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National Life Stories: An Oral History of the Post Office

An Oral History of the Post Office records the life stories of a wide range of Post Office staff in the UK and documents the enormous changes which have taken place in the stamp and postal services sector within living memory. The collection includes interviews with postmen and postwomen on their rounds, union officials, engineers and senior management, and covers topics such as postal sorting and transportation as well as stamp design and the lesser-known aspects of the industry such as the Lost Letter Centre.

A wide cross-section of interviewees took part in the project, from the postman who delivered in the same Home Counties town for over forty years, to the youngster who joined the business in 1933 as a Probationary Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist and left it in 1980 a Managing Director. Interviewees' ages range from 25 to 94, and the experiences recollected include delivering telegrams in Billingsgate Market in the 1930s, going 'out on the cobbles' during the national postal strike of 1971, and negotiating with the postal regulator in 2003. The collection covers diverse areas such as sorting office design, remote rural deliveries and relations with the government, as well as one-off postal events such as the prompt delivery of the latest Harry Potter instalment to households up and down the country.

Also included are individuals known beyond the world of the Post Office, such as:

  • the artist David Gentleman (who has been designing stamps since the 1960s)
  • Tony Benn (Postmaster General in the same decade)
  • Gwyneth Dunwoody MP (member of the Stamp Advisory Committee in the 1990s). 

In addition to the life story interviews, a series of sound recordings was made which add another dimension to the project; included here are the recordings made on a Travelling Post Office and in a stamp printing factory.

A CD featuring extracts from the collection, Speeding the Mail: an oral history of the post from the 1930s to the 1990s, was published by The British Library and Royal Mail in 2003. For more information please contact the curatorial team at nls@bl.uk or the British Postal Museum and Archive.

Partners and sponsors

  • British Postal Museum and Archive (BPMA)
  • Royal Mail Group

Accessing the collection

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)
E oralhistory@bl.uk