Tag Archives: telephone kiosk

British Design Classics

Newly appointed Philatelic Assistant, Joanna Espin, is tasked with preparing the British Postal Museum & Archive’s philatelic collection in readiness for the move to Calthorpe House in 2015. In her first blog, Joanna discusses her favourite stamp issue: British Design Classics, 2009.

Since discovering the British Design Classics stamp issue in the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) collection, I have questioned what establishes a design as a classic; how design classics are utilised; under what circumstances designs are appropriated and what I would add to the list of icons.

British Design Classics, date of issue: 13 January 2009.

British Design Classics, date of issue: 13 January 2009.

Good design must first and foremost be fit for the intended purpose: function takes precedence over aesthetics. A classic design is something of outstanding quality and usefulness which outlives the era in which it was produced to become an essential, everyday item which is perhaps overlooked because of its commonplace nature. Jeans for example: born out of labourers’ need for durable clothing in the 19th century American West, symbolising subversion for the 1950s and 1960s American youth and becoming an equalising element of the global wardrobe today. Jeans are undoubtedly a design classic.

The British Design Classics stamp issue celebrates the Mini, Concorde, the Mini Skirt, the Routemaster Bus, the London Underground Map, the Supermarine Spitfire, the Polypropylene Chair, the K2 Telephone Kiosk, Penguin Books and the Anglepoise Lamp as bastions of British design.

Polypropylene Char by Robin Day, British Design Classics, 2009.

Polypropylene Char by Robin Day, British Design Classics, 2009.

I particularly admire the polypropylene chair for its simple shape, functionality and use of low cost materials. Designed by Robin Day in 1963, the innovative chair pioneered the use of polypropylene, invented nine years before, to create the first plastic shell chair. Due to the benefits of being lightweight, comfortable, stackable and affordable, the chair quickly became ubiquitous in British institutions such as schools; a childhood association which instils the design with nostalgia and classroom memories. I have recently spotted the polypropylene chair in a number of the upmarket coffee shops close to the BPMA which emphasises Zandra Rhodes’s assertion that during periods of austerity “simplification is in fashion.” The ability of a design to be used in a variety of settings is part of the benchmark of good design but it also makes one recognise cases of the appropriation of a design in order to make a fashion statement (as in the case of the polypropylene chair) or comment on society.

An example of the appropriation of a British design classic for a subversive agenda is the punk appropriation of the union jack. The Sex Pistols’ 1977 album artwork, depicting a controversial image of the Queen against the British flag and symbolising rebellion and anarchy, was able to convey a powerful anti-establishment message because of the incorporation of the union jack. The union jack design is immediately recognisable and bold; a design classic instilled with concepts of nation and Britishness. The Sex Pistols album artwork is an example of a classic design which has been subverted in order to criticise tradition and contemporary society.

Conversely the Machin definitive stamp, depicting Queen Elizabeth II in profile, is a design which celebrates British tradition and contemporary society. The postage stamp is a symbol of Britain’s industrial history and social reform. In 1840 Britain issued the world’s first adhesive postage stamp which reduced postage costs and radically increased communication. First printed in 1967, the Machin image, of which there are more than 200 billion reproductions, is the most reproduced image of all time. The Machin stamp issue is functional, identifiable, innovative and affordable. Heralding British history whilst remaining an essential component of everyday modern life, the Machin design is the definitive (if you will excuse the pun) British Design Classic.

A block of 4d Machin head stamps, 1967.

A block of 4d Machin head stamps, 1967.

British design classics are functional, simple, affordable and innovative. Referencing British culture, subculture, history and contemporary society; British design classics are emblems of the nation which are woven into the essential fabric of daily life.

Which is your favourite stamp in the British Design Classics issue? What would top your personal list of British design classics?

