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A history of mail, and of writing itself

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The Bath Postal Museum was founded in 1979 by Harold and Audrey Swindells. At first it was a pretty low-key affair. They were working to a strict budget, so they opened it in the basement of their house! Nevertheless, the new museum was favourably reviewed by the press, and it received plenty of visitors. In just a few years, the Swindells were on the look-out for a larger site.
Just at that time, a building became available on Broad Street. It must have seemed like fate, because these premises once housed Bath's main post office. Back in 1840, this was the place where the world's first ever postage stamp was officially used. It was called a penny black, thanks to its cost and colour. Nowadays, these tiny sheets of sticky paper are valuable artefacts. A penny black in mint condition would sell for hundreds or even thousands of pounds!
Rent for the Broad Street property was expensive, but the local council generously offered a reduced rate. The museum moved in during the winter of 1985 and, from then, the exhibits grew wonderfully in size and scope. Unfortunately, in 2006, Bath Council became unable to continue offering such cheap rent. The museum was forced to relocate into a new site in the basement of the Northgate Street Post Office. Nevertheless, you can still find out about those penny blacks, and the history of mail.
In fact, the museum even goes as far as to look at the origins of writing itself. They have an example of ancient Egyptian papyrus, which has an estimated age of over 3000 years. You can also see writings made in clay tablets, from other parts of the world that hadn't started using paper yet.
Despite these early beginnings, the postal system only really took off in relatively recent years. You'll find out about the swift growth of the mail network, from the Victorian delivery coaches, to the first-ever airmail flight in 1912. Elsewhere, a series of models show the development of the iconic red postboxes that have become such a familiar sight throughout Britain.
Other exhibits include videos, quizzes and the opportunity to perforate a sheet of stamps. There's also a shop, where you can buy all sorts of paraphernalia. Even if you're not a collector, a look in here will remind you of the important part Bath played in the history of the post.
Visitor Information
Bath Postal Museum is open Monday to Saturday, 11am to 5pm. Entry costs around £3.50 for adults, £1.50 child. Tel: 01225 460333

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