Tag Archives: telegram messenger

Of even more boxes and reams of pink tape…

Some of our regular blog readers may remember my previous blog post on the Museum Store audit. Since a year has passed since the start of the project, I thought I would add a quick update and share a few of the items that I have uncovered along the way.

During my first few weeks on the project, I worked on a number of shelves containing mailbags; a seemingly endless number of bags… of all shapes and sizes from small orange ones to large hessian sacks with bold, black stencilling. Among them were several bags commemorating notable dates, including this example marking a Coronation Day flight from Sydney to London on 2nd June 1953.

Coronation Day Flight Mailbag. (2007-0057/9)

Coronation Day Flight Mailbag. (2007-0057/9)

As with any new subject, when I first started at the BPMA back in 2011 there were many terms that meant very little to me – one example was the phrase ‘dead letters’. So you can imagine my amusement when the shelf I was auditing one afternoon held a real ‘Dead Letter’ box, which had come from a Post Office in Walton on the Naze. For me, one of the wonderful things about working directly with the collection is being able to tie elements of postal history to ‘real’ objects that can add that extra level of understanding.

Dead Letters Box from Walton on the Naze Post Office. (2002-572/3)

Dead Letters Box from Walton on the Naze Post Office. (2002-572/3)

I was particularly taken with this illuminated badge, partly because I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before. That it had once lit up was clear – you could see the connecting wires at the end – but exactly how it would have been used had myself and Barry – one of the BPMA volunteers – puzzled.

Illuminated Badge. (E6709)

Illuminated Badge. (E6709)

We speculated whether it might have been attached to the front of a telegram messenger’s motorcycle, but that’s didn’t feel quite right. Duly audited, repacked and the badge returned to its shelf, I made a mental note to try and find out more. One of my colleagues in the Curatorial team said that he had previously seen a photograph with someone wearing a similar badge in the Archive. It was shortly after that I realised the answer was – quite literally – in front of me, as we have an enlarged version of the photograph on display at the Museum Store that I had been walking past each morning!

Telegram Messenger wearing an illuminated badge. (POST 118/0424)

Telegram Messenger wearing an illuminated badge. (POST 118/0424)

The badge was used by telegram messengers at mainline train termini, presumably to help you spot one on a crowded platform if you wished to send that last-minute telegram. It was great to see the item in use and even more satisfying to – at least partially – answer the question ‘What was this used for?’

Telephone sign. (OB2001.39/2)

Telephone sign. (OB2001.39/2)

A similar thing occurred when auditing a ‘TELEPHONE’ sign and metal bracket. That it was a rather lovely item was certain, but I did wonder what one might have looked like when it was in active use.

Whilst preparing a short talk for a local Rotary club in June, I came across my answer – a lantern slide image of a postman entering a K2 telephone kiosk, with a ‘TELEPHONE’ sign, like the one I had wrapped a few months previously, attached to a post on the left hand side. It can be easy to forget that museum objects had a working life, particularly if they are removed from their original context, so it was nice to have a visual clue as to how these signs would have been used.

Lantern slide with postman, kiosk and sign. (2011-0443/6)

Lantern slide with postman, kiosk and sign. (2011-0443/6)

A year on from the start of the project, I am delighted to report that the number of shelves audited and repacked has steadily increased to 290 shelves (or 57%) of our small mobile racking. This has been due in no small part to the assistance of volunteers Don and Barry, as well as the further help of my colleague Emma and the efforts of placement student Flora, who spent some time working at the Store during her student placement in April 2013.

Given the scale of the project, progress could occasionally feel misleadingly slow but the sight of steadily multiplying bays filled with pink tape shows that all that effort has produced a tangible result. More importantly, by assessing the condition of items and ensuring their packaging materials are suitable, we are ensuring that they are protected from their environment and remain in a stable condition to be enjoyed by visitors and researchers in years to come.

