Quirks, curios, collecting: The G.P.O.

W6 Bag Seal.jpg
Lead Bag Seal, W6 postcode

Last year I started to collect mysterious little lead squares as they began to surface on foreshore trip after foreshore trip. Knowing that they were ‘something’, but not quite knowing what that something was, I popped them in my finds bag to investigate later.

Those little lead curios turned out to be mail bag seals from the General Post Office. The discovery led me to serendipitously uncover many quirks of collectable G.P.O. miscellany and ephemera – old telephone cables, telegraph insulator caps, for example – which also unmasked a plethora of G.P.O. appreciation societies for the strangest of objects. This, for example.

The G.P.O. was a magnificent empire, covering snail mail, telegram, telephone switching systems and telegraph cables. That meant motorbikes, franking machines, seals, home telephones, resin dials, stamps, hard hats, bells, boxes and bicylces – all sorts of consumerables and collectibles – started with the existence of Royal Mail communications.

The Royal Mail we all know and (possibly) love today started life in 1516 as exactly that – a postal distribution system for royal and government documents. In 1636 King Charles I legalised the use of royal postal distribution system for private correspondence between senders and receivers. The General Post Office (G.P.O.) was officially established in England in 1660 by King Charles II.

G.P.O. Telegraph insulators, made by Bullers Ltd, London

In 1661 the office of Postmaster General was created (previously ‘Master of the Posts’, in Henry VIII’s time) to oversee the GPO, further formalising the service, and making sure that it would run properly. In 1678 the Royal Mail’s headquarters moved to Lombard Street to cement their monopoly and crack down on other informal postal services. Before the official Royal Mail held the monopoly on postal delivery services, certain coffee houses, such as Lloyd’s and Garraway’s, informally organised private transport of mail between their patrons.

The G.P.O. grew to combine both the functions of state postal system and communications carrier, with similar offices, like modern day sorting offices, established across the British Empire. When new forms of communication came into existence in the 19th and early 20th centuries the G.P.O. claimed monopoly rights on the basis that, like the postal service, they involved delivery from a sender and to a receiver. The theory was used to expand state control of the mail service into every form of electronic communication possible on the basis that every sender used some form of distribution service.

Astonishingly, this very same system lasted until 1969, when the G.P.O. was abolished, the assets transferred to The Post Office. This marked the transition from a Department of State organisation to a statutory corporation. Now I’ve outlined the potted history, I can share some of my little finds with you.

Photographed below are six of my best G.P.O. bag seals, one is clearly marked with a London, W6, postcode prefix. In addition to the small, square parcel sack seals, I often find little lead studs attached to a shank, again stamped G.P.O. These little beauties are lead tipped nails, used to affix G.P.O. cabling to telegraph poles and sides of buildings.

img_3982

“In 1911 the post office replaced wax seals with lead ones for sealing letter and parcel sacks (lead seals were used in the the larger post offices probably since Charles I opened up his royal mail to the public in 1635). The Post Office Controller of Stores supplied the lead to the seal manufacturers Dunham White & Co Ltd., J.N.Lyons Ltd., The Lead Seal Manufacturing Co. and Walkens, Parker & Co. Ltd, directly” 

Source: The British Postal Museum & Archive, Freeling House, Pheonix Place, London.

In the photo towards the top of the page are a couple of GPO goodies that I didn’t take home. More’s the pity, it would seem, as they are very popular collectables. On certain parts of the foreshore you can’t move for insulators, mainly ceramic white ones, made by various companies, but mainly Wade, and Bullers Ltd. Sitting alongside transport network insulators, bask in the Obscure Objects of Transport Beauty.  – NB despite the GPO’s sprawling tentacles wrapping around Britain’s telegraph network when it was nationalised in 1870 , that did not include railway telegraph circuits, which continued to run in parallel with the publicly-owned telegraph network.

Good news! The Postal Museum opens this July, 2017, once again making a trip on the Mail Rail possible. Check it out, here: https://postalmuseum.org/. In addition to booking a ride on the historical Mail Rail, you can also browse the Postal Galleries to “delve into 500 years of groundbreaking postal history and discover how a humble service revolutionised our lives.” Or perhaps you’d like a photographic tour of a mechanised sorting office from the 1960s? Say no more, Matt Tantony is here to help.

It is at this point that I shall bid you farewell, reader, but not before turning your attention to some of the more curious societies and collector groups that I have so far found on my great G.P.O. journey…

The noble and true GPO Nostalgia Home Page | LINK

The very upright Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society | LINK

The glamorous domain of British Insulators (not all GPO) | LINK

Anti Button? Avert Thine Eyes!

image6There are many items that my long-suffering, non-larking partner finds it hard to get his head around. Some I can understand; my rookie mudlark days saw me bringing home half the foreshore, including any piece of bashed up glass shard, so long as it had an imprint on it.

