Museum puts its stamp on the Post Office

Published May 15, 2018


THE Post Office remains a handsome city landmark occupying the entire north-west side of Church Square, and its tiny 44-year-old museum stands besides it housing historic artefacts.

A museum is defined as a permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public. It acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity.

And this is what the Church Square Post Office Museum has been trying to achieve since its establishment in 1974.

As the only postal museum in South Africa, it curates South Africa’s stamp collection and is dedicated to the preservation, study and presentation of postal history and philately using exhibitions, educational programmes and research to make this special history available to scholars, philatelists, collectors, PostOffice employees and visitors from around the world.

In it is found a collection of unique objects and philately which form the core of the museum's activities for exhibitions, public programmes and research.

Inside, the museum showcases an old mail stone where messages used to be written on as early as 1503, and British post boxes. The museum also showcases how in days past letters used to be transported with camels and trains.

“We have philately, art and object collections, we do not have a representative postal history collection, but are focusing on collecting objects from post offices and individuals all over South Africa and further afield to make the collections more representative,” said Post Office curator Talita Fourie.

Fourie said the role of the museum was very important because it not only fulfilled the legal requirements, but also showcased the Post Office to the world.

“It is responsible for the institutional memory.”

Known to many as the General Post Office and slightly younger than the Pretoria News, it was built in 1910, designed by William Hawke at a cost of £112000.

When it was designed, then-president of the Transvaal republic, Paul Kruger, said the elegance and charm was to be shown in the design of the building, to show that they were in power.

It is still as glamorous and stately as ever, the public hall with the financial counters shows how grand and important the mail service was in 1910, when the postal service was the only means to connect people. The brass trelliswork on the counters and copper cladding were fully restored in 2009 when it was 99 years old.

A total of R42million was invested on refurbishing the sandstone façade as well as fully restoring the buildings interior.

A memorial board lies in the administrative side of the building commemorating the Post Office workers who lost their lives in the Great War of 1914-18.

An interesting aspect was how in 1965 it was planned to demolish the building and replace it with two tower blocks. However, the building was spared when vehement public opposition in 1975 culminated in 10000 people signing a petition for the preservation of Church Square.

It was decided at the time to preserve the entire west façade of Church Square. Thus the Post Office was renovated.

Worker Johan Kruger said the portion currently occupied by the Post Office included the Nationale Bank der Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (1890) and the old Mint Building (1903).

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