Tag Archives: The Post Office Magazine

Sports and Participation in the Post Office

As a summer of sport draws to a close, we take a look at sports and participation in the Post Office, through the research carried out by six students during the BPMA and University of the Third Age (U3A) Shared Learning Project at the beginning of 2012…

The U3A students

The U3A students

In the course of his research, Gwyn Redgers found that the Post Office has had a long history of participation in sports – much of which was initiated as a way of coping with split shifts. Postmen in the late 19th Century worked long hours, and often found their duties split into three or four attendances in a single day – meaning that many would start work at 6am and not finish until 10pm. Whilst some postmen took to the pub, others took up sports.

Members of the Gloucester Post Office Recreation Club, 1898.

Members of the Gloucester Post Office Recreation Club, 1898.

By the 1930s, most large towns had Post Office football, cricket and tennis teams and were starting to develop the more recent spread of sports and recreation Associations. Sheilah Lowe scoured the sports pages of The Post Office Magazine (1933-1966) for records of both these groups and of sporting individuals, and discovered a wealth of information – including stories about staff who competed in Olympic Games.

In 1952, the magazine notes that a Mr. K. A. Richmond, Night Telephonist (London Telegraph Region Directory Enquiries) was selected for the Heavyweight Wrestling at the Helsinki Games and took a bronze medal. A little online research revealed that Ken Alan Richmond was a former whale ship crewman in Antarctica, turned wrestler, with another significant claim to fame: he was the shirtless man seen banging the enormous gong which preceded the opening credits of the Rank Organisation’s films, such as Great Expectations and Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Sheilah also found that race walker Ray Middleton, of Golders Green sub-district Office competed in Tokyo 1964, finishing 12th in the 50km walk. Ray is a notable Post Office athlete, with a career spanning the 1960s and extending into the 1970s, during which he won 2 golds, 8 silvers and 4 bronze medals in British Championships and represented England internationally on 11 occasions. He won silvers at the 1963 Lugano Cup and the 1966 Commonwealth Games, and was the first winner of a postal sporting event that has taken place annually since 1962: the Postman’s Walk.

Sylvia Chubbs researched the history of this competitive speed walk event, which is open to postal workers across the UK, from novices to trained athletes. Covering laps of a one mile circuit around Coram’s Field near Mount Pleasant in London, participants originally wore full uniform and carried a sack. Nowadays, the rules are a little more relaxed – the sack is no longer required and shorts and trainers are allowed.

In 1970, 35-year old Ray Middleton led a team of British postmen to victory in the European Postal Road Walking Championship at Crystal Palace – beating teams of competitors from 13 other countries. An article in The Daily Mirror celebrated the success, whilst Ray was later named as one of the top celebrities of the year by comedian Charlie Chester. In September 2011, Middleton attended the 50th Annual Postman’s walk, seeing Dave Allen win for the sixteenth time – making him the most successful competitor in the event ever.

Ray Middleton at the 50th Postman's Walk, 2011, with BPMA Curator Vyki Sparkes and BPMA Access & Learning Manager Andy Richmond.

Ray Middleton at the 50th Postman’s Walk, 2011, with BPMA Curator Vyki Sparkes and BPMA Access & Learning Manager Andy Richmond.

From postmen stomping around London, we move on to look at stamps – the topic of research for three of the U3A students. Olga Selivanova became interested in a stamp she had collected in her native Russia. It showed the bronze statue “Let Us Beat Swords Into Ploughshares” – presented by the Soviet Union to the United Nations in 1959.

This artwork was inspired by a biblical passage (Isaiah 2:4) describing the conversion of weapons for use in peaceful civilian applications. The sentiment of this quote has obvious parallels with the peaceful ideals of the Olympic movement, with many activities related to combat – such as archery, javelin, shooting, boxing, taekwondo, and judo – practised in the Games, but always in keeping with the Olympic Creed and Values of friendship and respect.

Another such sport – fencing – was the subject of Pat Boumphrey’s research. She found many examples of stamps featuring fencing, including ones from places as diverse as Afghanistan and Vietnam. As a keen fencer herself, Pat penned a little ditty to inspire Team GB’s female athletes in advance of London 2012:

There are bad times just around the corner,
The horizon’s gloomy as can be.
The British male,
May often fail,
So English girls awaken,
And save the nation’s bacon…

It certainly seems to have done the job: the Team GB women won 10 gold medals and 22 in total, making it their most successful Games ever. At least some of that success can be credited to Dame Marea Hartman. Ray Watkins found a stamp dedicated to Hartman, who is credited with the integration of British women athletes into full competition and parity with male athletes. She was Chairwoman of the Women’s Commission of the International Athletic Federation for 13 years, as well as the first woman to serve as President of the Amateur Athletic Association from 1991 to 1994.

Dame Marea Hartman stamp from the Famous Women issue, 6 August 1996.

Dame Marea Hartman stamp from the Famous Women issue, 6 August 1996.

Finally, to bring our story full circle, we return to Gwyn, who found the following quote from an early edition of the St. Martin’s circular. It shows that, as with many things, the Post Office led the way in encouraging British sportswomen:

Not the least of the many medical and scientific discoveries in the 19th Century is the fact that athletic exercise can be indulged in by women without injury to their bodily health. … we have discovered that, as a result of open air exercise, women retain their youth for a longer period than at any time in our history

from St Martin’s 1898, pg. 395.

