When it was established in 1635, the Royal Mail used despatch riders, who were mounted on fast horses, to carry letters between major towns and cities.
Post offices were opened at Stafford, Stone, Leek, Lichfield and Newcastle-under-Lyme, which were on the main post routes from London to Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Carlisle.
By 1734, Newcastle’s post office was at the Swan Inn, and everyday post-boys delivered letters to The Potteries and the surrounding 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.
After the Grand Junction Railway opened in 1837, letters were brought by train to Whitmore and taken by horse-drawn waggon to a central post office at Newcastle for distribution throughout the district.
Mail coaches were phased out, and in 1854 a new central post office was opened at Stoke Station.
Until 1840, when the prepaid penny post was introduced by Rowland Hill, postal charges averaging sixpence a letter were paid by the recipient, not by the sender.
The penny post increased the number of messages sent, and the Post Office developed new services including a special cheap rate “book post”. 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 was closed on Sundays, although there was a telegraph service 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 the 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 that it was not usual to have two post offices in a village.
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013
The illustration shows an artist’s impression of a mail coach caught in a thunderstorm.