rest of the year, but that are becoming ever more important as we prepare to move our collections to their new home at The Postal Museum.


Adam and Lydianne measuring boxes

As ever, we’ve been left with a few questions that we need to answer – and we’d like your help with them!

One of our tasks was sorting through boxes and boxes of photography, weeding out the prints and negatives that we already had and finding the material relevant to our collections to be preserved. Often we couldn’t find any notes at all about when or where the images came from, so the biggest challenge was to try and work out what it was we were actually seeing.


Vicky sorting through photography negatives

This is where you come in! Are you able to shed any light on where the following photographs were taken? If so, we’d love it if you could help us to solve our Stock Take mysteries.

  1. This interior shot appears to be the control room for a distribution centre – possibly Reading – but we can’t find any details in the photo that give its location away. With its brightly coloured light panels, I think it has a touch of the Bond villain’s lair about it, but perhaps that’s just me…


  1. These shots were found together and seem to be of the same rather quirky-looking building. We think it might be one of the first out-of-town sorting offices, purpose-built to house mechanised sorting equipment. Despite its unusual character, even our expert on Post Office architecture, volunteer Julian Osley, is stumped about where it might be.

4 5 6

  1. Similarly, we came upon these three photos together and they appear to be from the same site. Those fun-looking slides are in fact Safeglide Spiral Chutes, which are specially-designed to allow items added from different levels to work their way down at a controlled speed. We’ve had one suggestion as to where these photos may have been taken – the Parcel Concentration Office at Washington, County Durham (thank you, @RogerEvansAM!) – but any further wisdom would be appreciated.

7 8 9


So there we have it. If you can use your knowledge or detective skills to figure out where any of these were taken – or if you can tell us anything about their contents – please jump right in and comment below, email info@postalheritage.org.uk or tweet us!

-Ashley March, Archives and Records Assistant


Appraising and re-housing the Photographic Collection

A few weeks ago Archivist Helen introduced this year’s stocktake. In this post Archivist and Records Assistant Penny McMahon talks about appraising and re-housing the Post Office Photo Library collection (POST 118). This class also contains photographic material created by a number of different departments within the Post Office, including the Public Relations/Communications department and Parcelforce.

We’ve been working on several different deposits such as a collection of photo albums from the 1930s. On first examining the photographs they were not particularly interesting and looked like they mostly, if not entirely, duplicated photographic material already in the archive. However, on closer inspection the photo albums corresponded with lecture training notes in POST 92. The photographs were then kept as they complemented and expanded on items already in the archive collection. Once we decided to keep the photographs they were then taken out of the original folder (making sure to document any metadata contained on or within the folders), placed in acid free Melinex sleeves and placed in acid free photo albums.

A glimpse of the vast photographic collection of POST 118: a junior postman on a motorcycle (POST 118/2040)

A glimpse of the vast photographic collection of POST 118: a junior postman on a motorcycle (POST 118/2040). This example is already part of the collection and has been digitised.

Another item that has been appraised is a large, green, bound album. There is a Post Office Records note pasted to the inside of the front cover, dated 1973. It states that the photographs in the album were taken in Britain during 1934-1939 by John Bryson of the Post Office Film Unit. The album is filled with monochrome photographs that depict male and female Post Office and Telegraph workers in uniform, and going about their daily duties. This album was also kept but needs specialist conservation treatment as the photographs are glued down to acidic-paper pages.


Inside the large green album of photographs from 1934-1939.

More ruthlessly appraised was a collection of slides from the 1980s from the public relations department. These slides included a postcode exhibition display, POCO the Postcode Elephant and the Stamp Bug Land Exhibition 1982, at various venues.

1980s slides.

1980s slides.

-Penny McMahon, Archives/Records Assistant

‘Time to take stock’: archive edition

A few months ago we shared what happens during our museum stocktake. This time we will share what goes on during an archival stocktake. During this time, our Archive team will be updating you on progress and any exciting finds. In this post, we introduce what we will be up to over the next two weeks and what ‘taking stock’ means.

An archive stocktake is part of a number of processes which ensure the good management of an archive and enable staff to preserve, document and make available records to users.

Closing the Search Room for a fortnight (12-23 May) enables all archive staff to get involved in these activities, and use the Search Room space to spread out material, sort it and check for duplication.

The more organised shelves of volumes and documents in the archive repository.

The more organised shelves of volumes and documents in the archive repository.

This year we will be rehousing negatives in POST 118. This material is currently loose on shelves, or in poor quality boxes and needs housing to appropriate standards to ensure its long term preservation. Records which have undergone second review and  have been selected for permanent preservation will be sorted and put to one side ready for cataloguing. Alongside this we will audit and rebox the files still awaiting review and check our documentation to address any issues or inaccuracies.

Photographic negatives  in desperate need of rehousing!

Photographic negatives in desperate need of rehousing!

Annual stocktakes are a part of good archival practices, but at present they take on additional importance as we prepare to move to a new home. By housing loose material such as the negatives, reviewing material for preservation or disposal, and auditing our collections, we ensure that material is adequately documented and housed ready to be moved.

