Tag Archives: uniforms

Dear Amie: Inspiring formerly trafficked women through postal uniforms

During the past two years our Community Learning Officer, Hannah Clipson, has been developing our audiences in the run-up to opening The Postal Museum. Through engaging new groups we have been able to interpret our collection in new and exciting ways. We have created strong and sustainable bonds with formally under-represented groups who now see us and objects as relevant and of interest. In this post, Hannah shares what she has been up to with the Amies, a group of ten women who are survivors of trafficking.

Established in July 2014, delivered in collaboration with the October Gallery and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, we engaged with the Amies over a 12 week period. The 10 ladies were originally brought together by PAN Arts, a London-based arts company, and The Poppy Project. This summer we built upon this project, working with the Amies and partnering with the October Gallery, The Mary Ward Centre and The Calthorpe Project. However, this time, we looked at postal uniforms throughout the ages, and used them as inspiration to make our own textile items. Through a series of images, we’ll share what we have been up to.

We started off the project looking at the various bags that have been used by postal workers over the centuries. Inspired by the telegram messenger bags, we made our own versions to practice simple sewing skills.

Leather pouches made by the women, inspired by the telegram messenger bags

Leather pouches made by the women, inspired by the telegram messenger bags

We developed our sewing skills at the Mary Ward Centre through making a bag with a zip using sewing machines. This got the whole group ready to tackle making a skirt, inspired by the post women’s uniform during the First World War. To make the skirt, we explored images from the collection and experimented with patterns, and had a fabric printed containing our favourite images.

Nanda cuts her stamp designed material to make her bag

One of the women cuts her stamp designed material to make her bag

Mani making her bag on the sewing machine

One of the women making her bag on the sewing machine

Asia and Paulina look at images from our collection to inspire our skirt fabric

The group look at images from our collection to inspire our skirt fabric

Mani shows us her ideas for a pattern

One of the women shows us her ideas for a pattern

Nanda works on sewing her skirt

One of the women works on sewing her skirt

One of the fabrics we had digitally printed

One of the fabrics we had digitally printed

Being able to build upon this project and working with these women has been an absolute joy. Seeing the women grow in confidence and help each other to learn new skills (both textile and life skills) whilst using our collection as a platform has been hugely worthwhile and humbling. Partnering with the October Gallery and The Mary Ward Centre has also enabled us to learn new skills from peers; invaluable as we continue to move forward developing our audiences for The Postal Museum. Next steps include planning our next project with the women at The Postal Museum and developing our first community inspired exhibition at our archive in Freeling House. Watch this space!

-Hannah Clipson, Community Learning Officer

This project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

english_compact_pantone (1)

Volunteer Flora and the ‘box of doom’

My name is Flora, and I’m an MA Museum Studies student at the University of Leicester. Over April, I spent some time at BPMA, helping to audit and pack objects in preparation for the move.

Flora auditing and packing the museum collection.

Flora auditing and packing the museum collection.

I spent most of the time at Freeling House, delving into the archive downstairs. This included badges, ties, postcards, letters, publicity leaflets, and lots of other things. The postcards were particularly interesting, especially trying to make out the messages on the back of some of them. Less fun was counting a large number of duplicate badges for disposal – the total was 666 (as well as a small saxophone badge and a clip that looked as if it was from a pair of dungarees), so I think that definitely qualifies as a ‘box of doom’. We also found an old sign ‘In Case of Alarm of Fire’, with separate instructions for male and female employees (women were supposed to file out in pairs – I wonder what happened if there was an odd number?!).

Two days a week were spent out at the Museum Store in Debden, which is home to the larger (and often more unusual) objects. I can’t quite decide on my favourite; it’s a tie between the model of the HMS Queen Mary (complete with tiny moving lifeboats), parts of the Travelling Post Office (including a water boiler and food heater), or the Post Office ‘L’ Plates – I had no idea that the Post Office used to teach their own drivers.

Model of the HMS Queen Mary.

Model of the HMS Queen Mary.