Ringing the Change: Post Office promotion of the telephone and telegraph service, 1925-1939

On Thursday 8 November the BPMA are delighted to host our guest speaker, David Hay, Head of Heritage at BT Group PLC. David Hay will be exploring the radical change in Post Office telephone marketing strategy in the 1930s in a talk entitled Ringing the Change.

"Telephone rates" publicity leaflet, c. 1930 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 9)

“Telephone rates” publicity leaflet, c. 1930 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 9)

Between 1925 and 1928 the Post Office invested almost £1 million a month in the telephone network as it began the roll-out of automatic telephone exchanges, enabling subscribers to make local calls directly without involving a telephone operator. The result of this new technology, together with the introduction of new mass-produced telephone instruments using early plastics, was that the cost of having a telephone gradually began to fall. The Post Office also introduced new services during this period, such as the first transatlantic radio telephone service in 1926, direct telephone communications with countries in Europe and the expansion of the public telephone kiosk network.

Cover of Automatic Exchange leaflet (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 637).

Cover of Automatic Exchange leaflet (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 637).

However, much of this innovation went unnoticed by the public. Indeed, despite the enormous investment in new technology, there was widespread concern by 1931 that Britain was lagging behind other countries in Europe in the take-up of the telephone. Up to 25 per cent of the capacity of the telephone network was lying idle.

"Always at your service", telephone service publicity poster designed by Austin Cooper, 1934 (BT Archives, TCB 319/PRD 76).

“Always at your service”, telephone service publicity poster designed by Austin Cooper, 1934 (BT Archives, TCB 319/PRD 76).

This richly illustrated talk will explore the early attempts of the Post Office to address this and to market the telephone to a wider part of society then before, efforts which were revolutionised in 1933 by the recruitment of Sir Stephen Tallents as the Post Office’s first Public Relations Officer. The decade before the Second World War was in many ways a golden period for GPO marketing, not least in the publicity machine unleashed by Tallents who had a passionate belief in the role of the arts promoting what were then Government services. Tallents and his team commissioned artists, designers, film makers and photographers to project a modern view of the Post Office to its customers and to its own employees.

"Come on the telephone", telephones publicity leaflet, c1933 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 3)

“Come on the telephone”, telephones publicity leaflet, c1933 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 3)

The result was that by the end of the inter-war era many of the GPO’s products and services – such as the Jubilee red telephone kiosk designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, the Speaking Clock and the 999 Emergency Service – had become iconic parts of the nation’s cultural fabric, and remain so to this day. And the Post Office itself, which entered the decade criticised on all sides for failing to promote its telecommunications services and communicate its role generally, was ultimately respected as a national asset vital to the country’s success.

We hope you will join us for what promises to be a fascinating talk!

Tickets are £3 per head or £2.50 for concessions, and can be bought on the door on the night or you can book tickets online.


by Julian Stray, Assistant Curator

As telephones became increasingly available to the public in the late 19th
century there was a growing need for ‘kiosks’ in which to house them.

‘Public call offices’ were authorised by the Postmaster General in 1884. There were a number of suppliers and designs varied. Indoor versions had flat roofs while those outside were usually given pitched roofs, the better to withstand the weather.

The wooden kiosks did not stand up to the elements well and it is not surprising that once most responsibility for the telephone network passed to the Post Office in 1912, cast iron and the occasional flirtation with concrete were the preferred materials for manufacturing telephone kiosks.

Few wooden ‘silence cabinets’ survive today and if encountered it is normally the indoor variant that has had a more sheltered existence.

The BPMA hold four cast iron telephone kiosks from the period when the majority of the telephone systems fell under the auspices of the Post Office, these are the K2, K4, K6 and K8.

One of the BPMA’s most recent acquisitions is a ‘Silence Cabinet’. This rare survivor from between the wars was in use until quite recently in a hotel in North Norfolk.

While the modern internal telephone equipment had been removed prior to the
kiosk being acquired by the BPMA, much survives in original condition. The panelled dark wood and cream coloured interior is typical of this style of kiosk.

