Senior Archivist Gavin shares his Archive favourites.

Senior Archivist Gavin McGuffie in The Postal Museum’s Discovery Room

1. First Edition of Ulysses

One of the more unusual items in The Royal Mail Archive is a first edition copy of Ulysses by James Joyce. Joyce wrote the novel between 1919 and 1920 and when it was published in 1922 it was soon banned in the UK for obscene content. A warrant issued to detain and open packages containing Ulysses was in force from shortly after its publication to 13 November 1936, over which time a fair few copies were intercepted. This copy appears to have been sent from David Byrne (a publican featured in the book) to bookseller Jacob Schwartz in London.

First edition of Ulysses, 1922 (POST 23/220)

Gavin McGuffie in The Postal Museum’s Discovery Room

Business card of David Byrne accompanying Ulysses, sent to Jacob Schwartz, Bookseller, London (POST 23/220)

Mention of David Byrne in Ulysses, (POST 23/220)

Gavin McGuffie with Ulysses in The Postal Museum’s Discovery Room

2. Poster artwork, Post Office Railway, by Edward Bawden

The Post Office Underground Railway initially opened in 1927 and was the world’s first driverless electric railway. It ran from Paddington to Whitechapel, serving eight sorting offices along its six-and-a-half mile route. Edward Bawden (1903-1989), an English print maker, painter, illustrator and graphic artist, was provisionally commissioned by Royal Mail in June 1935, and this linocut design, a technique for which he became well-known, was approved. However, for unknown reasons, it was never printed.

Artwork for a poster of the Post Office Railway by Edward Bawden, c.1935

3. London Postal District Map

To accelerate further the delivery of mail in London, Sir Rowland Hill proposed a solution which involved dividing the capital into 10 separate postal districts. The districts would be denoted by the compass points, and an office established for each district. The original 10 districts – EC (Eastern Central), WC (Western Central), and then NW, N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, and W – were contained within a circle of 12 miles’ radius from central London. The public was asked to add the districts’ initials to the end of an address.

‘London Postal District map: Showing the position of each London and Suburban Sorting Office with the Cart routes and circulation through the East and West Central Districts’ 1838, (POST 21/761)

4. Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull

This letter is the earliest document in The Royal Mail Archive dating from the year after the establishment of the public postal service. Master of Foreign Posts and deputy to the Postmaster General Witherings is writing to the Mayor of Hull admonishing him for not punishing ‘such delinquents’ who are continuing to use private mails.

Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull relating to the establishment of the public postal service, 28 January 1637, (POST 23/1)

5. Report of Suffragettes being sent by express delivery

On 23 February 1909 two suffragettes, Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan, posted themselves to 10 Downing Street in an attempt to deliver a message personally to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. At this time Royal Mail regulations allowed individuals to be ‘posted’ by express messenger, so the two women went to the East Strand Post Office and were placed in the hands of A S Palmer, a telegraph messenger boy, who ‘delivered’ them to Downing Street.

Suffragettes conveyed to Prime Minister’s residence as express letters. c1909 (POST 30/1655)

There, an official refused to sign for the ‘human letters’ and eventually Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan were returned to the offices of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

Express delivery service: Suffragettes conveyed to Prime Minister’s residence as express letters. c1909 (POST 30/1655)

Express delivery service: Suffragettes conveyed to Prime Minister’s residence as express letters. c1909 (POST 30/1655)

Have you heard the news? Our Archive has been recently awarded Archive Service Accreditation.

– Gavin McGuffie, Senior Archivist