Tag Archives: Victorian

QEII Longest Reigning Monarch

Wednesday 9 September marked the day our Queen, Elizabeth II, became the longest ruling monarch in British history, taking the title from Queen Victoria. To commemorate this occasion Royal Mail released a new stamp issue ‘Long to Reign Over Us’.

Long to Reign Over Us

Long to Reign Over Us, Miniature Sheet 2015

Above you can see the Miniature Sheet, issued with images of both the Wyon Medal, on which the original Penny Black was based, and the three-quarter portrait of the Queen by Dorothy Wilding. The Amethyst Machin definitive in the centre includes the words ‘Long to Reign Over Us’ in the background of the stamp.

Long to Reign Over Us 1st Stamp (2015) Machin Definitive

Long to Reign Over Us 1st Stamp (2015) Machin Definitive

To mark this momentous occasion I thought we should take a moment to look at some stamps that document milestones of the Queen and her predecessors. Queen Elizabeth is the 40th monarch since William the Conqueror and will become the longest ruling by surpassing the 63 years and 216 days amounted by Queen Victoria.  

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.10 Stamp (2011)

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.10 Stamp (2011)

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.00 Stamp (2011) Queen Victoria 1897 Diamond Jubilee

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.00 Stamp (2011)

In 1952 Elizabeth inherited the throne from her father, King George VI, who became King in 1936 as the result of his brother’s abdication to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. We can see the family  line of succession in the stamp issue of 2012 depicting the House of Windsor and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. 

The House of Windsor - (2012) Presentation Pack

The House of Windsor – (2012) Presentation Pack

During the Second World War Elizabeth trained as a driver in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (WATS) to serve her country. It was here she learnt to change tyres, rebuild engines and drive heavy vehicles. We can see an image of her during this period in the centre of the below stamp.

60th Birthday of Queen Elizabeth II 17p Stamp (1986) Queen Elizabeth II in 1928, 1942 and 1952

60th Birthday of Queen Elizabeth II 17p Stamp (1986)

Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten in 1947 and had two of her four children before her coronation; Charles in 1948 and Anne in 1950. It was on a trip to Kenya in 1952 that she became Queen, though she was not officially crowned until a year later. It was the first time the ceremony was broadcasted to the nation, allowing everyone to celebrate the event.

50th Anniversary of Coronation 1st Stamp (2003) Queen Elizabeth II in Coronation Robes

50th Anniversary of Coronation 1st Stamp (2003)

During her reign the Queen has had two children, eight grandchildren and now five great grandchildren. As monarch, much of her life, and that of her children, has been spent in the public eye and over the years we have seen stamps document the marriages of all the Queen’s children, most recently her grandson Prince William.

Royal Wedding of His Royal Highness Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton £1.10 Stamp (2011)

Royal Wedding of His Royal Highness Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton £1.10 Stamp (2011)

The Queen has ruled through difficult times; with social unrest, conflict and the possibility of a split nation. During this time she has also made numerous changes to the monarchy; from opening up her residences to the public to supporting the end of male primogeniture. She has presided over 12 Prime Ministers including Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair and has visited countries across the world.

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Margaret Thatcher

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Margaret Thatcher

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Winston Churchill

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Winston Churchill

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her Royal Highness has devoted her life to her country, performing over 60 years of service. It is through the commemorative stamps of her reign that we can see the development of her life and that of her decedents. In a time when the popularity of the monarchy is suffering, one must acknowledge her dedication and continued love of her country and through ‘Long to Reign Over Us’ we celebrate this.

-Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

New FREE Learning Resource for Key Stages 1-3

It has been 175 years since the invention of the world’s first postage stamp – the Penny Black. Pop It In the Post is a new FREE downloadable learning package that reveals how this little piece of paper changed the way people communicated forever.

Learning Resource - Cover

JUST A PENNY! 

In 1840 the idea that a letter could be sent anywhere in Britain for just one penny was revolutionary. For the first time ordinary people could afford to send letters, and the effect was as wide reaching as the introduction of the Internet.