– Sarah Jenkins, Project Coordinator

BPMA Collections Out and About

Current work at the BPMA is focussed around plans for our New Centre at Calthorpe House and especially for the design of a permanent exhibition space in which to show the many different objects in our collection. This will support and expand on the work we already do through our accredited museum at the Museum of the Post Office in the Community and our travelling exhibitions. Another aspect of our work however, is our loans to other museums as far apart as Cornwall and Scotland to name but a few.

The collections of the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth consist of a range of objects from boats to art as well as extensive archives that help tell the maritime heritage of Cornwall. An important part of this is a display on The Falmouth Packet Service, 1789-1851 which is where the objects from the BPMA can be found: two Flintlock Pistols issued to help protect the ships and the mail they carried, and two Maritime handstamps, one for the Falmouth Packet Service itself and the other for postage paid at St Ives port for a Ship Letter. These objects help tell the story of how Falmouth became a central hub of communication for over 150 years. They sit alongside objects from the museum’s own collection such as a mail bag from HM Packet Ship Crane and letters sent via Packet Ships.

Flintlock pistol on display at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth.

Flintlock pistol on display at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth.

Objects loaned from the BPMA can also be seen at the opposite end of the country. The Riverside Museum in Glasgow is Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel, which opened in 2011 after a major development project. The museum includes many innovative ways of interpreting transport collections such as a ‘car wall’ and a suspended bicycle velodrome display. Amongst the displays is one on the role of the Telegram Messenger boy.

The focus of the display is a motorcycle used by messengers on delivery. It was the thought of riding one of these that often encouraged boys to join the Post Office. However, the role of the Telegram Messenger involved far more than just this, as is explored via a series of touch-screens where visitors can play a game to see who can deliver their telegrams most efficiently. Next to this is a manikin dressed in a Telegram Messenger boy’s uniform complete with waterproof leggings, motorcycle goggles, helmet and gloves all from BPMA’s collection as well as the standard issue jacket and pouch.

These objects provide a wider context to the display of a vehicle, helping to bring the object and the stories connected with it to life. Indeed, the display has provoked the memories of many visitors, just like those Jim has shared with us in previous blogs.

Telegram messengers display at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow.

Telegram messengers display at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow.

Finally, from 30 January an F type pillar box from the BPMA collection will be on display at the Design Museum, London as part of their Extraordinary Stories exhibition.

Elizabeth II Type F Twin Pillar Box (OB1994-50i)

Elizabeth II Type F Twin Pillar Box (OB1994-50i)

The F type pillar box was a revolutionary design by the industrial architect David Mellor. It was developed in response to a request from the London Postal Region for a box with three apertures. One way of providing this facility was by utilising a ‘square’ shape so that boxes could be used in modular format, either as single, double or triple units. In the event, following eight years of trial and failure, a three-apertured variant never did get used. However from 205 boxes constructed, some 200 boxes were put into use across the country in both single and double format. The failure to produce a durable protective finish to the sheet steel panels (themselves a radical departure from the usual cast iron traditionally utilised) meant that the boxes promptly rotted, particularly the bases.

None of the boxes survive in use in the street today (the last to be removed was in the late 1980s) but a handful survive in museum and private collections. The design was not entirely dispensed with; the cast iron G type pillar box leans heavily upon Mellor’s design, many of the G type boxes continue to provide excellent service today.

BPMA holds examples of both single and double units in its collection, also another solo box partially stripped to allow the special ‘easy clear’ internal mail mechanism developed by Post Office Engineers to be seen. The single box can be seen as part of the exhibition at the Design Museum until January 2014. The other examples can be seen at events and tours taking place at the Museum Store. They will be a particular focus during the Pillar Box Perfection event taking place at the store on Saturday 6th April 2013.

By lending objects to other museums the BPMA increases access to its own physical collection and conveys the important human story of communication that is shared by everyone.