One day involved packing lots of vehicle parts, helpfully listed as ‘assorted unknown parts’; luckily, another volunteer with an extensive knowledge of cars was on hand to help us identify what we were actually packing. There were definitely a few more challenges out in Debden – lots of oddly shaped objects that, just as you thought you’d finally wrapped them up, would burst back through the acid-free tissue paper and make a bid for freedom. I also got to dust a couple of post boxes and post vans which was fun – leading to complaints from my mum about my reluctance to dust at home.

I also spent two days down in the corner of the archive checking the old uniforms for signs of moth activity. There were a few false alarms (including a set of disintegrating shoulder pads in one of the jackets), but luckily, no signs of infestation (I did find one jacket with a few worn patches, but decided that moths probably haven’t yet developed the intelligence to eat in a completely straight line!). The range of uniforms hiding in the corner was astounding: I found Danish uniforms (both town and country, and summer and winter – clearly the Danes like their uniforms), as well as Canadian and Swiss ones. There were also Foreign Office uniforms, from when the General Post Office won the contract to dress some departments of the Civil Service as well as their own employees. It was amazing (and slightly terrifying) to be touching fabric that was over one hundred years old in some cases, but it was all remarkably well preserved. I also never realised quite how heavy overcoats were, especially the thick woollen ones.

Flora condition checking the uniform collection.

Flora condition checking the uniform collection.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and it’s been a great introduction to the practical side of collections documentation and management (rule number one: the collections database CALM is anything but!). I’d also like to say a huge thank you to Emma and Sarah for putting up with me (and for the plentiful supply of tea, biscuits and occasional cake out at Debden!)

See our Volunteers page to find out about volunteering at BPMA.

Memories of a boy messenger – Part 1

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In Part 1 he tells us about his first day on the job.

I remember how excited I was to receive the letter that told me to report for duty at the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) on 15 May 1946, having passed the medical and scraping in a half inch above the minimum height required of four feet ten and a half inches.

The Central Telegraph Office, c.1930s-40s (POST 118/1379)

The Central Telegraph Office, c.1930s-40s (POST 118/1379)

Despite the good advice I received from my parents I still managed to get lost and arrived later than I intended. As I approached the main door located in St Martin’s Le Grand, I was stopped by the doorman who told me that in future as a Boy Messenger I should use the back door. I was then taken to a man, who seemed to be in charge of most of the telegraph work.

After a brief welcome I was passed from office to office, signing and filling in various forms. I was also given my weekly allocation of meal vouchers each worth 1/- (5p). The restaurant that catered for the CTO staff was open from 8am to 6pm; it provided hot food from 11am to 2.30pm. Despite the rationing it was possible to buy a good hot meal and a sweet for less than 1/-.

Finally, I was taken to the Chief Inspector of Messengers. I remember there were three people in the room, an Assistant Inspector, Inspector and the Chief Inspector. I was passed from one to the other each one telling me about the job and conditions.

My duties would consist of 6 eight hour shifts which could start as early as 7am and finish as late as 7pm. I would be allowed a 40 minute meal break each day plus a breakfast or tea break of 20 minutes at the Inspectors’ discretion. Once thought suitable I would be expected to work 4 hours compulsory overtime every third Sunday increasing to 10 hours a day when I reached 16 (the CTO was required to deliver all telegrams on Sundays with an EC or WC address).

My starting pay would be 21/6 (£1 07½) per week); when you allow for fares to work of about 35p, plus either a morning or afternoon snack at a weekly cost of 15p, I had very little money to spare. However, my pay would rise by yearly increments to 41/- (£2-05p) per week at 18 years. In addition to my pay I would receive 6 meal vouchers per week free until I reached 16 when I would be expected to pay half the cost of the vouchers. They would automatically stop when I reached 18 years.

I would be given two uniforms a year, one winter and one summer weight. I would also receive one pair of shoes and one pair of boots a year, plus overcoat and walking cape (to be replaced when I outgrew them), and a pill box-type hat with badge that was unique to me. My number was TS228 (only the messengers at the CTO and their sister office at Threadneedle Street were allowed to wear the Tube Service or TS motif on their cap badges).

