Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: April 30, 2020
Webpage updated: April 10, 2023

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Devonport started life as Plymouth-Dock, the Dock belonging to Plymouth.  As it was not built until 1691 there was no postal service before then but when it did start it was delivered by private messenger from the General Post office in Plymouth.  In 1792 the leading residents of the Town petitioned the Postmaster-General for Plymouth-Dock to be recognised as a Post Town in its own right.  The Post Office Surveyor recommended that Dock be made a "Receiving House" but under Plymouth. As luck would have it the Surveyor withdrew his recommendation and thus in 1793 it became a Post Town.

In 1793, according to Mr R N Worth (1837-1896), a Post office was set up in George Street and Mr John Johnson was appointed Post Master.  He resigned in 1809 saying that is was an appointment of considerable trouble.

By 1823 the Post Office had been moved to Saint Aubyn Street, where there was a Receiving Box.  At 5.30 each morning the Royal Mail coach from Cornwall arrived.  It departed from Mr Goude's King's Arms at 7am, following the arrival of the Royal Mail from London.  The Royal Mail coach for Exeter and London left the Mr Goude's King's Arms in Fore Street each evening at 8.15pm.

Money Order Offices had been introduced as a private business within the Post Office in 1792 to prevent embezzlement of cash from letters.  It became an official Post Office service in 1838.

On Friday January 10th 1840 the Universal Penny Post was introduced.  Mail was now to be charged by weight and the minimum charge was one penny.  Postage was now to be prepaid by the sender instead of paid by the unsuspecting recipient.

In order to cope with the anticipated demand for the service, the Lords of the Treasury issued regulations requiring that 'Letter Boxes shall be closed one hour or half hour (as the case may require) earlier than at present, before the despatch of each Mail.'  The Letter Box at the Plymouth Post Office was thus closed at 8.15am for the Mail to London; 2.45pm for Falmouth, Tavistock and North Devon; and 5pm for Bath, Bristol, the North of England, Wales and Ireland.  A late posting fee was charged for anything handed in after that: one penny for the first half-hour and twopence for the subsequent half-hour.

The sending of letters was made easier by the introduction of adhesive postage stamps on Wednesday May 6th 1840.  A notice issued to the public at that time read:-

'In those cases where Adhesive Stamps are used, it is requested that they may be placed upon the right hand corner on the upper side. Should this direction not be attended to, from the rapidity with which the duty must be performed, Letters which bear Stamps will frequently be taxed, while the parties receiving them will be put to much trouble in obtaining a return of the Postage improperly charged. In all cases of complaint, whether of overcharge or of any other irregularity, the Cover of the Letters must invariably be kept and sent to the Post Office, as affording the only means of investigating the complaint. By Command.'

It seems that the Post Office tried to make the prepayment of postage compulsory but they failed and it is still a citizen's right to send a letter without postage, to be paid by the recipient at double the current rate.

Mail from Bristol, Exeter, Tavistock and North Devon was received at Plymouth Post Office at 7am, followed by that from Falmouth at 9.15am.  The post from London arrived at 3.45pm.  At 9.30pm the mail from Bath and a second post from Exeter arrived.  The town letter carriers were sent on their rounds a half-hour after the arrival of the respective mail.  At the same time Post Office messengers were also sent out to Devonport, East Stonehouse, Saltash, Compton Gifford, Knackersknowle (Crownhill), Jump (Roborough), Horrabridge, Crabtree, Oreston and Wembury.

The rural messengers would arrange to get back into Plymouth at an appropriate time before the despatch of the outgoing mails at 9.15am for London; 3.45pm for Falmouth, Tavistock and North Devon; and 6pm for Exeter, Bristol and Bath.

When Plymouth got a new General Post Office in Whimple Street  naturally Devonport wanted one and a company of shareholders erected a General Post Office for Devonport at the corner of Fore Street and Chapel Street.  It was opened in 1849.

In 1852 letters from Launceston and Tavistock arrived at the Devonport General Post Office at 6.20am and the Royal Mail arrived at 6.29am, carrying letters from London, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the North of England, Bristol and Exeter.  Letters from Cornwall, except Launceston, arrived at 10.50am.  A second delivery of letters from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the North of England, Bristol and Exeter -- but not London -- arrived at 1.29pm.  A second delivery of letters from Cornwall, excluding Launceston, arrived at 5.20pm.

The Royal Mail was despatched from the Devonport General Post Office at 6.39am to Cornwall, excluding Launceston; at 11.24am to Exeter, Bristol, Wales, the North of England, Ireland and Scotland; at 2pm for Cornweall, excluding Launceston; at 5.49pm to London, Exeter, Bristol, the North of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland; at 6pm 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".

Receiving Boxes were [provided at Mr Samuel Hamand's, 17 Trafalgar Row, Stoke, from which letters were despatched to the General Post Office at 10.30am and 5pm; and at William Sander's at New Passaghe, from which letters were sent to the main Post office at 6.15am, 10.30am, 1.15pm, and 5.10pm.

A significant development in 1855 was the abolition of compulsory stamp duty of a penny per sheet on newspapers.  This led to the expansion of the newspaper industry generally (both the Western Morning News and the Western Daily Mercury were established in Plymouth in 1860).  Instead, a Printed Paper postage rate was introduced.

Uniforms had been issued to London's postmen as early as 1793 but this was not extended to the larger provincial offices until 1856.   The purpose of a uniform was not 'corporate image', as it might be today, but in order to detect postmen 'loitering and mis-spending their time in ale houses'.

In Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport the postmen first showed off their new uniforms on Sunday June 21st 1857.  It consisted of a scarlet coat and royal cockades in their hats.  For wet weather they were provided with an oil case cape.  At the same time the postmen received a two shilling a week increase in their wage packet.

