The Victorian idealist, Rev Henry Solly (1814–1903), was of the opinion that ‘working men would benefit from a common meeting place where they could relax as well as extend their education and social development, regardless of religion, politics or status’. It was he and his contemporaries who were responsible for bringing about the union of working mens clubs throughout the country.

The founder of Bishop’s Stortford’s Working Mens Club was Rev Richard Alliot, headmaster of the town’s Non-conformist grammar school (now Bishop’s Stortford College), which began after he convened at a public meeting held at the Corn Exchange on 4 December 1873. Supported by two members from the Club and Institution Union, 90 men had joined the club by the meeting’s end.

Most Working Mens clubs, even though they were teetotal, started in public houses. But it was soon conceded, even by the Church, that a pint of beer would not hinder the men’s mental and moral stimulation for which the clubs were intended. Bishop’s Stortford’s club wasn’t established in any of the town’s many public houses, but in a small private property behind the Corn Exchange that had previously been used as a wine shop.

That property was No 6 Market Place, owned then by a Mr Heath and today by Nockolds Solicitors (See Guide 2). Seeing the house now, it’s hard to believe so many members could have crammed themselves inside it, despite the owner opening up the old wine cellar to accommodate them all. Needless to say, the club quickly outgrew the premises and moved to a much larger Georgian house in South Street (See Guide 15).

Women members and commercial travellers were welcomed at the club from the start, and a coffee room was opened for their use. Members also had access to a large library and reading room, academic studies, billiard tables and ‘refreshment’. The club did in fact surpass all expectations, so much so that even the new premises was becoming overcrowded. The problem of finding additional space for recreational needs was solved in 1878 with the purchase of the old Agricultural Hall in Kilburn, London. Dismantled and brought to Stortford, it was then re-erected on land behind the club (See Guide 15). During the next fifty years, both club and hall endured much social change but their aspirations contributed a great deal of good for the benefit of the town.

But in the 1930s, commercial interest in the freehold of both the Working Mens Club and the Great Hall led to discussions on its possible sale, and by 1936 purchase of a new site for the club was firmly on the agenda. The availability of a derelict plot of land next to Holy Trinity church, costing only £500, somewhat hastened the decision and an offer of £8,500 for the freehold of both club and hall was accepted in December 1936. It was a controversial decision that led to much protest, but a deposit of £50 was paid for the site and by April 1937 plans for a new club, costing £5,500, were produced. Built within a year, it was ceremonially opened by C. W. Randall on 23 November 1938.

•Much of the above text was taken from Violet Sparrow’s excellent book The History of Bishop’s Stortford Working Mens Club.

Post Office

In 1795 the population of Bishop’s Stortford’s was around 2,000, with just over 400 dwellings. The town post office was based in the White Lion Inn at North Street; the postmaster was probably also the innkeeper; and receivers of letters had to collect their own mail. Things got slightly better with the advent of the Uniform Penny Post in 1839, giving free delivery to certain areas, but on the downside the town was served by just one Postman.

By 1961 staffing levels had somewhat improved, as had the postal service, though by this time the town post office was based at 34 South Street in premises ill-suited to serve a population that had since grown to over 18,000. This inevitably led to the building of the present, much larger, post office in 1963-64, but it’s self-evident from the design that cheap construction methods and functionality were of more importantance than aesthetics.

By 2001 Bishop’s Stortford’s population was 35,325, with 13,906 dwellings, and at the present time (2006) the forecast is that by 2011 the population will exceed 42,000, with over 17,000 dwellings. Coping with daily deliveries on such a large scale has never been easy for the Post Office – or Royal Mail as it is now called – and complaints about its speed and efficiency have always been common place. There was a time, though, when mail only reached its destination courtesy of anybody who happened to be going in the general direction to that of the letter.

The first form of postal service in Britain began in 1516 when Henry VIII appointed Sir Brian Tuke as Master of the Posts: his responsibility being to make sure that the King’s mail was carried quickly and safely. Royal mail apart, ‘official’ posts were also operated by the Church, Universities, City merchants, and the Judiciary. The carriage of private mail was discouraged, although those with the right ‘contacts’ had no difficulty in using any of the ‘official’ posts. Later that century many towns and wealthy individuals employed their own foot post, ‘unoficially’.

