Tag Archives: Wales

Seals, Seas and Ancestries: A Remarkable Postal Family History

One of the things we often get asked, as keepers of the Royal Mail Archive, is what we can tell people about their relatives who worked for the Post Office.

‘What did my father do?’
‘When did my grandma work in this city?’
‘My great uncle says he whizzed around on a motorbike delivering telegrams when he was just a teenager – could this be true?’

Telegram Messenger Boy

Telegram Messenger Boy

We don’t always hold the answers, but when we do, it’s a wonderful feeling helping others to understand the lives of their loved ones.

Every so often, someone contacts us to look further back in time – to add a ‘great’ (or three) to the usual enquiries about parents or grandparents. As someone with the bug myself, I fully understand this; researching your family history can be highly addictive and it can turn up some great stories.

Section of a Post Office Appointments Book

Unfortunately the records can be difficult. We have a standard set that we search for our Family History Research Service, but the further back in time you look, the harder it can be to find particular people. So, when a request came in to research a man called Edward Randall Pascoe, born in 1779, I was worried that we wouldn’t find much to get our teeth into. As a further challenge, we were asked if we could find the cause of Edward’s death, when he was just 42 years of age. Could we help at all?

Poster of Mail for the Packet Ships

Poster showing Mails for the Packets arriving at Falmouth in 1833 by Harold Sandys Williamson

Edward Randall Pascoe, it turns out, was a packet boat captain. Our enquirer, married to one of Edward’s descendants, already knew this, as they had found a mention of him becoming Commander of a ship called the Mansfield in our Appointment records (handily digitised by www.ancestry.co.uk). By that time, April 1821, packet boats had been carrying Post Office mail across the sea for over a hundred years, and Edward’s task on the Mansfield was to see the post safely from Milford Haven, Wales, to Waterford, Ireland, and vice-versa.

Since our enquirer knew this already, we agreed to work differently from our usual service, to hunt for something useful. Searching our catalogue, I was excited to learn we held a record of the Mansfield dated 1 August 1821 – only a few months after Edward gained command of the ship – in a box of ‘Bills of Sale’. I unfolded it very carefully and read that ‘Edward Randall Pascoe of Milford in the country of Pembroke, Mariner, and William Molland of Dover in the county of Kent, Gentleman,’ agreed to buy the Countess of Mansfield from the Postmaster General for ‘one thousand eight hundred and forty pounds eight shillings and six pence,’ as long as Edward still carried the mail.

It described the vessel – ‘a square sterned Cutter’, ‘British built’ – in great detail, but best of all, lying at the bottom of the page, Mr Pascoe had placed his personal seal in wax and signed his name. A trace of the man himself! A rare find indeed.

Signature and Seal belonging to Edward Randall Pascoe Crop

Signature and Seal belonging to Edward Randall Pascoe

Further appointment records showed that Mr Pascoe later captained a Steam Packet (a steam-powered, mail-carrying ship, which gradually took over the trade from 1815) at Port Patrick, Scotland. Our enquirer could fill in one blank – that business partner William Molland was in fact Edward’s father-in-law – but what about the captain’s sad death in 1827? I could not find a record of a Death Gratuity, a kind of compensation payment for those killed in service, so it seemed that his fate would remain a mystery.

As luck would have it, however, I discovered that we had been asked about Mr Pascoe a few years before by another of his descendants, who had in fact written a book about his family. I got in touch with her and she completed the story: taking a ship to Holyhead, Wales, for repair, Edward was injured at sea, and died of a fever shortly after completing the crossing.

Steam Packet

Painting of the SS Great Britain Steamship

We were able to put these two researchers (and distant relatives) in touch with each other for the first time, and they have been able to enjoy sharing their discoveries. I wonder what Edward Randall Pascoe would make of it all!

While it’s a sad truth that most of our family-history-seekers don’t find such intriguing tales – and some of them find nothing at all – we have to celebrate the success stories. It makes you wonder: who might find each other in a few hundred years’ time piecing together your own life?

