Archive collection

The Postal Museum looks after over 400 years of postal heritage, including the archive of Royal Mail Group PLC, and Post Office Ltd.

Records in the Archive are Designated as being of outstanding national importance by the Arts Council, and are on the UNESCO memory of the World UK Register.

The historic records held in the Archive deal with essential bits of everyday life through and beyond the delivery of mail; full of stories of how we communicated and the innovation, development and hard work needed to ensure it could happen. All aspects of this unique history, from employment records to stamp artwork, are held within the Archive, one of the oldest business archives in the world. The collections are varied, covering subjects from social history to transport, pensions to publicity material.

They include posters and artwork by the giants of graphic design, films produced by the iconic General Post Office (GPO) film unit, telegrams sent by the Royal family, and of course our stamp collections including every British stamp issued from 1840 to the present day. The GPO was once one of the biggest employers in the UK and the Archive contains records that are invaluable for family history research.

The Archive continues to collect and care for the records of Royal Mail Group PLC and Post Office Ltd today.

The majority of records held are Public Records and are available for the public to view on site. The Archive is free to visit, and is used by a variety of people, from family and social historians, to design students and media production companies. Most of the Archive is catalogued and you can browse the catalogue of the Archive and Museum collection here.

  • The Archive

    The Discovery Room is the place to come to delve deeper into the history of the postal service, and where you can study original archive material.

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Our holdings

Here is just a taste of the kind of materials held in our Archive collection:

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    Maps

    Our Archive holds over 700 maps. These cover the period 1757-c.1990, most date from the 19th century. We have maps showing the circulation of mail for all parts of Great Britain. We also have surveyors’ maps and a few town maps.

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    Photographs

    There are over 100,000 photographs in The Royal Mail Archive. They date from the late 19th century through to the modern day. The majority of these come from the photograph library of the Post Office which grew from the 1930s.

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    Business & administrative records

    As a business archive, the collection contains a large amount of financial and administrative records, covering the day-to-day running of the organisation. They reveal the individual stories and people behind the postal service.

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    Posters

    We look after a collection of over 6,000 posters and some of the poster artwork. The Post Office publicity series contains posters in various size and formats, including posters for display in public offices and strip posters for mail vans.

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    Establishment books

    From 1691 onwards the Establishment Books list people employed by each department at a given time. The details given do vary. Some entries include lower grades; later entries are mostly senior officials.

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    Appointment & pension records

    Appointment Books provide a register of all employees from 1831 to 1956. Other volumes cover 1737-1774. Pensions and Gratuities records date from 1719 to 1959, though records before 1860 generally list senior and clerical grades only.

Archive research guides

Looking at archive material can be difficult if you are not sure where to start. We have produced some Archive Guides and information sheets designed to help you find the information and records you need.

The guides are large documents, but you do not have to read every page! Read the first few pages to find out how to use each guide.

These Guides also are available to use in our Search Room, along with the best guides of all – our staff. Don’t forget to contact us in advance of a visit if you have any questions.

Royal Mail Archive – Overview Guide
This Guide gives an overview of all the records we have in the Archive – our records have been divided into POST classes, covering a wide range of subjects. This Overview Guide explains what records are held in each POST class and also has a subject index at the back where you can cross reference key words.

Family History Research Guide
This is a step-by-step Guide to discover any ancestors who worked for Royal Mail or the Post Office in the past. For more information on conducting family history research, see our Family History page. Please note we only have appointment and pension records up to the 1960s.

Our online catalogue allows you to search across our museum and archive collections.

  • Family history

    The Postal Museum is the definitive place to find out about past postal employees.

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