The need for speedy communications became a priority in Elizabeth I’s reign (1558–1603), when opponents of the Reformation threatened both her safety and the security of the State. Post roads were set up linking London with major towns and ports around the country, and messengers, or post boys, used fast horses between staging posts to deliver royal mail and letters of a military or governmental matter. The statutory post also allowed the Elizabethan secret service to monitor the treasonable activities of Catholics and subversives by opening and reading letters without either writer or receiver knowing.

Horses used by messengers, or post boys, were at first forcibly hired but when responsibility for manning staging posts was later transferred from Government agents to local innkeepers, they were paid a shilling (5p) a day plus one penny a mile for use of their horses. Innkeepers then became known as post masters. They were further rewarded for their service by being given the monopoly on their stretch of road for hiring horses. Royal messengers carried only ‘official’ mail but were also used to carry private mail, ‘unofficially’.

In 1632, Thomas Witherings, a former London mercer, obtained letters patent for the office of postmaster for foreign posts. He vastly improved the system for dispatch between England and France and in 1635, aided by one of the principal secretaries of state, Sir John Coke, submitted proposals for the reform of the inland posts.

Recognising this as a way to stop private enterprise and generate more money for the royal coffers, Charles I made the inland mail a Royal monopoly and gave Witherings the task of opening up the royal domestic mail service in England and Scotland. This he did in October 1635 by establishing the first post office at Bishopsgate Street, London, where the public could take mail for posting and collect mail sent to them. He also organised six major routes, all starting and finishing in London, and established on a permanent basis the system of official ‘posts’. Innkeepers were obliged to keep fresh horses and post-boys in readiness at all times at their particular ‘post stage’.

The term ‘Post-boy’ is misleading and actually referred to anyone, whatever their age, willing to do the job – they didn’t necessarily have to be capable or, inded, trustworthy. In fact the only requisite was that they carried mail at six miles an hour, but if any were found ‘loitering’ on the road the penalty was one month’s hard labour.

Thomas Witherings also placed the postal system on a commercial basis, enabling private mail to be carried at a published scale of charges. These were governed by many factors including the distance involved, the weight, whether a letter was written on one sheet of paper or two (encouraging the English to write small), and if anything was enclosed with the letter. Extra charges were incurred if the item was carried on by branch posts from any of the main towns on the Post roads. Witherings lost control of the service in 1637, and the practice of public carriers delivering private mail ‘unofficially’ was finally ended by royal proclamation in 1638.

In 1653 Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth Government farmed out the postal service to the highest bidder, and the Post Office Acts of 1657 and 1660 fixed rates for sending letters and established the legal foundation of the service for the first time. The 1660 Post Office Act also confirmed the duties and remuneration of postmasters, and designated responsibility for postmasters throughout England and Scotland to accept and hand-over letters, as well as provide fresh horses for post-boys on payment of a set fee.

At the Restoration, none of the statutes passed by Oliver Cromwell’s ‘unlawful’ parliaments were recognised, except those pertaining to the Post Office. A new Act reinstated most of the previous legislation, including the 1660 Post Office Act which had put the carriage of mail on an official footing, and the General Post Office was established under the control of one Postmaster General. The very first was Henry Bishop, who in 1660 paid £25,000 a year for the right to run the service.

Bishop’s second claim to fame was to invent the first British type of postmark that became known as the ‘Bishop Mark’. As with all good inventions it was borne out of necessity, or to be more exact, because of the many complaints of delays in the post. Franking was first used in 1661 at the London Chief Office of the General Post Office, Bishopsgate Street, London. Mail was only stamped with the day and month of the posting, but its purpose was to ensure that Letter Carriers did not delay the mail for any reason.

Letter charges were assessed by the distance travelled, which led to the erection of mileposts, and under proclamation in 1669 a detailed schedule of routes and postal towns was introduced. It has to be remembered that letters were not delivered to the private houses of the general public at this time. All mail was collected and delivered to the local Post House, which was usually an inn.

