OLD DEVONPORT . UK
www.olddevonport.uk
 

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: April 30, 2020
Webpage updated: May 08, 2020

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POSTAL SERVICE IN OLD DEVONPORT

GENERAL POST OFFICE, DEVONPORT

The General Post Office, Devonport, on the corner of Chapel Street, left,
and Fore Street, where the tram is stopped.
From a postcard.

Plymouth-Dock's earliest recorded General Post Office, in 1793, was situated in George Street according to Mr R N Worth.  It later moved to Saint Aubyn Street, where in 1841 Mr J W Coffin was the Post Master.   The "Tourist's Companion" for 1823 stated that: 'The arrival and departure of the mails are the same here, as stated in the table for Plymouth, within half an hour; the office is shut at half-past seven in the evening; persons paying two-pence for all letters after that time, until eight, when the mail starts for London'.  The Royal Mail coach left the King's Arms in Fore Street, Plymouth-Dock, for London at 8.15pm and the General Post Office in Lower Broad Street, Plymouth, at 8.40pm.

When the Borough of Plymouth got itself a brand new purpose-built General Post office in Whimple Street it was only natural that the folks in the Borough of Devonport should want one, too.  The site chosen was on the corner of Fore Street with Chapel StreetMr George Wightwick (1802-1872) designed a structure with a semi-circular portico, in the style of Corinthian architecture, which formed a complete circle within the building.  Mr Trant, of Chapel Street, was the contractor, and Messrs Vosper executed all the enriched cement work.  The sculptures were made under the supervision of Mr Matthews.  Exclusive of the cost of the ground, the architect's commission and Post Office fittings, the building cost 1,650.  The total cost was reported as being 2,000.  It was financed by a company of shareholders.  Accommodation for the Post Master, Mr J W Coffin, occupied the whole of the top two floors.

Its most striking feature was the rotunda, some 16 feet in diameter internally, and 15 feet high.  Two pilasters and four Corinthian columns of Caen stone formed the outer semicircle with a further four pilasters decorating the inner face.

Just inside the main entrance were four doorways, two on each side of a clock mounted on an ornate pedestal.  The doors led into the Post Office, which was arranged in a right-angle shape.  It was claimed that the whole length of the room, if straight, was 56 feet by 11 feet wide.  On the pedestal beneath the clock was an inscription which reputedly read:

THIS POST OFFICE
TO EMBELLISH THE TOWN
AND TO ADVANCE THE PROGRESS OF ART,
IS DEDICATED TO THE USE,
AND FREELY ENTRUSTED TO THE CARE
OF THE INHABITANTS,
IN THE FULL BELIEF
THAT ALL WILL RESPECT THE MOTIVES OF
THE FOUNDERS,
AND ABSTAIN FROM ANY ACT
WHICH MAY DISFIGURE
THE BUILDING,
OR BE REPUGNANT TO PROPRIETY:
SO THAT THIS TABLET
MAY LONG CONTINUE TO PROVE,
THAT UNRESERVED CONFIDENCE IN
THE PEOPLE,
WILL NEVER BE ABUSED.

Above the main door were recessed panels.  The lower one contained a sculpture representing the Caduceus of Mercury, 'as a symbol of that commercial intercourse and postal dispatch which it is the chief purpose of a Post Office to promote'.  The higher recess contained a representation of the coat of arms of England.

The new Devonport General Post Office was opened to the public on the morning of Thursday September 27th 1849.

The arrival and despatch routine in 1852 would have looked like this:

6.20am mail from Launceston and Tavistock arrived;

6.29am mail from London, Scotland, Ireland, north of England, Wales, Bristol and Exeter arrived;

6.39am mail despatched to Cornwall, excluding Launceston;

10.50am mail from Cornwall, excluding Launceston, arrived;

11.24am mail despatched to Exeter, Bristol, Wales, the north of England, Ireland and Scotland;

1.29pm a second delivery of mail from Scotland, Ireland, north of England, Wales, Bristol and Exeter arrived;

2pm second delivery despatched to Cornwall, excluding Launceston;

5.20pm a second delivery of mail from Cornwall, excluding Launceston, arrived;

5.49pm mail despatched to Exeter, Bristol, London, north of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland;

Finally at 6pm mail despatched to Tavistock and Launceston.

The post box closed at a half-an-hour before each despatch but letters with an additional stamp could be placed in the "too-late box".

Mr James Waller Coffin, who had been the Post Master since at least 1823, died in office on January 20th 1857 and was succeeded by his son, Mr Thomas Walker Coffin.