– Andy Richmond, Access & Learning Manager

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.

Holiday camps

Amongst the numerous photographs in our collection are a small number documenting postal deliveries to holiday camps, dated October 1937. These appeared in the March 1938 edition of The Post Office Magazine (the General Post Office’s magazine, published between 1933 and 1966) accompanying a story on holiday camps by reporter Martin Grand (a punning pseudonym on the location of the GPO’s then Headquarters on St Martin’s Le Grand, London).

A postman delivering mail at Hemsby holiday camp. (POST 118/681)

A postman delivering mail at Hemsby holiday camp. (POST 118/681)

Grand’s article looks at some of the 10 holiday camps then located on the Norfolk coast and within the administration of the Postmaster of Great Yarmouth. “The management of the so-called camps is in the hands of men who are obviously determined to make this type of holiday a permanent and increasingly popular feature of the national life” he observes, describing the chalet accommodation, modern sanitation, wide range of activities and convivial atmosphere.

A postman delivers mail to members of the public at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. (POST 118/677)

A postman delivers mail to members of the public at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. (POST 118/677)

Camps such as those in Norfolk were an inexpensive and increasingly popular holiday destination for working people in the 1930s. While Butlin’s camps became the most famous, there were also a number of independent camps at the time. Editions of The Post Office Magazine featured advertisements for camps such as Caister, so many postal workers would have holidayed in them.

The photographs and the article show that even as they relaxed holiday-makers looked forward to the arrival of the postman. “The little red [postal] van is a welcome visitor two or three times a day” writes Grand “and the postman enjoys his all too brief and of course strictly official conversations with dainty damsels in attractive shorts and ‘kerchief”.

A postman delivers mail to a large group of people at Caister holiday camp. (POST 118/683)

A postman delivers mail to a large group of people at Caister holiday camp. (POST 118/683)

Another camp featured in the article, located at Gorleston-on-Sea, is described as “New-built on luxury lines”. “In design and decoration the buildings are reminiscent of the Queen Mary” Grand says, with facilities including “round lawns and gardens on gently sloping uplands overlooking the sea”.

A 1930’s brochure advertising the camp, which appears on the Gorleston Super Holiday Camp website, lists activities as including tournaments, games, dancing, whist, tennis, bowls, putting, croquet, deck-tennis, cricket and bathing. The brochure also describes Gorleston as “The ‘Queen Mary’ of Holiday Camps”, although it is impossible to establish whether it is The Post Office Magazine that is being quoted here.

A postman delivers mail at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. He hands a letter to an employee at the camp. (POST 118/679)

A postman delivers mail at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp. He hands a letter to an employee at the camp. (POST 118/679)

Either way, the services provided by the Post Office were clearly much-used by those who stayed in the camps: “Outside the main gate [at Caister] stands a most cheerful looking pillar-box, his aperture grinning broadly and his enamelled eye twinkling in the sun” writes Grand. “No wonder he looks so pleased, for hundreds of jolly people in holiday garb fuss around him all day long, consulting the information displayed on his broad chest and slipping picturesque postcards into his capacious tummy.”

A boy is stood on bench posting a letter into a postbox outside Caister Holiday Camp. (POST 118/1188)

A boy is stood on bench posting a letter into a postbox outside Caister Holiday Camp. (POST 118/1188)

Editions of The Post Office Magazine can be consulted in our Archive Search Room in London. You can view hundreds of photographs from our collection on Flickr.

The Post Office in Pictures

In October our new exhibition, The Post Office in Pictures, will open in Swindon. The exhibition will showcase a selection of inspiring images sourced from our vast collections.

In 1933 Sir Stephen Tallents was appointed Public Relations Officer to the General Post Office (GPO), and so began a major project to promote the range of postal services to the British public. One initiative was the establishment of The Post Office Magazine, intended to give a sense of shared community, camaraderie and endeavour. In order to do this, the GPO employed photographers to create beautiful, informative and often humorous photographs of the Post Office at work.

From strange creatures sent through the post, to the daily deliveries by land, sea
and air to every corner of the country, the photos featured in The Post Office in Pictures offer a fascinating set of windows on Britain from the 1930s to 80s – including some of the more unusual, unexpected and unseen activities of The Post Office and its people.

One of the images to be featured is ‘Basket Delivery’, a striking image from 1938 showing a postman at Greenock Promenade in Scotland. The postman’s basket contained mail from the Canadian Pacific Railways liner, the Duchess of Bedford. Beginning its journey in places such as New Zealand and China, the mail once unloaded was then sorted in the open air ‘sorting office’ of the Princes Pier before being despatched for delivery across the United Kingdom. We love the composition of the image and the beautiful cloudy sky.

A postman pushes a hand cart with a large GPO basket on it along a promenade, Greenock.

A postman pushes a hand cart with a large GPO basket on it along a promenade, Greenock. (POST 118/851)

To accompany the exhibition, the BPMA has produced a fantastic range of greetings cards featuring iconic black and white photographs from our archives, including ‘Basket Delivery’. The cards are now available from our online shop.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition is open at the Post Modern in Swindon between 6 October and 5 November 2011. Find out more on our website.