Ten years ago today the Royal Mail’s Travelling Post Offices (TPO) undertook their final journey. The TPOs were used for sorting and delivering mail for over 160 years, running routes the length and breadth of the country from Newcastle to Penzance and Swansea to London.
When they were introduced in 1838 the Travelling Post Offices were a pioneering way of transporting mail. Before the invention and widespread use of automobiles and aircraft the TPOs offered an efficient way to transport mail across the country.
Over their long history they also encountered a variety of disasters. Among the worst of these was in 1879 when the TayBridge collapsed as a Travelling Post Office was crossing. Everyone on board was killed but there was an attempt to rescue the mail from the bottom of the River Tay.
The most famous disaster that befell a TPO was undoubtedly the Great Train Robbery. On 8th August 1963 a gang of 15 people held up a TPO which was travelling from Glasgow to London. After attacking members of the train staff the robbers got away with over £2.6 million, which would be about £45 million today. In partnership with the Grampian Transport Museum, Aberdeen the BPMA are running a detailed exhibition about the Great Train Robbery between 29th March and 27th October 2014. The Great Train Robbery, the aftermath and the Investigations: A Story from the Archive can also be viewed online through the Google Cultural Institute
By the beginning of the 21st Century the TPO service was starting to become less effective. After the implementation of speed limits on some stretches of track, delays from track maintenance and the cancelation of a number of routes, the Royal Mail reconsidered its dependence on the railway and took the decision to transfer much of its transportation to air and road. Concerns over the health and safety of those working on the TPOs also contributed to this decision. Conditions were cramped and basic, with only an urn and small food warmer by the way of kitchen facilities, and workers were continually being thrown into walls and counters. On 9 January 2004, the TPOs ran for the last time.
The story of the Great Train Robbery and social history of the Travelling Post Offices will be made accessible to the public as part of the BPMA’s major fundraising campaign to deliver a new, sustainable, national postal museum.
To find out more about the Travelling Post Offices visit the BPMA’s website.
To see first hand what it was like working on a Travelling Post Office the National Railway Museum has recently opened up access for members of the public to explore our TPO and watch the classic film Nightmail.