The Post Office lamp shown on the right used to hang out side of the Post Office at 28 High Street (the building in the corner to the right of the photograph). The lamp is clearly visible in the photo of the Post Office taken about 1915 which is shown above. When the Post Office there closed, the lamp was saved and it now belongs to the Thornbury Museum.
In June 2011 we visited the Post Office Archives in London hoping to obtain information about the history of the Post Office in Thornbury and the postmasters. We were able to confirm that there is a lot of information relating to Thornbury, but the organisation of the records made it impossible to extract more than just a few details of anything useful in the time available to us.
The PO records indicate that Thornbury had become a ‘Post Town’ by 1770. We don’t know what the arrangements were for the post at that time. In 1784 a new improved mail service was introduced between London and Bristol. This meant that mail posted before 8 o’clock in the evening arrived in Bristol by midday the next day. For those interested in the wider history of the Post in the Bristol area there is an excellent e-book available on the internet – click here to read.
The Post Office Museum has a record of a letter dated 1793 from Thornbury “praying that the Birmingham – Bristol mail coach may pass through”. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to look through the research into the history of the Post Office undertaken by David Watkins of Littleton. There is an interesting reference in ‘The Mail-Coach Men of the Eighteenth Century’ by Edmund Vale. In 1796 the Superintendent, Thomas Hasker, wrote to the Hon. Charles Francis Greville who had proposed to take the Bristol – Birmingham mailcoach through Thornbury. Hasker said that ‘years ago the road was reported as incomplete, but Wilkins will go and report on it. At present the mail is taken there by a runner at £10 per annum. The decision must be left to the contractors for all the Innkeepers and Coachmasters from Bristol to Birmingham are in a Company, thirty four in number, and if they should say they will not, a new Connection cannot be formed. For this slight diversion from the present route, to pass through Thornbury, Mr Weeks be allowed an additional five minutes’.
It seems that this proposal was not granted and thus mail to and from Thornbury had been sent to Bristol or to link up with the mail coach between Bristol and Birmingham en route.
Before the days of penny post and adhesive stamps, towns off the main post roads used by the Royal Mail Coaches, had to make their own arrangements with the nearest Post Town for collection and delivery. These arrangements were usually “farmed out” to people, who, for the payment of a fixed sum, could take all receipts. Two methods were used to regularise this — Penny Posts and 5th Clause Posts. In the former, almost universal instance, the Postmaster made an arrangement to collect and deliver from non-Post towns on payment of an extra one penny. In the latter case (the 5th Clause Post) Postmasters in towns where Penny Posts were not an economic proposition were authorised by the 5th Clause of an Act of 1801 (hence the name) to make an agreement with local inhabitants to carry letters at an agreed sum. This generally provided for reimbursement of any loss sustained in operation. It is thought that only about ten towns adopted this arrangement. Bristol had 63 ‘Penny Post’s, but only one 5th Clause post, Thornbury which was established in 1825. (It appears that there was another 5th Clause town, Axbridge, but they converted to penny post in 1826). The main object of the 5th Clause Post was to join up small towns with the larger post towns and so it was that Thornbury became linked on to Bristol. Thornbury letters were stamped “Thornbury, 5th clause, clause post”. Under these regulations one penny was charged for the delivery of each letter at Thornbury.
In 1825 a ‘direct ride’ from Bristol to Thornbury was begun – a horse post from and to Bristol which appears to have replaced the previous foot messenger arrangement. The Contractor also delivered and collected bags at Almondsbury and Fylton, which were both “penny posts.” The ride arrived at Thornbury at 12.45 and left to return to Bristol at 2.00pm, allowing sufficient time for Thornbury folk to answer their letters by return of post.
The Thornbury postal service was profitable. The returns for 1836 show the gross revenue was £127 16s 1d, the annual expenditure was £91 and the net revenue £36.16.1d. The 5th Clause postal service in Thornbury came to an end on 15th February 1839 when it converted to being a penny postal service.
As we understand it, before 1840 when the universal penny post system was introduced, there were two charges associated with the delivery of mail. The ‘general post rate’ was the cost of delivering mail between postal towns (such as London and Reading) and was dependent on the distance travelled. There was also a ‘local post rate ‘ for the collection and delivery of mail between the sender and the local post town and between the post town and the addressee. In most towns this rate was set as one penny. In the example we have seen elsewhere on the Internet, a letter sent from someone in a town outside Reading to an address in Thornbury might have to pay one penny for the collection and delivery of the mail to Reading, eight pence for the general post rate charged for the delivery of the letter from Reading to Bristol, and one penny charged to the addressee for the delivery of the letter to Thornbury.