Artist impression of the new repository at The Postal Museum.

Artist impression of the new repository at The Postal Museum.

Finally the stocktake period is an opportunity for all staff to take a step back from their day-to-day routines. They have the opportunity to work on tasks that may not form part of their daily duties and to think about our collections in a different way. Truly a chance to ‘take stock’.

-Helen Dafter, Archivist

Philatelic stocktake

Regular readers of the BPMA blog will know that we undertake a yearly stock take. Stock take, a concerted burst of ‘collections housekeeping’, has recently been utilised to prepare for our move to the new museum at Calthorpe House. Our last stock take was earlier this year, but the ever keen Philatelic team scheduled two additional stock taking sessions; the first of which took place last week.

The week was extremely beneficial as we made significant progress in a number of important areas: 537 boxes were reorganised into numerical order and re-listed, 348 shelves and 167 albums were relabelled, oversize registers were prepared for housing, and duplicate material was identified and removed.

Philatelic material during the stock take.

Philatelic material during the stock take.

These tasks are an essential part of the move planning process: we must know exactly what is in each box, where each box is and where each box is going to be housed in the new museum in order for the collection to be transported safely and stored efficiently.

Our next Philatelic stock take, scheduled for November 2013, will focus on rationalising more essays and regional postcards.

– Joanna Espin, Philatelic Assistant

Visit our website for information on accessing our philatelic collection for research.

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)

Archive Stocktake 2012: Tackling the ‘philatelic library’

One of the key tasks I was involved in during our recent stocktake was working on rationalising one of our library collections.

When the National Postal Museum merged with the Post Office Archives in the late 1990s, it bought its own library collection. This collection was boxed up and placed in our repository, since then little work has been done to make this material accessible.

A member of staff checking library duplicates

A member of staff checking library duplicates

In January 2011, during our last stocktake, these boxes were listed. This enabled us to get an idea of exactly what material was there, and plan how best to deal with it in future. As a result of this exercise a large number of duplicate publications were identified within this collection. These have been removed and disposed of over the past year.

During this year’s stocktake, the task was to identify material in the ‘philatelic library’ (the old National Postal Museum Library) which duplicated material held in our existing Search Room library, or in The Royal Mail Archive. This material has also been disposed of.

This task has a number of benefits. It has created space in our repository area, something which is always at a premium. It has also helped us gain more of an understanding of the ‘philatelic library’ and how it relates to our other holdings.

Sorting the staff reference library

Sorting the staff reference library

Over the next year we will review the remaining material in the ‘philatelic material’ to ensure that it remains relevant for our users. Ultimately we hope to fully integrate this material into our Search Room library and make it accessible via our online catalogue. The work during our recent stocktake was one step towards this.

Stocktake is now over and the Search Room reopened to the public on 28 May, and significant progress was made during stocktake in a number of key areas. These have included the removal of duplicate material across a number of collections (including our own in house filing systems), rehousing photographic material to archival standards, ensuring that records are transferred to appropriate repositories, and auditing the second review files. Some tasks are simply too big to complete in a fortnight, but a concerted burst of attention on these activities can help lay the groundwork for ongoing work over the coming months. All tasks have contributed to getting the collections in good condition to move to our new postal museum, and many will also be of benefit to our users in the shorter term. We appreciate the inconvenience that this closure causes, but hope that these blog posts have provided some insight into why it is necessary. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our users for their patience over the last couple of weeks.

Helen Dafter – Archivist

Our Archives are open again

The Royal Mail Archive Search Room is now open to visitors again after two weeks of stock taking. During this time members of staff have been carrying out an audit of archive files created during the 1970s and 1980s, which are currently waiting to be appraised.

Checking files

Checking files

This involves:

  • Checking files to make sure that none are missing;
  • Sorting files into reference number order to make them easier to find;
  • Re-boxing files (the old boxes have a nasty habit of splitting and spilling their contents);
  • Listing files so that they can be retrieved and appraised.

This can only be done during Stock Take when the Search Room is closed because of the amount of space required.

Sorting files in to order

Sorting files in to order

The task went extremely well (even if it was physically exhausting – no need to go to the gym!).  By the end of Stock Take, it was estimated that about 380 boxes or 4800 files were audited, almost twice the number originally anticipated.

Checking files

Checking files

Valuable shelf space has been freed up, some missing files have been found, and files will now be easier to retrieve.  We have identified files that are ready to be catalogued and which will be made available to the public at the earliest opportunity.  The audit will also speed up the appraisal process for these files, many of which will become part of The Royal Mail Archive in the future.

All in all, a job well done!

Louise Todd – Archivist

In a future blog archivist Helen Dafter will write about another stock taking task, improving our Philatelic Library. Find out more about the Royal Mail Archive on our website.

Archive stock-take 2012: Transfer of material to BT Archives

Our annual stock-take is a necessary period of spring-cleaning for our archive service and collections, allowing us to tackle important jobs we don’t otherwise get time for.

