Postal services in North Staffordshire
Established in 1635, the Royal Mail used despatch riders, mounted on fast horses, to carry letters between major towns and cities.
Post offices were opened at Stafford, Stone, Leek, Lichfield and Newcastle, which was on the main post road linking London with Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Carlisle.
By 1734, Newcastle’s post office was in the Swan Inn and everyday post boys delivered letters to The Potteries and neighbouring villages.
Black, maroon and red painted mail coaches, whose average speed was six or seven miles an hour, replaced despatch riders in 1784. Protected by scarlet-coated guards armed with blunderbusses, pistols and cutlasses, these coaches became familiar sights in Tunstall and Burslem, where the postmaster was the landlord of the Legs of Man Inn.
When the Grand Junction Railway opened in 1837, the post was brought by train to Whitmore and taken by horse-drawn wagon to the main post office at Newcastle for distribution throughout the district. Mail coaches ceased to run and in 1854 the main post office was moved from Newcastle to Stoke Station.
Until 1840, when the prepaid penny post was introduced by Rowland Hill, postal charges averaging six pence a letter were paid by the recipient, not by the sender.
The penny post increased the number of letters sent and the Post Office developed new services including a special cheap rate “book post” and the Post Office Savings Bank. Towards the end of the 1850s, pillar boxes where letters could be posted were erected in Hanley, Longton and Stoke.
Small sub-post offices were opened at Chell, Kidsgrove, Chesterton, Norton and Wolstanton.
At Silverdale, where Mr J.H. Wrench was the postmaster, the post office in Church Street was open between 9.00am and 8.00pm six days a week. It closed on Sundays, although the telegraph service opened for two hours in the morning. When the post office was open, letters were delivered twice daily at 7.00am and 5.00pm and the mail was collected three times a day at 9.45am, 7.00pm and 8.45pm.
Very few post offices were purpose built and many postmasters had other occupations. Tunstall’s postmaster, Benjamin Griffiths was a watch and clock maker who had a shop in the Market Place (Tower Square). When he retired, newsagent Samuel Adams, who was also the parish registrar and church clerk became the postmaster.
Hanley whose population was 32,000 had a small post office in Fountain Square. When the borough council asked the government for a second post office, the Postmaster General said: “It was not usual to have two post offices in a village.”
The illustration shows an artist’s impression of a mail coach caught in a thunderstorm.
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013