Messenger boy (POST 118/126)

Messenger boy (POST 118/126)

My holiday entitlement was 12 days a year to be taken between May and October. The senior boys had first choice so junior messengers like me had to take our holidays in either May or October.

Having been told all the terms and conditions I was whisked away to the Inspector in charge of the stores in a small office at the rear of Angel Street. Here I was measured for my uniform, given my pouch belt and armband (these had to suffice until my uniform was ready) and walking cape. I was then taken to the delivery room which was located at the rear of the CTO.

Keep visiting this blog for more of Jim (Dusty) Miller’s memories.

Reaching milestones in our documentation and cataloguing work

At the end of February, we reached some significant milestones in the documentation work carried out on our museum and archive collections.

Submitted design (No. 15) by G. Knipe of Harrison & Sons.

Stamp Artwork design for the Olympic Games 1948, submitted by G. Knipe of Harrison & Sons Oct. 1947. (POST 150/GVI/11/018) It was one of the five designs selected by the Council of Industrial Design and was held as a reserve for the 2 1/2d stamp. In preparing essays Harrisons were to be told "to make sure that the features of the jumper ... cannot be recognised."

The first milestone reached was the completion of an audit of material contained within the museum collection. What this means is that we have entry and location data for every object inherited by BPMA when it was formed in 2004 and for every object subsequently deposited with us. This includes objects held in our Freeling House repository and in our stores in Debden and at Christie’s.

Documentation of collections is a core part of any museum’s activity. Without details such as provenance, custodial history, physical condition and the terms and conditions relating to deposit, a museum cannot be assured of its responsibility and rights to preserve, display, digitise or even dispose (should the item not meet the museum’s collecting policy) of objects in its custody. Furthermore, precise information about an object’s location in our repository and stores means that we can carry out collections review work more efficiently and better prepare for our forthcoming move from our site here at Freeling House to the new postal museum.

This has been a significant amount of work and has taken seven years to complete. Very few museums have achieved a full audit of their holdings and it means that we can now concentrate our efforts in reviewing object collections, creating descriptive catalogues for the online catalogue and also plan our digitisation programmes accordingly. The completion of this work is due to the hard work and discipline of our museum cataloguers past and present, and we congratulate them all for doing such a great job!

Stamp Artwork, Olympic Games 1948, submitted on 29 July 1948 (POST 150/GVI/11/037)

The second milestone is that we’ve passed the 100,000 mark of records available to view on our online catalogue. We now have 100,703 records published. Our most recently published records include:
King George VI London Olympic Games 1948 stamp artwork
• Uniforms
• Handstamps
• Posters
Photographic stills from Post Office films, c.1969-1986
Finally, at the beginning of each year, we also open files that have been closed for 30 years. You can read in the blog by my colleague Gavin McGuffie how we process these. This year, we’ve opened approximately 100 files and the descriptions of these can be viewed via our online catalogue here.

Martin Devereux – Acting Catalogue Manager

Who Do You Think You Are? Live

On 24-26 February we will be attending Who Do You Think You Are? Live at London Olympia. This is the largest family history show in the world and is a great opportunity to meet lots of family history organisations under one roof.

BPMA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

BPMA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

This will be the sixth year that the BPMA has attended this event and we have always enjoyed meeting new people and telling them about our family history sources. Last year we had over 550 people visit our stand over the weekend and this year we would love to meet even more.

BPMA resources at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

BPMA resources at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

As well as having our usual stand in the Society of Genealogists section of the show (tables 116-117), we will also be participating in the new ‘Our Working Past’ area. This area examines the working lives of people in the past. We will have historic uniforms, photographs of postal workers on duty, and staff magazines available for handling and consultation. The staff magazines, in particular, provide a fascinating insight into life in the Post Office and include accounts of social events, stories and jokes.

We look forward to seeing you there!

– Helen Dafter, Archivist

See the Family History Research section of our website to find out how we can help you search for your postal ancestors.

New records released on our online catalogue

Thankfully, our recent problems with the online catalogue appear to be resolved. We apologise for the inconvenience you may have suffered in recent weeks.

