The magazine of the photo-essay
August 2020 back issue
The Last TravellingPost Offices
“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine. Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film maker
The first mail to be sorted on a moving train, was in 1838 in a converted horse box, subsequently special Travelling Post Office (TPO) carriages were built for the purpose. In 1963, when the mail train was robbed in the Great Train Robbery, there were 49 regular services, covering the whole of England, from Carlisle to Penzance. In 2003 Royal Mail announced that the service was to be ended at the beginning of 2004, after 166 years and I decided to shoot a feature on the the service, on one of the last trains. I joined the North West Down TPO train at the Royal Mail depot in Wood Green, London, where we departed sharp at midnight and headed for Carlisle, 300 miles and 4 hours away, with just 2 pick up/drop off stops at Rugby and Warrington. A dedicated group of men sorted the mail, during the night, in the narrow confines of the TPO carriage, as the train sped north on the otherwise quiet tracks. At the 2 stops in Rugby an Warrington, the clock ticked as the unsorted mail was loaded and the sorted mail unloaded and a dedicated train manager kept things moving at a fast pace, with men running to jump back on an already rolling train (including me!). The all male staff worked hard but when their work was completed, in-between stops, they lay on the benches, sleeping, snacking, reading and listening to Walkmans. With accommodation at both ends of the line, there were stories of men with 2 families, living a secret life, although nobody would admit to it. Four hours standing on a rocking train, travelling at high speed, in a very hot, crowded environment was very testing for me but these men did it night after night, so the mail would arrive in people’s letterboxes in the morning.
by Christopher Jones
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