Endings and Beginnings

22 November 2016

For this year’s Explore Your Archive week, Archivist Helen takes us through the momentous recent goings on in our archive…

The Royal Mail Archive is a wonderful collection of files, volumes, photographs and posters. Right now, it’s all stored in a former boiler room under Mount Pleasant sorting office in central London.

In it, there are approximately 22,000 boxes of various dimensions, 200 rolls of large plans (e.g. of Post Office buildings, the Mail Rail system etc.), and 522 linear metres of volumes (or, as you might know them, books!). There are also 28 ‘plan chests’ of various sizes holding large, flat items like posters and artwork.

Poster depicting a fantasy mid-21st century pillar box (POST 110/6469)

Poster depicting a fantasy mid-21st century pillar box, c.1990 (POST 110/6469)

In addition to being a business archive, the collection provides a vivid record of changes in society. Some of the highlights are:

  • A first edition copy of Ulysses which was intercepted in the post as an obscene publication;
  • A poster from the 1990s predicting what a mid 21st century pillar box would look like;
  • Photo albums showing the damage to GPO Dublin during the Easter Rising 1916.
View of damage to Dublin General Post Office, 1916 (POST 56/179)

View of damage to Dublin General Post Office, 1916 (POST 56/179)

The archive is also a rich source for family historians as it holds records of appointments and pensions.

As you might be aware, the Search Room in Freeling House closed its doors for the last time on Friday 11 November. It will reopen as the Discovery Room in the Postal Museum next year. The closure allows staff the time and space to finish packing and preparing all the unique and valuable items ready for our big move.

Over the coming months, archive staff will be working on a range of activities including padding out boxes to prevent material moving inside them, creating folders for the posters to keep them safe within the plan chests, and checking that our records of what is in the archive are accurate.

a-conservation-volunteer-at-work3

A Conservation volunteer at work

We’ll also be working on packing up reference materials within the Search Room so we can move them into the reference area of the Discovery Room, ready to be explored.

Finally, we need to plan how all the 4 kilometres of material – more than 26 times the height of the BT (formerly Post Office) Tower – are going to fit into our newly built storerooms.

Poster featuring the new Post Office Tower (POST 110/2636)

Poster featuring the new Post Office Tower, 1964 (POST 110/2636)

As if that wasn’t enough, we will continue to respond to your enquiries by telephone and email as best we can.

Artist's impression of the exterior of The Postal Museum

Artist’s impression of the exterior of The Postal Museum

All this preparation will certainly keep the team busy over the coming months, and I am sure there will be plenty of challenges along the way, but we’re really looking forward to the reward after years of hard work. See you in our welcoming new home next year!

– Helen Dafter, Archivist