The General Post Office

A short history to provide historical context for the Post Office in Steeple Morden.

The General Post Office was established in 1660 and had a monopoly on letter post. Letters were paid for on delivery by the recipient, so were not used by everyone! Much later, though, from 1840, with the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post, the volume of letters increased hugely. Collections and deliveries were based around postal towns and for rural communities such as Steeple Morden the post cart would come out from the town, in this case Royston, and deliver the post to the local “letter receiver”, who would deliver within the community, collecting outgoing letters as they went. There was no village post office as such, it was simply the house or cottage where the receiver lived or perhaps it was associated with their shop.

Change within the General Post Office was slow. In 1848 the Book Post service was introduced, followed by the Pattern Post in 1863, which was for small manufacturers samples. The 1/2d rate for postcards began in 1870 and lead to an exponential increase in the sending of cards, which became the chosen method of communication for the masses. Locally, if posted in the morning they would often be delivered that same afternoon.

Parcel delivery services were a different matter and were originally operated by independent contractors, but from the 1850s the railway companies had the monopoly on parcel delivery, which lasted until 1 August 1883 when the GPO introduced Parcel Post.

Other services included the Post Office Money Order system introduced 1838 and Postal Orders from 1881.  Post Office pillar boxes began to be erected in 1853 and wall boxes from 1857.

The telegraph became commercially available in the mid-1800s, operated by independent contractors, but after the Telegraph Acts of 1868 and 1869 the GPO acquired the independent operators and from 1870 held the monopoly of inland telegraphic communication and telegrams.

The GPO had a telephone business from 1878, although most networks were independent until 1912 when the GPO took over the National Telephone Company and effectively became the monopoly supplier of telephone services.

The growth in letter post from 1840 and subsequent introduction of other services resulted in the need for small post offices in local communities and they were usually operated by a local shopkeeper and not a full-time GPO employee, although they were under the close control of the Head Postmaster in the postal town, so these individuals became known as sub-postmasters. Not all sub-post offices were allowed to offer the full range of services, available in larger sub-offices or the head post office in the postal town.

1908 saw a significant addition to the role of the Post Office, which was the administration and payment of the first State Old Age Pension, commencing in January 1909. Whilst there were local Pension Officers and Local Pension Committees to oversee and approve the new pensions, much of the administration sat with the Post Office and this was designed to ensure that the new pension was not tainted by association with historic parish poor relief or Poor Law. Payment of old age pensions and later other welfare benefits became a significant part of the business of a local post office.



Last Updated on June 25, 2020