Tag Archives: Tate Gallery

150 Years of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home

Britain is said to be a nation of animal lovers, so it’s no surprise to see the 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home celebrated on a new set of commemoratives released by Royal Mail today. 

Established in 1860 by Mary Tealby as the Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs, in Holloway, north London, the charity moved to its present home in Battersea in 1871, and in 1883 started taking in cats. Its motto is simple – “We aim never to turn away a dog or cat in need of our help” – and every year 12,000 animals are taken in by the Home’s three centres in London, Kent and Berkshire.

The 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home stamps

The 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home stamps

The dogs and cats featured on the new stamps were all abandoned by their owners, but later re-homed by the charity. They were beautifully photographed by Steve Hoskins, and sit proudly amongst the many previous stamp issues featuring dogs and cats.

Constable's painting The Hay Wain as it appeared on a stamp in 1968

The Hay Wain by Constable on a 1968 stamp

The first dogs and cats on British stamps were incidental figures, in the backgrounds of scenes. The earliest example we could find is a dog which can be seen in the background of rural Suffolk scene in Constable’s painting The Hay Wain, featured on a stamp as part of the British Paintings issue, 1968. The dog is a little hard to see, but you can zoom in on the painting to see it at the website of the National Gallery, who own the painting.

Early produce fairs stamp, from the British Fairs issue 1983

Early produce fairs stamp, 1983

The first cat on a British stamp that we could find can be seen in the background of a stamp on Early Produce Fairs, released in 1983 as part of the British Fairs series. The cat, visible as a purple silhouette only, observes the other animals, and the fruits and vegetables, which are on sale. The British Fairs issue was designed by Andrew Restall, and some of Restall’s original sketches for this issue are held by the Aldrich Collection, University of Brighton.

Dogs stamp issue, 1979

Dogs stamp issue, 1979

The first British stamp issue dedicated to Dogs was released in 1979 and features painting of four different breeds of dog by artist Peter Barrett. Barrett is best known for his watercolours and illustrations of wildlife and the countryside.

Kitten stamp from RSPCA 150th Anniversary stamps, 1990

Kitten stamp from RSPCA 150th Anniversary issue, 1990

A kitten appeared on a stamp released as part of the 150th Anniversary of the Royal Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in 1990.

And a further set of dogs stamps was released in 1991, celebrating the work of painter George Stubbs (perhaps better known for his paintings of horses). One of the paintings used, A Couple of Foxhounds, is on display at the Tate Gallery. Two of the others, A Rough Dog and Fino and Tiny are part of the Royal Collection. Fino and Tiny belonged to the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, and the painting is presumed to have been painted for him.

Dogs stamp issue, 1991

Dogs stamp issue, 1991

Cats finally got their own set of stamps in 1995. The stamps featured five paintings by the noted Scottish artist Elizabeth Blackadder.

The Cats stamp issue, 1995

The Cats stamp issue, 1995

A series of artistic black and white photographs by a number of photographers appeared on the 2001 issue Cats and Dogs.

The Cats & Dogs First Day Cover, 2001

The Cats & Dogs First Day Cover, 2001

There were two special first day of issue postmarks for the Cats and Dogs issue, one with a cats claw print and one with a dogs paw print. This idea is repeated for the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home issue.

First day of issue postmarks for the 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home issue.

First day of issue postmarks for the 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home issue.

Border Collie stamp from Farm Animals issue, 2005

Border Collie stamp, 2005

Finally, how could we forget the Border Collie included in the 2005 Farm Animals issue? Border Collies are working dogs, often used on farms to herd livestock. The illustrations on the Farm Animals stamps were by Chris Wormell, well known for his lino cuts, engravings and children’s book illustrations.

Mail Rail back to life for family fun at the BPMA Museum Store

by Laura Dixon, Learning Officer

On Saturday 13th June 2009 the BPMA will be opening the doors of the Museum Store for family visitors to enjoy a day of storytelling fun linked to London’s history, in particular the now defunct driverless underground post train, Mail Rail. 

The Family Day is part of the Story of London festival, which celebrates London throughout June at various venues across the city. Our event is using the StoryRoots team to help families find out more about our collections, London and Mail Rail.

What’s Mail Rail?

Unknown to most, the Post Office Underground Railway operated from 1927 to 2003, 70 feet below the congested streets of London. It delivered post from Whitechapel to Paddington, with nine stations in between, and crossed the city in 20 minutes. Mail Rail (renamed for its 60th birthday in 1987) covered the 6.5 miles using 23 miles of 2 foot gauge track.

Mail Rail was an environmental boon for Royal Mail as it relieved about 80 van loads of mail a day – around 12 million items – from the streets. London had been suffering congestion problems for years and in 1855 Rowland Hill suggested using underground transport to speed the post.

The tunnels for Mail Rail were completed between 1914 and 1917 but work was then put on hold while the First World War continued. Mail Rail opened for business on 5th December 1927.

Loading carriages on the Post Office London Railway

Loading carriages on the Post Office London Railway

Mail Rail tunnels were used during the War to preserve artworks from the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate. In later years Mail Rail diversified again when Bruce Willis stowed away in one of the carriages for a scene in the 1991 box office bomb, Hudson Hawk.

Goodbye Mail Rail

Mail Rail was closed in 2003 due to the expense involved in running it. (Read Mail Rail controller Amanda Smith’s’ thoughts on the closure.) Various suggestions for the use of Mail Rail and its tunnels were suggested but none of these have been taken up and the tunnels are now used for storage and emergency access.


Families coming to the free Family Day can book to attend at either 10.30am or 2.30pm and will be treated to a viewing of the short 1987 Mail Rail film which shows the route of the driverless trains speeding beneath the busy streets.

StoryRoots will then tell stories linked to Mail Rail and encourage visitors to get involved and create some of their own. There will then be a chance to turn stories into short films for use in a zoetrope!

Throughout the day there will also be the chance to take a tour around the Store with our Curator, complete quizzes and trails to help explore the space and take part in more craft activities, such as making your own letter box themed headwear!

We will also find a quieter corner to show the iconic GPO film, Night Mail.

Mail Rail is an important part of London’s transport and cultural heritage. Come along to the Museum Store on 13th June to find out more about it with our staff and storytellers.

For more information on this event please see our website.