Ashley March – Archives Assistant

Classic Locomotives of Wales Miniature Sheet released

Today marks the release of the last in the series of four Miniature Sheets that began in England in 2011: Classic Locomotives of Wales Miniature Sheet. The Scotland Miniature was released in 2012 and Northern Ireland in 2013. The Classic Locomotives series pays tribute to the stream locomotives, assets to the railways before diesel and electric technology completely took over in the 1960s.

Classic Locomotives of Wales - First Day Cover.

Classic Locomotives of Wales – First Day Cover.

The earliest railways in Wales were built for commercial and industrial purposes and served collieries and smelting works. Classic Locomotives of Wales features steam locomotives used on the public railway network and  industrial settings.

LMS No.7720, 1st Class.

LMS No.7720, 1st Class.

W&LLR No. 822 The Earl, 88p.

W&LLR No. 822 The Earl, 88p.

BR 5600 No.5652, £1.28.

BR 5600 No.5652, £1.28.

Hunslet No.589 Blanche, 78p.

Hunslet No.589 Blanche, 78p.

All four Miniature Sheets and associated products, with the exception of the First Day Covers, are still available.

The Classic Children’s TV stamps can be ordered through royalmail.com/classiclocomotives and by phone on 08457 641 641. They are also available in Post Office Branches across the UK.

Thurloe and the Secret Room

As today’s episode of The Peoples Post highlighted censorship and the interception of mails remains a sensitive subject. As recent public outrage against phone hacking has shown, people expect their communications to be private and letters from one private individual to another were once seen as being as sacred as the voicemail messages of a celebrity or crime victim. However, at certain times in the past the government has covertly or overtly intercepted mail as part of its efforts to maintain national security. Through the records held here at the BPMA a special insight into this can be gained.

Very little material survives from the period of the Civil War but the oldest item in the Royal Mail Archive suggests a focus on centralisation and ensuring the correct monopoly for the postal service rather than on interception and spying on the contents of the mail.

Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull relating to the establishment of the public postal service, by the setting up of new or improved posts on the five principal roads of the kingdom, those to Dover, Edinburgh, Holyhead, Plymouth and Bristol. (POST 23/1)

Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull relating to the establishment of the public postal service, by the setting up of new or improved posts on the five principal roads of the kingdom, those to Dover, Edinburgh, Holyhead, Plymouth and Bristol. (POST 23/1)

However, as the Civil War progressed and in particular under the regime of Oliver Cromwell it became more widespread – particularly under the leadership of the first Postmaster General, John Thurloe, depicted in a print held in the BPMA museum collection.

The Right Honourable John Thurloe Esqr. Secretary of State to the Protectors Oliver and Richard Cromwell (2010-0398)

The Right Honourable John Thurloe Esqr. Secretary of State to the Protectors Oliver and Richard Cromwell (2010-0398)

Thurloe’s state papers, some of which can be viewed online, include letters from private individuals to others (so, not to Thurloe!) which he has clearly intercepted and kept because of the detail they contain.

Thurloe became a great survivor and his operation was so valued by his opponents that after the Restoration he was rescued from capital charges of treason on condition he worked for the new royalist regime of Charles II, which he did. His character anchors the Thomas Chaloner series of murder mysteries by Susanna Gregory, which bring to life the world in which Thurloe’s operations supported the British state. A real-life depiction is given in a biographical work held in BPMA’s search room library: the Dutchman Mr Dorislaus, employed by Thurloe,

had a private roome allotted him adjoyning to the forreigne Office, and every post night about 11 a clock he went into that roome privately, and had all the letter[s] brought and layd before him, to open any as he should see good, and close them up again, and there he remained in that room, usually till about 3 or 4 in the morning, which was the usuall time of shutting up the male, and in the processe of time the said Dorislaus had got such a knowledge of all hands and seals, that scarcely could a letter be brought him but he knew the hand that wrote it; and when there was any extraordinary occasion, as when any rising was neare or the like, then S. Morland [a secretary of Thurloe’s] went from Whitehall between 11 and 12, and was privately conveighed into that roome, and there assisted Mr Dorislaus, and such letters as they found dangerous he brought back with him to Whitehall in the morning.

– Adrian Steel, Director

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage The Secret Room. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.

S4C filming at the BPMA

Do you know the story of the mail coach that was attacked by a lioness?

