I love receiving letters. In a world of instant communication there is something dramatically gratifying about being able to attach a stamped picture of the queens head to a piece of paper and it seemingly magically still makes its way to the desired destination. I had never heard of the Bath Postal Museum, but I thought ‘well why not’ and popped in; what a gem.
I was greeted by a friendly volunteer, in fact the museum is kept alive by such individuals. She was very informative and had working the “new-fangled” card machine (she informed me they had only recently got it) down to a fine art. She pointed us in the best direction to start and popped out to make sure we had worked out how to use the newer digital interactives.
If you like letters and stamps it’s the place to be. It made ‘Going Postal’ by Terry Pratchett come a little bit more to life. With hindsight this makes complete sense; I learnt from the website after the visit that he was one of the museums patrons and used this museum as a research base for the book. They really would benefit from making a bigger song and dance about this, I’m sure they would have Pratchett lovers knocking down the door to engage with this pocket of inspiration.
Bath was incredibly important in terms of the development of the postal system. It saw the first recorded posting of a Penny Black stamp; the world’s first adhesive postal stamp for use by the public, on 2 May 1840, four days before the official launch. In the collection there is a letter from the first 100 mile airmail flight from Bath to London in May 1912. There were also examples of letters recovered from plane crashes, a stamp envelope designed by Lewis Carroll, in an attempt to make letter writing ‘cool’ to the younger generations. Handwritten letters are much more personal than anything sent digitally and if I’m being dramatically romantic about it, this small museum captures this.
There was a wall dedicated to stories about Victoria Valentine’s Day cards. Victorians were inspirational letter writers, after all, for many it was the main form of distance communication; imagine life without social media! And they loved a good romantic letter. There were novelty cheques from the ‘Bank of True Love’, which seems super cliché now but will have been quite original at the time. I found the story of a ‘reverse valentine’s letter’ quite amusing; in a time where the receiver paid on delivery, you could send a fake valentines which the person you disliked would then have to pay to receive.