A letter to be delivered between two addresses in the same postal region (eg from the post office in Almondsbury to an address in the Filton post district) would cost one penny made on collection at Almondsbury and another penny would be charged to the addressee on delivery in Filton.
However Thornbury, being a 5th Clause town, was different. A letter sent from Thornbury to an address in Bristol would cost only one penny for the delivery. We don’t understand why there would be no charge for collection.
The earliest postmaster we have found was John Bevan in 1797 and since that time there were only four other people who served in that capacity in the following 160 years: George Shepherd, his son, William Evans Shepherd, Henry Robbins and Charlie Pitcher. Click here to read about the postmasters
The 1830 Pigot’s Commercial Directory noted that the Royal Mail service between Bristol and Birmingham had been diverted to go through Thornbury. The coach from Bristol calling at the Post Office at 8.30pm. The coach to Bristol stopped there at 5.30am. It added that letters from London, Birmingham etc arrive daily at 11.45 a.m. and are dispatched at 2.30 p.m. Letters for Bristol, the West of England and South Wales arrive daily at 8.30 p.m. and are dispatched at 5.30 a.m. Letters from Gloucester etc arrive daily at 5.30 a.m. and are dispatched at 8.30 p.m.
By 1838 Thornbury was officially listed in Post Office records as a ‘sub-post town’.
The 1839 Robsons Directory noted that letters arrived daily from London at 11 a.m. and were dispatched at 4 p.m. using Prewetts mail cart between Thornbury and Bristol. Letters arrived from Bristol and all parts at 11 a.m. and 20 minutes past 4 p.m. and dispatched at half past 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. using the Royal Mail coach that stopped in Thornbury whilst travelling between Bristol and Birmingham where it connected with the railway between Birmingham and Manchester. Thus, the first mention of the use of railways for transporting mail which would gradually spread across the country with the development of the railway system.
The 1840 Tithe Survey and the 1841 census show George Shepherd as the Postmaster living at 65 High Street. The records at the Postal Museum show that George’s salary for running the “subordinate office” in Thornbury was £16 a year. The 1851 census shows that George had moved the Post Office to the property now known as 45 High Street (which entirely coincidently, became the site of the Post Office again in the late 1950’s). Various sources show George had to supplement his income from the Post Office. The 1851 census shows George was a grocer. The 1856 Post Office Directory indicates that George was also trading as a tallow chandler and Norwich Union Insurance Agent.
The 1852 Slaters Directory shows the post from all parts was received from Bristol at 9.15 a.m. and collected for dispatch to Bristol at 3.15 p.m. By 1856 the directories were mentioning that the Post Office were granting money orders between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. By 1868 the Post Office was offering a savings bank as well as its other services.
To us today the postal service provided in Victorian Times was incomparably better than that provided in modern times with two or three collections and deliveries each day, seven days a week. However the townsfolk back then were not satisfied. An article appeared in the Bristol Journal in 1869 highlighting the fact that ‘Probably, there were few towns in England where letters are delivered so late, and the mail bags despatched so early, causing much inconvenience to the business public of Thornbury and surrounding villages‘. The author of the article asked why Thornbury had to wait until 9 or 10 a.m. to receive its letters from London and they were collected for despatch at between 3 and 4 p.m. whilst businessman in Berkeley, Dursley and other towns had earlier delivery around about 7 a.m. and collection for despatch around 7 p.m.
We are not sure when nor how the arrangements changed, but by 1889, the post was being delivered in Thornbury at 7 a.m. and 3.15 p.m. and dispatched at 10 a.m., 4.30 p.m., 6 p.m and 6.50 p.m. The 1896 Browns Directory explains that of the four collections, there was a 10.10 a.m and 4.30 p.m. collection for delivery of post to Bristol (and presumably London), the 6 p.m collection was for delivery of post to Gloucester and the North and the 6.50 p.m. collection was for delivery of post to Bristol and South West. On Sundays the mail was delivered at 7 a.m. and collected at 6 p.m. The telegraph business was transacted between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., except on Sundays when it was between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.
