Tag Archives: The Postal Museum

World Photography Day: Documenting the build

Today is Photography Day, celebrating the photographers and the stories they capture. Here at the BPMA, we have approximately 100,000 photographs in our collections. As we ramp up to open The Postal Museum and Mail Rail, photography is playing an even more crucial role, documenting the transformation of our physical spaces.

Demolition has started at The Postal Museum site and we are eagerly waiting to get started in Mail Rail. Below are a few  photos of the building that will become our new home. The first showing it in its former glory in the early 20th century, the other’s what it looked like a couple months ago before demolition work began.

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An early photograph of Calthorpe House (the building that will become The Postal Museum)

The back of Calthorpe House (early 2015)

The back of the museum site (early 2015)

A rather treacherous hall way with raised flooring.

A rather treacherous hall way with raised flooring.

Fast forward to earlier this summer, photographer Miles Willis joined us to document the first couple of weeks of the strip-out and demolition of The Postal Museum building and the untouched Mail Rail.

Remember that back wall from above? Well its been demolished in preparation for our new archive repository!

Remember that back wall from above? Well it’s been demolished in preparation for our new archive repository! Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive/Miles Willis

 

Stripped away to its bare-bones!

Stripped away to its bare-bones! Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive/Miles Willis

Work hasn’t started at Mail Rail (yet!) but Miles has documented this amazing space as it is now.

Looking up the incline into the Depot Space. Visitors will travel along the same tracks! Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive/Miles Willis

Looking up the incline into the Depot Space. Visitors will travel along the same tracks! Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive/Miles Willis

Trains parked along Mount Pleasant platform. Visitors will be able to pass along this platform on the ride! Copyright The Postal Museum/Miles Willis

Trains parked along the Mount Pleasant platform. Visitors will be able to pass along this platform on the ride! Copyright The Postal Museum/Miles Willis

Visitors will get to experience a piece of underground London never open to the general public. Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive

Visitors will get to experience a piece of underground London never before open to the general public. Copyright The British Postal Museum & Archive/Miles Willis

As we get closer and closer to opening, we will have much more to share! Stay tuned and up-to-date by checking out our dedicated project website and joining our enewsletter list.

Mail Coach Guard Moses Nobbs is ready for his close-up

Our conservation team is very busy getting objects ready to be moved and, in some cases, displayed in The Postal Museum and Mail Rail galleries. Conservators Jackie and Barbara need the best equipment to help repair and preserve objects, such as a long overdue microscope.

Today we received a very nice surprise – the delivery of a brand new microscope! We wanted to replace the old machine that had been in service in the studio since the iron-age with a modern machine and thanks to a lot of gently persuasive requests our wish was finally granted.

The machine was immediately put to good use on an object that had been in the studio awaiting treatment.

The object is a painting of Moses James Nobbs, ‘The Last of the Mail Coach Guards’ painted c.1890 by H.E.Brown and is described as a watercolour on paper. The image shows a man with white beard and whiskers wearing a black top hat, a red coat with gold double buttons and black collar and cuffs.

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Undergoing treatment using our new micrscope

When we first received this painting and assessed it, no particular damage to the paint layer was detected. Once the surface had been put under the magnifying lens of the microscope we were able to discover an area of micro-cracks that could potentially lead to the paint layer flacking off. Indeed this had already happened in some small parts of the painting.

Armed with this new knowledge we decided to proceed with a treatment of the paint layer to be performed under magnification, an operation that was made possible thanks to the real-time video feed of the microscope.

Close-up showing the cracks in the painting

Close-up showing the cracks in the painting

The new microscope proved popular with other members of staff at BPMA too, with many coming over to the studio to check things like dirt on their fingers, what hair really looks like and what creatures live on common surfaces… The youngest visitor, a 9 years old with lots of probing scientific questions really enjoyed the close up inspection of the bench surface!

As we move closer to opening The Postal Museum look out for more conservation updates from Jackie and Barbara, giving you a sneak peek at the objects that will be going on display and the preparations taking place in the galleries themselves.

-Barbara Borghese, Conservator

Photography mysteries from the Archive Stocktake

The (mostly figurative) dust has settled after our annual Archive Stock Take, when the whole archive team pulls together for a packed two weeks of communing with the collection. Sorting, listing, arranging, appraising, auditing, measuring – basically all the huge or awkward jobs we can’t fit into the rest of the year, but that are becoming ever more important as we prepare to move our collections to their new home at The Postal Museum.

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Adam and Lydianne measuring boxes

As ever, we’ve been left with a few questions that we need to answer – and we’d like your help with them!

One of our tasks was sorting through boxes and boxes of photography, weeding out the prints and negatives that we already had and finding the material relevant to our collections to be preserved. Often we couldn’t find any notes at all about when or where the images came from, so the biggest challenge was to try and work out what it was we were actually seeing.

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Vicky sorting through photography negatives

This is where you come in! Are you able to shed any light on where the following photographs were taken? If so, we’d love it if you could help us to solve our Stock Take mysteries.