Arrival of the Silence Cabinet

Arrival of the Silence Cabinet. The new acquisition was carefully lowered onto a new pallet so that it could be easily moved by museum curators. We were pleased to see the delivery occurring via one of the rare surviving kiosk trailers originally used by Post Office Telephones, sadly, not part of the BPMA collection!

Most were installed in high status shops, railway stations, hotels and some post offices.

Crown glass is for the most part double glazed for privacy and the legend ‘PUBLIC TELEPHONE’ on the glass in the door would have announced its purpose to any passer by. A special handle pulls the door tightly closed when shut, compressing the rubberised seal round the edge. Faint marks on the rear of the kiosk suggest that the kiosk may have been supplied by Siemens in 1923.

The Silence Cabinet joins the other kiosks in the Museum Store. Now dwarfed by its larger cousin, the K4, or Vermillion Giant.

The Silence Cabinet joins the other kiosks in the Museum Store. Now dwarfed by its larger cousin, the K4, or Vermillion Giant.

BPMA also visited Le Strange Arms Hotel at Old Hunstanton where Robert Wyllie, the hotel manager, was interviewed for the BPMA Oral History collection.

Consequently now hold a rarely obtained complementary history from someone who knew the object well.

Painting of letter boxes during World War II

During World War II, the frequency of normal repainting of letter boxes, telephone kiosks, fire alarm posts etc was suspended. Each Head Postmaster was to decide what painting was necessary though they were expected to spend no more than a quarter of the normal, pre-war, amount on this.

Pillar box in Birkenhead painted with three white lines, 1938

Pillar box in Birkenhead painted with three white lines, 1938

A degree of over-enthusiasm was exhibited in Oxton, Birkenhead in 1938 when the local A.R.P. employed workmen to paint certain obstacles with white lines. The men painted a number of pillar boxes with three bands of white paint. It was reported that the “rapidly promoted sergeants of the sidewalk soon lost their military status” and the boxes were quickly restored to their normal peacetime colour scheme.

More official steps were soon taken to assist in the movement of vehicular traffic during ‘black-out’ conditions.  Local Authorities, acting on instructions from the Ministry of Home Security, applied bands of white paint or ‘other suitable distinguishing marks’ to trees, lamp posts, poles etc. bordering roads. The normal practice was for street objects to be painted with 6” white bands at 6” intervals to a height of 3’ from the ground. The decision on which objects required painting lay with the Local Authority and the Post Office gave authority for pillar boxes, police and fire alarm posts, telephone poles and telephone kiosks to also be painted with white paint if requested. However Local Authorities were advised that the Post Office preference was for just the plinths of pillar boxes to be painted white. If additional white paint was required, authority was given for the projecting rim of the cap to also be painted. Telephone kiosks types K2, K4 and K6 had bases painted white up to the bottom level of the glass panes. Kiosks K1 and K3 already featured stippled light paint and did not require further work. If local authorities pressed strongly for more extensive painting then this was permitted.

At first, Local Authorities were expected to pay for the white paint being applied, but from November 1944, instructions were issued that the Post Office would meet the cost of any white bands applied to Post Office property.

During the war the Post Office agreed with the Home Office that Local Authorities could, where they desired, paint the caps of pillar boxes with yellowish green, gas detector paint. It was thought that this would enable Air Raid Wardens to detect the presence of gas in the event of enemy raids. The Home Office issued instructions that this was not to be carried out until Local Authorities received notification ‘to complete Air Raid Precaution plans’. Regional Head Postmasters were informed by the Authority which boxes had been so painted. In response to tentative enquiry, in late 1944 the Post Office specifically stated that they were not considering the question of camouflage painting of letter boxes.

BPMA  POST 78/311
BPMA POST 78/312
BPMA POST 78/313

BPMA POST 78/314
, Post Office A.R.P. Manual VIII 13, 1940
Post Office Magazine November, 1938

New records available via our online catalogue

Don’t be a programme pirate

Don’t be a programme pirate (POST 110/4328)

Following an upload to our online catalogue earlier today, we’ve increased the amount of records searchable via our online catalogue to 89,240 – an increase of over 1500 descriptions of objects, documents, photographs and philatelic material.