– Emma Harper, Curator (Move Planning)
– Julian Stray, Curator

Memories of a boy messenger – Part 3

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In Part 3 he tells us his progression as a Messenger.

I started delivering telegrams by easy stages firstly by delivering the addresses close to the office then as my confidence and knowledge grew to addresses further away. On occasions we were sent to more outlying places to help build up our knowledge. Not only did I have to cope with learning the area but all of us had to get used to the consequences of power cuts. (All power was cut off between 2pm and 4pm each working day.) Normal deliveries still had to be made during the period, so if you arrived at an office and the delivery had to be made to the sixth floor, you just had to walk up. I continued to learn the area until one I was asked whether I would like to become a cycling messenger. I immediately agreed and was told that I would have to pass a test first. This entailed cycling up the narrow road at the rear of the CTO and turning round without falling off. A senior messenger watched and he decided whether you had passed or failed.

Central Telegraph Office delivery room, 1947. Jim (Dusty) Miller pictured on the right. (POST 118/1788)

Central Telegraph Office delivery room, 1947. Jim (Dusty) Miller pictured on the right. (POST 118/1788)

So, I started life as a cycling messenger, we were rewarded the daily sum of 6p (2½p) for keeping our bicycles clean and “ship shape”. We had various adventures including the very bad winter of 1947. I remember when the snow started, I had just returned from my tea break and was the only messenger in the delivery room. A very apologetic Inspector explained that he had four “Death Telegrams” which had to be delivered and as I had to go out I might as well take the remainder of the telegrams for the places en route. I remember cycling along Aldersgate Street and wondering what all the fuss was about. I eventually reached Torrence Stret (the furthest point in our delivery). As I turned into St Johns Street to come back the full force of the storm hit me and I realised then that I had been cycling with the wind behind me. I delivered the remainder of the telegrams and returned to the CTO about 7.30pm. To my surprise the other boys on my shift were waiting for me. They had refused to go home until they were sure I was safe. In order to remove my overcoat they had to chip the ice away from the button holes with a bicycle spanner and when I removed the coat it was frozen it stood up in the centre of the room unaided. For almost a week after the snow fell we had to deliver all telegrams by foot as it was decided that it was too dangerous to allow us to cycle.

Messenger Boy with cycle, 1930s (2011-0443/02)

Messenger Boy with cycle, 1930s (2011-0443/02)

Although I was unaware of it at the time the Post Office was very much in a transitional period. I remember coming back from a take and was told by a variety of messengers that we were being given a rise of 18/- (90p) and we would be given our arrears before Christmas. What we didn’t know at the time was how this rise would effect our conditions of service. The first thing was that there would be no more General Exams (these exams were designed to help messengers and girl probationers decide their futures). The next exam was due to be taken in a few months time and would be the last one. It would be open to all staff below the age of 18, however only 5 telegraph operator places would be available. In future Messengers would be known as Young Postmen and would progress within the service by various exams open to all grades. Our uniforms and hats changed to that of a postman and our cap badges were altered but other than this it had little on us at this stage.

The biggest upset was when the school leaving age was raised to 15 years. We lost a steady stream of messengers either to promotion or entering the forces to complete their National Services, our complement dwindled to 11 messengers (8 on delivery duties and 3 on indoor work). This compared to the 40 plus who were available when I first arrived. Instead of taking out 10 or 12 telegrams per “take” we now had to take out between 30 and 40 messages. Apart from the strain it put on the messengers it caused unacceptable delays to the telegrams. The GPO solved the problem by diverting ex-forces personnel awaiting training as telephonists to the CTO to act as male messengers and here they remained until the GPO was able to recruit boy messengers again. In total the telephonists stayed at the CTO for about eighteen months.

I remained an outdoor Messenger until I was about 16½ (by this time I was 6ft tall) when I was given an indoor job helping mainly in the typing pool. Just before by 18th birthday I was summoned to the Chief Inspectors room and told that the day after my birthday I was to report to Eastern District Office where I would start life as a Postman. So my life as a Boy Messenger came to a rather abrupt and somewhat unexpected end.