  1. This interior shot appears to be the control room for a distribution centre – possibly Reading – but we can’t find any details in the photo that give its location away. With its brightly coloured light panels, I think it has a touch of the Bond villain’s lair about it, but perhaps that’s just me…

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  1. These shots were found together and seem to be of the same rather quirky-looking building. We think it might be one of the first out-of-town sorting offices, purpose-built to house mechanised sorting equipment. Despite its unusual character, even our expert on Post Office architecture, volunteer Julian Osley, is stumped about where it might be.

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  1. Similarly, we came upon these three photos together and they appear to be from the same site. Those fun-looking slides are in fact Safeglide Spiral Chutes, which are specially-designed to allow items added from different levels to work their way down at a controlled speed. We’ve had one suggestion as to where these photos may have been taken – the Parcel Concentration Office at Washington, County Durham (thank you, @RogerEvansAM!) – but any further wisdom would be appreciated.

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So there we have it. If you can use your knowledge or detective skills to figure out where any of these were taken – or if you can tell us anything about their contents – please jump right in and comment below, email info@postalheritage.org.uk or tweet us!

-Ashley March, Archives and Records Assistant

 

Vintage GPO Posters go up for online Auction

As regular readers will have seen here at the BPMA we have a stunning poster collection. The General Post Office (GPO) was a trendsetting organisation, particularly when it came to marketing, and in the 1930s it broke the mould with its innovative poster designs.

James Mawtus-Judd

Poster on careful packing by James Mawtus-Judd

This Thursday (9 July) we’ll be offering the public a rare opportunity to own a piece of iconic design when we put a significant selection of vintage GPO posters (duplicate to our collections) up for online auction via Onslows Auction House.

John Vickery (2)

Poster from the Outposts of Empire series by John Vickery

These stunning images come from this golden age of public relations at the GPO, between the 1930s and 1960s. Some of the most prominent artists and designers of the time vied for commissions, creating striking posters on a range on subjects from airmail through to pleas for the careful packing of parcels.

Harry Stevens

Poster calling for careful packaging by Harry Stevens

The posters to go on sale include works by Edward McKnight Kauffer, Tom Eckersley, John Armstrong, Jan Le Witt and George Him. Many of these artists went on to take commissions at places such as London Transport and the Ministry of Information where they created iconic designs to support the war effort during the Second World War.

Edward McKnight Kauffer

Poster from the Outposts of Britain series by Edward McKnight Kauffer

The money raised at auction will go towards delivering The Postal Museum and Mail Rail, where posters, and design more generally, will play a vital role in telling the remarkable stories of how the British postal service helped to shape our social and communications history.

Please visit Onslows website to view the full auction catalogue.

My Favourite Object: Pentacycle

In this month’s edition of My Favourite Object, find out why the Pentacycle is Head of Fundraising Emma’s absolute favourite.

Perhaps the perfect symbol of the Victorian spirit of invention, often seen as eccentric by today’s standards, the Pentacycle was invented in 1882 – not long after the more famous “Penny-farthing” and before safety bicycles, more recognisable as ancestors of the bikes we ride today, were introduced.

Front of Player's Cycling cigarette card showing four postmen on Centre cycles, otherwise known as 'Hen and Chicks'.

Front of Player’s Cycling cigarette card showing four postmen on Centre cycles, otherwise known as ‘Hen and Chicks’.

Designed by Edward Burstow, an architect from Horsham in Sussex, the Pentacycle was conceived to enable larger postal loads to be carried and delivered with ease. Although popular with postal delivery workers in Horsham, it did not catch on more widely, and certainly does not look an easy or comfortable ride by today’s standards!

I have a couple of reasons for choosing the Pentacycle as ‘My Favourite Object’; firstly because it is just such a fantastic looking machine. It is large, awkward-looking and, although I have no idea what it would be like to ride, certainly does not look user-friendly (and that’s with its capacious mail baskets empty). Yet, despite all of this the very concept feels ambitious and visionary…why wouldn’t it catch on? It’s this sense of optimism and spirit of adventure that really make me connect with the Pentacycle.

Me with the Pentacyle at our Museum Store in Debden.

Selfie with the Pentacyle at our Museum Store in Essex.

I also love its nick-name “the Hen and Chicks”. The reason for this excellent name can be understood simply from viewing the image below, and lends such personality to this ungainly invention. It perhaps conveys the affection with which the postmen who rode the bikes referenced them, and the interest visitors to the collection are still compelled to show the Pentacycle on seeing for the first time.

Pentacycle Debden

Pentacyle at our store in Essex.

 

Although the Pentacycle, or a 1930s replica of one, is currently housed at the BPMA’s Museum Store in Debden, Essex, it will be the central object on display in the ‘Revolutionising Communications’ exhibition zone of The Postal Museum when it opens. This gives it an important role, along with many other unique and surprising objects which will be on permanent display to the public from late 2016, in providing a window on the past through the perspective of the postal service.