These new descriptions include additional records of POST 110: Printed Publicity Material. Many of these new records describe posters placed in post offices advertising the latest stamp issues and posters for telephone kiosks advertising a variety of services, including Post Office Savings Bank.

As I grow, My savings will grow. Save regularly with the Savings Bank

As I grow, My savings will grow. Save regularly with the Savings Bank (POST 110/4329)

One telephone kiosk poster in particular tells users ‘Don’t be a programme pirate”, while another (POST 110/4329), showing a young child’s face, declares “As I grow, My savings will grow. Save regularly with the Savings Bank”. Post 110 also includes a sizeable collection of education posters from the 1980s which were aimed for classroom use.

Over 300 descriptions of King George V Registration Sheets have also been added. These comprise of low value Photogravures and Overprints. Many of the overprints were for use in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, now modern-day Botswana.

Harrison and Sons in 1934 pioneered the use of the photogravure printing process in Britain. It introduced high-speed production and reduced the overall cost. The original designs were based on photographs meaning a new issue could reach the printing cylinder stage much quicker than preparing printing plates by the typographic process.

KGV ½d green photogravure, booklet panes of six, imperforate 1935 Jul 26 (POST 150/KGV/B/1557)

KGV ½d green photogravure, booklet panes of six, imperforate 1935 Jul 26 (POST 150/KGV/B/1557)

Search the BPMA catalogue at http://catalogue.postalheritage.org.uk

Notes from the Colne Valley Postal History Museum curator’s workshop

by Steve Wright, Colne Valley Postal History Musuem

With just over a week to go before our first Open Day as part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps, it has been a frantic all-hands-on-deck time to get things ready here at Colne Valley Postal Museum.

The restoration of our 1935 Jubilee Telephone Kiosk has not proceeded as far as I would have liked and it now looks unlikely that it will be on site and complete by May 29th; hopefully it will all be here in time for our second Open Day on 10th July. This was caused by one of the key restorers being stranded in Spain by volcanic dust – which lost us two weeks in the schedule.

Telegraph head at Colne Valley Postal History Museum

Telegraph head at Colne Valley Postal History Museum

The good news is that a third large telegraph pole has arrived and been erected, and fitted with new arms to display 14 different types of insulators from our collection. Together with the two existing poles, this brings to 27 the total of different types of telegraph insulator on display. It also allowed another, different, George V notice plate to be displayed on the correct type of pole. Ultimately, the poles will allow the Push Button A mechanism in the restored kiosk to be connected to the national network. All the poles have been shortened to allow our visitors to get a good view of the signage and pole furniture that would normally be 22 feet above us!

Colne Valley Postal History Museum's Type D pillar box, 1932

Colne Valley Postal History Museum's Type D pillar box, 1932

On the post box front, our Type D pillar of 1932 has now been fitted with a second enamel notice plate – the vertical format “coin drop” notice – and has also been fitted with a Type F booklet dispensing mechanism. This will be operational, sadly at the rate of 50 pence instead of 2d – on the day. Our other George V boxes are being cleaned or repainted and a very special project is lined up for a spare GR wall box we have – watch this space!

Two more vintage Stamp Vending Machines have been restored – one from the early reign of George V. This was shown and demonstrated successfully during our visit to the Post Office Vehicles Club rally in April and it will be available and working on the Open Days for visitors to try. It is believed to date from 1912-1915 and is an original Kermode mechanism.

The Philatelic element has not been forgotten and the displays on the day will feature enlargements of some of the best-known designs from the King George V reign together with our own extensive displays of Seahorse high values overprinted for use abroad: pages from Nauru, British Bechuanaland, Bechuanaland Protectorate, Levant, Morroco, Tangier and the Irish Free State will be on display.

