|Light Straw's GPO Pages
Recalling the history of the General Post
When I was about 10 years
old, I was fascinated by a library book by Nancy Martin. It
was 'The Post Office, From Carrier Pigeon to Confravision'.
My father worked for the Post Office as a Telephonist and so
the 'GPO' played a very important part in my formative
Here are a few pages dedicated to the memories of the
British Post Office, a solid reliable institution, in the
days before privatisation and competition.
Book: The Post Office by Nancy
Martin - From Carrier Pigeon to Confravision. (Dent 1969).
The General Post Office (GPO)
was once a key communications provider of postal and
telephone services, which also operated Government backed
savings accounts. Surprisingly, the services offered in the
early 21st century are remarkably similar, but the
organisation has changed many times over. 'Light Straw's GPO
Pages' attempt to capture the spirit of the bygone times and
to recall just some of the history behind a mainstay of the
British way of life.
Royal Mail’s origin can be traced back to
1516 with the appointment of a Master of the Posts, Brian Tuke. In the seventeenth century, the 'royal mail' was
literally messages and letters which were couriered exclusively for the
royal family. In 1635, King Charles I allowed the public to use the
'royal mail' and subsequently this developed through various acts of
Parliament into the services which we know today.
The General Post Office
AN ACT FOR THE SETLING OF THE
POSTAGE OF ENGLAND, SCOTLAND and IRELAND.
At the Parliament begun at Westminster the 17th Day of
September, Anno Domini 1656. L O N D O N: Printed by Henry Hills
and John Field, Printers to His Highnefs the Lord Protector.
In the Act of 1657 (seen opposite), Oliver
Cromwell's Parliament, decreed:
...from henceforth there be one General Office, to be
called and known by the name of the Post Office of England....
And one officer.... under the name of Post Master General...
|However, Charles II disputed Cromwell's laws
and so the Post Office act of 1660 was passed to legally recognise the
formation of the Post Office.
1660 An Act for Erecting and Establishing
a Post Office.
Thus the General Letter Office, subsequently known as the
General Post Office, was formed in London. Henry Bishop was appointed
Postmaster General in 1660.
The General Post Office, or simply the GPO as it was more affectionately
known, was once responsible for running both the Postal and Telephone
Services of the UK and in 1950 was structured something like this:
General Post Office
- Post Office Counter Services
- Royal Mail
- Post Office Savings Bank
- Post Office Telephones
|Staff who worked for the GPO were sometimes referred to as 'God's
An Introduction to The Post Office
An Introduction to the POST OFFICE - A training booklet
This handbook is to welcome you into the Post
Office, to give you a general idea of its varied and widespread
activities, and to show you briefly, how best you can contribute
your share in its service to the public. You will know from your
own experience how much better such service is if it is smartly
and cheerfully given. You will now have many opportunities to
play your part in this way both as an individual and as a member
of a team..
|Throughout the 1960s, the Post Office was still a
government department, part of the Civil Service, but on 1st October
1969 it became a public corporation (nationalised industry). The
telecoms part of the business was still very much under Post Office
control, but the separate divisions of Post Office Telecommunications
and Post Office services had their own headquarters, THQ and PHQ.
- Post Office Counter Services
- Royal Mail
- Post Office Savings Bank
Post Office Telephones
The Telegraph Act of 1868 authorised the
Postmaster-General to acquire the inland telegraph services.
During the 1970s, 80s and 90s, the Post
Office continued much as before. The major changes going on in the
organisation were perhaps not noticeable to the public until 2001, when
a completely new name was adopted...
Pillar boxes, poles, kiosks and
cabinets, the Post Office was once responsible for them all!
Here is a brief study of key dates, changes in name(s) and
branding as the telephone business has evolved.
Photo: Pillar box, pole, kiosk and
cabinet © Light Straw Archive
On 26th March 2001, the Government owned
Post Office became a plc (public limited company) and with it came the
controversial change of name to Consignia.
The name is based on the word
"consign". "To consign means to entrust to the care of - which
is what each of our customers does every day," said The Post
Office's chief executive John Roberts.
The new name was not popular in the UK
and eventually, on 4th November 2002, was changed to Royal Mail Group
plc. Thus the long established and well known names of 'Post Office'
and 'Royal Mail' could continue.
