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Travelling Post Offices TPO Online Exhibition

The exhibition details the history of British postal sorting carriages coupled with some insight in to the lives of the staff who worked on them. The TPO exhibition follows the entire lifespan of Britain's travelling post offices from their initial introduction in 1838 - before postage stamps were issued - to their last runnings in 2004.

The first running of what is now considered a TPO took place early in 1838. It followed the Grand Junction Railway from England's second city, Birmingham, to the major port of Liverpool. Known at the time as the 'Railway Sorting Carriage' it was in fact a converted horse box adapted in order to enable mail sortation on board. The first trials were organised by George Karstadt and his son is believed to have worked as one of the first ever mobile sorters on board a TPO.

The     Great Western TPO postmark on last day of use 8th January 2004
Last run postmark for the Great Western TPO

Early TPO routes used the traditional names for established railway routes in use before the consolidation of Railway companies in the twenties. For example the Great Western TPO service ran between London's Paddington Station to Plymouth in the southwest, the Bristol to Newcastle route was known as the Midland TPO and the route from London's Kings Cross Station to Newcastle was the North Eastern TPO.

Each TPO route (usually visible in the postmarks applied) was designated as being either the "up" or "down" service according to the direction of travel. The "up" services generally were those going toward London.

Collecting Tip: If you ever find a cover carried on the Glasgow to London (up) TPO service dated 8th August 1963 then you have a unique piece of history as that was the train involved in what became known as the Great Train Robbery where over £2 Million was stolen by Ronnie Biggs and his accomplices .

The decline of the TPO services mirrors the growth in the road transport network throughout the latter twentieth century and reliable road haulage vehicles. The use of air servces only speeded the decline. Eventually the decision was made to axe of all of the remaining TPO services and the final ever runnings took place on the night of 8th and 9th January 2004.

TPO postmarks and covers have now become a very popular specialisation among British postal history and postmark collectors. View the current online auctions for TPO covers and postmarks.

The North East TPO Down postmark on last use 8th January 2004
Last run postmark for the North East TPO Down Service Jan 8th 2004

Visit the British Postal Museum and Archive's online TPO Exhibition.

Images in this article are taken from my personal collection and copyright

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Travelling Post Offices TPO Online Exhibition

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Royal Mail Copyright & Intellectual Property: has been granted permission by Royal Mail to display images of their stamp designs and postmarks on this website. We cannot offer similar permission to other websites and therefore refer all such enquiries to the Royal Mail Intellectual Property Department.