Hello, I’m Nicola and I’ve been volunteering for the BPMA since the end of January. It has been such a fantastic experience for me so I wanted to write a little blog to share what I have been working on. Interestingly, I gained my volunteer position at the archives because my cousin had put out message on twitter asking about volunteer opportunities to which Martin Devereux, our digital content manager replied, so I am as grateful to her as to Martin and everybody else at the BPMA. I have been very lucky with this volunteer placement because it has allowed me to explore my two greatest passions in life, history and photography, in an area that I had been previously unfamiliar with, that of postal history.
Postman delivering mail to a large group of hop pickers, Kent, 1935. (POST 118/467)
When I first came to volunteer at the BPMA, Martin talked to me about a few different areas that I could potentially work on but I told him I wanted to do all of them. So I have spent the past few weeks scanning, cataloguing and rehousing glass plate negatives, tagging and creating labels for online photographs, researching a couple of mysterious Victorian albums and other general archiving tasks, including working with the CALM collections database. Alongside these more recent activities, I also dedicated my first few sessions to promoting the BPMA on History Pin. This website is a photographic archive which allows organisations to share their photograph collections with the public.
Each organisation has its own channel on the website where it can upload photographs and then attach them to Google’s map to show where the photograph was taken. Each photograph or ‘pin’ can then be overlayed on top of Google Street View, allowing the public to compare the location with the original photograph. This is enhanced with the sliding tool which changes the opaqueness of the photograph on top to reveal the Google image underneath; I had great fun playing with this!
The photographs that I uploaded from the postal heritage archives depict a variety of places and people ranging from a postman delivering mail at Dover Castle to a mail van parked next to Loch Lomond in Scotland. I uploaded photographs that I thought were either visually appealing or had an interesting subject matter (or both) and had great fun searching through the archives.
Mail van by Loch Lomond. (POST 118/134)
As well as these singular photographs I also created three collections of photographs connected to certain subjects and events. One contained images relating to transport in postal history, another was about the opening of the Mersey tunnel in 1934 and my favourite one was about delivering mail to the hop farms in Kent. I was very pleased to hear that the first photograph from this collection was made ‘pin of the day’ a few days after I uploaded it and appeared on the Historypin homepage.
Postman delivering mail to Dover Castle. The postman, standing in front of his mail van, hands mail to a soilder. A young boy stands next to the men, pointing at the postmans mail bag. 1935. (POST 118/421)
It has been such a great experience to volunteer at the BPMA and I have learnt so much about archiving and all the different roles in an organisation such as this. It has definitely inspired me to consider archiving, especially if related to photography in my future career.
Join the BPMA on History Pin today!
Posted in Archive, Collection
Tagged archives, Dover Castle, Google maps, Google Street View, History Pin, hops farm, Kent, Liverpool, Loch Lomond, mail van, Mersey Tunnel, photo archive, photographs, photography, photos, postman, Scotland, transport, volunteering, volunteers
I have recently been working on a project to scan and catalogue BPMA’s collection of lantern slides. Lantern slides were used in magic lanterns and were the predecessors of modern slides for projectors. They were first invented in the mid 16th Century, originally using candles or oil lamps to throw the images. As time progressed brighter light sources such as limelight were discovered making the devices much more efficient at projecting.
The lantern slides were made out of two pieces of glass coated with a photographic emulsion resulting in the image appearing in-between the plates. The slides could then be hand tinted if required or left black and white.
Lantern slides came into popular use in the 19th and 20th Centuries and the BPMA’s collection of over 500 also date to this period. The Post Office used them extensively, with a variety of purposes from staff training to documenting what the organisation was doing.
A large part of the collection focuses on postal transport, and unsurprisingly horses feature in many of the earlier slides – in the form of drawings and photographic images, of either the animals or artwork of them. I have selected some of these to share with you today.
Tickets used to hire post horses from postmasters or innkeepers. (2010-0411/08)
The image above shows a photograph of tickets used to hire post horses from postmasters or innkeepers. As the title states, surviving examples are rare so the record in the form of a lantern slide to document this process is highly valuable.