Pop It In The Post supports learning across the curriculum and includes:

  • A downloadable learning resource containing lesson plans, teacher’s notes, image galleries and Powerpoints for whiteboards
  • Over 100 activity ideas, using real archival documents, photos, maps and museum objects to support subjects including Literacy, Maths, Science and Art and Design.
  • A fun animated interactive game for pupils to play and explore the story of the Penny Black
  • A short film introducing pupils to Rowland Hill, the social reformer who led the campaign for letters to cost just a penny who explains how his big idea changed the world.

This learning package was sponsored by Royal Mail Group

Print

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

5 Surprising Facts About Anthony Trollope

Today is Anthony Trollope’s 200th birthday. Aside from being one of the most prolific Victorian novelists, Trollope was the first to suggest ‘iron posts’ on the side of the road – for people to post their letters into, at any time of day – or as we know them today: pillar boxes. To celebrate Trollope’s 200th birthday and his contributions to the British postal service, Senior Curator Julian Stray will be giving a talk on Thursday 30 April at 7pm. As a sneak peak, here are five surprising facts about him.

  1. Young Anthony was a poor worker who was regularly late for work, took extended lunches, ran up debts with suppliers and liked a drink and a game of cards.
Picture of Trollope c.1860

Picture of Trollope c.1860

 

  1. Anthony Trollope loathed a meritocracy; regarding promotion by merit as a “damnable system”. He preferred advancement on the grounds of seniority, though he obviously was advantaged personally, on occasion, by nepotism
  1. As a senior figure within the Post Office, Trollope would frequently argue with Rowland Hill for he hated the man and relished their disagreements; describing their encounters as“feuds- such delicious feuds”
Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill

  1. Trollope was always keen to build his life experience for use in his novels. When sent to negotiate a treaty for the conveyance of mail with Egypt, he promptly went travelling to see “the dervishes of Cairo at one on Friday, they howl but once a week”
Trollopes invention: the pillar box!

Trollopes invention: the pillar box!

  1. Even after he retired from the Post Office in 1867, the UK Government engaged him to travel to the USA to negotiate a postal treaty with Washington. He spent £33 on transatlantic telegrams, a tidy sum in 1868.

Tickets are still available to order online and are only £3 (£2.50 concession), so book today!

Make your own Victorian Inspired Valentine’s Card

Victorian Valentine’s The popularity of sending Valentine’s cards greatly increased in the Victorian period, thanks, in part, to the introduction of the Penny Post. Victorian Valentine’s cards were often made of a number of different  materials, including lace, fringing, fabric and even human hair, which were layered, one on top of the other, much like a scrap book. Pictures of flowers were popular, as were images of Cupid and hearts. Victorian cards were a lot smaller than those generally on sale today and came in lots of different shapes. Some cards even had elaborate or novelty features like pop ups, music, scent and mechanical components.

'To My Valentine' Valentine Card c. 1890

‘To My Valentine’ Valentine Card c. 1890

Make your own Here are some beautiful images from Victorian Valentine’s cards in the BPMA’s collection for you to print out, cut out and use to create your very own Victorian inspired Valentine’s card. You could include your own photographs, sketches or memontos to make the cards really personal. 1 2 3 4

22  21 15

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We would love to see how your cards turn out or hear about any interesting cards you’ve sent or received yourself! Tweet us @postalheritage or send us an email at peoplespost@postalheritage.org.uk. -Joanna Espin, Curator

Postal Workers and Sports

There is no question about it; the daily duties of the postal worker require a considerable level of fitness. They walk for miles, repeatedly lift heavy boxes and bags, use quick reflexes to avoid over protective pets, and that is just the beginning! With this in mind, it is no surprise that social clubs especially activities surrounding sport and fitness have been a huge part of Post Office culture.

A black and white photographic lantern slide of a group of five girls holding stacks of newspapers, magazines and books.

A black and white photographic lantern slide of a group of five girls holding stacks of newspapers, magazines and books.

