Tag Archives: Westminster Abbey

London Architecture

London is full of superb classical architecture, predominantly produced after the Great Fire of London that ravaged the city in 1666. Only a few Tudor buildings survived from before this period, including the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey.


International Stamp Exhibition, Miniature Sheet, 50p, 1980

The above miniature sheet celebrates the achievements of innovative architects and an ever-changing London skyline; here are a few more examples of the Capital’s iconic landmarks.

Westminster Abbey


900th Anniversary of Westminster Abbey, 3d,  1966


900th Anniversary of Westminster Abbey, 2s 6d, 1966

King Edward the Confessor’s original abbey was knocked down by Henry III in 1245 to make way for the structure we see today. It has the highest Gothic vault in England, decorated with a delicate fan design as seen in the 2/6 stamp above. The abbey has seen the coronations, marriages and burials of many of our British monarchs.

The Houses of Parliament 

19th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference 8p Stamp (1973) Palace of Westminster seen from Whitehall

19th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, 8p, 1973 Palace of Westminster


‘The Burning of the Houses of Parliament’ by J.W. Turner, 1834

12p, Palace of Westminster from 62nd Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference (1975)

62nd Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference, Palace of Westminster, 12p, 1975







The original Palace of Westminster, more commonly known as The Houses of Parliament, was destroyed by fire in 1834. J.W.Turner’s painting of the scene depicts the view from across the river as the building burns. Charles Barry (1795-1860) won the competition to build the new Houses of Parliament, creating a Gothic revival structure

St Paul’s Cathedral

Cathedrals - (2008) St. Pauls Cathedral

Cathedrals, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Miniature Sheet, 2008


St Paul’s Cathedral, British Architecture, Cathedrals, 9d, 1969

After the Great Fire, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was commissioned to rebuild the churches of London including St Paul’s. Dedicated to the Apostle, its 111-metre-high dome is influenced by St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and constructed of three domes within each other. It took 35 years to complete and is the resting place of Wren himself.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace, Stamp Set 2014

Buckingham Palace, Stamp Set 2014

We all know Buckingham Palace to be the home of the Royal family, though it was originally built by the Duke of Buckingham. It did not become the official Royal Palace until the reign of Queen Victoria. The building has undergone many changes, including Sir Aston Webb’s (1849-1930) classical facade with its famous Royal balcony.

Hampton Court


British Architecture, Historic Buildings, Hampton Court Palace, 13p, 1978


London Landmarks, Hampton Court, 15p 1980








Hampton Court was a private Tudor home Cardinal Wolsey turned into a Palace. After his fall from grace, Wolsey’s palace passed into the hands of Henry VIII, who modernised the building. When William and Mary came to the throne in 1689 they moved to completely rebuild Hampton Court. However, these plans were never completed, resulting in a building consisting of two distinct architectural styles: Tudor and Baroque.

Modern Architecture, Presentation Pack, 2006

Modern Architecture, Presentation Pack, 2006

In an age where architecture is dominated by glass and steel we can overlook some of our classically designed buildings. British stamps have served as a reminder of these great structures and the architects who created them. Next time you’re walking around London, take a moment to look and admire the genius of British architecture.

-Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

Victorian Christmas workshops at Westminster Abbey


For the past two weeks I’ve been busy delivering Victorian Christmas workshops for schools in the awe-inspiring Westminster Abbey.

The Christmas workshops follow on from last year’s successful partnership with the Westminster Abbey Education team. This year we were also joined by the Dickens Museum. The three organisations worked together to develop festive workshops for primary schools across London.

Each class took part in two activities. They toured Westminster Abbey and participated in telling the Christian Nativity story by taking on the role of characters including shepherds, the three Wise people and Mary and Joseph.

The second activity was co-led by the BPMA and Dickens Museum. They found out about two famous Victorians who are both buried in Westminster Abbey – Rowland Hill, inventor of the Penny Black stamp and Charles Dickens, author of among other books, A Christmas Carol.


Another connection is that the world’s first commercially produced Christmas card was made in 1843, the same year as A Christmas Carol was published.

To finish their visit students made a Christmas card, based on a Victorian toy shop.


Lots of festive fun was had by all!

The first British Olympic gold medal winner on stamps

The victories of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning in the Women’s Pairs Rowing, and Bradley Wiggins in the Cycling: Road Men’s Time Trial yesterday has not only earned them Great Britain’s first gold medals of the London 2012 Olympic Games, but will see them appear on stamps issued today. This makes Glover, Stanning and Wiggins the second, third and fourth British Olympians (we think!) to appear on a British stamp, and amongst the few living people to ever appear on a British stamp.

Gold Medal Winner stamp featuring Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, Rowing Women's Pairs

Gold Medal Winner stamp featuring Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, Rowing Women’s Pairs

Gold Medal Winner stamp featuring Bradley Wiggins, Cycling: Road Men's Time Trial.

Gold Medal Winner stamp featuring Bradley Wiggins, Cycling: Road Men’s Time Trial.

Until relatively recently it was Royal Mail’s policy not to issue stamps featuring living people, with members of the Royal family being the only exception to the rule. But in the past decade or so we have seen many British sporting victories commemorated on stamps, including England’s victory at the 2005 Ashes cricket series.

The first British Olympian to appear on a stamp was Mark Phillips, a member of the three day event team which won a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics. In 1973 Mark Phillips married a fellow horse-riding champion, Princess Anne, who later represented Great Britain at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

The wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, then a Captain in the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards, took place at Westminster Abbey on 14th November 1973. These stamps, based on a photograph by royal photographer Lord Lichfield, were issued to celebrate the event, which was watched on television by around 100 million people worldwide.