Buttons however, especially livery, military and utility buttons, even he can appreciate the thirst for those.       “I suppose this connects you directly to the past, fusing you to someone you’ll never know, or meet, but you’re directly linked”, he said.

That’s exactly what the appeal is.

Not every button is easily identifiable, some military and utility buttons were simply impressed with a generic ‘Double Edge Ring’, ‘Suspender’, ‘Best Ring Edge’, or similar, however, since the latter half of the eighteenth century, makers began to brand their buttons with ‘back marks’.

Of course, once the buttons are up and out of the anaerobic mud of the Thames, the very stuff that preserves them, they are tossed around by time and tide, and can lose their visible marks. Despite this, with a little perseverance, and a lot of primary and secondary research, you can usually get your maker.

image4

Internet Good/Internet Bad, no matter. What the online world offers is means to immediate secondary research. In addition to net scouring, I read actual text from actual books with paper in, plus speak to local people in the area where I made the find. Pieces soon start to fall into place.

The button pictured left was found near Greenwich, and, with a little help from a keen local, we’ve attributed it to a staff member at the Royal Hospital.

Other interesting traceable buttons I’ve found, led me back to Bishopp & Harrington of 69 Eastcheap (shown in the photo at the top of this post), and Parfitt, Roberts & Parfitt, sword makers and military tailors of Jermyn St, more information about them, including them potentially harbouring a criminal, here.

My favourite button by far, and, so far, is from the clothier Edward Grove of Lambeth – it’s my favourite not because of the object itself, but the research it led me to. The branding was not easily legible, but I filled in the blanks and tapped in the information online. Not expecting to find too much, I was happily surprised when a wealth of information sprang forth, including beautiful printed posters stored at The British Library and Lambeth Council. Curiously, there is also a record from The Old Bailey about a court case concerning one of their employees. What is it with tailors and crime?

e-grove-1In 1884, “E. Grove merchant taylor, juvenile clothier, and complete outfitter” was advertising their newly rebuilt premises as “The Lambeth Establishment”, housed at numbers 37 to 41, Lower Marsh, near Waterloo station. Edward Grove catered “An entire new stock of all kinds of clothing for all classes. All prices reduced. Cheaper & better than ever.”

In April 1862, one Richard Paynter was up before the beak at the Old Bailey, accused of stealing a coat from his master, Edward Grove.  Read the full story here. Someone really had it in for Paynter, as he was immediately up again for the same charge, different master, different garment. That story here.

By 1895 E Grove had branched out to mechanics, painters, butchers and sailors clothing, with additional premises at 272 and 274 Edgware Road.

I hope I’ve gone some way to honouring the simple button in so much as piquing your interest, at least. If you find yourself out on the foreshore and pick up one of these beauties, I implore you to delve back into history and see what you can find.

Click through the gallery below for a selection of related images, including the original Old Bailey court proceedings. 

 

Jacks, Snobs, Knucklebones, Chuckstones…

snobs

❄️Mudlark’s Advent, Day 7❄️
Jacks, Snobs, Knucklebones, Chuckstones… what do you know it as?

Dating back to before the Greeks, the game of Chucks (I’m going with this name, as China clay dice, like this one I found on the foreshore, were used) has been as big a mainstay in the playground as hopscotch or catch.

It is “a traditional children’s game, played the world over, for which there is no formal organising body. Consequently, rules vary from country to country and place to place.
The game is also known by a variety of names including Jackstones, Chuckstones, Dibs, Dabs, Fivestones, Otadama, Tally and Knucklebones. All that is needed to play the game of Chucks is five small clay squares.”

” The simplest throw consists in tossing up one stone, the jack, and picking up one or more from the table while it is in the air. This continues until all five stones have been picked up. Another throw consists in tossing up first one stone, then two, then three and so on, and catching them on the back of the hand.”

Alternatives to the squares can be pretty much anything of a similar size – originally sheep knucklebones were used.”
Actually the ‘knucklebones’ used were astragalus, bones in a sheep ankle, or hock.

I knew the game as Jacks, but instead of clay dice, metal or plastic spikes connected to a central base were used. My grandmother kept a set in her old bureau. I never really got the hang of the game, but spent hours pinging them along her old chintz carpet, only to spend further hours trying to retrieve them from under the settee.

The game was relatively simple on the surface of it, chucking the squares up and catching them on the back of your hand, but variations of hand positions with names such as ‘riding the elephant’ and ‘sending the people to church’ made things a bit more tasty.

Other permutations including the use of a bouncy ball and clapping ones hands between catches. Not so simple after all!