The British Postal Museum & Archive
|Location||Clerkenwell, London, England|
|Public transit access||Farringdon, Angel|
The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) is the leading resource for all aspects of the history of the British postal system. It operates three sites: The Royal Mail Archive at Mount Pleasant sorting office in Clerkenwell, London, a Museum Store in Loughton, Essex and The Museum of the Post Office in the Community, located about the Post Office in Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire.
The BPMA is an independent charity but is strongly linked with Royal Mail Group.
A short history of the British postal service
In 1635, King Charles I opened the use of his own mail service to the public in order to raise revenue outside of parliament. The General Post Office was set up in 1657 under Cromwell's rule, then re-established by Charles II in 1660 to run the 'royal mail'.
Over the following centuries the Post Office grew as an organisation, often taking over existing independent postal services, such as mail coaches and local Penny Posts. Major expansion took place during the Victorian era, spurred by the introduction of uniform penny postage in 1840. This reform was embodied in the Penny Black, the world's first adhesive postage stamp.
The General Post Office remained a British government department until 1969, when it became a public corporation. In 1981 telecommunications transferred to British Telecom, and in 1986 there was a division of letter delivery, parcel delivery and counter services, which still exists today.
The origins of the BPMA
The 1838 Public Records Act was the first step in organizing government archives, including the civil service department known then as ‘the Post Office’. This represents the beginnings of what is now The Royal Mail Archive. By 1896 a report concerning the maintenance of Post Office records had been produced and the first archivist was appointed. The Public Records Acts of 1958 and 1967 reinforced the need for the Post Office to keep, catalogue and make its archive records available.
In 1966, the first National Postal Museum (NPM) was established, in part due to the Phillips Collection of Victorian philately being donated to the nation by Reginald M. Phillips. The museum was opened by the Queen on 19 February 1969, at King Edward Building near St Paul's Cathedral in London. A collection of postal equipment, uniforms, vehicles and much more was developed over the years; far more than could be displayed in the small museum.
In 1998, the King Edward Building was sold, and the NPM closed. The collections were retained and the management of the museum and archive was combined. This was known as the Heritage unit of the Post Office (then renamed Consignia, then Royal Mail Group).
Royal Mail Group decided to transfer the work of this heritage unit to an independent charitable trust, in light of the changing mail market and its own shift from public service to competitive business. This 'Postal Heritage Trust' came into being in April 2004, and was branded as The British Postal Museum & Archive.
Since 2004, the BPMA has expanded its work into providing a programme of events, exhibitions, education and web resources.
Relationship with Royal Mail Group
The BPMA receives an annual payment from Royal Mail Group for managing The Royal Mail Archive. Although the archive is part of the BPMA, because it is public record ultimate responsibility for it lies with Royal Mail Group. The records have been given official designated status i.e. recognised as nationally important, and are available to all researchers at Freeling House in London.
The former National Postal Museum collections were donated to the BPMA by Royal Mail Group. These are currently housed in a Museum Store in Essex. This is open to the public on selected dates throughout the year, but the BPMA admits it is not a carefully designed museum. The BPMA is currently working on a project to relocate the organisation and re establish the Postal Museum and Royal Mail Archive in Calthorpe House, London.