Throughout postal history there have been clubs for almost every sport and fitness activity imaginable including football, bowling, golf, handball, tennis, netball, gymnastics, cricket, speed walking, boxing, swimming, cycling, and the list goes on! Here at the BPMA we have amassed a collection of over 100 trophies and awards won by the athletic men and women of the Post Office.

One of our oldest trophies, the Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3, is a fantastic tri-handled tankard which dates to 1873. It was first awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex Post Office Volunteers for shooting competitions. It appears that Sergt R R Hoade had a particular skill for shooting as the trophy was awarded to him 5 times, 3 of which were consecutive wins!

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

In addition to trophies, our collection houses an assortment of objects which show how dedicated many Postal Workers were to their clubs. These objects include collection boxes, wall signs, membership books, and many more!

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

The Lambert Challenge Cup No. 3 which was awarded to the E Company of the 49th Middlesex PO Volunteers for shooting competitions in 1873 (2005-0030).

 

Tunbridge Wells Post Office Sports Club Collection Box (OB1994.111).

Tunbridge Wells Post Office Sports Club Collection Box (OB1994.111).

Melissa Collins, Collections Management Intern

Stories from the Archive: ‘Beauty Blackwood’

In this week’s post, Archives Assistant Robin shares the interesting life of Sir Arthur Blackwood, Secretary of the Post Office from 1880-1893, from a recent Search Room enquiry.

Whilst the Post Office employment records held by the BPMA can provide crucial information for family historians, helping to fill in the gaps of an ancestor’s career and whereabouts, it is often quite difficult to get a true sense of an employee’s personality from them. However, for certain senior employees we hold a number of biographies, obituaries and personal portraits that can really help to flesh out their characters.

I found this out for myself when answering an email enquiry from an academic researching the life of Stevenson Arthur Blackwood, later Sir Arthur Blackwood. I had previously not known anything about him, and his entry in the Establishment Books (below) didn’t give me much to go on, but a search of our catalogue made me aware of a number of interesting sources of information we hold (including a biography by H Buxton Forman and an obituary in the staff magazines) that really brought him back to life.

Print. Caption: “Black and white print of S. A. Blackwood, c.1890, object ref no. 2011-0008”

Sir Arthur Blackwood’s entry in the Establishment Book for 1893, the year of his death, with the name of his replacement added in pencil. POST 59/126

Sir Arthur, had apparently been somewhat dandyish in his youth (he was nicknamed “Beauty Blackwood”), but underwent a religious conversion whilst serving in the Crimean War and became a committed Evangelist, renouncing all worldly pleasures and taking up the study of Hebrew.[1] He had a reputation as a philanthropist, and was heavily involved with a number of Post Office charities and societies. He was the president of the Post Office Total Abstinence Society, which had almost 3,000 members and branches in 31 towns, and wrote a pamphlet advocating abstinence entitled “For the Good of the Service” (a copy of this Pamphlet is held at the Bruce Castle Museum in Haringey).[2] He was a patron of the Post Office Orphan Home, was the first president of the Post Office Musical Society, and was involved in promoting Boy Telegraph Messenger Institutes for a number of London districts. His biographer quotes one Messenger, a Barnardo’s boy, as saying Sir Arthur was “such a gentleman, and spoke to me as if he was my brother”[3]. His biography also notes that he took a great interest in the formation of the Post Office Athletics and Cricket Clubs, and having served in the army was also a keen supporter of the Post Office Rifles, distributing prizes in their annual ceremonies.[4]

Despite his towering 6ft3 height and sixteen stone frame, Sir Arthur was in poor health for much of his life, and his final years as Secretary were hampered by illness – he was delayed from attending the 1891 postal congress in Vienna due to ill health and took extended leave shortly before his death in 1893 from pneumonia.[5]

An obituary run by the January 1894 issue of St. Martins-Le-Grand, the Post Office Staff Magazine (available in POST 92 in the BPMA search room) calls him a “splendid specimen of manhood”.[6] However, elsewhere I learnt that Sir Arthur’s son, the fantasy and horror writer Algernon Blackwood, felt that his father’s Evangelism had led him to have a repressive and unhappy upbringing.[7] Sir Arthur could also be severe in the line of duty. His obituary tells the story of how in 1890 Sir Arthur quelled strike action at Mount Pleasant by “[speaking] to the assembled staff in the most earnest, severe, and appropriate manner, and in the name of the Postmaster General expelled them from the premises as well as from the Service.[8]” It is fascinating that we can get such a rounded portrait of Sir Arthur’s character from these various sources.