View from below

View from below

Working at the BPMA I feel uniquely privileged to have more of an insight into the collection, and to be able to explore and connect with items such as the Pentacycle or ‘Hen and Chicks’. Bringing remarkable items, such as this, to a wider audience than ever before is exactly why The Postal Museum and Mail Rail will be so important. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing visitors of all ages explore, experience and be inspired by this history of adventure and the pioneering spirit that has driven communications forward over the past 500 years and will continue to do so into the future.

-Emma Jhita, Head of Fundraising

Capturing Mail Rail in 3D: The Next Steps

Imagine a place frozen in time, left exactly as it was the day that everyone left it. That is what it’s like in Mail Rail today. After it was mothballed in 2003, everything was left as it was that day, down to the newspapers, rota and personal belongings. This time capsule effect is part of what makes Mail Rail unique and exciting; however when we start construction later this year to convert it into a ride and visitor attraction we’ll have to make a few changes to ensure it’s safe and accessible for visitors. We are keen that the space remains as true to how it is now as possible, but these changes mean that the little things could be lost. We thought long and hard about how we could preserve Mail Rail exactly as it is today. The solution we came up with was 3D scanning.

Just before Christmas ScanLAB Projects, a 3D scanning and visualisation company based in East London, spent a week down in Mail Rail and captured the Mount Pleasant depot, loop and platforms in 3D. In total they completed over 223 terrestrial laser scans with incredible and accurate results.

View of the Mount Pleasant platforms

View of the Mount Pleasant platforms

The scans that ScanLAB have created show all the minute detail of the spaces, preserving Mail Rail as it is now for us all to explore in years to come, including parts of Mail Rail that visitors to the site won’t be able to see, such as the train graveyard.

Capture

Fly-through of the train graveyard

 

Of course the results have got our creative gears spinning. Increasingly visitors are expecting an increased level of digital interactivity from a visitor to a museum, allowing them to interact with exhibits and collections through devices such as smart phones and tablets, before, during and after their visit – but how can we use these scans to enhance the visitor experience, both physically and remotely?

The guys at ScanLAB gave us a demo of just this; using an Oculus Rift headset we explored the train graveyard and the depot. BPMA staff delighted in walking around, reaching out to touch trains and walls, and even ‘sitting’ in one of the trains!

Looking around the Mount Pleasant Depot through Oculus Rift headset

Other possibilities include augmented reality apps for smart devices, projections or 3D printed installations –the options are endless– so what would you do with them?

Paints and post boxes: engaging families through exhibitions

As we move into the final design stages for The Postal Museum and Mail Rail, a new family friendly attraction opening in central London in 2016, we’ve been asking ourselves the question, how do families engage with our stories and collections? Our Community Learning Officer, Hannah Clipson tells us about the work she and Exhibitions Officer Dominique Gardner have been doing to answer this question.

Some postal inspired artwork!

Some postal inspired artwork!

Pop it in the post: your world at the end of the street , our latest touring exhibition, is the first we’ve designed that’s aimed at children. With this in mind we decided to launch it at Islington Museum, located just around the corner from the BPMA and popular with local families. It was the perfect place to engage these future visitors to The Postal Museum and get their feedback on what we have to offer them. The exhibition explores how the communications revolution came about as the result of the introduction of the Penny Black stamp and pillar boxes. From the workers who made it possible to the crazy and elaborate new types of post being sent – there are plenty of fascinating and surprising themes; perfect for sparking the curiosity and imaginations of young minds!

This little boy's imagination is peaked - or maybe its the paints.

This little boy’s imagination is sparked- or maybe its the paints!

Alongside the exhibition we ran some drop-in family activities during the Easter holidays. Recent research conducted at our Museum of the Post Office in the Community exhibition at Blists Hill Victorian Town showed that children enjoyed engaging with the uniform in the collection, particularly the hats. Therefore, this was chosen as the inspiration for the take-away craft activity. Children made their own top hat mask and played with the postal themed board games and beautiful jigsaw puzzles specially made for the exhibition. One group visiting from a children’s holiday club stayed with us for 2 hours, with almost every child trying on the handling postal uniforms, which bodes well for the dressing up interactive experience we have planned for the new museum!

Getting messy with paints

Getting messy with paints

The exhibition then played host to a much younger audience at the early years workshop for the under 5s. This time we used mail art as the inspiration – with children as young as 2 creating their own beautifully decorated envelopes to send through the post. It was hard to tell who enjoyed it the most, the parents or the children…but it shows our collection can make for a fun shared learning experience between people of all ages, regardless of their personal experience of using the postal service.

Pop it in the post: your world at the end of the street will be displayed at Islington Museum until Saturday 2 May. After that, the exhibition heads to Bruce Castle Museum from July to September, and in October it heads north to Mansfield Museum – winner of the Kids in Museums Family-Friendly Award in 2011.

-Hannah Clipson, Community Learning Officer