The online catalogue service began switching itself off when we upgraded the catalogue system software. We noticed that our web server was having problems with the new software almost immediately. Although we did test the system before we installed it on our web server, a bug in the system did not become apparent until the online catalogue interface began asking for data from the system database. We’ve now reverted to a stable version of the system so hopefully we will not have any more unplanned interruptions to the online catalogue service.

On a more positive note, we can reveal that 4752 records have been added to the online catalogue and these are now available to the public. These include:

POST 91: Buildings, Furniture and Fittings – over 3000 descriptions of plans, blueprints, photographs, illustrations and documents relating to Post Office sites and installations across the United Kingdom between c.1780 and 2002. We’ve digitised a small number of these records and we hope to attach these to their descriptions in the following months.

King Edward Building - two keyboard operators at Single Position Letter Sorting Machine (SPLSM), November 1971 (POST 118/6024)

King Edward Building - two keyboard operators at Single Position Letter Sorting Machine (SPLSM), November 1971 (POST 118/6024)

POST 118: Post Office Photograph Library – 450 descriptions of photographs from 1967-1999. These images form part of a series of photographs compiled by library staff during the course of their work. They include many colour medium-format photographs of sorting offices, technical photographs of equipment and postmen and women on delivery. These records often include digital images of the photographs themselves. Further records from this series will be released in the future.

From the museum collection we have added an additional 450 detailed descriptions of textile and uniform, many of which include photographs of the uniforms. Other significant releases from the museum collection include an additional 114 prints and drawings, and a further 210 handstamps.

Coat Jacket - British Postal Agency (Tangier), c. 1950 (2011-0338)

Coat Jacket - British Postal Agency (Tangier), c. 1950 (2011-0338)

From our philatelic collections, King George VI Overprints are now available, including postage due label overprints. This collection of definitives, commemoratives, high value definitive stamps and postage due label registration sheets include overprints relating to the official use of these stamps in various territories under British control, including the Gulf and former Italian colonies in Africa, occupied by British troops during Word War II.

KGVI 6d purple, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 12 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated (POST 150/KGVI/O/BRA/ICL/0008)

KGVI 6d purple, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 12 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated (POST 150/KGVI/O/BRA/ICL/0008)

Holding particular political and historical significance today, registration sheets overprinted for ‘British Military Administration’ and ‘British Administration’ in ‘Tripolitania’, a historic region in the former province of Libya are included in the collection. These stamps provide a reminder of British domination of this former Italian colony, both in terms of its military administration and also on a civilian basis. Tripolitania included Tripoli in the old system and these registration sheets document the fact that Britain actually set up the combined state of Libya. The British backed King Idris to become Emir of Tripolitania who also proclaimed an independent Emirate of Cyrenaica in 1949.

Various postal agencies in the Gulf used British overprinted stamps after 1948, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Muscat and Qatar.

– Martin Devereux, Acting Catalogue Manager

Search our online catalogue at www.postalheritage.org.uk/catalogue.

More cigarette card images

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

Sydney (New South Wales) Postman, City Uniform

Sydney (New South Wales) Postman, City Uniform

Images of cigarette cards from the Wilkinson Collection will soon be added to our online catalogue so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some more of the cards with you beforehand.

Many of the cigarette cards examine aspects of postal systems in countries across what was then the British Empire. They look at the uniform worn by postal workers, the different buildings that functioned as post offices and how the systems coped with extreme weather conditions. Four cards from a set produced by Royal Mail in conjunction with Wills in c.1930 illustrate this point well by showing the workings of the Australian Post Office.

This first card (2010-0383/14) shows the fetching uniform worn by city postmen in Sydney, New South Wales which is where the first Australian post office was established in 1810. The distinctive red jacket and the white helmet are both different from the uniform of London postmen at the time, harking back to an older military style of dress.

In contrast to this, 2010-0383/06 shows a Post Office established in a new gold town in Australia. Quite different from the impression given by the formal attire of the City postman, this post office seems quite understated amongst the tents. However, it shows how important the Post Office was, that

even the most adventurous cling to home and civilization through this visible link, the Post Office.