Perhaps the best example of the material we hold on Sir Arthur is a fantastic black and white print of him in his prime (object reference 2011-0008, below), which really gives an indication of his stern but genial character. I hope I have shown in this blog that even the collection of a business archive such as the BPMA can bring the personality of historical figures to life and are a fantastic source for genealogists and biographers alike.

Print. Caption: “Black and white print of S. A. Blackwood, c.1890, object ref no. 2011-0008”

Black and white print of S. A. Blackwood, c.1890, object ref no. 2011-0008

-Robin Sampson, Archives Assistant

Special Offer: Get your very own limited edition Victorian Innovation Cover for only £1.99

[1] J. S. Reynolds, ‘Blackwood, Sir (Stevenson) Arthur (1832–1893)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/46635, accessed 23 July 2014]

[2] Blackwood, Mrs. (ed.), Some Records of the Life of Stevenson Arthur Blackwood, Hodder & Stoughton, 1896. p396

[3] Ibid. p397

[4] Ibid. p395

[5] St. Martins-Le-Grand Magazine Volume IV, General Post Office, January 1894 p9

[6] Ibid. p1

[7] George Malcolm Johnson, ‘Blackwood, Algernon Henry (1869–1951)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/31913, accessed 23 July 2014]

[8] St. Martins-Le-Grand Magazine Volume IV, General Post Office, January p7

Vinegar Valentines

Sending special letters for Valentine’s day probably dates from the mid-18th century. We have a number of examples of early Valentines in our collection. The idea of choosing a sweetheart on Valentine’s Day may be connected with the idea that 14 February is the date on which birds began mating.

A Valentine's day featuring an image of a bird.

A Valentine’s day featuring an image of a bird.

The name of the day has also been linked to a Christian martyr named Valentine who signed a letter to his jailer’s daughter, with whom he had fallen in love, “from your Valentine.” It was even believed in the eighteenth century that the festival had developed from the Roman Lupercalia (15 February), which celebrated the coming of spring and included fertility rites and the pairing off of women with men by lottery.

A spiteful valentine from c.1814 sent to Thomas Williams Esq., No. 41 Berkley Sqaure. The last line of the verse reads 'if all men, were like thee - then, I'd sooner die than marry'.

A spiteful valentine from c.1814 sent to Thomas Williams Esq., No. 41 Berkley Sqaure. The last line of the verse reads ‘if all men, were like thee – then, I’d sooner die than marry’.

Not all valentines were declarations of love however. We have letters in BPMA’s collection complaining about the sending of insulting and rude Valentines and more particularly about having to pay for them. This is because prior to 1840 and the introduction of uniform penny postage, letters were paid for by the recipient rather than the sender. As such, on Valentine’s day some people with a particular grudge or spite against someone would, anonymously, send rude or grotesque valentines which the receiver would then have to pay for, really adding insult to injury. These have become colloquially known as spiteful or ‘vinegar valentines’. Complaints were made to postmasters requesting refunds for such vinegar valentines.

Poster showing the consequences of missorting, especially on Valentine's Day

Poster showing the consequences of missorting, especially on Valentine’s Day

As a variation of this, one of our acquisitions for the museum collection in the past year was a coloured print of a postman delivering letters on Valentine’s Day. Although of a much later date this print shows how the public didn’t always trust the Post Office to deliver their valentines in a prompt and appropriate manner, and postmen were certainly not viewed as potential valentines themselves.

A spiteful/vinegar/comic Valentine or Penny Dreadful.

A spiteful/vinegar/comic Valentine or Penny Dreadful.

We hope you all receive nicer Valentines than these!