Royal Mail Group plc
The Consignia group which was transferred to Royal Mail Group in 2002
was made up of the following trading units:
- Post Office
- Royal Mail
- Parcelforce Worldwide
Letter delivery, Mail by Rail, the Post Office Railway, TPOs
On 1 May 1840, the first stamps
went on sale in Britain and over the years the sending and
delivery of letters and parcels has continued to grow as the
Post Office has provided an essential public service. Despite
its difficulties Royal Mail has always found new and
innovative ways of ensuring that the demands of its customers
are met, by a combination of road, rail, and air transport,
supported with new technology.
The Postal Service really is 'The Real Network'.
Photo: Twin oval pillar
boxes © Light Straw Archive
On 1st April 2012, Post Office Limited was demerged from Royal Mail
Group, now reporting directly to the Government.
Post Office Savings
The ever changing
public/retail face of the Post Office.
Photo by Java Jane
Including Savings Accounts, Premium Savings Bonds (ERNIE), and Savings
On 16th September 1861 the
Palmerston government set up the 'Post Office Savings Bank' - a
simple savings scheme aiming to encourage ordinary wage earners
"to provide for themselves against adversity and ill health".
Take your savings to the Post Office Savings Bank...
The GPO Film Unit
The GPO Film Unit was established in 1933
and over the years became renowned for pioneering the
production of classic documentaries.
'Night Mail' (1936) was produced by John Grierson with
verse by W H Auden. This early documentary featured the
Postal Special's nightly run from London to Scotland.
Here we investigate some of the films made by the GPO
and its successor the Post Office...
Booklet: GPO Film Unit,
The Central Office of
The Central Office of Information had close links with the
GPO as a government service and the Office produced
recruitment material for the public telephone service.
The poster opposite is from an earlier time when the
Ministry of Information was responsible.
Image: Poster from the World
War II campaign (1939) "Keep Calm and Carry On".
National Giro was set up by the Post Office in 1968, and was
an initiative of the Labour government to provide banking
facilities for those people who did not have bank accounts. The
process was overseen by the politician Tony Benn the Postmaster
Image from a 'plastic
statements folder'- Light Straw Archive.
HMSO - Her Majesty's Stationery Office
The Postal Museum
'Supplied for the Public Service' was the watchword printed
on many S.O. (Stationery Office) products. Namely that the
notebooks e.t.c., were for use by government departments in
the public service(s). The telephone side of the GPO was a
public service until it was privatised (as British Telecom)
The Post Office is still a public service, though now
separated from the privatised Royal Mail. Her Majesty's
Stationery Office was responsible for the printing and
distribution of many publications a well as sundries for use
within the Government.
Image: S.O. Book 616 -
Supplied for the Public Service.
The British Postal Museum and Archive
is now The Postal Museum, which is due to open in
Photo: Calthorpe House ©
Bath Postal Museum
Explore the history of the post and of the British postbox, or read
the biographies of key figures in the development of the Post Office. As well as an excellent philatelic section, the museum
encourages schools participation and is recommended for a visit if you
are in the area.
Colne Valley Postal History Museum
This way to visit the Colne Valley Postal History Museum
which houses the largest private collection of GPO letter
boxes in mainland UK.
Royal Mail Groups
-The Official UK sites of: Royal Mail, Parcelforce and GLS.
Light Straw's GPO Pages
- Follow this link for the current version, if these pages have for any
reason been archived.
The Letter Box Study Group
(official website) -Explore the world of (mainly UK) letter boxes.
On Mike's Railway History pages you'll find an interesting article
The Post Office
Tube which details, the little known underground railway.
is an unofficial site, but packed with information and photos.
Malcolm Smith's Post Box Pages - See his wonderful photographic
record of the many types of letter boxes.
Nairnshire Modelling Supplies - Nigel Burkin takes
contemporary railway modelling one step further with his comprehensive on-line shop.
Paul's Unofficial Letterbox
Pages (PULP)- For all those interested in the
study of Letter Boxes.
The Post Office Vehicle
Club - Preserving Post Buses, recording vehicle numbers and keeping
the heritage alive.
Royal Philatelic Society
of New Zealand -The premium international society for collectors of
the stamps and postal history of New Zealand and her Dependencies.
|Design, images and text compiled by ©
Light-Straw. Page last updated 9th Feb 2016.
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