Post Office at Gold Diggings, Australia

Post Office at Gold Diggings, Australia

The other two cards are representative of the nature of the terrain and weather experienced by Australia and how, inevitably, this affected the transportation of mails across the country. In the 19th century, most people relied upon the mail coach for intercommunication: as the third card, 2010-0383/04 depicts, it was able to cover great stretches of the country in a relatively short amount of time.

Mail Coach - Western Australia

Mail Coach - Western Australia

As has been the case recently, Australia can also be subject to some extreme weather conditions. 2010-0383/05 displays this, showing a postman delivering mail to Kiandra in New South Wales, a mountainous district and, incidentally, an old gold mining town. The postman, fully equipped with his skis, trudges through the snow with the mail slung over his shoulder; as is printed on the card

In no other business could the work be done so expeditiously.

Carrying Mails to Kiandra, New South Wales

Carrying Mails to Kiandra, New South Wales

All the cards mentioned, and many more, will soon be on our online catalogue.

Jobs for the Girls – Women in the Post Office

The follow blog is based on a talk given by U3A volunteer Margaret Birkinshaw, and draws on her experience of working with editions of The Post Office Magzine.

Fanny Biggerstaff

Fanny Biggerstaff

“Postman Pat, Postman Pat and his little black cat” – most people are familiar with this children’s song. The choice of the name “Pat” is striking, because it is a woman’s name as well as a man’s –and it seems that, from its early days, unusually for the time, the Post Office was employing women in post offices and as letter-carriers. The Act establishing the Post Office was passed under Oliver Cromwell in 1657 but it was not until 1840, with the introduction of Rowland Hill’s prepaid penny post, that a massive increase in the use of the post occurred[1]. The importance of the work of women at this stage is shown by the fact that, as early as 1838, a portrait was drawn of Fanny Biggerstaff, then aged 62, with the inscription “during the past thirty-seven years she has been an honest, punctual and trustworthy postwoman from Thame to Brill and the surrounding villages. Any correspondence she could not deliver to users she used to leave in the family pews in church”.[2]

Considerable information on post office work can be gleaned from the book “Lark Rise to Candleford” by Flora Thompson which, unlike the recent television series of the same name, is factual and gives details of the author’s life in the post office and as a postwoman in the second half of the nineteenth century. At the beginning of that century any work outside the walls of the home was taboo for a woman who had any pretension to refinement. However as time went on post office employment became largely the preserve of ministers’ and schoolmasters’ daughters, mainly because the pay of a learner in a large office was very small and not nearly sufficient to live on away from home. This did not apply to letter-carriers, who usually came from a different stratum of society. Flora Thompson describes how every morning the postman who had brought the mail sorted out his own letters for the village delivery and the two women letter-carriers, who did the cross-country deliveries to outlying homes and farms, then did their own sorting.[3]

There does not appear to have been any sort of uniform in those days. Postwomen wore thick stockings, stout shoes, long skirts and coats, shawls, a pull-on felt hat in winter or a sunbonnet in summer.[4] They were hard-working, dedicated and loyal. In fact all post office staff had to sign a Declaration before a magistrate which began “I do solemnly promise and declare that I will not open or delay or cause to suffer to be opened or delayed any letter or anything sent by the post”.[5] Another benefit arising from the employment of women is the fact that they live longer than men. By the end of the nineteenth century males born in the UK could expect to live to around forty-five and females to forty-nine.[6] The Post Office Magazine refers to a number of women still working at a great age. For example in 1947 Miss Parry, sub-postmistress of Handsworth, had worked there sixty years[7] and in the same year there is reference to Jane Williamson, who was then Scotland’s oldest postmistress. She celebrated her ninetieth birthday that year and had no intention of retiring. Even more unusual was the fact that she was only appointed to the post at the age of 85.[8]

