Part of today’s episode of The Peoples Post on BBC Radio 4 was recorded at Blists Hill Victorian Town, in Shropshire. It is there back in 2009 that a reconstructed late Victorian Post Office was opened in partnership with The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA). The office itself is part of the much larger site, re-creating life in late Victorian England. On the upper floor of the office however is a much more modern exhibit for visitors. In this specially constructed gallery space is the Museum of the Post Office in the Community. The Museum was created by the BPMA and designed to tell the story of the vital role post offices have played throughout history and as a centre point of communities.
Inside the reconstructed late Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill (Photo courtesy: Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust).
For towns such as Blists Hill the post office would have been a very important focal point of the community; a place not only where postal business would have taken place but also a centre for gossip and the arrival of news.
When the BPMA got the opportunity to develop a museum on this site the story of the Post Office and its community role was the obvious one to take. The exhibition space was divided down into four sections, each exploring a different aspect of the community story.
In the first part the exhibition looks at the rise and fall of the different services offered by post offices and places them in a chronology alongside other events in postal history. The next section looks at delivery methods and includes a display of the differing postal caps used throughout history, part of the iconic uniform of the postal worker. Also on display is one of the BPMA’s five-wheeled cycles, the Hen and Chicks, this remarkable machine was introduced in the 1880s when the post office took on the parcels post and it continues to catch the imagination of the visitor.
The Hen and Chicks on display at the Museum of the Post Office in the Community.
The third part of the museum looks at the letter box and how it has developed, brought about by the need to improve methods of using the postal service following the success of postal reform. In this section there is a rare survivor of a very early letter box, a green and gold, highly decorative roadside letter box. The final section looks at changing times and explores the more recent history of the post office and especially how that story fits with the community role.
The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is proving to be an interesting method of allowing visitors to the popular Blists Hill site to explore in depth the history of something very familiar and something still at the heart of many communities.
– Chris Taft, Curator
For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage A Community Hub. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.
Posted in BPMA, Exhibitions, Ironbridge, Peoples Post, Postal History
Tagged Blists Hill Victorian Town, exhibition, Hen & Chicks, museum, Shropshire, The Museum of the Post Office in the Community, The Peoples Post, Victorian, village post office
by Chris Taft, Curator
The Museum of the Post Office in the Community, which is managed by The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA), has been awarded full Accreditation status. The Museum is situated on the Blists Hill Victorian Town site, at Ironbridge near Telford. This is a major achievement for the BPMA and one which all involved should feel justly proud of. The Museum is now an Accredited Museum, this is a reflection of the fact that the museum and its collections are cared for and the organisation governed to national standards set by the government agency for museums, the Museums Libraries and Archives council (MLA).
The Museum of the Post Office in the Community, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge
To become an Accredited Museum applicants must demonstrate good practice across a number of areas including access to the collections, visitor services, collections management and documentation, museum governance and good forward planning. The BPMA had to demonstrate it met these standards when applying to the scheme and the application was followed up by two site visits, one to Freeling House where the BPMA are based and one to the Museum at Blists Hill. The assessor looks closely at the management of the museum and ensures staff have a good awareness of best practice and use this when managing the collections. The application is then studied and considered by a panel made up of experience museum professionals. Ultimately the panel can award provisional status and recommend areas for improvement to allow full Accreditation to be achieved but for the BPMA the panel agreed that full Accreditation could be awarded. This is not something all museums can achieve.
For those that have been with us at the BPMA since the closure of the National Postal Museum this achievement comes on the back of something started back then. When the Museum closed it had provisional Registration status (Registration was the forerunner of Accreditation). This it held till earlier this year. Until the opening of the Museum of the Post office in the Community in October 2009 the BPMA were unable to demonstrate full achievement of the standard as it did not have the public facing museum. The Museum at Blists Hill answered this and it is through this site the Accreditation has been achieved.
The BPMA can use this achievement to help support funding applications and to show to potential sponsors that it can run an Accredited Museum.
Since its opening in October 2009 the Museum has proved very successful with over 100,000 visitors going through the door. Into 2011 the BPMA plans to capitalise on Accreditation and seek ways of running events in partnership with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust who runs Blists Hill. The BPMA also plans to run some evaluation of the exhibition and seek ways to better promote the Museum.