Colne Valley Postal History Museum will be open on 29th May, 10th July and 11th and 12th September 2010, and by appointment to groups. For further information on the open days please see the London 2010: Festival of Stamps website.

Join us for Britain Loves Wikipedia

Britain Loves Wikipedia logo

Britain Loves Wikipedia

Throughout February, Britain Loves Wikipedia, a scavenger hunt and free content photography contest, will be taking place in museums and cultural institutions around Britain, including the British Postal Museum & Archive. People from all ages, backgrounds and communities can take part in this contest, which encourages the public to take photographs of the treasures of Britain’s museums and galleries, and then upload them to the Wikipedia site under a free licence, where they can be used to illustrate articles.

Philatelists and postal historians sometimes complain about the accuracy of articles on Wikipedia, but we hope that by participating in this initiative we can increase and improve the coverage of postal history on Wikipedia. Whether you’re a postal historian, a keen photographer, a Wikipedia article writer or just curious, join us at the British Postal Museum Store on Saturday 20 February to take part in this event.

The British Postal Museum Store, located in Debden, Essex houses our unique collection of postal vehicles, post boxes, telephone kiosks, sorting equipment, and more. It is different to a typical museum experience in that the Museum Store is a working space not designed specifically for public use, but one advantage of this for photographers is that none of the objects are behind glass, making photographing them much easier.

Pillar boxes on display at the Museum Store

Pillar boxes on display at the Museum Store

Participants in Britain Loves Wikipedia are asked to photograph objects which fit the themes of Love, Conflict, Transport, Daily Life and Freedom. The person who takes the best photograph at the Museum Store will win a trio of DVD box-sets celebrating the work of the GPO Film Unit.

As well as offering participants the chance to photograph some fascinating objects, we’re happy to offer guidance to anyone wanting to write and research new articles about postal history for Wikipedia. We’ll have some resources available on the day and we’ll be screening some of the GPO Film Unit films to inspire you.

Around 20 institutions around the country are participating in Britain Loves Wikipedia. More information about the initiative can be found at http://www.britainloveswikipedia.org/, or visit http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/events_archive/blw for more details on our event. You don’t have to book to attend, but if you plan to come please RSVP on Facebook so we can get an idea of numbers.

Welcome to the London 2010: Festival of Stamps

After a long time planning and a lot of work by many people at the BPMA and other organisations the London 2010: Festival of Stamps will soon begin.

A 1963 US stamp depicting a broken chain and the words "Emacipation Proclamation", produced to celebrate 100 years since the abolition of slavery.

Stamp from the United States of America, 1963. Courtesy of Sands of Time

We will be making a buzz throughout 2010 about stamps and introduce many new people to the wonderful world of stamps, stamp design and postal heritage. One of the first events of the Festival is Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world (18 January – 30 June 2010). This new display in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery of the Museum of London Docklands looks at how the abolition of slavery has been commemorated through the everyday postage stamp. 

The Festival continues with an exciting programme of exhibitions and events planned, with something to appeal to everyone.

As well as celebrating stamps, London 2010: Festival of Stamps also marks the centenary of the accession of George V – the philatelist king. To mark the occasion, don’t miss the BPMA’s major exhibition Empire Mail: George V & The GPO in co-operation with Guildhall Art Gallery and the Royal Philatelic Collection. The exhibition opens at the prestigious Guildhall Art Gallery on 7 May 2010 and runs until 25 July 2010. Many items from the BPMA’s wonderful collections will be on display in this exhibition that explores the life of King George V, through his personal passions as a philatelist and wider world events. There will also be a display of exquisite stamps and stamp artwork from the Royal Philatelic Collection.

Postal Union Congress £1 stamp, 1929. Shows King George V and an English knight on horseback.

