Entertainment & Sport

Social and Sporting Events Galore

The club 'Sunday Walk & Lunch' events provide a source of income from within the club with which we can support a local charity.  

Theatre, concert and other visits are arranged several times a year and are always very enjoyable.

Sporting activities are enjoyed by club members, particularly on the 'greens' of Golf & Bowls plus engagement in the various sporting activities with other Clubs in the District.  

Trip on a Thames sailing barge

Looking over the bow of a sailing barge towards houses on a quaysideOn the afternoon of Friday, 28 September 2018, twenty-five members and spouses met on the quayside at Maldon for a trip on a Thames sailing barge run by Topsail Charters. The days when the barges were used for ferrying goods are long gone but it is still quite usual to see some moored at Maldon or sailing on the Blackwater Estuary. Topsail’s byline is “Helping the past sail into the future.” To get to our boat we had to clamber across a couple of others.

On board we had a delicious afternoon tea comprising cake and “giant” scones with clotted cream and jam. The views from the barge were excellent. We sailed to Osea Island and back. We passed other sailing barges who were making good use of the weather. The sun shone for most of the time, but when it went behind the clouds we could feel a stiff breeze. The water was fairly calm, so no one felt queasy (or if they did they didn’t say anything about it).

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Our special thanks to Graham Furnival, who took over from Alan Scott to run the event when Alan fell ill after making all the initial arrangements. Our thanks to Alan, too.

Exploring postal history

Friday, 22 June 2018, saw eleven of us, members of our Rotary Club plus spouses, gather at our local railway station for a trip to London and a visit to the Postal Museum and MailRail.

Postal Museum

We were shown round the museum by a gentleman called Warwick, starting off in the section dedicated to the early history of the UK’s postal service. This was started by England’s Henry VIII, who appointed a “Master of the Posts” who was responsible for maintaining posts throughout the country where those carrying Royal mail could change horses. (This was literally the Royal mail as the only letters carried were those for the Royal household.)

Charles I extended the service to carry letters for those who could afford it, which basically meant the upper classes. This enabled him to keep an eye on what his subjects were saying to each other. The practice of allowing individuals to send mail via the state postal service continued during the Commonwealth and thereafter.

Unfortunately highwaymen started robbing the Royal Mail, which was relatively easy as the “post boys” were generally young boys riding unaccompanied on horses, each with a spare horse. The horses must have been worth stealing even if the mail wasn’t!

Towards the end of the eighteenth century a businessman offered to carry the Royal Mail in his own “Mail Coaches”. These also carried fare-paying passengers. Indeed, normally the only Royal Mail employee would be the guard who rode at the back protecting the mailbox on which he sat. The museum has a replica of one of the coaches, which looks resplendent in its Royal Mail livery. These Mail Coaches can be seen on many of today’s Christmas cards, pictured going through the snow. In fact they did not last very long as they were soon overtaken by the railways.

A small group of people in a cafeSir Rowland Hill came up with the idea of the postage stamp in 1837. It was originally proposed that the cost of posting a letter should be 4d. Sir Rowland argued that it should be 1d, claiming that cheap postage would encourage people to write more letters, which would lead to increased literacy rates, which would lead to more letters being posted. He was to be proved right.

The first postage stamp was, of course, the famous “Penny Black”. This is not a rare stamp; many were produced. However, there are only seven known sheets of Penny Blacks in existence and they are all held by the Museum.

The Penny Black was soon replaced by the Penny Red. This was because the red ink used to cancel the stamps was not very stable and could be washed off, allowing the unscrupulous to use the stamps again. The Penny Red could be cancelled using black ink, which was much more endurable.

Warwick told us that, whereas the monarch’s portrait on our coins is updated from time to time, the one on the stamps never changes. The museum holds the original plaster image from which the Queen’s head on her “definitive” postage stamps was prepared. The image on the commemorative stamps shows her head in silhouette, which likewise has never been changed since it was first used.

The museum also houses some examples of the first British postboxes. These were painted green to blend in with the environment. They blended in too well and, after complaints from the public that they could not easily spot them, the colour was changed to the now-familiar red. Surprisingly there is no standard “Post Office Red”; shades can vary.

Other exhibits include a display on the part played by the Post Office and its employees in the two World Wars and one of the last Post Buses.

MailRail

After visiting the Postal Museum we crossed the road to MailRail. This is the underground railway system built to carry mail between London sorting offices to avoid the congestion on the roads. We were again met by Warwick, who told us that the system began in the 1920s after delays caused by World War I. The Post Office’s underground railway system covered six miles, although there were actually 22 miles of track because of siding, double lines and the like.

The original plan was to send the mail in wagons through a pneumatic tube. This did not work because of the difficulty of maintaining a seal and it was replaced by a railway running on 2' wide track. The first rolling stock was slightly too long for the curves and had to be withdrawn after a couple of years because of wear on the wheels.

Over the course of time sorting offices were moved or closed down. It was too difficult to reroute the underground railway so it closed in 2003. The part around the Mount Pleasant sorting office was opened as a tourist attraction in November 2017, using specially built passenger stock.

A couple in a very small railway carriageWe all duly had a ride on the train. This lasts about fifteen minutes, looping back to end where it began under Mount Pleasant. (The driver has to change ends each time.) A public address system inside the carriages plays recorded messages pointing out items of interest along the way. When it reaches a couple of the old Post Office stations it stops for an audio-visual display, with the pictures played on the station walls.

It is a very interesting experience which we can recommend. Unfortunately the train is much too cramped for those who are disabled (or those who suffer from claustrophobia) but there is a static display showing a video of the journey.

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