Royal Wedding Stamps, 14 November 1973 - Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips.

Royal Wedding Stamps, 14 November 1973 – Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips.

Mark Phillips later competed as part of the British Three-Day Event team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, winning a silver medal. The couple’s daughter Zara Phillips was part of the British Eventing team which won a silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games on Tuesday – the medal was even presented to her by her mother.

As to why we think Glover, Stanning and Wiggins are the second, third and fourth British Olympians to appear on a British stamp, our Curator of Philately points out that there have been “too many crowd scenes of youngsters who may have grown up to do something” on British stamps for us to be sure. If you have any information on this please let us know by leaving a comment.

Stamps featuring all Great Britain’s gold medal winners will be issued within 24 hours of victory. Visit your Post Office today to buy the Heather Glover and Heather Stanning, and Bradley Wiggins stamps, or buy online at www.royalmail.com/goldmedalstamps.

Rowland Hill’s Postal Reforms

If there is one man who can be said to have changed the face of the postal service forever it is Rowland Hill. Hill was a noted reformer in the Victorian era, pioneering pupil-focused mass education and working for the South Australian Colonisation Commission, but he also had an interest in the postal service. In 1837 he published and circulated the pamphlet Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability. During the 1830’s there were growing calls for postal reform and Hill’s pamphlet proved influential, ultimately leading to the introduction of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black, in 1840.

A cross-written letter

A cross-written letter

Prior to 1840 the postal system was expensive, confusing and seen as corrupt. Letters were paid for by the recipient rather than the sender, and were charged according to the distance the letter had travelled and the number of sheets of paper it contained. As a result cross-writing, the practice of writing in different directions, was a common method of saving paper and money, and envelopes were rarely used.

For ordinary people the cost of receiving a letter was a significant part of the weekly wage. If you lived in London and your relatives had written to you from Edinburgh you would have to pay one shilling and one pence per page – more than the average worker earned in a day. Many letters were never delivered because their recipients could not afford them, losing the Post Office a great deal of money.

But while ordinary people scrimped and saved to use the postal system, many items, such as newspapers, were not subject to charge, and Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords had the right to frank and receive letters for free. Well-connected individuals could thus ask their MP to frank their mail for them, further reducing Post Office revenue.

After the Napoleonic Wars postage rates were high – a sly method of taxation – and there were many other anomalies and a number of local services with different charges. The system was ripe for reform.

Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill’s solution was prepayment, and a uniform rate of one pence for all letters weighing up to one ounce. Hill made no mention of the method of prepayment but later proposed the use of stamped covers (an idea previously suggested by Charles Knight). At an official inquiry into the Post Office, Hill outlined his ideas further and suggested that “a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash” be used. When the inquiry reported it recommended Hill’s plan to reduce postal charges and appended samples of stamped covers to the report.

The establishment of a parliamentary Select Committee chaired by fellow postal reform campaigner Robert Wallace followed, and at the same time a Mercantile Committee on postage was set up by merchants to campaign for lower postal rates. Rowland Hill was a member of the Mercantile Committee.

The Select Committee recommended Hill’s ideas in early 1839, but favoured a uniform rate of 2d. After public pressure was put on the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, the uniform rate was reduced to 1d, and on 15th August 1839 a bill was passed in favour of a universal penny post. The same bill abolished free franking and introduced prepayment in the form of stamped paper, stamped envelopes and labels.

Penny Black and Twopence Blue

Penny Black and Twopence Blue

Rowland Hill was appointed to the Treasury to oversee the implementation of the bill and the uniform penny post was introduced on 10th January 1840. Covers, envelopes and the world’s first adhesive stamps, the Penny Black and Twopence Blue, were introduced in May 1840. The stamps quickly proved themselves to be most popular method of prepayment.

Rowland Hill’s idea for a universal penny post was quickly vindicated. The number of chargeable letters in 1839 had been only about 76 million. By 1850 this had increased to almost 350 million and continued to grow dramatically. The Post Office’s revenue was initially cut but with the increase in the number of letters it soon recovered.

Adhesive postage stamps were gradually introduced throughout the world and with the change to charging by weight, envelopes became normal for the first time. Hill’s brother Edwin invented a prototype envelope folding machine, enabling increased production to fulfil the growing demand.

The rapid increase in the use of the postal service is also partly credited with the development of the transport system, particularly the railways, and improved opportunities for businesses in the Victorian era and beyond. The lower charges also had wide social benefits and the increasingly literate working classes took full advantage of the now affordable postal system.

Death Centenary of Rowland Hill stamp, 1979

Death Centenary of Rowland Hill stamp, 1979

Rowland Hill continued to influence the Post Office, becoming Secretary to the Postmaster General in 1846 and Secretary to the Post Office in 1854. During this period Hill established the Post Office Savings Bank, which encouraged more people to save, and introduced postcodes to London – essential in a city made up of lots of little villages all growing into each other, where streets in different parts of the city often had the same name.

Fittingly, Rowland Hill and his reforms have been celebrated on several postage stamps, including four stamps released to mark his death centenary in 1979, and the 1995 Communications stamps which commemorate the campaign for a universal penny post and the introduction of the Penny Black. Rowland Hill has also been honoured by three public statues and is buried in Westminster Abbey, a mark of how important his work was. There is also an awards scheme named after Hill for innovation, initiative and enterprise in the field of philately, and the Rowland Hill Fund, established in 1882, offers financial aid to past and present Royal Mail workers in times of need.

Pioneers of Communication: Rowland Hill stamps, 1995

Pioneers of Communication: Rowland Hill stamps, 1995

For more on postal history during the Victorian era please see our online exhibition Victorian Innovation.