In the 17th century Bishop’s Stortford was already a regular stopping place for royalty and nobility travelling between London, Newmarket and Cambridge but, surprisingly, wasn’t included in the 1669 schedule of routes and post towns. The nearest ‘stage’ was in fact Royston, situated on the designated Post road linking London and Norwich. This meant that letters to and from intermediate towns, like Stortford, were carried by Bye-posts and so, in effect, all mail between London and Stortford was unnecessarily delayed because it first had to go via Royston – a circuitous route. The same schedule is mentioned in a 1673 publication, in which Bishop’s Stortford (though not specifically named) is catagorised as a market town of little note, ‘but hath the benefit to the conveyance of letters to and fro’. Despite being of ‘little note’, letters were still conveyed ‘unofficially’ between London and Stortford by public carriers.

By 1680 the General Post Office (GPO) had moved to Lombard Street, London, where letters were received and dispatched to all parts of the kingdom. The GPO controlled 32 letter carriers at this time, giving daily posts to Kent and Essex, and alternate day deliveries to all other parts of England and Scotland. Wales and Ireland received a weekly service.

That same year, William Dockwra and partner Robert Murray launched a postal service to cater for London’s ever-growing population and commerce – carrying letters and parcels within the London area for a charge of one penny. This was the first pre-payment of letters, as previously it had always been the recipient who paid the cost of delivery. (Payment on receipt of a letter was still legal until 1856.) The partners’ head office was in Lime Street and they started with 7 sorting offices. So popular did the service prove that within two years they had over 400 Receiving Houses, with messengers making deliveries between 5-15 times a day. All mail was marked with a date and time stamp as proof that a penny had been paid for the service.

Unfortunately the entrepreneurial partnership didn’t stay in business for long. The King’s brother, the Duke of York, complained bitterly that the profitability of their service was infringing the government’s monopoly of the Post Office and thereby affecting the profits granted to the monarchy in 1663. As a result, Dockwra’s ready-made and efficient system was shut down and within weeks incorporated into the General Post Office. Not surprisingly, on 11 December 1682 a government Penny Post was introduced in all major cities.

In the London Gazette dated 23 December 1697, the Post Office informed the public that ‘as from 28 December a post will go by way of Epping, Bishop-Stortford and Safforn-Walden to Cambridge, and return the same way: And for the Conveniency of Trade and Correspondence Bags will be left at the said Towns as also at the Towns of Woodford, Chigwell, Abridge, and Harlow, with the Letters of the said places and parts adjacent’.

Exactly when these new arrangements for a daily ‘direct’ post to Bishop’s Stortford were established is a mystery. In Ogilby’s 1698 road map ‘Road from London to Norwich via Puckeridge‘, under the heading ‘Backward Turnings to be Avoided’ we find … ‘vi. at Burnbridge, the left to Bishop-Stortford’. The town was again snubbed in 1775 when the General Post Office announced… ‘His Majesty’s Postmaster-General have been pleased to establish a Daily Post, Sunday excepted, to and from this office and the following Towns; and the Places in their respective Districts’. Royston was the only local town on the list, and so all mail to and from Stortford still had to go via Royston by mail cart, i.e. a bye post

Further delays to the posts in the late 17th century (locally and nationally) were caused because there were no cross posts connecting towns or cities on different main roads. And because all mail had to first go through London, the cost of sending a letter was increased. Common sense finally prevailed though, and in 1720 the former Postmaster of Bath, Ralph Allen, established a business under contract to the Postmaster General to manage and develop the postal network for letters not passing through the London office. When Allen died in 1764 the cross post system was taken over by the Post Office.

The network of post office branches, known as Letter Receiving Houses and mostly housed at inns where the innkeeper was postmaster, expanded considerably during the 18th century, although there was still no daily post at this time. That came to most places after the introduction of Mail coaches in 1794 (See Guide 9 – Mail Coaches). Roads by this time had also been greatly improved by the likes of John Metcalf and Thomas Telford, and as the Postmaster General had a great influence as to the state of the roads, they were generally kept in good repair.

This is confirmed by the speed at which mail coaches could travel. Depending on the season, the fastest time between London and Bishop’s Stortford was between 3–4 hours. A Time Bill from the 1790s indicates a coach leaving the General Post Office in London at 8 pm would arrive in Stortford at midnight, then leave at 3.10 am to arrive back in London by 7 am. Unlike today, it was ‘feasible’ to send a letter from London in the evening and receive a reply the following morning. Whether or not the average person could afford to send a letter was another matter. In 1815 a letter going less than 30 miles cost 6d; 50 miles, 7d; and 80 miles 8d. – this at a time when a shilling (12d) was a day’s wage.

