The British Postal Museum & Archive
The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) is the leading resource for all aspects of the history of the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 postal system. It operates three sites: The Royal Mail
Royal Mail
Royal Mail is the government-owned postal service in the United Kingdom. Royal Mail Holdings plc owns Royal Mail Group Limited, which in turn operates the brands Royal Mail and Parcelforce Worldwide...

 Archive at Mount Pleasant sorting office in Clerkenwell
Clerkenwell is an area of central London in the London Borough of Islington. From 1900 to 1965 it was part of the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury. The well after which it was named was rediscovered in 1924. The watchmaking and watch repairing trades were once of great importance...

, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, a Museum Store in Loughton
Loughton is a town and civil parish in the Epping Forest district of Essex. It is located between 11 and 13 miles north east of Charing Cross in London, south of the M25 and west of the M11 motorway and has boundaries with Chingford, Waltham Abbey, Theydon Bois, Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill...

, Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...

 and The Museum of the Post Office in the Community, located about the Post Office in Blists Hill Victorian Town
Blists Hill Victorian Town
Blists Hill is an open air museum, one of ten museums operated by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, built on a former industrial complex located in the Madeley area of Telford, Shropshire, England...

, Shropshire
Shropshire is a county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. It borders Wales to the west...


The BPMA is an independent charity but is strongly linked with Royal Mail Group.

A short history of the British postal service

In 1635, King Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

 opened the use of his own mail service to the public in order to raise revenue outside of parliament. The General Post Office
General Post Office
General Post Office is the name of the British postal system from 1660 until 1969.General Post Office may also refer to:* General Post Office, Perth* General Post Office, Sydney* General Post Office, Melbourne* General Post Office, Brisbane...

 was set up in 1657 under Cromwell's rule, then re-established by Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 in 1660 to run the 'royal mail'.

Over the following centuries the Post Office grew as an organisation, often taking over existing independent postal services, such as mail coach
Mail coach
In Great Britain, the mail coach or post coach was a horse-drawn carriage that carried mail deliveries, from 1784. In Ireland, the first mail coach began service from Dublin in 1789. The coach was drawn by four horses and had seating for four passengers inside. Further passengers were later allowed...

es and local Penny Post
Penny Post
The Penny Post is any one of several postal systems in which normal letters could be sent for one penny.-London Penny Post:In England, the Post Office had a monopoly on the collection and carriage of letters between post towns but there was no delivery system until the London Penny Post was...

s. Major expansion took place during the Victorian era, spurred by the introduction of uniform penny postage in 1840. This reform was embodied in the Penny Black
Penny Black
The Penny Black was the world's first adhesive postage stamp used in a public postal system. It was issued in Britain on 1 May 1840, for official use from 6 May of that year....

, the world's first adhesive postage stamp
Postage stamp
A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are made from special paper, with a national designation and denomination on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side...


The General Post Office remained a British government department until 1969, when it became a public corporation. In 1981 telecommunications transferred to British Telecom, and in 1986 there was a division of letter delivery, parcel delivery and counter services, which still exists today.

The origins of the BPMA

The 1838 Public Records Act was the first step in organizing government archives, including the civil service department known then as ‘the Post Office’. This represents the beginnings of what is now The Royal Mail Archive. By 1896 a report concerning the maintenance of Post Office records had been produced and the first archivist was appointed. The Public Records Acts of 1958 and 1967 reinforced the need for the Post Office to keep, catalogue and make its archive records available.

In 1966, the first National Postal Museum (NPM) was established, in part due to the Phillips Collection of Victorian philately
Philately is the study of stamps and postal history and other related items. Philately involves more than just stamp collecting, which does not necessarily involve the study of stamps. It is possible to be a philatelist without owning any stamps...

 being donated to the nation. The museum was opened by the Queen on 19 February 1969, at King Edward Building near St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. St Paul's sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the mother...

 in London. A collection of postal equipment, uniforms, vehicles and much more was developed over the years; far more than could be displayed in the small museum.

In 1998, the King Edward Building was sold, and the NPM closed. The collections were retained and the management of the museum and archive was combined. This was known as the Heritage unit of the Post Office (then renamed Consignia, then Royal Mail Group).

Royal Mail Group decided to transfer the work of this heritage unit to an independent charitable trust, in light of the changing mail market and its own shift from public service to competitive business. This 'Postal Heritage Trust' came into being in April 2004, and was branded as The British Postal Museum & Archive.

Since 2004, the BPMA has expanded its work into providing a programme of events, exhibitions, education and web resources.

Relationship with Royal Mail Group

The BPMA receives an annual payment from Royal Mail Group for managing The Royal Mail Archive. Although the archive is part of the BPMA, because it is public record ultimate responsibility for it lies with Royal Mail Group. The records have been given official designated status i.e. recognised as nationally important, and are available to all researchers at Freeling House in London.

The former National Postal Museum collections were donated to the BPMA by Royal Mail Group. These are currently housed in a Museum Store in Essex. This is open to the public on selected dates throughout the year, but the BPMA admits it is not a carefully designed museum. The BPMA is currently working on an ambitious £19 million project to relocate the organisation and re establish the Postal Museum and Royal Mail Archive in Swindon, Wiltshire. It is hoped this new facility will be open to the public towards the end of 2013.

The National Philatelic Society
National Philatelic Society
The National Philatelic Society is one of two national philatelic societies in Great Britain. The other is the Royal Philatelic Society London.- History :...

has also recently moved to the BPMA and the society library is available in the BPMA search room.

External links

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