Another article from the Bristol Journal in December 1869 mentions that the Postmaster General had made application to the Thornbury Highway Board for permission to bring the telephone wires along the road from Grovesend, requesting an early reply. It speculated that this might mean Thornbury would have a telegraph station shortly.
By 1876 the the Post Office had moved to 28 High Street. Henry Robbins was postmaster there for 33 years until his death in 1908. In the 1880’s Henry became the first postmaster of Thornbury to have the role of selling stamps as well as running the postal service.
Henry Robbins never owned the property. In October 1908 Charlie Pitcher applied for and got the position of sub-postmaster at a salary of £164 and he became the owner of the property.
The Prewett’s Almanack 1909 provided us with lots of interesting details of the services available at that time:
Hours of Business
Sale of Stamps, Post Cards, Newspaper Wrappers, Stamped and Registered Letter Envelopes, and for Registration of Letters and delivery of Letters to callers, and for the receipt of Inland, Colonial, and Foreign Parcels. Weekdays 8am to 8pm and Sundays 8 to 10am (no parcel post).
For Money Order, Insurance and Annuity business, and issue of Inland Revenue Licenses (except on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day, and other days respecting which notice will be given)
For Savings Bank and Postal order business – Weekdays 8am to 8pm, Sundays – no business
For Telegraphic business – Weekdays 8am to 8pm, Sundays 8 – 10am
Letters are despatched at 10-30 a.m., 4-45, (6 and 8 p.m., Weekdays; Sundays at 6 pm only. Parcels and Registered Letters must be handed in at least 15 minutes before the above times. No Parcels delivered or despatched on Sundays.
On Bank Holidays there is only one despatch of Parcels and Letters, at 6 p.m.
Letters and Parcels are delivered at 7 a.m., and 3-50, and 7-10 p.m. Sundays at 7 a.m. (Letters only). The Mid-day Delivery is in the Town only.
Letters and Parcels arriving by the 10.15a.m. Mail, are delivered to callers only. A restricted Town Delivery is made at 7-10 p.m. on Week-days in lieu of that formerly made to callers only at the Post Office.
In the evening the postmen deliver midday letters, parcels etc on the routes when clearing the wall letter boxes.
Town – R. W. Carter
Rural – J. Clutterbuck and W. J. Brealey
Auxillaries – F. Liddiatt, S. Spill, S. Gale, H. Gale, F. Hopkins and H. T. Liddiatt
In addition to the postmen listed above, we know that Gwendoline Symes, the daughter of Charles Symes of 6 The Plain, worked as a morse and telegraph operator at the Post Office under Charlie Pitcher.
We know from the Trade Directories that like his predecessors, Charlie had to supplement his income. The trade directories show that he ran a stationer’s shop as well as the post office and that he later offered a library service.
Charlie Pitcher continued running the Post Office until the late 1950’s. His second wife, Jessie, continued living at 28 High Street and the Post Office moved to 45 High Street where it was run by David Pearce whose father had previously run a grocer’s shop in the same premises. The photograph on the left shows the Post Office at 45 High Street. It remained there until the late 1980’s having a coffee shop/antique shop upstairs called Granny’s Attic. When this closed, the Post Office became incorporated into the convenience store at 9 High Street, which over the years has been called by several names including Circle K and Alldays and is now operated by the Coop. 45 High Street was taken over by Manns the opticians.
The Stamp Distributors – in the early 1800’s stamps were bought from the Stamp Office which was an office separate from the Post Office and run by the sub-distributor of stamps. In 1826 J. Laver was the sub-distributor, responsible for distribution of stamps in Thornbury. An 1830 trade directory shows William and John Grove as stamp distributor (in addition to their main occupation as grocer and draper). In the official post office records of 1834 William Grove was the stamp distributor in Thornbury. In 1839 the Robson’s directory shows Frederick Robert Wright as the sub-distributor at the stamp office in the High Street. Richard Ellis is noted as the distributor of stamps in trade directories from 1849 to 1856, combined with his main occupation as chemist and druggist. The official post office records of 1867 show Richard Ellis as distributor when it was noted that he collected £806 3s 8d in revenue during the year. The October edition of the Thornbury Journal reported that Richard Ellis had resigned from the office of stamp distributor after holding the post for 28 years. From the 1880’s the role of stamp distributor appears to have been combined with that of running the post office.