The mail coach era lasted just 62 years, the arrival of the railway in the 1830s finally bringing it to an end in 1846. But in Bishop’s Stortford, as in most country towns, coaches and mail carts continued to be used for rural deliveries once the mail arrived at the station from London.

Although Dockwra’s introduction of pre-paid mail in 1680 was the catalyst for a vastly expanded and, eventually, profitable Post Office, it is Rowland Hill who is credited with the system we know today. In 1837 he published a pamphlet entitled ‘Post Office Reform’, its main proposal advocating a uniform postage rate of one penny, no matter what the distance. This, he said, would lead to an increase in correspondence and virtually abolish all attempts to evade paying postage. That same year the Select Committee of Postage was set up, and by just one vote his scheme was recommended to Parliament. It became law in August 1839, although initially a General Fourpenny Rate (4d) was set up for letters weighing up to half an ounce, with increments in price for additional weight.

Rowland Hill’s Uniform Penny Post was finally introduced on 10 January 1840, but not until 6 May that same year was the world’s first adhesive stamp – the *Penny Black – available to be purchased and stuck on to letters. The Post Office’s increased workload was immediate – 168 million letters being posted in the UK in 1840 – although Hill’s reforms certainly didn’t mean free delivery to all places, or guarantee any delivery at all. What his reforms did do was replace over 100 out of date laws with just 5 statutes; created London’s first postal districts; and encouraged people to insert letterboxes in their front doors.

Rowland Hill (1795–1879) was knighted in 1860 by Queen Victoria for his services to the Empire. When he died he was given a state funeral and buried in Westminster Abbey.

*Stamps were named as such after the wax seal previously ‘stamped’ on envelopes. Of the 68,158,080 Penny Blacks issued before it was axed after just one year to be replaced by the Penny Red, there are about 1.3 million still around. On 10 August 2004 it went on sale again. The Royal Mail reprinted the black stamp depicting Queen Victoria, to commemorate the 250th birthday of The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce.

Bishop’s Stortford’s Postmasters

The first indication of a postmaster in Bishop’s Stortford comes from the archives of West Sussex County Council at Chichester, in which a cover, dated 1690, is addressed from London to an ‘Edward Turner att Hallingbury near Bishop Staford, to be sent by the Penny Post from Bishopp Stafford.’ The implication here is that there was a postmaster in Bishop’s Stortford operating a local ‘penny post’ at a time when there was no authority to do so – provincial posts not being authorised by Act of Parliament until 1765. It is well known that local charges were made, but the letter coming from London suggest something far more organised than a ‘customary penny’ for delivery.

Nine years later the first mention of a postmaster in Stortford is revealed in a letter dated 27 April 1699 (State Papers Domestic), in which the Secretary of State James Vernon, replies to a letter sent by the postmaster:

1699 April 27 Whitehall
Ja Vernon to the postmaster of Bishop Stortford

I have your letter of the 26th, giving an account of that the Earl of Albermarle’s servants had carried their horses beyond your stage. I have shewd your letter to Mr. Waggoner, the person you mention, who owns no more than that, one of their horses tiring, they left it with a guide, and by means lost their way, and so came up to London. But here they gave strict charge to the posthouse to send back the horses immediately, and pay all that was due for their hire and the charge of conveying them back; and he makes no difficulty of giving any further satisfaction, as far as is reasonable. The person therefore to whom the horses belonged need not have been in such haste of suing you, since this matter may otherwise be accommodated; which I suppose you will endeavour.

The speed of the post at that time and the promptness of reply by a government official should be noted: Vernon replying on the 27th to the postmaster’s letter dated the 26th. It’s also interesting to note a rather obscure link between James Vernon and Bishop’s Stortford. His second son, later Admiral Edward Vernon, became a national hero in 1739 after defeating the Spanish at Portobello in the West Indies. To honour his victory, many pubs throughout the land were renamed after him, including the Cock Inn at Hockerill, which became (temporarily) the Vernon’s Head (See Guide 9 – The Cock Inn).