Fanny King

Fanny King

However women were appreciated not just for their longevity but also for their resourcefulness and their stamina. A couple of examples are Mrs Rogers who, in the mid-twentieth century, was postmistress of Tristan da Cunha, an island 1,500 miles from South Africa and South America. Mrs. Rogers date-stamped the letters and placed them in a bag which hung on a nail in her bedroom. When a passing steamer was spotted there was a cry of “sail ho” and a boat was rowed out to the ship and the mail bundled aboard.[9] And consider Fanny King, a postwoman in the Cotswolds at the same period who, at 65 years of age, was still trekking nine miles every morning delivering to isolated farmsteads. “I think I should die if I didn’t have my morning delivery” she said.[10]

From the mid 20th century onwards women’s achievements did not gain so much publicity and their work was taken for granted – though brave women foiling raiders still made the news. The request, made in 1961 by the Postmasters Association, that the title Postmistress be discarded and that all officers controlling sub-offices be entitled to the title Postmaster was agreed to[11] – however even today the national press still uses the term postmistress.

And does work in the post office still appeal to women? Yes, it seems that it does. An item in The Times in October 2010 tells how a British doctor, Helen Joannidi, is moving to Goudier Island in Antarctica, the southernmost Post Office in the world to run it for five months (the Daily Mail also covered the story). The building has no central heating, running water or electricity and the average daytime temperature in summer is minus 12 degrees.[12] You cannot get more dedicated to post office work than that.


[1] Hutchinson Encyclopaedia
[2] Post Office Magazine June 1939 p.285 (portrait owned by Mrs. Graham of Highfield)
[3] “Lark Rise to Candleford” – Flora Thompson, 1939
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid
[6] Office of National Statistics – Social Trends no. 34
[7] Post Office Magazine – November 1947 p. 348 (vol. 1946-8)
[8] Post Office Magazine – December 1947 p.10
[9] Post Office Magazine – July 1946 p. 7
[10] Post Office Magazine – March 1939 p.104
[11] Post Office records – POST 122/8082
[12] “The Times” – 9 October 2010

Postmen caricatures

Each month we present an item from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) have been working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

This month, Haringey resident Ken Gay chooses some caricatures showing postmen in uniform. Ken’s father worked as a postman in Stratford where the family then lived and these caricatures remind Ken of his father:

My father was born in 1888 and left school at 14 to work as a post office messenger boy in Whitechapel. He became a postman, mostly serving at Stratford E15 office. His brother, my uncle George, worked as a postman at Forest Gate E7 office. Born in 1923, I grew up in a post office family. My father wore a dark blue issue uniform with a red stripe along the sides of his trousers. He wore a helmet called a ‘shako’, a sort of peaked helmet. (I later learnt it was based on a Hungarian military helmet). In about 1936 the post office replaced these by a peaked cap. These smart uniforms seem to have vanished.

Caricatures of postmen from the Morten Collection

Caricatures of postmen from the Morten Collection

My father delivered letters in his round, or ‘walk’ from a white canvas sack he carried over his shoulder. Sometimes he brought one home empty after his work was finished. He worked shifts and at one time did an evening delivery, getting home about two in the afternoon. I came home from school after four and often found him asleep in his armchair. But this did not stop me waking him to ask for sixpence to go to the cinema with.

As an undergraduate I worked for two Christmases at my father’s Stratford office, working as a van boy on a hired vehicle delivering seasonal parcels. My son in his turn did this Christmas temporary work when he was a student, at Wood Green N22. So the family tradition has been kept up.

New records available on the online catalogue

Further records were added to our online catalogue last Friday, bringing the amount of searchable records available to over 90,000.

Records added to the catalogue include:

KEVIII 3d postage due labels, registration sheet, imperforate, 1937

KEVIII 3d postage due labels, registration sheet, imperforate, 1937 (POST 150/KEVIII/PL/1160)

A fleet of commercial vans in the yard at King Edward Building, 1931

A fleet of commercial vans in the yard at King Edward Building, 1931 (POST 118/5089)

A Scammell mail van, 1956 (POST 118/5239)

A Scammell mail van, 1956 (POST 118/5239)

Search the catalogue at http://catalogue.postalheritage.org.uk/