Light Straw's GPO Pages

Recalling the history of the General Post Office...
The Post Office
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 years.

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).
| EXIT | Introduction | Organisation | Post Office Telephones | Royal Mail | The Postal Museum | Post Office Counters | Post Office Savings Bank  | National Giro | GPO Film Unit | COI | HMSO | Links |

GPO Logo
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.

Early Beginnings

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. 1657.

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 Poor Orphans'.

An Introduction to The Post Office

An Introduction to The Post Office
An Introduction to the POST OFFICE - A training booklet December 1959.

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.

  • Postal HQ
  • Post Office Counter Services
  • Royal Mail
  • Post Office Savings Bank


  • Telecoms HQ
  • Post Office Telephones
Post Office Telephones

The Telegraph Act of 1868 authorised the Postmaster-General to acquire the inland telegraph services.

Post Office Telephones
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
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...


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

Royal Mail

Letter delivery, Mail by Rail, the Post Office Railway, TPOs and more...
Royal Mail 
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
Post Office Counters

On 1st April 2012, Post Office Limited was demerged from Royal Mail Group, now reporting directly to the Government.
Post Office Counters 
The ever changing public/retail face of the Post Office.

Photo by Java Jane  
Post Office Savings Bank

Including Savings Accounts, Premium Savings Bonds (ERNIE), and Savings Certificates.
Post Office Savings Bank 
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
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, video catalogue.

The Central Office of Information
The Central Office of Information
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
National Giro
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 General.

Image from a 'plastic statements folder'- Light Straw Archive.

HMSO - Her Majesty's Stationery Office
HMSO - Her Majesty's Stationery Office
'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) in 1984.

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 Postal Museum
The Postal Musuem
The British Postal Museum and Archive is now The Postal Museum, which is due to open in 2017.


Photo: Calthorpe House © LSA 2012.

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
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. Recommended...

Mail - Rail

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.

All logos and trade marks are the property of their respective owners and are used on the Light Straw site(s) for review only. Students and researchers are recommended to make their own independent enquiries as to the accuracy of the information contained therein.