Bishop’s Stortford’s most famous and longest serving postmaster (1734–1773) was Thomas Adderley, with just one break of service from 1760–1762. It is said he didn’t actually own the Crown until 1756, but is likely to have performed his duties as postmaster there up until that time. After he retired, the Crown Inn saw a fairly rapid turnover of postmasters but in 1782/83 the position was filled by Richard Thompson, landlord of the Coach and Horses (also at Hockerill). Like his predecessors his duties also included the provision of horses for Post-boys and travellers, and he received an annual income of £85. 17s. 4d. (£85. 87p). The vast majority of this money, however, was for ‘Riding Work’ i.e. supplying horses to Post-boys and travellers, so when the London to Norwich mail coach was introduced in 1785 his income was reduced to just £18 per annum.

This was still a reasonable wage considering that prior to 1700 postmasters were not paid at all. Most postmasters were innkeepers or shop owners and, as such, were deemed to be self-employed and *earning money from their business. When the Post Office did eventually grant a salary it was based solely on the quantity of mail handled. The first postmaster in Stortford to be paid a Post Office salary was Thomas Fowle, who received £36 per annum (inclusive of allowances) for his entire term (1717/18–1729). Not until 1766 was a postmaster’s salary increased to £40 per annum (plus allowances).
*Only in relatively modern times have postmasters and postmistresses run their office as a sole profession.

Quite why Richard Thompson’s salary of £18 p.a. plus allowances was lower than the going rate is unclear, but it may have had something to do with the fact that the postal authorities were not keen to keep him on. Any plans to get rid of him, though, were pre-empted in February 1795 when a female servant at the inn was accused of stealing a letter containing money. Although she was later acquitted, the repercussions for Hockerill were dramatic: Thompson lost his job and Hockerill lost its post office for the next 101 years (See Guide 9 – The Coach & Horses).

Up until the early 19th century, most postmasters were appointed by ‘favour’ or recommendation by the local gentry or MP: custom dictated that the latter had the right to put his own nominees into certain offices, although the position of postmaster was still subject to approval by the Postmaster General. When the post office moved from Hockerill to the town centre, William Lowe was nominated for postmaster by *John Calvert MP and duly appointed on 14 December 1795.
*John Calvert MP owned nearby Albury Hall when he nominated William Lowe for postmaster. He died in 1804.

His office at the White Lion Inn, North Street (No 17), was certainly more convenient for townspeople who had regularly called for the move, but when the town’s narrow streets proved unsuitable for mail coaches to negotiate, Hockerill continued to be used as the collection and delivery point. This entailed the postmaster ferrying mail back and forth between the town and Hockerill until about 1830, by which time the town route had been made easier for mail coaches to negotiate (See Guide 6 – Pearsons). Thereafter, the town was always used for delivery and collection.

Change to the system of appointment by favour appears to have taken place by 1841. In a note to the Postmaster General, reporting the application of Thomas Bradfield – who was apparently suggested by Charles Spencer, vicar of St Michael’s – the following phrase is used .. ‘I presume that the answer to the application must be that the nomination of a successor to the postmaster of Bishop’s Stortford rests with the Lords of the Treasury and not with your lordship’. Cases of appointment by favour did occur in other areas for positions in the Post Office after 1841, so a more discrete system of favours may well have still been in operation. And despite the formal note, Thomas Bradfield was, as seen, appointed.

Bradfield was postmaster from 1841–1858 and is thought to have been succeeded by Alfred Ellis. The only doubt here is that although he is recorded as postmaster in the Hertfordshire Almanac newspaper, no record of the appointment is found in Post Office Minutes. There is, however, record of Thomas Belsey May’s appointment in 1860. He founded the Herts and Essex Observer newspaper in 1861, although it didn’t come to the attention of the postal authorities until 1863. Such a conflict of interest did little to please the Postmaster General and inevitably led to Mr May’s departure from office that same year (See Guide 6 – Herts & Essex Observer).

One major event that did occur during Mr May’s postmastership, although he had nothing to do with it, was the founding in October 1863 of the Post Office Savings Bank in Bishop’s Stortford. Terms were a minimum deposit of one shilling (5p); a maximum investment of £30 daily; and an interest rate of 2 1/2%. It was popular with investors from the start, but in 1867 a substantial increase in business was recorded when the Bishop’s Stortford Savings Bank collapsed. Many savers who were allocated reduced money from the bank’s remaining funds then opted for Government security and invested it with the Post Office Savings Bank. In one day, 85 deposit accounts were opened amounting to between £2,500 and £3,000.