Starting yesterday, a new TV series called Y Goets Fawr (The Mail Coach in Welsh) is being broadcast on the Welsh channel S4C. The series attempts to retrace the route of the old Irish Mail in a classic mail coach, led by a team of horses.

Filming for Y Goets Far at the BPMA

Filming for Y Goets Fawr at the BPMA

The producers conducted a lot of research at the BPMA, and last week they did some filming here for the series. They filmed a number of records and items from our extensive collection, to show how they got their research and to illustrate the programme with interesting historical facts about mail coaches.

Items from our collection being filmed

Items from our collection being filmed

For example, in 1816 a mail coach on its way from London to Exeter was attacked by a lioness that had escaped from a nearby menagerie. The two passengers of the coach fled into a nearby pub and locked themselves inside, blocking the door for anyone else, while the mail guard attempted to shoot at the animal with his blunderbuss. Read more about it here.

Mail coach material on display as part of our exhibition Treasures of the Archive are filmed

Mail coach material on display as part of our exhibition Treasures of the Archive are filmed

Along the journey, the team will visit Oswestry, Llangollen, Cerrigydrudion, Pentrefoelas, Capel Curig and Bangor before reaching the end of the line in Wales at Holyhead.

The rest of the programmes will be shown on S4C (in Welsh with English subtitles) from today until Thursday 8.30pm – 9.30pm.

Lions, Leopards, Unicorns & Dragons: The first “Regional” stamps

The current exhibition in the BPMA’s Search Room, Lions, Leopards, Unicorns & Dragons: The first “Regional” stamps, closes on 4th April. The exhibition follows the creation and development – from original artwork and unadopted designs, through to the final issues – of Britain’s first regional stamps.

The stamps were issued in August and September 1958 although the idea for regional stamps had first been discussed shortly after the end of the Second World War. Although the main feature on the stamps was still the portrait of the Queen by Dorothy Wilding, heraldic and floral emblems were used to distinguish stamps for the different regions:

The stamps for Guernsey (including Alderney and Sark) show the Guernsey Lily and William the Conqueror’s crown.

Guernsey 2.5d stamp  Guernsey 3d stamp

Jersey’s stamp features the Island Mace and the Arms of Jersey.

Jersey 2.5d stamp Jersey 3d stamp

The Isle of Man stamp shows the Three Legs on a Shield (the Arms of the Kingdom of Man), and the ring-chain pattern characteristic of the Manx runic crosses.

Isle of Man 2.5d stamp Isle of Man 3d stamp

The Welsh design principally featured the Welsh dragon (passant), but the “Leek in flower” was also incorporated into the design.

Welsh 3d stamp Welsh 6d stamp Welsh 1s3d stamp

There were problems creating the Northern Ireland definitives because of a lack of symbols representative of Ulster that weren’t undesirable features of political significance. Five symbols were eventually chosen:

  • the Red (right) Hand of Ulster
  • the Arms of Northern Ireland (without supporters)
  • the six-pointed Crowned Star with the Red Hand
  • the Flax Plant (with or without leaves)
  • a Field Gate with typical Ulster pillars

Northern Ireland 3d stamp Northern Ireland 6d stamp Northern Ireland 1s3d stamp

For Scotland, it was suggested that heraldic symbols should be used in the designs. These were:

  • Crowned Thistle (Scottish Crown)
  • Saltire (may be environed of an open crown)
  • Lion Rampant (in a tressured shield)
  • Sejeant lion (on or off a crown or part of him holding both sword & sceptre)
  • Unicorn (Crowned, may be collared and chained)
  • Any or all of the Honours of Scotland (Regalia with crown, sword, sceptre and cushion if desired)

Also suggested were Pictish or Celtic symbols and designs, and the national floral emblem of the thistle. The issued designs contained a mix of these suggestions.

Scotland 3d stamp Scotland 6d stamp

For further information on the first regional British stamps, including unadopted artwork, please see the Lions, Leopards, Unicorns & Dragons online exhibition.

You can view the Lions, Leopards, Unicorns & Dragons exhibition by visiting the BPMA Search Room. The Search Room is open weekdays from 10.00am – 5.00pm, and until 7.00pm on a Thursday. A special Saturday opening of the Search Room will take place on 4th April 2009, from 10.00am – 5.00pm.