Postal Uniforms: The case of Sant Singh Shattar

Archivist Helen explores how a 1960 application changed who could be employed as a postal worker.

The Post Office first issued uniforms in the late 1700s. The purpose of uniforms was to easily identify postal workers and to ensure security.

The design of uniforms evolved over time, but to start with it assumed a male, culturally standardised workforce. Whether the workforce was as homogenous as uniform design suggested is a different matter. For example, it was over 100 years between the first the uniforms being issued for men and the first uniforms issued for women, despite records showing women were working in the postal service before this change.

Uniform rules

Where did the assumption about who was wearing uniforms leave those who wore specific clothing for religious or cultural reasons? And who did strict uniform rules exclude? This became a matter for discussion in the mid to late 1900s.

In 1957, the Post Office received an application from a Sikh man to work as a postman. The Sikh faith requires men to wear a turban to cover their hair, which is kept uncut. There are many variations on the type and style of covering that Sikh men choose to wear.

At this time, the Post Office uniform included a cap, which could not be worn with a turban. The 1957 application was refused as the applicant would not have been able to wear the full uniform – this was a condition of employment. Records show that The Post Office did consider whether other jobs might be suitable, including a Machine Operator in the Savings Bank Division or Overseas Telegraph Operator. Our records do not show what the outcome of this case was. However, the applicant’s name does not appear in the Post Office appointment registers, and there is no further correspondence relating to their application.

Black and white photograph of three white, male, postal workers. The men are wearing grey trousers and jacket with a white shirt and black tie. They are also wearing single peaked caps with a badge on each. The man at the front and the one at the back are carrying mail bags.

Standard postmen’s uniform in 1960. POST 118/17870

A case for referral

Three years later, in March 1960, Sant Singh Shattar applied to work as a postman in Birmingham. He also wore a turban, and similar concerns were raised as in the earlier case. His application was initially rejected by the Head Postmaster in Birmingham:

I regret that as I understand you would be unable to wear the official headgear, I am unable to consider you for employment.

Typed letter reading ‘Dear Sir, In reply to your letter of 7th March 1960 requesting employment as a Postman, I regret that as I understand you would be unable to wear the official headgear, I am unable to consider you for employment.'

Letter from the Head Postmaster, Birmingham rejecting Singh’s application. POST 122/10143

The case was referred to Commonwealth Relations Office. It is not clear from the file if Sant Singh Shattar raised the case himself. The Commonwealth Relations Office wrote to the Post Office in May 1960:

In the case of Sikhs called up for National Service and other employment where the wearing of uniform is necessary it has been possible for a relaxation of the regulations to be made; the appropriate badge is worn on the turban. It has occurred to us that it might be possible for a similar arrangement to be made in the case of Sikh postmen in general and Mr Sant in particular.


This led to the Post Office re-examining the case and considering why uniform requirements specified a cap. Previously the cap carried the postman’s badge and was a means of identifying individual postal workers for security purposes. Since the 1957 application, changes to uniform meant numbered badges were worn on a jacket instead of a cap. On 12 May 1960 the Post Office responded to the Commonwealth Relations Office stating:

Until quite recently there were practical reasons, connected with security, for our requirement that Postmen should wear a uniform cap. Certain changes have been made that will however, now enable us to drop the requirement in special circumstances such as these. I am glad to say that in future we shall not insist that Sikhs who apply for employment as Postmen must wear a uniform cap.


Sant Singh Singh began work as a postman in Birmingham on 29 August 1960. His appointment was publicised in the Birmingham Mail and the Post Office Magazine.

A printed article reading ‘Introducing Sant Singh Shattar, the first postman in Britain to be allowed to wear a turban on duty. A Sikh who came to this country from India some five years ago, his religion forebad his acceptance of the postman’s cap, but did PO regulations forbid the acceptance of a turban and beard? In the event, there was no difficulty and six foot two Sant Singh Shattar is thoroughly enjoying his work, on indoor duties at present, at the Birmingham Head Office. To the right of the text, a photograph of Sant Singh Shattar with a full beard and wearing a white turban with a Post Office badge pinned to it.

Article from the Post Office Magazine December 1960 about the appointment of Sant Singh Shattar as a postman.

The wider context

It is worth considering the Post Office’s decision to appoint Sant Singh Shattar within a wider context. Although the correspondence from the Commonwealth Relations Office indicates that there was precedent in the National Service for allowing Sikhs to wear turbans, this does not appear to have been wider practice.

In 1960, while the Post Office was considering the case of Sant Singh Shattar, other organisations were continuing to refuse to employ turbaned Sikhs. For example, the Manchester Bus Corporation refused an application from Gyani Sundar Singh Sagar to work as a bus conductor in 1957 and was upholding this position in 1966 despite local authorities, British Railways, and the Post Office changing their rules. The Wolverhampton Bus Corporation did not allow bus conductors to wear a turban until 1967, after significant controversy and public attention.

In the 21st century it is easy to assume that wearing turbans in the workplace is less contentious than it was in the 1960s. However, it was only in 2015 that legislation was amended to allow Sikhs to wear turbans in all workplaces (with limited exceptions). In 2018 the first member of the Coldstream Guards wore a turban during the trooping of the colour.

Sant Singh Shattar appears in the permanent exhibition at The Postal Museum. In 2019 his family visited to view the display and the records in the archive relating to his appointment.

An Asian woman standing next to an interpretation panel with an image of Sant Singh Shattar on it. In the background there is a red and yellow post bus.

Sant Singh’s family visiting The Postal Museum.

Find out more about postal uniforms on our blog and in our exhibition Dressed to Deliver.