After Thomas Belsey May’s premature departure in 1863 the position of postmaster was given to W. J. Atkins, who himself was dismissed in 1868 for embezzlement. He was followed by Issac Millard, and when he died in 1872 his wife took on the role as postmistress – first in North Street, briefly at 34 South Street (1874), and in July 1876 back in Bridge Street (currently the premises of Photosound). Although not considered the most dutiful person, she kept the position when the post office moved to the corner of Market Place and Devoils Lane in 1890, and retained it until her retirement in 1897. In 1921 the post office moved back to the position it occupied in South Street between 1874 and 1876, but in 1964 moved to its present site in South Street.

Bishop’s Stortford Postmasters: 1703–1898

Of the many sites and properties the post office occupied in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, there are very few references as to their actual addresses. At Hockerill, in the 18th century, it may be assumed it was always resident in one of the four inns at the crossroads, and for the most part in the Crown Inn. But this does not necessarily mean the postmaster was also the landlord. The various sites of the post office in the town are harder to trace because Post Office archives and trade directories of the time give only the street name, not the number of the property.

The following is a list of known postmasters who served at Hockerill and in the town from 1703–1898, and of the site of the post office when recorded. No direct named reference has yet been found of postmasters prior to 1703, but this is because most postmasters were innkeepers or shop owners and, as such, received no salary. For this reason they are not included in Post Office appointments records.

1703: Henry Weeks: no reference to his appointment or period in office.

1717/18–1729: Thomas Fowle is recorded as postmaster for this period; the post office thought to have moved from the town to the Crown Inn in 1717. The widow of the Crown’s former landlord, Matthew Game, paid the rent in 1718, and in 1725 the tenant was Thomas Moore.

1729/30–1731: Deborah Fowle, presumably the wife of Thomas, became postmistress at Hockerill.

1731/32–1733: Robert Fowle (brother or son of Thomas Fowle), postmaster at Hockerill.

1733/34–?: Deborah Fowle and Thomas Adderley (postmaster) at Hockerill.

1734/35 – 1760: Thomas Adderley, postmaster at Hockerill. According to former town historian J L Glasscock, Adderley did not acquire the Crown Inn until 1756

29 October 1760–1762: John White, postmaster at the Crown Inn.

1762/63 – 1773: Thomas Adderley, postmaster at the Crown Inn, although in 1773 a Mr Wilson is said to have been the landlord.

5 April 1773–?: Roger Bolton at the Crown Inn. His term as postmaster lasted just over 5 months, but he later owned the Crown for many years.

10 October 1773 –?: John Ralph, postmaster at the Crown Inn

1774/75–1777: William Burton, postmaster at the Crown Inn. When Thomas Adderley died in 1774 the Crown passed to his sister Mrs Hawes and later to her son Francis Hawes, who sold it to Roger Bolton

1777/78–1782: Robert Thompson, postmaster at the Crown Inn

1782/83–December 1795: Richard Thompson, postmaster at the Coach & Horses, Hockerill

14 December 1795 – July 1816: William Lowe, postmaster at the White Lion Inn, 17 North Street (now Pearsons). Lowe’s profession at this time is unknown, though he may have been an innkeeper. In 1811 he is recorded as running a daily coach service from the George Inn to the Black Bull, Whitechapel, London; and in 1823 formed a partnership with Henry Gilbey running a coach service between Stortford and Cambridge (See Guide 4 – Henry Gilbey).

8 July 1816 – September 1841: James Hillatt Summers, postmaster at Summers printshop, 22 North Street (now the site of HSBC)

27 September 1841 – 1858: Thomas Bradfield, postmaster in North Street or Bridge Street. Confirmed in Bridge Street, 1846.

1847: For reasons unknown the post office was briefly resited in this year, possibly at G E Sworder’s ironmongery store, 17 North Street (now Pearsons).

1858 – 1860: The Hertfordshire Almanac newspaper records Alfred Ellis as postmaster, although no record of appointment found in Post Office Minutes

1860 – November 1863: Postmaster was Thomas Belsey May. Dismissed after attempt to deceive the postal authorities regarding the sale of his newspaper the Herts & Essex Observer. Post office possibly run from the newspaper offices at No 10 North Street, but more likely from Bridge Street.

