Cardboard Railways & Airborne Machines
Archivist Matt Tantony has some wonderful discoveries to share from the latest photographs we’ve brought to light…
Our catalogue of Post Office publicity photographs has recently grown by almost 400 images. This is due to work I’m currently doing at The Postal Museum to sort and catalogue prints and negatives that haven’t been widely seen in decades. I’d like to take you on a quick tour of some of my favourites.
Another day, another Mail Rail photograph. But look closely… all is not what it seems! This is actually a mock-up Post Office (London) Railway platform, with a real carriage and tracks at the front and a photographic trompe l’oeil effect at the rear.
Visitors to the 1937 Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia could explore this model as part of the Post Office’s extremely elaborate displays – of which we now have photographic evidence (POST 118/15324-15331 in our online catalogue). We also have images from the Ideal Home Exhibitions in 1934, 1935, 1960 and 1962.
Having strolled along Grainger Street in Newcastle not too long ago, I was intrigued to find photographs of a Post Office Exhibition that was mounted at 108 Grainger Street from 15 September to 10 October 1936.
Above is the illuminated street entrance at night. Doesn’t it look gorgeous? Exhibits inside included a pentacycle and a then-brand new King Edward VIII pillar box. The Newcastle photos (POST 118/15320-15322) document one of numerous publicity events and exhibitions the Post Office mounted around the country in the 1930s – we also have pictures from Liverpool, Canterbury, Northampton and Sheffield.
But let’s leave the world of temporary things behind, and instead look at something very heavy that’s lasted over 45 years:
In 1969 the new Manchester Head Post Office opened at Spring Gardens, and the above photograph shows what the interior and counter looked like shortly after opening. If, like me, you’re a fan of brutalism then you’ll probably love the massive concrete murals above the counter windows. In fact, they’re still there today. This is just one of many photos of post offices around the UK in our collections.
One of my main aims is to reconstruct the so-called ‘Engineering Series’, a vast set of Post Office publicity photographs that was originally compiled by the Office of the Engineer-in-Chief. As the name suggests, the Engineering Series has a strong (but not exclusive) focus on engineering, technology, construction and transport across the Post Office. Take the image below:
Here we have a group of men being trained to use the keyboard elements of a single position letter sorting machine (SPLSM) in approximately 1960. The photo is part of an album that captures sorting machines, facer canceller tables and other mechanical aids being used, being maintained, and being experimented on – and there’s so much more where that came from.
Hundreds more images should appear on our online catalogue in the coming months as I work my way through our collections. We’re also creating high-resolution digitised copies to view online, which will minimise the wear and tear on the original prints and negatives. Keep an eye out for more photographic updates from The Postal Museum.
– Matt Tantony, Archivist (Cataloguing)