Emma Harper, Curator

Illness and Absence in the Victorian Post Office

Oliver Carter-Wakefield, a research student at Kings College London, gave a talk at The Royal Mail Archive recently on disease and occupational illness amongst Post Office staff during the latter half of the 19th Century. It may not sound like the most interesting of subjects but Oliver’s talk generated a great deal of comment from our audience, and you can now hear a recording of it on our podcast.

Oliver’s findings were discovered through his research at The Royal Mail Archive. Consumption, necrosis and mental derangement were just some of the conditions Victorian postal workers suffered.

Victorian postmen.

Victorian postmen.

This and other previous talks we’ve presented are available to download for free from our website or from iTunes. Amongst the speakers you can hear are Tony Benn and the designer Brian Webb. Other podcasts cover topics including wartime, poster design, women’s suffrage and the production of stamps.

How a mail boat saved those stranded on the islands of St Kilda

When the journalist John Sands found himself marooned on the Scottish islands of St Kilda in 1876 he knew that he was completely cut off from the rest of the world. In the Victorian era communications technology was advancing at a rapid pace and fast communication was now a part of most people’s lives – the first Transatlantic telegraph cable had been completed in 1858, in 1872 it became possible to send a message by telegraph to far off Australia, and by the late 1870s millions of telegraphs were being sent up and down the British Isles by ordinary people using the national telegraph network, but St Kilda, just 40 miles off the north-west of Scotland, was not part of this network.

For the residents of St Kilda, used to a simple life of subsistence farming, this was the norm; their only means of communicating with the outside world was by mail, and even then they relied on the boats which called at the island during the summer months agreeing to take their letters. Sands probably found being unable to communicate with the mainland more testing, but after a short time in St Kilda he identified a possible solution to the problem.

Sands observed that the islanders used canes salvaged from the beach to make reeds for their hand looms. As the canes did not grow in Scotland he deduced that they were brought to the islands by the ocean currents (AKA the Gulf Stream). He reasoned that the currents could be harnessed to send a small craft containing mail to the mainland, and he launched an experimental “boat” in December 1876. It took nine months for the boat to be discovered, and even then it was found in Sortland, Norway, but this did not deter Sands. Indeed, in the intervening period the situation on the islands changed, and Sands had to try again.

In January 1877 nine shipwrecked Austrian sailors arrived on St Kilda, putting considerable strain on the islanders’ resources. Fearing they would all soon starve Sands with the Austrians constructed a canoe from a log and placed in it a letter encased in a pickle bottle, addressed to the Austrian Consul begging for their assistance. A small sail was attached to the craft and the words “Open This” were printed on the deck. Another boat containing a similar message was made and attached to a buoy from the wrecked Austrian ship.

Amazingly, the buoy reached Birsay in Orkney in just 9 days, and the canoe was discovered in Poolewe, Ross-shire, after 22 days. The messages were forwarded to the Austrian Counsel and shortly afterwards the HMS Jackal was sent to St Kilda to rescue Sands and the sailors. In his diary Sands recorded that the islanders were bemused by his experiments with mail boats and incredulous when the Jackal arrived. The islanders had never thought to try sending mail in this way, but within a decade it became common practice.

In September 1885 the islanders again faced starvation when a severe storm ruined their food stores. A 14 year old school boy called Alexander Gillies Ferguson, who had heard of Sands’ mailboats, launched five such crafts containing messages asking for help. One of the boats quickly arrived in Gallan Head, Lewis, and the resultant publicity saw £110 raised, provisions bought and a boat chartered. This was not the end of the islanders’ problems or their use of mailboats, though, and we will explore that in a future blog post.

A St Kilda mail boat used by the islanders after Sands’ and Ferguson’s experiments, c. 1900.

A St Kilda mail boat used by the islanders after Sands’ and Ferguson’s experiments, c. 1900.

– Alison Bean, Web Officer

This blog was researched at the Royal Mail Archive, located at BPMA’s headquarters in Clerkenwell, London. There are millions of stories to uncover at the Royal Mail Archive, see our website for Archive opening hours and visitor information.