Postal Union Congress £1, 1929. GBR02.25

Later in the year, BPMA will be releasing a new book about George V by our curator of philately, Douglas Muir. Based on extensive research, much of it original, this will be an vital addition to anyone interested in the period, which saw some of the most beautiful and highly regarded of British stamps, such as the seahorses and the PUC £1. 

Alongside Empire Mail: George V & The GPO, the BPMA will also be staging a display of Treasures of the Archive at our Search Room in Freeling House. The exhibition will feature unique pieces from the collections of The British Postal Museum & Archive. This includes a sheet of penny black stamps and the original die, among many other items of unparalleled significance in UK postal history.


As well as our own exhibitions, the BPMA is co-ordinating an exciting programme of events with partner organisations throughout 2010.

British Library Philatelic Rarities
British Library
1 February – 31 December 2010
The permanent 1,000 frame ‘Philatelic Exhibition’ will be refreshed with new or not recently exhibited material from the British Library’s world class collections. There will also be a programme of educational talks.

An early air mail envelope

Air mail envelope. Image courtesy of The Trustees of the Bath Postal Museum

King George V Exhibition
Bath Postal Museum
1 February – 30 October 2010
The Bath Postal Museum is staging an exhibition depicting the events that occurred during the reign of King George V (1910 to 1936). Items on display will illustrate how events that occurred during this period resulted in changes to peoples’ lives and their standard of living.

Congo (Katanga): 10 F Stamp with Air Katanga airplane tail

Congo (Katanga): 10 F Stamp with Air Katanga airplane tail

Impressions of Africa: money, medals and stamps
British Museum, Room 69a
1 April 2010 – January 2011
In 2010 17 African countries celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence from colonial rule. To mark this occasion the British Museum will be holding a small display looking at the images of Africa presented on coins, banknotes, medals, stamps and seals made for the continent during the past 100 years.

Throughout 2010 the Association of British Philatelic Societies (ABPS) will be holding regional events. Please see the London 2010 website to find out more about shows near you.

Other events are still to be confirmed, so don’t forget to visit our new-look website at www.london2010.org.uk for all the very latest news, visitor information and opening times. And please do check details before travelling as dates may change.


Alongside exhibitions and displays, the BPMA will also be holding Festival related activities. Highlights are listed below, but please see the London 2010 website, or the BPMA website to find out more.

Central Telegraph Office (GPO West) decorated with flags for the Jubilee of George V.

Central Telegraph Office (GPO West) decorated with flags for the Jubilee of George V. POST 118 290

Walking Tours

This year, for the first time, we have introduced two types of walking tour. The first type introduces Highlights of GPO London (Saturday 26 June and Tuesday 13 July, 1 ½ hours). The tour takes you in to the heart of old GPO London, exploring over 300 years of postal history, and developments in the buildings and iconic street furniture of telephone kiosks and letter boxes.

The second, longer Extended Walking Tour (Saturday 8 May, Sunday 5 September. Approximately 3 hours) offers the chance to explore GPO London in more depth.  


A special programme of talks has been devised for the Festival, each one covering a different aspect of philately or postal history. The programme starts off on Thursday 11 March (7-8pm, Phoenix centre) with a panel discussion on Stamps in the 21st Century. Guests from across the spectrum of philately and stamp design will discuss stamp design and the future of stamps.

As you can see, 2010 is packed full of events, exhibitions and activities for people to find out more about stamps, postal history and stamp design. We hope you can join us at the London 2010: Festival of Stamps soon!

Walking back through 400 years of postal history

by Jennifer Flippance, London 2010 Project Officer

K2 and K6 phone kiosks at Smithfield Market

K2 and K6 phone kiosks at Smithfield Market

For the last three years BPMA has been running popular walking tours, which take you into the heart of old GPO London, exploring 400 years of postal history and developments in the iconic street furniture of telephone kiosks and letter boxes.