Keep visiting this blog for more of Jim (Dusty) Miller’s memories.

Memories of a boy messenger – Part 2

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In Part 2 he tells us what it was like to work as a Messenger.

The delivery room was a fairly large room with some of its windows still bricked up following the war. It had three large desks in the corner set in an L shape. The Inspectors in charge sat at two of them, one was responsible for sending the boys out on deliveries. He worked out the time it took to deliver the telegrams by allotting a time for the farthest point of call then adding 2 minutes for each other telegram. The other one booked you back in and decided when you should have your meal break, etc.

A London telegraph messengers' despatch room - artwork for a poster by Grace Golden, 1948 (POST 109/183)

A London telegraph messengers’ despatch room – artwork for a poster by Grace Golden, 1948 (POST 109/183)

He also had the responsibility to make sure that messengers who were being punished by being given “full time” did not have any of the privileges given to the other messengers, such as going home early or having an extra give minutes to their meal breaks. Full time could be given for a variety of reasons, such as not wearing your hat when on a delivery, answering the Inspector back, or taking too long to deliver the messages without a valid reason.

The room also contained a number of wooden forms where messengers sat between deliveries, and it also contained a number of bicycles. These were the heavy old red bicycles used by the Post Office at the time. Each bicycle had a number painted on the frame just below the saddle and was allocated to a particular messenger. The room next door was responsible for enveloping and addressing the envelopes for dispatch. They would then be sent to the delivery room via a conveyer belt.

A group of telegram messenger boys sat in rows on wooden benches in the L.P.S. Boy Messengers Retiring Room, c. 1930-40 (2012-0049/05)

A group of telegram messenger boys sat in rows on wooden benches in the L.P.S. Boy Messengers Retiring Room, c. 1930-40 (2012-0049/05)

The area covered by the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) was broken into 10 walks (or “takes” as we called them); nine of these consisted of the local streets whilst the 10th was for internal mail. It was the Inspectors’ responsibility to see that the walks were cleared every 10 minutes thus no telegram would be delayed by more than 10 minutes in the delivery room. It was common practice to send more than one walk out with a Messenger at one time. The walking Messengers usually got walks 1 to 4 whilst the cycling messengers took the deliveries further away.

Before the war the CTO was designated a “walking office” this meant that because of the small area involved plus the fact that a lot of the deliveries had to be made in small alley ways it was thought to be quicker to walk. However the war changed all that because as various local offices were bombed and had to be closed down the CTO delivery area grew in size. Despite this and the fact that bicycles had to be supplied in order to cover the distances involved the Post Office still refused to supply the correct cycling equipment. As a result we had to supply our own gloves and had to shorten our long overcoats to prevent them catching in the wheels.

When I arrived in the delivery room I was allocated to a Senior Messenger whose job it was to teach me the walking part of the area. I was told that I would be taught by him for two weeks then I would go to a School in Chelsea for a two day course to learn about the forms we were expected to use then I would be sent out on my own (a daunting prospect).

Telegram messenger boys on the steps outside of a main entrance (possibly the London Postal School), c.1930-40 (2012/0049-03)

Telegram messenger boys on the steps outside of a main entrance (possibly the London Postal School), c.1930-40 (2012/0049-03)

To be fair, because of the bomb damage it was probably easier to learn the area than it would be now. For instance, it was possible to walk from Newgate Street to Ludgate Hill across flattened area caused by the bombing; the area now occupied by the Barbican and Museum of London complexes were completely raised to the ground. The only three buildings left standing were the Redcross Street Fire Station, the Golden Lane theatre and the Morgue, just opposite the Theatre. The remainder of the area was non existent. The authorities built small brick walls between the pavement and the bombed basements to prevent people falling into them.

