My attention was recently drawn to a news item about Post Offices. It is proposed from the year 2003 to pay benefits and pensions into bank accounts rather than in cash at the Post Office. Fears were expressed, quite rightly, that this could lead to the closure of some rural and urban Post Offices, even though it will still be possible to opt for cash, paid at a Post Office. Post Offices have for years provided as essential and nvenient service to the community and it is to be hoped it will continue. I felt it may be of interest to look at some of the history of postal services.
The payment of pensions, now a large part pf Post Office business started in 1908 with the payment of Old Age Pensions and in 1915 by the payment of military pensions. These have been followed by the many pensions and allowances of our modern welfare state.
There was no postal system in the Middle Ages. Royal houses, municipalities, religious orders and universities had corps of messengers. During the 14th & 16th centuries a growth of trade led to the development in Europe of the efficient and profitable of the Thurn & Taxis families. This famous family controlled most European postal services for six centuries until 1867. The creation of nations and states led to the monopolies of national services. In England development was gradual and haphazard. To send a letter in the 15th century, a trusted person had to be found to carry and deliver it. Someone going in the right direction, a carrier, a traveller, soldier or ones own servant. The first attempt to establish a postal system for ordinary people was in 1635. A foot postman carried letters between towns and cities but longer journeys were on horseback. In 1657 the G.P.O. was established and after the Restoration reconfirmed by the Post Office Charter of 1660. It was the Post Master General, Henry Bishop who introduced date stamps in 1661. Private enterprise in the postal service was forbidden but in 1680 William Dockwra and Robert Murray organised the London Penny Post which operated hourly delivery and collections in the city.
The government took over this system and operated it less efficiently until the end of the 18th century. An Act of 1711 allowed the G.P.O. to establish offices in our overseas possessions. A most important development in 1784 was the use of the first mail passenger coach from Bristol to London. In 1754 a Bath theatre manager, John Palmer, had set up a private mail coach service and when roads improved the G.P.O. took it over. Services quickly improved and by 1820 there was a post office in almost every city, town and village in the U.K. Letters could be sent for just one penny within prescribed distances. Postal reformers, Sir Rowland Hill and Henry Cole, were responsible for the introduction of adhesive stamps; the famous penny black and two-penny blue in 1840 and for the uniform penny for one half ounce postage rate. This stimulated the sending of greeting cards. Nowadays there are cards for every date and occasion in life from the cradle to the grave. Our stamps have never had anything only the Monarchs head to identify them with the U.K., but I believe they may soon have a reference to the European Union. Many other services were provided by the G.P.O. in the 19th century. The Savings Bank was established in 1861, ½d postcards in 1870, Postal Orders in 1870 and the Parcel Post in 1882. Existing telegraphs were taken over in 1870 and the right to transmit all telegrams. Later, in 1911, all telephone systems came under G.P.O. control as later did wireless telegraphy and telephony. Some of these monopolies have been lost; B.T. is now a private company with competition from other telephone companies. National Savings and Girobank business is dealt with along with the issue of T.V. licences and some offices issue motor vehicle licences. They no longer have to deal with dog licences and telegrams, both consigned to history.
In Bolton there was a Post Office for about forty years, 1817 – 1857 at the corner of Wood Street and Bradshawgate. Miss Elizabeth Campbell 1805 – 1847 was the postmistress until her death in 1847. It is thought the earliest post office was at the Bird i’th Hand public house at 19 Bank Street, subsequently in 1879 at James Rushton’s Chemist, Deansgate. Over the years the Head Post office has moved around, between 1857 and 1868 it was on the Market Square, now Victoria Square, from 1868 to 1916 it was at the Silverwell Street and Bradshawgate corner, 1916 to 1969 on Deansgate, 1969 to 1983 in Paderborn House, Victoria Square and then it moved back to Deansgate where it still remains. There are about 90 sub-post offices now in the Bolton Metro area, many established in the 19th century. Halliwell Road sub post office, 446 Halliwell Road has been with us since 1851. In 1877 the subpostmaster was Samuel Thornley, a hairdresser and umbrella maker and in 1899 there was a subpostmistress, Mrs Mary Thornley. Postmistresses often featured in the Agatha Christie Miss Marple stories and could usually be relied upon to provide some useful clues to the murder. Business sidelines attached to the sub-post offices have varied over the years but at one time confectioners and chemists predominated. The Knott Bros. had chemist shops, H. Knott at Seymour Road/Blackburn Road and Percy Knott at Kay Street/ Blackburn Road. Pre WWII there was a sub-post office at 183 Halliwell Road at the corner of Stewart Street, this was also a chemist, I think it closed during WWII. The Knott Bros were prominent members of the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters established in 1897 and between 1916 and 1940 the Federation Headquarters were at Bromley Cross sub post office and John Fielding; the subpostmaster at Bromley Cross was the National President in 1912/1913. In 1916 the Federation Annual Conference was held at the Miners Hall Bolton. Richard Greenhalgh with Messrs Fielding and The Knott Bros were responsible for the Conference management. Visits to the Bungalow at Rivington and meals and concerts at The Pack Horse were arranged.
Percy Knott, a professional photographer took a group photograph in the Bungalow grounds. A number of Bolton members were good artistes and contributed to the harmony of the gathering with songs, recitals and humorous stories.
One hundred years after its formation the Conference was held in March 1997 and Mr. R. Ratcliffe of Croydon, a past president and honorary member of the Federation came to Bolton to carry out some research. It is interesting to note that his family came from Eagley and he was born in Chalfont Street. For a time the family lived at 368 Halliwell Road, next door to the Robin Hood Inn. He left in 1939 to join the Royal Navy. His uncle and aunt had a sweet shop next to Ball’s chip shop opposite Eskrick Street. Returning to Halliwell Road Post Office, it was run in 1932 by Mr Henry Fyles and his wife and they also sold confectionary. Many well remember Leslie Farrimond and his wife, Connie who followed the Fyles. I think about 1946 after their service in the forces, they were responsible for enlarging the Post Office to its present size by taking over John Crooks newsagent’s next door. A post office that didn’t survive WWII was in Eskrick Street next to The City Pub. That at Church Road still carries on, as do those on Chorley Old Road. It is surprising in these days of sexual equality that its Federation is still Postmasters, no mention of ‘Mistresses’, maybe that may be considered indelicate.
Let us hope subpostmasters, their offices and Federation will continue with their good work.
My thanks to David Mason, our treasurer and our own subpostmaster for the information about the Federation.