On Wednesday June 1st 1859 the Plymouth Mail announced that an improvement for the reception of letters had been adopted at Devonport Post Office.  'A long brass plate, with four compartments, has been inserted in the front of the building; each depository has an engraved label, so that letters, newspapers, and letters "too late" or with "extra stamp", have each a separate receptical.  At night, on the office being closed, each of these apertures will be secured by a brass slide, working in grooves, and with screw attached to fix it when lowered; so that nothing can be dropped into the box.  For the reception of "night letters" (posted after 9pm); and also to guard against incendiary acts such as that which was recently perpetrated; the Post Office authorities have on the suggestion of Mr Coffin, ordered an iron pillar box to be built into the wall contiguous to the letter boxes.'

1878

Mr Henry M Daly was the Post Master in 1878 and Mr William Symons was his Chief Clerk.

Devonport General Post Office was open for general postal business between 7am and 9pm on weekdays but only from 7am until 10am on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day.  Letters were delivered at the counter only between 7am and 10am.  The Telegraph Office was open on weekdays between 7.30amand 9pm and on Sundays between 7.30am and 10am and again from5pmto 6pm.  Money Order, Savings Bank, Government Annuity and Insurance business was conducted between 9am and 5pm,with an extension on Saturdays to 8pm.  Inland Revenue licences were issued during the same times.  No business was done on Sundays. 

Royal Mail was received continuously throughout the day and night.  At 5.05am came the mail from London, Bath, Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth; at 6.15am the second delivery from Plymouth arrived; at 9am the locally collected letters arrived; at 11.10am came the post from the north of England and Southampton; at 11.45am the third delivery from Plymouth arrived; the second delivery from Cornwall arrived at 2pm; at 3.18pm the Royal Mail from London, Tavistock and Plymouth (fourth delivery) came in; at 5.05pm further letters from Bath and Bristol arrived; more post from London arrived at 6.25pm quickly followed at 6.30pm by the local post; the fifth delivery from Plymouth along with more letters from Cornwall arrived at 7.40pm; and at 8pm the Royal Mail from Tavistock arrived.

There were four deliveries around the Town in 1878, commencing at 7am, 12 Noon, 3.40pm and 8pm.  Only the first delivery was done on a Sunday.

The despatch of Royal Mail was every bit as busy as the receipt of it: first off was the post to Plymouth, Tavistock and Cornwall at 4.25am.  These deliveries were done on Sundays as well.  A second despatch to Plymouth was timed for 6.15am.  This was the only despatch to Plymouth on a Sunday.  Letters for delivery to other local places were despatched at 6.20am.  The first despatch to London on weekdays was at 7.55am followed at 9.55am on weekdays only by letters for Bristol and Bath.  At 10.30 the third delivery to Plymouth took place on weekdays but not Sundays.  On weekdays only a deliveries were also despatched at 10.30am to Cornwall and Tavistock.  There was then a break on Sundays until the Mail for the north of England and Southampton was despatched at 12.20pm.  On weekdays the break lasted until 1.55pm when post left for London, the north of England and Southampton.  The fourth delivery to Plymouth took place at 2.40pm on weekdays only.  Another despatch for Cornwall was timed for3.10pm, except on Sundays.  There was then another break before the last despatches of the day to local places at 6.35pm (not Sundays), to London,Bath, Bristol, and Exeter at 7.25pm and Plymouth at 7.40pm (except Sundays).

In addition to the main Post Office there were also the Stoke Damerel Branch Post Office, the Milehouse Branch Post Office, the Morice Town Branch Post Office, the Ford Branch Post Office and the Pembroke Street "Receiving Office".  There were Wall Letter Boxes at the Dockyard Gates, Charlotte Terrace East, Devonport Market, Millbridge, Saint Michael's Terrace and the London and South Western Railway Company's Devonport Station, and Pillar Boxes at Albert Road, George Street, Penlee, Trafalgar Place and Ordnance Street.  In all cases the first weekday collection from these Boxes was at 8.45am and the last at 9pm.  There were three collections in between those times that varied from Box to Box.  On Sundays there were normally two collections at around 6pm and at 9pm.

Devonport General Post Office had to be extended in 1883 to cope with the new Parcel Post.

Mr William Carter Kidgwell the Post Master in 1889.  Mr F E Glanville filled that post in 1914.

It was rebuilt in 1912 at a cost of about 7,000.

The General Post Office at Devonport was damaged during the Blitz on the night of April 21st/22nd 1941.  Although it did survive and was brought back into use again it was on land that was required by the Admiralty for an extension of the Royal Dockyard so it was closed and demolished in 1956.  It was replaced by the Devonport Branch Post Office in Granby Way.  If it had survived to today it would most certainly have been given Listed Building status.