Australian telegraph worker riding a horse. (2010-0450)
This next slide, shows a late 19th Century drawing of an Australian telegraph worker, distinguished by his different uniform, riding on a horse. This could possibly have been used to educate British staff of postal practices around the world.
Postal worker with his horse. (2011-0443/08)
A much more human touch in this next image shows an older postal worker with his horse or pony. The familiarity in the shot is endearing and shows a more informal side to the use of the slides.
More catalogue records complete with images will shortly be available on our online catalogue so do look out for them soon.
Laura Snowling – Volunteer
Posted in Catalogue, Collection, Postal History
Tagged Australian postal service, General Post Office, GPO, horse, horses, lantern slide, magic lantern, Post Office, Royal Mail, telegraph worker, tickets, transport, uniform
Yesterday we uploaded the catalogue of our library collection to our online catalogue for the first time. The library, housed in our Archive Search Room, has a fascinating array of around 3,260 books, journals and pamphlets about postal history and the history of Royal Mail, covering a period from the 18th century to the present day.
There are thirteen main sections to the library – General Postal History, Transport, Technology, Military History, Industrial Relations, Journals, Local Postal History, Philately, Biographies, General Historical Reference, Savings Banks, Art and Design, and Fiction.
The Penny Black Anniversary Book - 1840-1990
The oldest book that has been recorded in the library is John Watson’s Gentleman and Citizen Almanac, which is part of the transport section.
Other fascinating items in the library include The Penny Black Anniversary Book, celebrating the Penny Black’s 150th anniversary and charting other famous stamps such as the ‘Seahorses’ Collection, and two books on saucy seaside postcards by comedian Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Barker’s Book of Bathing Beauties and Ronnie Barker’s Book of Boudoir Beauties. Barker, who died in 2005, began collecting postcards in the 1950s and ended his life with a collection of around 40,000. Many of his postcards featured saucy puns and these are said to have inspired some of his comedy.
A complete list of the publications in the BPMA’s library collection can be viewed by clicking here. To find out about accessing items in the library collection please read the Visit the Archive section on our website.
Posted in Archive, Catalogue
Tagged art, biography, books, design, fiction, industrial relations, journals, library, library catalogue, military history, online catalogue, pamphlets, penny black, philately, Postal History, postcard collection, postcards, Ronnie Barker, saucy postcards, seahorses, search room, seaside postcards, technology, The British Postal Museum & Archive, transport
Travelling Post Offices (or TPOs) were railway carriages specially adapted for Post Office workers to sort mail in whilst it was being carried to its destination. They were introduced in 1838, a mere eight years after the first public railway (which ran between Liverpool to Manchester) was opened and proved to be a faster and more efficient method of delivering mail than Mail Coaches.
The layout of TPOs evolved very early on, driven by the unique nature of the work involved. The sorting frames were normally on the right looking towards the engine with a well table (sunken recess to hold mail) below for emptying mailbags into. Opposite this were metal pegs with destination bag labels attached in readiness to hang mail bags for sorted mail.
Early TPOs were quite primitive in their facilities with oil lighting, low, flat roofs and no heating or toilets! In the 1860s, gradual improvements were made as ventilators and better lights were installed and arched roofs introduced along with floor matting, padding and seats.
The TPO service ran until early 2004. It had been in a gradual decline since World War 2, with Dr Beeching’s 1963 report on the railways having a particular impact on the service. Transport technology was changing too, with it becoming more economical to move mail by road or air. Problems with service level agreements and concern for the health and safety of staff were the final nails in the coffin.
In 1999 the BPMA purchased a TPO dating from 1908, which was restored at the London & North West Railway (LNWR) workshop at Crewe. It is on display at The Crewe Heritage Centre, which is open on weekends and bank holidays from Easter to the last weekend in September.
The BPMA's TPO: before restoration.
The BPMA's TPO: after restoration
For more information on TPOs please see our Online Exhibition The Travelling Post Office.
Posted in Collection, Exhibitions
Tagged Crewe Heritage Centre, Dr Beeching, Liverpool to Manchester railway, LNWR, London & North West Railway, mail bag, mail coach, online exhibition, Post Office transport, railway, TPO, transport, Travelling Post Office