A boy messenger walks through a bomb-damaged area, c. 1940s (POST 118/1361)

A boy messenger walks through a bomb-damaged area, c. 1940s (POST 118/1361)

Keep visiting this blog for more of Jim (Dusty) Miller’s memories.

Memories of a boy messenger – Part 1

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In Part 1 he tells us about his first day on the job.

I remember how excited I was to receive the letter that told me to report for duty at the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) on 15 May 1946, having passed the medical and scraping in a half inch above the minimum height required of four feet ten and a half inches.

The Central Telegraph Office, c.1930s-40s (POST 118/1379)

The Central Telegraph Office, c.1930s-40s (POST 118/1379)

Despite the good advice I received from my parents I still managed to get lost and arrived later than I intended. As I approached the main door located in St Martin’s Le Grand, I was stopped by the doorman who told me that in future as a Boy Messenger I should use the back door. I was then taken to a man, who seemed to be in charge of most of the telegraph work.

After a brief welcome I was passed from office to office, signing and filling in various forms. I was also given my weekly allocation of meal vouchers each worth 1/- (5p). The restaurant that catered for the CTO staff was open from 8am to 6pm; it provided hot food from 11am to 2.30pm. Despite the rationing it was possible to buy a good hot meal and a sweet for less than 1/-.

Finally, I was taken to the Chief Inspector of Messengers. I remember there were three people in the room, an Assistant Inspector, Inspector and the Chief Inspector. I was passed from one to the other each one telling me about the job and conditions.

My duties would consist of 6 eight hour shifts which could start as early as 7am and finish as late as 7pm. I would be allowed a 40 minute meal break each day plus a breakfast or tea break of 20 minutes at the Inspectors’ discretion. Once thought suitable I would be expected to work 4 hours compulsory overtime every third Sunday increasing to 10 hours a day when I reached 16 (the CTO was required to deliver all telegrams on Sundays with an EC or WC address).

My starting pay would be 21/6 (£1 07½) per week); when you allow for fares to work of about 35p, plus either a morning or afternoon snack at a weekly cost of 15p, I had very little money to spare. However, my pay would rise by yearly increments to 41/- (£2-05p) per week at 18 years. In addition to my pay I would receive 6 meal vouchers per week free until I reached 16 when I would be expected to pay half the cost of the vouchers. They would automatically stop when I reached 18 years.

I would be given two uniforms a year, one winter and one summer weight. I would also receive one pair of shoes and one pair of boots a year, plus overcoat and walking cape (to be replaced when I outgrew them), and a pill box-type hat with badge that was unique to me. My number was TS228 (only the messengers at the CTO and their sister office at Threadneedle Street were allowed to wear the Tube Service or TS motif on their cap badges).

Messenger boy (POST 118/126)

Messenger boy (POST 118/126)

My holiday entitlement was 12 days a year to be taken between May and October. The senior boys had first choice so junior messengers like me had to take our holidays in either May or October.

Having been told all the terms and conditions I was whisked away to the Inspector in charge of the stores in a small office at the rear of Angel Street. Here I was measured for my uniform, given my pouch belt and armband (these had to suffice until my uniform was ready) and walking cape. I was then taken to the delivery room which was located at the rear of the CTO.

Keep visiting this blog for more of Jim (Dusty) Miller’s memories.

Illustrating Empire Mail: George V and the GPO

by Jennifer Flippance, 2010 Exhibitions & Projects Manager

The BPMA’s major exhibition this year – Empire Mail: George V and the GPO – runs until 25 July at Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London.  Big exhibitions like this take several years of planning, starting with a theme and developing the story around it. Objects must be selected and conserved (including any loans from other institutions), text and captions written and images chosen to bring the story to life. Empire Mail explores the reign of George V (1910-1936), innovations in the General Post Office and George V as a stamp collector – one of the finest of his time.

Selecting images to use in an exhibition can certainly be a challenging task.  Each image has to earn its place, illustrating a different aspect of the exhibition’s story.  Inevitably there will be many wonderful images that don’t quite make it.

