Kathleen McIlvenna

Photo of Kathleen McIlvenna

‘Over 60 and Worn Out’: Retirement at the Post Office and Other Occupational Pensions in the Nineteenth Century

Dr Adrian Steel (BPMA)

My research interests are principally focused in the Victorian era, and stretch across, social history, communications history and labour history. I also have an active interest in public history practiced, in-part, through roles in museums, local history societies and my blog. I am always interested to hear more about other projects.

In 2011 I completed a MA in Historical Research at the Institute of Historical Research that culminated in a dissertation which brought some of my interests together by looking at the material culture associated with submarine telegraph cables. This interest in communications history was indulged through an internship at the National Maritime Museum, whose collection I principally focused on, and through exploration of other museum collections including the Science Museum, Porthcurno Telegraph Museum and the Freemason’s Museum and Library.

In 2012 I started a part time PhD with the IHR and the British Postal Museum and Archive. I am interested in the retirement provisions provided for Post Office workers in the nineteenth century and how this practice changed and developed. Linked to this I am interested in other nineteenth century occupational pensions, concepts of old age and retirement. As part of my research I am building a database of retired postal workers in the nineteenth century and hope this will illuminate this understudied area.

Alongside my PhD, in 2012 I started a two year contract with the Royal Armouries as Curatorial Assistant and am currently engaged with research for the next exhibition at the Tower of London, ‘The Line of Kings’.

Research and publications


  • ‘The Axe and the Head’, Royal Armouries Blog (23 Nov 2012) http://blog.royalarmouries.org/2012/the-axe-and-the-head/
  • Celebrating the Submarine Telegraph Cable in 1858’, NMM Collections blog, (27 Sept 2011)
  • ‘Providing Public History: The Launch of the Centre for the Historical Record’, History Workshop Journal vol. 72 (Autumn 2011)
  • ‘Time Well Spent’, Past and Future, Issue 9 (Spring/Summer 2011) http://goo.gl/PWOFr
  • ‘Cinefile: Electric Cinema Centenary’, Londonist.com (23 Feb 2011) http://goo.gl/g1nUw
  • Exhibition Reviews, London Student, (Oct 2010– Jan 2011)
  • ‘The History Student: Kathleen’s Cultural and History Blog’ (Nov 2010 – present) kathleenmcil.wordpress.com
  •  ‘Batteries Not Included’ & ‘The Year of the Rabbit’, Stories from the Stores, Science Museum Collections blog, (Oct 2010) http://bit.ly/dz7CdC; http://bit.ly/aNEwqa
  • Exhibition reviews, Culture24.org.uk (May 2010 – Oct 2011)


  • United in history: A personal experience of collaborative research in museums and academia -Part of panel "Research in Science Museums: The State of the Art", within the session "Museum-University Collaborations - an Idea Marriage?" at the International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine, July 2013.
  • From Experiment to Relic: The Transitional Identity of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable and he Creation of Cable Communities through Submarine Cable Collections NMM Research Seminar