1863 – 1868: W. J. Atkins, postmaster, dismissed for embezzlement. Post office thought to be in Bridge Street.

1868 – April 1872: Postmaster Issac Barnard Millard – related to former postmaster Thomas Bradfield. Post office at Bridge Street in 1870. When Millard died, his wife became postmistress.

1872–December 1897: Postmistress, Elizabeth Millard. Post office moved to No 34 South Street in 1874 but returned to Bridge Street in July 1876 (premises currently occupied by Photosound).

1890: Post Office moved to purpose-built premises at Market Place/Devoils Lane (currently occupied by Saffron Walden Herts & Essex Building Society). Mrs Millard retired in 1897, aged 65.

1891: Sub-post office indicated in Newtown.

1898: W. G. Young, a postmaster from Biggleswade, appointed postmaster on 1 January. This same year a sub-post office was opened in Hockerill Street on the same site as the present sub-post office.

1921: Post office moved back to its former position at 34 South Street (1874-76), but in 1964 moved to this site (Lower South Street) where once a large timber-built malting had stood.

1968: Opening of Northgate End sub post office. Postmaster from 1984–2003, Mike Talbot. Closed 2003.

The following chronology lists just some of the events that helped shape Bishop’s Stortford’s postal service in the 19th century. Like much of the other detail given about the town’s postal history, this is also sourced from Bishop’s Stortford, An Outline Postal History by Peter A. Forrestier Smith.

1819: Prior to Rowland Hill’s 1839 postal reforms, there were no door-to-door deliveries of mail. Local residents would call into the post office to collect their post, but messengers were used to deliver to nearby villages and larger properties along the way. The expense of the messenger was met by the postmaster out of his salary. In this year, postmaster James Hillatt Summers applied to the Postmaster General for an allowance of 3 shillings (30p) a week for a Letter Carrier. No record of approval for this appears anywhere, although allowances shown in Cash Books do indicate an increase in James Summers allowances for some unspecified purpose.

1841: In November there was an extension to the free delivery area in the town. As a result of this extra workload the Letter Carrier’s wage increased from 5s. 6d. (27p) to 7 shillings (35p) a week.

1844: Letter Carrier’s wages leapt dramatically to 10 shillings (50p) per week. Such a massive increase might be put down to a benevolent postal authority, but is more likely to have been a correction in gross underpayment to staff or an increased workload. Only one Letter Carrier in Stortford at this time.

1846: Letter Carrier’s wage increased to 12 shillings (60p) per week, and the following year to 13 shillings (65p) per week. This was because he had to deliver to outlying areas of Stortford, which amounted to walking about 200 miles per week.

1848: Post Office surveyor recommended the village of Newport be made a Post Town. Idea rejected. To compensate, the mail cart from Stortford was authorised to leave one hour earlier at 6am. This same year a salary increase for Letter Carriers refused.

1850: Sunday observance in the Victorian era was highly regarded, yet in this year there is reference to the ‘existing arrangements of the Bishop’s Stortford, Clavering and Bearden Sunday Post’.. which ‘should not be disturbed’. Also recorded: A Mr Bush awarded the contract to convey mail between Ware and Bishop’s Stortford at £100 per annum, and from Stortford to Newport at £60 per annum. Railway Messenger suspended for 2 days without pay for missing the Mail train.

1852: Hockerill included as an area for free delivery. This meant two deliveries a day and required an assistant Letter Carrier at 5 shillings (25p) per week. The sum of money authorised in order to bring improvement ‘across the river’ from Stortford.

1854: Vacancy occurred for Letter Carrier to deliver to Birchanger and Farnham.

1856: Assistant Letter Carrier received 7 shillings (35p) per week for additional work of clearing two pillar boxes. Interestingly, this was just 4 years after the introduction of the first pillar boxes into the British Isles from Jersey. This benefited certain residents because they no longer had to travel to the post office to post a letter. Also this year the assistant Letter Carrier’s wage increased to 10 shilling (50p) per week.

1857: Stortford to Farnham messenger, George Gates, transferred to the post of Letter Carrier in the town. The previous incumbent, John Sayer, resigned. To further improve postal services in the eastern area, an additional mail train introduced for several places including Stortford.

1858: No replacement recorded for Stortford to Farnham messenger, but a post office opened in Farnham at a cost of £16.10s. per year.

