Tag Archives: The Lumen URC

Duty and service in the Post Office in Pictures

Our current The Post Office in Pictures exhibition at The Lumen URC was conceived to show how ordinary peoples’ lives were changed through the service that the Post Office has provided. Through images of postmen and women delivering mail and serving communities in all sorts of conditions, we have endeavoured to show a unique service, second to none. What we’ve also found through our research, is how service has shaped the lives of those choosing to serve.

One of the more surprising and moving stories is that of John Rooney. A wonderful image of him rowing towards Trannish Island on Upper Lough Erne, Northern Ireland is featured in the exhibition but, were it not for a tip off from Peter Howe, the former Post Office photograph librarian, we would not have known of the richer, more heartbreaking and, ultimately wonderful story that surrounded his service in a remote part of the United Kingdom.

John Rooney rowing towards Trannish Island.

John Rooney rowing towards Trannish Island.

When discussing the exhibition, Peter told me that John was not the first Rooney to be postman for Lough Erne and proceeded to tell me the desperate tale of his brothers, William and James.

William Rooney was the postman before John and it was he that would row across the lough to each island, delivering the mail to each inhabitant. On a very cold evening on Friday 29th December 1961 he was returning across the lough to his home on the island of Innishturk. The lough had frozen over and William had to break the ice in front of him. Close to home, the ice became much worse and held his boat fast.

In the worsening conditions William’s brother, James, set out in another boat to find him and bring him home. Neither brother returned and, when a search took place the next morning, both were found dead in their boats on the lough.

I was able to verify Peter’s story from a poignant article written by S.G. Coulson in the Post Office magazine from February 1962.

Tribute to William Rooney, The Post Office Magazine, February 1962.

Tribute to William Rooney, The Post Office Magazine, February 1962.

It seems then, that after the tragedy that befell his brothers, John Rooney took up the service of delivering mail to the inhabitants on Lough Erne.

Peter also told me other details about John Rooney that I’ve yet to confirm. One of these is that postal workers across Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom began a fund to help the Rooney family in their hour of need. Enough money was raised to build a house for John’s and his mother.

I have found John Rooney featured in a story for The Courier, the Post Office’s in-house newspaper, in August 1972. The article describes his route across Lough Erne and the people he serves. The postmaster at Enniskillen declares;

It doesn’t matter how far off the beaten track people live – they’re still entitled to a postal service. And it’s thanks to people like John Rooney that they get it.

The Post Office in Pictures photo exhibition is at The Lumen URC, Bloomsbury, London until Friday 31 August. Visit the BPMA website to see an online preview. Images from the exhibition are available as greetings cards.

Solent Male Voice Choir

On Saturday 18th August, at 7pm, the Lumen Church will be hosting a summer concert alongside the BPMA exhibition currently on display there – The Post Office in Pictures.

Staying with the postal theme of the exhibition, we are delighted to announce that performing at the Lumen will be the Solent Male Voice Choir – also known as the Postman’s choir! This remarkable group of postmen formed the choir in 1961, whilst working at the Head Post Office in Portsmouth.

Solent Male Voice Choir

Solent Male Voice Choir

The idea came about when the postal workers found out how much they enjoyed singing whilst sorting the mail, and went on to form a choir. The original name of the choir was the Portsmouth Post Office Choir; whilst the name of the choir and its members, have since seen some changes, they are still proud of their roots as singing postmen. On the night they will be singing an eclectic repertoire from Verdi to Elvis Presley. There will also be a special ensemble performance in honour of the postal theme of the evening, of ‘Return to Sender’.

Before and after the choir performance, visitors will also be able to view The Post Office in Pictures exhibition on display at the Lumen Church. The exhibition showcases 30 iconic photographs taken from the vast archives of the BPMA, dating from the 1920s right through to the 1980s. The photographs focus in particular on the intrepid and unusual conditions often faced by postal workers as they deliver the mail. It is certainly fitting that both the exhibition and the choir can be enjoyed together, on what promises to be a fantastic evening.

Solent Male Voice Choir

Solent Male Voice Choir

The photographs in the exhibition are as pioneering as the postal workers they portray. In 1934 the General Post Office (GPO) established its Public Relations Department. Headed by the entrepreneurial Sir Stephen Tallents, its aim was to promote good relations with the public, to provide a guide to postal services, and to gather and interpret customer use and opinion to help shape the work of the GPO.

One of the key tools used by the PR Department to reach and engage with the general public was through photography. In order to supply the Post Office Magazine with interesting, professionally-produced photographs, members of the GPO Photographic Unit began to accompany the magazine’s journalists, creating visually appealing, informative and often humorous articles recording daily life in Britain.

From pastoral climes to the industrial heartland of the county, The Post Office in Pictures shows the Post Office doing what it does best – serving the nation in times of need and in times of leisure.

Please join us for what promises to be a fantastic evening of music and photography.

Doors open at 6.30pm on Saturday 18th August. The Choir begins at 7pm, with an interval scheduled. Free entry, donations welcomed. Visit our website for further information on the event.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition runs at the Lumen Church until August 31st 2012.

The BPMA photography collection

One of the greatest pleasures of my work is finding out new things about the material in our archive and museum collections. Many of our items and documents are very familiar to both staff and the public, and the stories they tell are often well-known and well-loved; but new discoveries can make it possible to view the collections and the stories they tell in a new light.

Polruan - postman standing at quayside (POST 118/250)

Polruan – postman standing at quayside. (POST 118/250)

Cataloguing the photographs in the Royal Mail Archive over the last few years has made these kinds of discoveries more frequent. The photographs can often shed light on the more personal stories that define the relationship that the public has with the Post Office; the times when personal endeavour and commitment to service really touches the individuals and the communities whom the Post Office serves.

A postman pushes his bicycle across a causeway while delivering mail to Osea Island, Maldon, Essex, 1987. (003-012-001)

A postman pushes his bicycle across a causeway while delivering mail to Osea Island, Maldon, Essex, 1987. (003-012-001)

The photographs also show the Post Office’s growing aptitude with marketing and public relations at a time when such words were not in most people’s vocabulary and certainly not on the lips of most government officials.

Postman John Rooney rowing across Lough Erne in Ulster. (003-013-001)

Postman John Rooney rowing across Lough Erne in Ulster. (003-013-001)

In my talk on 7 June at The Lumen URC, I’ll be talking about the foundation of the General Post Office Photograph Library in the 1930s, its subsequent development and re-establishment when the Post Office became a statutory corporation in 1969, through to its closure in the 1990s. As we take this journey through the 20th Century I’ll also show you some of my favourite images from the exhibition and the wider collection and tell you some of the stories behind them. Finally, I’ll show you how we’re making them accessible with the new social media technology at our disposal and how you can find out more.

Martin Devereux – Digital Content Development Manager

Martin Devereux will speak about The BPMA Photography Collection at The Lumen URC, Bloomsbury on 7 June as part of The Post Office in Pictures, a exhibition of photographs from our collections. Tickets for the talk are £3/£2.50 concession, please book online. The exhibition is free and runs until 31 August 2012.