Always popular with stamp collectors and the general public, trains and railways are one of the most covered topics on British commemorative stamps. The twentieth such issue – Great British railways – appeared in August 2010 with the help of York transport historian Professor Colin Divall.
Issued in August 2010, the set of six stamps celebrate the ‘Big Four’ railway companies, featuring classic British locomotives. The ‘Big Four’ – London, Midland & Scottish (including the Northern Counties Committee in Northern Ireland), the London & North Eastern, the Great Western and the Southern Railways – ran Britain’s railways from 1923 until 1948 when they merged to form British Railways. They also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the last steam locomotive to be made by British Railways, Evening Star, which brought to an end over 130 years of steam-locomotive building for Britain’s mainline railways.
When deciding on the topics for ‘Special Stamps’ in 2010, it seemed fitting to celebrate the passing of the steam age. For more than 50 years, alongside the everyday ‘Queen’s head’ stamp, Royal Mail has issued pictorial ‘Special Stamps’ to mark aspects of British heritage and contemporary life. They are printed in the hundreds of millions, and competition for topics is fierce. Once Royal Mail chose the topic Great British Railways, briefs were produced and the design process began. This can take up to three years and ends when Her Majesty the Queen approves the design.
Keen to check every fact and ensure a fitting approach to the topic, the Royal Mail team behind the stamps worked closely with York’s Colin Divall, director of York’s Institute of Railway Studies and Transport History. According to Philip Parker, Head of Stamp Strategy at Royal Mail, Colin’s role was “fundamental to the stamps’ success, helping the Royal Mail to avoid political pitfalls and historical baggage. But most importantly, Colin helped the company to get the details right. “As a postage stamp is such a visual entity, and those who are interested in stamps love to go into great detail, any errors, or perception of errors, generate a large postbag.”
Please consult the website of the Institute of Railway Studies for more information about their activities.