1860: Improvements to the postal service include more pillar boxes, free deliveries extended, and extra deliveries made. On the downside, it was announced the 3rd daily delivery for the town was to be discontinued as it consisted only of about 15 letters a day.

1862: An example of an early pension is described when Charles Love, formerly the Stortford to Spellbrook messenger, was recommended an annuity of £8. 6s. 10d. per year starting in 1863. This may not sound a lot, but it should be remembered that very few employers gave a pension of any amount in 1863.

1863: Proposal that Bishop’s Stortford to Spellbrook post be reorganised for additional cost of £2 per year for the messenger. There appears to have been two messengers on the route as reference is made to the present messenger being employed for 17 years and that his wage should be increased from 12 to 14 shillings per week.

1869/70: The Herts & Essex Observer carried appeals for residents to make provision for receiving letters via a letterbox or holding receptacle. The cost of cutting a door and fixing a letterbox was estimated at between 2s. (10p) and 2s. 6d. (12p)

1871: Postmaster General authorised a cessation of Sunday collections in the town. Clavering’s collection stopped the same year; Manuden’s in 1881; and Stansted and Henham’s in 1882. At Christmas, Post Office make it clear that while there are no regulations forbidding employees to seek ‘some small consideration’ from the public, it does not approve of ‘certain methods’ of asking, which it considered to be objectionable.
1882: Introduction of the small white plate on letterboxes indicating time of the next collection. This was changed each time a collection was made.

1883: Parcel Post service introduced.

1886: Delivery of post extended to Havers. The title ‘Letter Carrier’ replaced by ‘Postman’.

1888: Stortford to Manuden Postman permitted to use his tricycle.

1890: Rye Street and Parsonage Mill included in town delivery.

1891: Newtown sub-post office established. The spelling of Stanstead finally became Stansted.

1896 Sub-post office re-established at Hockerill, Eleanor Brown is sub-postmistress.

In 1902 the Herts and Essex Observer reported on the retirement of a postman who, during his 40-year career, regularly delivered between Bishop’s Stortford and Hallingbury. His daily round, which he did on foot, covered 18 miles and in the term of his employment it was estimated he walked 233,135 miles (very nearly the distance between the earth and the moon).

Mail Boxes

After Rowland Hill’s postal reforms in 1840 and the advent of the Uniform Penny Post, the Post Office was deluged with an overwhelming amount of mail. So much, that Postmasters up and down the country were hard pressed to take delivery of it all and the public demanded a more convenient method for posting letters. The answer was mailboxes.

Mailboxes had first been introduced in Paris in 1653 and though not a great success to start with, were in general use throughout France by 1829. At the suggestion of one Post Office employee named Anthony Trollope (1815-82) – who joined the service at the age of 19 and worked in a senior position for 33 years before pursuing a literary career – post boxes, hexagonal in shape, cast in iron and painted red were introduced to the island of Guernsey.

Their popularity prompted mainland Britain to take up the idea, although there was some indecision by the Post Office as to what form they should take. Consequently, they appeared on the streets in all shapes and sizes until, eventually, a box of hexagonal design by J.W. Penfold was accepted and put into production in 1866. But they didn’t last long. In 1879 the Post Office decided that cylindrical shaped boxes would be far better, and so ‘pillar boxes’ were adopted as the National Standard Box in 1879. It remained in production for 100 years.

As post increased, sorting was made easier in London in 1898–99 by the introduction of double boxes for ‘town’ and ‘country’. These proved so successful they were introduced in provincial towns in 1905. Wall boxes were used mainly in rural areas where the numbers of letters were small and space was at a premium. A couple of these boxes can still be found locally. A letterbox front, reputed to come from the post office in Devoils Lane after it closed in the early 1900s, is said to have later been used as a fire screen in the Tanners Arms public house at London Road.

Between 1959 and 1965, the Post Office widened the mouths of over 5,000 boxes throughout the country to accommodate ‘modern’ letters that were much larger than their Victorian counterparts.

There are currently about 115,000 letter drops in Britain, the most recent box being National Standard K designed in 1978 by Tony Gibbs and brought into production as the new National Standard Box in 1979 – 100 years after the first cylindrical box had appeared. Its modernistic look has done away with the traditional cap and royal cipher, but it is still made of cast iron for its durability, security and resistance to vandalism.