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Post Office in tiny Welsh village of BETHLEHEM besieged by customers wanting a Christmas postmarkThousands flock to village with the famous name of BethlehemThe coveted handstamp attracts visitors from across the world, including America and AustraliaAround 30,000 letters to pass through the post office this year
17:25 GMT, 16 December 2012
A Post Office in the tiny Welsh village of BETHLEHEM has been swamped with customers who want to have their Christmas cards stamped with its unique postmark.
Thousands of visitors from all over the world will be flocking to the village for their Christmas mail to be stamped with the festive name.
Postmaster Mike Williams said: 'This is a very busy time for our Bethlehem branch.
Swamped: Bethlehem Post Office in a tiny village in Carmathanshire West Wales has been inundated with visitors who want their Christmas cards sent with its unique stamp
Left, the coveted Bethlehem stamp with the angel and the harp, and right, post office worker Pauline Bewley, who is coping with thousands of tourist customers
'People come from all over the UK and abroad to hand deliver their cards to make sure they get the Bethlehem handstamp.
'We have had visitors from as far as America, Australia and even from the more famous Bethlehem.'
The unique stamp shows an angel and a harp, with greetings in English and Welsh.
And crucially it carries the name of the Biblical city in Palestine fabled as the birthplace of Jesus.
The post office in the quiet Carmarthenshire village is more than 2,500 miles from the 'Little Town of Bethlehem' featured in the popular Christmas carol.
But that hasn't stopped customers rushing there – and mail chiefs expect around 30,000 letters to pass through the post office this year.
Royal Mail Director Tony Fox, said: 'Thousands of our customers take advantage of this unique handstamp helping bring festive cheer to those who receive it at Christmas.'
Visitors: Rachel and Tom Stewart with baby Freya were among the thousands to
visit Bethlehem Post Office so they could send their festive cards with a
Tourist destination: Thousands of people flock to Bethlehem every year because of its famous name
UNSEEN DIARY EXTRACTS CHARTING A ROYAL VISIT TO BETHLEHEM 150 YEARS AGO REVEALED
Traveller: The Prince of Wales in 1862
Photographs and previously unseen diary extracts charting a royal visit to Bethlehem 150 years ago are to go on display.
Queen Victoria's eldest son King Edward VII travelled on an educational trip to the Middle East in 1862 when he was the Prince of Wales.
He was joined by Francis Bedford – the first photographer to accompany a royal tour.
Bedford's images of the trip captured a view of Bethlehem from the roof of the Church of the Nativity, said to be built on the spot where Jesus was born.
He also took a picture of the Shepherds' Field showing the area where the Angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to the shepherds.
The photographs, which belong to the Royal Collection, will form part of a new exhibition – Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East – at The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, from March 8, 2013.
Curator Sophie Gordon said the purpose of taking the photograph from the Church of the Nativity was to show the Victorian audience that Bethlehem really existed and to add weight to the Christian tradition.
'Bethlehem wasn't directly on the Prince's route – and so his party made a particular point of going there,' she said.
Dr Gordon added: 'Very little was known about this part of the world at the time, and what information they did have was largely based on knowledge of the Bible.'
In the early 1860s, photography was still in its infancy and had only been introduced to the public in 1839.
'Bedford's camera would have been quite large to accommodate a 10 x 12in glass plate negative,' Dr Gordon added.
'He must have had porters to carry all his equipment, as the entire photographic process had to be done on the spot.
Exhibition: The Shepherds' Field, Bethlehem, taken on a royal visit
to Bethlehem in 1862
'Just before he took the photograph, Bedford would have coated and sensitised the plate, because the plate had to go in the camera when it was still wet.
'He would have then developed and fixed the image, while excluding all light, and washed the plate.
'To carry out this process, Bedford would have constructed a temporary dark room, perhaps on the church roof.'
The then Prince of Wales described the party's visit to Bethlehem in his diary entry for April 3, 1862, describing how 'our tents were struck at 8.30am and we started at that time (on horseback of course) for Bethlehem, which we reached in about a couple of hours time, stopping on the way at Rachel's tomb, and it was ascertained for certain that the tomb is on the site of the real one'.
Unseen: Royal photographer Francis Bedford took this picture of Bethlehem 150 years ago while on a visit with the Prince of Wales
He recalls how they had 'some splendid refreshment' and how they saw a 'fine view' on the top of the church.
On April 18, 1862, when the party encountered poor weather ahead of a ride to Nazareth, he wrote: 'Early in the morning it blew a regular hurricane and poured with rain and all our tents were in gt. jeopardy.'
The heir to the throne's four-month trip to the Middle East was designed to increase his understanding of the area at a time when the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating and Britain needed to secure the route to India.
Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East will go on show at the Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, from March 8 to July 21, and at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, from October 2014 to February 2015.