My task this year was to identify, pull together and check off records that have been awaiting transfer to their more rightful home at BT Archives.

Telegram and telephonist posters which will be transfered to the BT Archives

Telegram and telephonist posters which will be transfered to the BT Archives

As a consequence of the British Telecommunications Act, 1981, which transferred the responsibility for telecommunications services from the Post Office to British Telecom, a lot of material has been transferred by us to BT Archives since they were established in 1986. They have their own collecting policy, which essentially concerns historical material reflecting the development and operations of BT and its predecessors.

The records set aside for transfer to BT during stock-take clearly fall under this remit, including some wonderful posters dating from the 1930s to the 1950s promoting telephonist jobs, advising on wartime telephone usage, and advertising overseas telegrams and radiotelegrams to ships at sea. The material also includes telegraph training manuals for the early twentieth century, telephone service instructions for the 1930s, and a large number of files relating to a gas explosion in the telegram-conveying pneumatic tube line beneath Holborn in 1928. There are numerous interesting claims files submitted by local residents, plus one for Fred Astaire and his sister, who were starring in a production of Funny Face at the Princes Theatre (now Shaftesbury Theatre), which was suspended for several weeks as a result of the explosion.

Vital paperwork needs to be completed before a transfer of archive material can take place to ensure accountability and good house-keeping. A complete list of all the records was compiled on a spreadsheet, which was then approved by the BPMA’s Head of Archives and Records Management. This material can then be copied into an Exit/Receipt form, which will then be signed by myself, our Head of Archives and Records Management and the Heritage Collections Manager at BT Archives, a copy of which I will place in a registered file for safekeeping at the BPMA.

All the listing and transfer approval has been dealt with in advance of stock-take to allow sufficient time for any hitches. So what’s left to do now? Essentially carefully packaging and boxing up the material ready for a short taxi ride down to the old Holborn telephone exchange (where the BT Archives are houses), and then updating our records (including those on our catalogue where necessary) to show that the material has been transferred.

Material ready for transfer.

Material ready for transfer.

The transfer of material to BT is by no means a finite process, as our uncatalogued records may well contain telecoms material that will only appear as we work through our backlog. However, as we attempt to get our house in order prior to our big move to Calthorpe House, this upcoming transfer will help to make sure we only take with us material designated for long-term preservation at the BPMA, whilst clearing some much needed space in our repository.

Although I’m sorry to see those lovely telephonist and telegram posters go, at least they will be going to a very good home! Keep your eyes peeled for them on the BT catalogue!

The telephonist has an interesting job - poster by Dorrit Dekk

The telephonist has an interesting job – poster by Dorrit Dekk

Anna Flood – Archivist (Cataloguing)

For an overview of Telecommunications in our collection please visit our website.

Stocktaking at the archive

Regular visitors to the BPMA’s search room will notice that we have been closed for ‘stock take’ since the start of last week and won’t be reopening until next Monday, 24th January.

Why does the BPMA close for stock take and what happens during this period? Stock take gives BPMA staff both the time and almost as importantly the space to concentrate on large sorting or repackaging tasks that would be very difficult to progress otherwise. Up until this year stock take has taken place for two weeks in December; this year we’ve moved it to January but we’re always open to suggestions as to the most sensible time to hold it and haven’t decided for certain when to schedule it into 2012.

Re-housing film stills and checking duplicate posters

Re-housing film stills and checking duplicate posters.

It involves almost all the archivists among the BPMA’s staff, both in the archive and records management and cataloguing teams (about ten staff in all), working on a number of projects.

What tasks have we been doing? This year’s stock take has concentrated on three main activities: the sorting of Second Review registered files from the 1970s and 1980s into an order that reflects the alpha-numeric code on them prior to cataloguing this material; the repackaging of POST 118 film stills into appropriate preservation housing; listing the contents of boxes from the old National Postal Museum library to fill gaps in the BPMA Library and identify duplicates and redundant material. We have also been sorting and identifying duplicate posters, weeding ‘portfolio’ files (files of secondary non-archive information on various subjects held in the search room), taking photographs of large plans using a rostrum camera and a couple of activities involving our philatelic material.

Photographing a large rolled building plan using a rostrum camera.

Photographing a large rolled building plan using a rostrum camera.

One major benefit of many of these activities is that they will create some badly needed space in our very full repository. They should also speed up the process by which we can make archival material available to the public. So far the activities have been going well though as expected they are taking plenty of time and will generally not be complete at the end of the two weeks.

To anyone who has had to postpone a visit to the search room thank you for your patience and we hope you’ll appreciate the importance of this work.

The BPMA Search Room has new opening times in 2011. In response to a survey carried out in 2010 we will be increasing our Saturday openings to one a month. In order to staff our Saturday openings adequately we will be closed on the Mondays following our Saturday openings. Our next Saturday opening will be 12th February. Full details of our new opening hours  can be found our website.