The introduction of prepaid stamps back in 1840 had made it unnecessary to go to a Post Office every time and this allowed the general introduction of wall and pillar boxes.  The first of the latter were introduced into Plymouth and Stonehouse in April 1856.  They were described as 'of an octagonal form, between four and five feet in height, and nearly three feet in circumference, with a hole of a sufficient size on one of the sides to admit a newspaper, having on the inside a spring, which yields to a gentle touch, but falls back to its former position when the letter is dropped in, thus making it perfectly safe'.   Painted in white letters on a black background a short distance below the aperture were the specified posting times: viz. 'North Mail, 10.30am; Cornish, 12.45pm; London, 5.30pm; and Cornish 9pm.  On Sundays at 5.30pm only'.  Although pillar boxes were mentioned in Plymouth and East Stonehouse non were apparently erected in Devonport.

Some apprehension had evidently been expressed that they were not sufficiently safe so the "Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal" tried to reassure its readers by pointing out 'that they are about a ton in weight, therefore, there can be no fear of their being carried away'.

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.'

Always on the look out for new enterprises, the Post Office Savings Bank was started in September 1861, with interest on deposits paid at 2%.  Deposits were transferred to the National Debt Commission, where they were invested in government securities.  There was a great deal of discussions nationally on whether to turn this service into a Giro Bank, on the pattern of that established in Austria at the time, but this proposal did not succeed.  It was felt that the Post Office wanted to keep people's money in the Bank, not allow them to withdraw it just when they felt like it!

Another new facility followed in 1870, when half-penny postcards were introduced as a cheap alternative to letters.  By this time it cost one penny to send a letter up to one ounce in weight, which was cheaper than for the previous thirty years.  In that same year, the private telegraph companies were transferred into the Post Office, although they remained separate units at least until 1876.

In an attempt to encourage children into the habit of saving money, a scheme was introduced in 1880 whereby they could affix a penny stamp to a card, which , when full, could be credited to a savings account.  Teachers were encouraged to promote this scheme in elementary schools throughout the country after 1902/03.

It was felt that the Money Order business started back in 1838 were largely used by wealthy people for sending large cash sums around the country and that a system was needed to give the same opportunity to the poorer part of the population.  This was achieved in 1881 by the introduction of Postal Orders.

The Parcel Post service was introduced in 1883, following the Royal Assent to the Post Office (Parcels) Act of 1882.

In 1890 horse-drawn mail carts were introduced nationally for rural deliveries but I am not sure at the moment as to how this affected the Plymouth area.

A pillar-box was erected in Valletort Road, Devonport, in July 1891, from which letters were cleared at 8.40am, 10.55am, 1.20pm, 2.50pm 4.40pm, 6.45pm, 7.25pm, 9pm and 11.05pm on weekdays and at 6.45 and 11.05pm on Sundays.

The last delivery on Saturdays, at 8.35pm, was apparently abolished in Devonport in October 1893.  The Devonport postmen held a smoking concert at Payne's Hotel, Fore Street, on Saturday October 21st 1893 to celebrate the fact.  Their senior postman, Mr John Waller, was chosen as chairman for the evening.

On and from November 1st 1893 Money Order, Savings Bank and Telegraph Money business already being transacted at the Devonport Head Post Office on weekdays between 7am and 10pm, was extended to all of Devonport's sub-post offices on weekdays, except Wednesdays, between 8am and 8pm.  On Wednesdays the sub-post offices closed at 4pm. 

The cost of posting a letter was at an all-time low in 1897, when up to 4 ounces in weight could be sent for one penny.  The cost of postage never fell that low again.

Wages rates paid to workers in the Post Office were very varied and a postman in Devonport was probably on different pay from his opposite number in Exeter.  In 1907 the rates in the provinces were unified into seven "classes", class 7 receiving between 15s at age 19 to 24s at age 51 and those at class 1 receiving between 19s and 36s.

During the Great War it once again cost a penny to post a letter up to one ounce in weight.  The four ounce letter of 1897 cost 2d.

Devonport was amalgamated into Plymouth on November 9th 1914.

The Penny Post came to an end on June rd 1918, when the minimum cost went up to 1 pence although the minimum weight went up to 4 ounces.

When the Great War ended in 1918 there were a large number of motor vehicles up for disposal by the military authorities and it may have been this that spurred the Post Office to purchase its first motor vans in 1919.   There were 48 of them at first so they were probably confined to the London area.   The introduction of motor vehicles throughout the provinces seems to have been a subject of tremendous argument as it was not felt that it was saving any expense, except on the rural services.

In 1920 postage cost 2 pence but that covered a letter of anything up to three ounces in weight.  In 1922 an intermediate 1 pence rate was introduced for letters up to one ounce and in 1923 that was increased to two ounces.

A major event took place in Plymouth in 1928, although without any ceremony.  On Sunday March 25th the sorting office was transferred from the General Post Offices in both Plymouth and Devonport to a new Postal Sorting Office at Pennycomequick.  It opened the following day.

Motor-cycles were introduced nationally in 1932 for the use of the telegram boys or messengers, who had to be aged 17 years at minimum.

It was announced on Saturday August 9th 1941 that the General Post Office had made ready a fleet of motor vans fitted out as mobile post offices to be rushed to any location in the South West where the post office had been put out of action by enemy raids.  Also ready for use was a prefabricated building with more facilities and even spare sets of post office furniture that could be rushed anywhere it was needed.

In 1969 the General Post Office ceased to be a government department run by the Postmaster General and staffed by civil servants and instead became a public corporation.  By this time the postage for a letter up to 4 ounces was 5 pence.

The Royal Mail's sole right to carry letter post in the United Kingdom ceased after 350 years at midnight on December 31st 2005.