I wanted to share some of these as I think they still deserve to be seen.  If you haven’t yet been to see Empire Mail: George V and the GPO, you might wonder which ones were chosen!

1. Field Post Office, First World War

Field Post Office, First World War

We used two other photographs of First World War Field Post Offices in the exhibition, so this one didn’t make it, but I still really like the image. Sending and receiving mail was vital for troop morale and Field Post Offices would be set up in any appropriate location. Notice the F.P.O sign on the windowsill and the poster promoting war savings certificates as an appropriate gift for a sweetheart!  Unfortunately we don’t know where or when this photo was taken.

2. Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Two women posting into a special aerial post box at the officers of the Windsor Chronicle.  The 1911 Coronation Aerial Post was the world’s first regular airmail service.  One of these red, wooden post boxes (on loan from Windsor & Royal Borough Museum) can be seen in the exhibition and we would have liked to include this image of it in use. Unfortunately, because this is an image from a newspaper it would have been very poor quality once blown up to the size needed for display.

3. Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

We had some good images of the September coronation airmail flights and the rehearsals the month before, so this one did not make the grade. It shows a postman with mail sack approaching one of the planes during a rehearsals. (This particular plane – a Valkyrie Monoplane – was used in the rehearsal, but not the actual mail flights.)

There were 20 flights in total (16 from Hendon to Windsor and 4 on the return leg) each generally carrying 2 mail sacks with a combined weight of about 50lbs.  Only special postcards and envelopes were carried, examples of which can also be seen in the exhibition.

4. Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

The exhibition team all liked this pleasant rural scene from the 1930s with the iconic George V Morris van, however the image didn’t quite fit in with the exhibition themes. The photograph was most likely taken for the Post Office magazine, illustrating the work of Post Office employees in different parts of the country.  We do have one of the Morris vans on display.  Moving it into the gallery took some very careful manoeuvring!

5. Light aircraft about to leave Newtownards airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

Light aircraft about to leave Newtonard airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

There were many good airmail photos to choose from and unfortunately this one is from just outside the dates covered by the exhibition. Airmail was still a relative novelty during the 1930s; here a small plane is operating out of a small airfield with a grass runway. But even this scene was advanced compared to images of the open wood and fabric aircraft making that first airmail flight just 24 years previously!

6. Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

This photograph was almost chosen for the section illustrating the development of motorised mail transport. We are lucky to have one of the original BSA B33 motorbikes on display, a unique survivor from the introduction of motorcycle telegrams delivery in the early 1930s. Messengers had to be at least 17 years old and were expected to ride at 15mph – something I suspect they didn’t always adhere to!

7. Post Office London Railway, 1926

Post Office London Railway, 1926

This fascinating illustration shows the route of the Post Office underground railway that runs from Whitechapel to Paddington Station and also how the mail was transported from the sorting offices via chutes and lifts to the railway below. This image is rather busy and in the end we chose to use a simpler map of the route alongside plans, photographs and original objects.

An online version of Empire Mail: George V and the GPO can be found on the BPMA website.

15% off at our online Shop

Until Monday 15th March we’re offering 15% off all orders over £10 at our Shop. So if you’ve had your eyes on something but not got around to ordering it, do it now and save. 

Night Mail t-shirt

Night Mail t-shirt

Products recently added to the online shop include greetings cards and postcards featuring our collection of GPO posters, but a range of other items are also available including t-shirts based on the Night Mail poster, a range of publications covering philately, postal history and design, and even an apron and tea towel featuring the Telegram Messengers.

To obtain your discount you must order by telephone or e-mail. Just call us on +44 20 7239 5125 or email us at shop@postalheritage.org.uk with your contact details and the items you wish to purchase quoting the code “March2010”.

Terms and Conditions
This offer is only available when ordering by telephone or e-mail, on or before 15 March 2010.
Discount only available for orders over £10 (excluding postage and packaging)