May 2024: History with JULIAN LEA-JONES

When post was haste for only pence

Nowadays, whether or not the missive is welcome at least it is delivered to our home – it was not always thus. 

Although the concept of a public mail service was the brainchild of Sir Rowland Hill in 1840 when the Penny Post was introduced, you had to collect your mail from a post office which may have been miles away. Within a town the penny post deliveries were divided into districts, with Bristol having 63 of which Clifton with the greatest number of mailings was designated Penny Post Number One.  With the increasing popularity of the new service, (Bristol had up to six deliveries a day), it was decided to introduce home deliveries, however the postman or woman, (post person sounds ridiculous), often had miles to walk in all weathers and having reached the address had to wait for the recipient to come to the door. 

With more and more mail to deliver, the waiting time often extended the postman’s working day to unacceptable limits. Bristol’s Post Master and Surveyor of the Posts, Mr R C Tombs, gave most praise to Hannah Brewer of Bitton whose daily route was eleven miles up and down the Somerset hills around Bitton and by the age of 72 having walked a quarter of a million miles in all weathers she felt it was time to retire. The postal delivery staff were obviously a hardy lot! An even longer tenure was that of Hannah Vowles at Frenchay who only resigned at the age of 95! 

The Post Office’s answer to the long delays caused by the need to hand the mail directly to the addressee was an appeal dated in May 1849 which requested every householder to fit a letter box or slit in their street door,  obviating the need for the postman to wait.  

Until the recent ‘rationalisation’ when the box was emptied the enamel collection time plate, stored in a pocket inside the door was always changed  =to show the next collection time. Nowadays the plate is a generalised notice which is of no help if you want to know whether or not you have caught the post – a far cry from when there were up to six deliveries a day. An oft’ quoted account was of people receiving a rsvp dinner invitation in the morning and being able to send a written acceptance for delivery the same day. 

 Residents in Henleaze’s Owen Grove are very proud of this one which bears the Royal cypher of King Edward the eighth – a Rara Avis indeed! 

I hope you didn’t think that April’s article was a leg-pull. The people were real, and  I personally photographed the stone 28ft below St Nicholas Street, marking the witnessed meeting. The Runic inscription was Bishop John Robinson’s Motto in the Bristol Cathedral Cloisters until it mysteriously vanished, and of course there is a buried room just past Bath Bridge with a window blocked by earth from dredging. I will leave you to find out where the ‘wall’ inscription is – in plain sight!