The full tour lasts around 3 hours but next year, as part of our programme of activities to celebrate the London 2010: Festival of Stamps, we’re developing a ‘highlights’ version that will last around 1.5 hours and finish up at Guildhall Art Gallery. This will give you the opportunity to visit the fascinating exhibition, Empire Mail: George V and the GPO which will contain many significant objects and items of postal history from the reign of George V, when the GPO (General Post Office) was at its height.

Last week, Chris Taft, one of the curators at the BPMA who helped to develop and run the tours, took me out on the route of the new walking tour.

The Central Telegraph Office c. 1920s

The Central Telegraph Office c. 1935

It takes in the old GPO heartland around St Martin’s Le Grand, once the bustling hub of communication throughout the empire. This incorporates the majestic former GPO headquarters of King Edward Building – opened in 1910, the front of which is still standing today – and the sites of GPO North, the Central Telegraph Office and GPO East, from where crowds gathered each night to witness the spectacle of racing mail coaches leaving London.

Today King Edward Street is overlooked by a statue of Rowland Hill, the social reformer who revolutionised the postal service in 1840, making mail communication within reach of ordinary people for the first time.

Curator Chris Taft, takes a break beside the statue of Rowland Hill, outside King Edward Building

Curator Chris Taft, takes a break beside the statue of Rowland Hill, outside King Edward Building

Then travel further back in time to the site where the ‘bishop mark’ the world’s first postmark was struck in 1661. Continue to the area of the City where many coffee houses clustered in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Coffee houses were significant in the development of communication because many had the facility for visitors to post letters. Due to the coffee shop owners’ close relationships with ship owners, this was considered a more efficient way of carrying letters overseas than using the Post Office.

A little further on is the site of the office of the Postmaster General. In 1680 this was the only place you could post letters in the country. By 1808 the office was called “the most important spot on the surface of the globe.”

Dates for the new walking tour will be announced later in the year.

The last full-length walking of 2009 takes place on Saturday 26 September (1.00 – 4.00 pm). Click here to find out how to book tickets

Walking Tours of GPO London

Anyone walking through the City of London will note weird and wonderful street names such as Cheapside, Poultry and Undershaft, or the more mundane Milk Street, Bread Street and Oat Lane, and get a sense of the Square Mile’s past history as part over-crowded slum, part burgeoning centre of trade. But the history of postal communication can also be seen in the City, with Postman’s Park and Post Office Court being merely the most obvious examples. These and other sites will be explored as part of the BPMA’s programme of GPO London walking tours.

In 1643 the first General Post Office was established in the City, with the site most likely to have been in Cloak Lane, near Dowgate Hill. This came just eight years after Charles I made the Royal Mail available to his subjects, although it was Oliver Cromwell who formally established the Post Office in 1657.

At this time Coffee Houses were considered more reliable mail providers than the newly formalised Post Office. Many Coffee House owners collected letters and made arrangements with ship masters for their delivery overseas. This practice was illegal for it infringed the Post Office monopoly, but the service continued to be popular. It is not coincidental that so many early Post Offices were also established in the City of London.

The site of the Garraways Coffee House (rebuilt 1874) and Lloyds Coffee House (1691-1785) will be visited on the tour, along with the sites of the former GPO Headquarters at Lombard Street and St Martin’s-le-Grand.

Other notable sites visited on the tour are King Edward Building (the former Chief Post Office now occupied by Merrill Lynch), and GPO North. Also in the vicinity was the Central Telegraph Office where Guglielmo Marconi demonstrated wireless telegraphy to William Preece, Engineer to the GPO.

There will also be an opportunity to explore a range of operational GPO street furniture from many eras, including manhole covers, telephone kiosks and letter boxes.

The tours last around 3 hours and are conducted by BPMA Curators. For more information and booking details please see our website.

BPMA Walking Tours, 2009
GPO London – Tuesday 30th June 2009, 1.00-4.00pm
GPO London – Saturday 19th July 2009, 2.00-5.00pm
GPO London – Tuesday 26th September 2009, 1.00-4.00pm