The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 3

Allen, Thomas

1827

General Post Office.

A spacious brick building, but undeserving of praise as a national edifice. It stands behind the houses, in , from which there is a passage, under an arched gateway, leading into a small paved court; there are also passages into , and Sherbourn lane. It was originally the residence of sir Robert Vyner, lord mayor, in , who built it on the site of a much frequented tavern, which was burnt in the great fire; but a great part of it was rebuilt, and considerable improvements made in it, in .

Posts appear to have been established in England so early as the reign of Richard III., but they must have been an object of comparatively little importance; as the mention we find of a post-master in England, is in the year , when sir Thomas Randolph, an able diplomatist, who had been employed in no less than eighteen distinct embassies, filled the office.

Previous to this period, the foreign merchants settled in London had been permitted to select from among themselves, an individual to whom the management of the foreign mails was given; but in a dispute arose between the Flemings and the Spaniards, when each chose a postmaster of their own. The inconvenience of such a procedure was obvious, and was so much felt, that on the

693

petition of the citizens, queen Elizabeth appointed a postmaster-general from of her English subjects; but in the reign of her successor the business of the foreign post was for some time under the direction of a foreigner, Matthew de Quester, or de l«Equester.

In a letter-office, which communicated with most of the principal roads, was opened, under the direction of Thomas Witherings, who was superseded for abuses in his office years afterwards. The plan was very ill organized, until, during the civil war, when Prideaux, attorney-general to the commonwealth, became postmaster, and established a weekly conveyance of letters to all parts of the nation; the emoluments soon became so obvious that the common council attempted an opposition post-office, but the , as ambitious and as jealous of power as any sovereign could be, declared that the office of postmaster is and ought to be in the sole power and disposal of parliament.

The post-office, which in was farmed of parliament for , received its organization from Cromwell, as a general post-office, years afterwards; and Charles II., confirming the regulations of the Protector, settled the revenue arising from it on his brother James, duke of York, the produce being, in , years afterwards this amount was doubled, and it still continued to increase until the reign of William III., when it was considerably influenced by the hostile or tranquil state of the country. The post-office revenue, which, during the years of war only averaged . a year, produced in the succeeding years of peace on an average annually. This disproportion has of late years been reversed; and the last years of war were those in which the post-office has been most productive.

On the union of Scotland with England, in , a general post-office was established by act of parliament, which included not only Great and Ireland, but our West India and American colonies. This extension of the post-office increased the revenue to What portion of this sum was produced by the respective countries does not appear, but there is reason to believe that it was almost entirely inland, and even English; for even so late as the years between and the post was only transmitted days a week between Edinburgh and London; and the metropolis, which now sends between and letters a day to Edinburgh, on occasion during the period just mentioned only sent a single letter, which was for an Edinburgh banker, of the name of Ramsay.

The most remarkable event in the history of the Post-office is the plan suggested by Mr. Palmer, in , of sending the letters by the coaches, instead of the old custom of transmitting them by post-boys on horse-back. From this moment the prosperity of the post-office commenced; and the revenue, which, after the progress of nearly centuries, in only produced

694

annually, years afterwards yielded a net revenue of nearly million .

The post-office consists of branches; the general or inland, the foreign, and the -penny post-offices. The general post-office is necessarily the most extensive and the most important, and some idea may be formed of the number of letters that pass through it, when it is known that the amount of postage on the letters delivered in London from this office sometimes exceeds in a single morning. Numerous as the letters are, such is the admirable arrangement that the whole business of the day is done in about hours. hours in the morning, from to o'clock, when the letters are received by the mails, the amount taken, stamped, sorted, and distributed by the several postmen, who deliver them in every part of the metropolis. The business of the evening, which is the most difficult, is transacted between the hours of and o'clock, when all the letters are sorted and despatched with the most surprising rapidity. On the day that a committee of the house of commons attended at the general post-office to examine the details of the business, the number of letters amounted to , the whole of which were sorted and charged by persons in the space of minutes. The office has as many divisions as there are distinct mails, and the business of the junior clerks is to sort the letters and hand them to the chief clerk of each of these divisions, who examines the letter to see whether it is single or double, franked, or properly charged if paid for, and then marks the proper charge of postage; and all this is done at the rate of from to letters in a minute. They are then made up into distinct bags for the respective post-masters, sealed up, and the amount charged, when they are handed to the guards of the coaches, and are in a few hours dispersed over all parts of the kingdom.

The business of the foreign post office, the inland letter-carrier's office for newspapers, and the ship letter-office in , is conducted in a similar manner, with a difference as to the days on which letters are made up, and the hours of attendance, as on foreign post days the office is open for receiving letters until o'clock at night.

The twopenny post office, for the transmission of letters from part of the metropolis and its environs to another, was projected by Mr. David Murray, an upholsterer, of , in the year , and the plan was sometime acted upon as a private speculation by William Dockwray, to whom Murray communicated it. The postage was at only a penny; when the business became an object of importance to the government, who took the business into their own hands, allowing Dockwray a pension of per annum for life. The principal offices for the twopenny post are in , and ; there are also upwards of receiving houses in various parts of the metropolis, which are

695

continually adding to their number as new buildings are erected. The number of letters circulating in a population of a million and a quarter, may readily be conceived to be immense; but there is day in the year in which they are increased beyond any thing that imagination could calculate-this is St. Valentine's day; it appears by the official returns, that on the , the number of letters which passed through the twopenny post office in London, exceeded the usual daily average by !

The whole business of the post office is under the direction of a nobleman, who fills the office of post-master general; but the general management is confided to the secretary and resident surveyor, who has under him inspectors, comptrollers, a receiver-general, and numerous other officers-all places of great trust and confidence.

As a source of revenue, the post-office is of the most fertile and least objectionable of imposts, since no person can begrudge a shilling for having his letter transmitted miles in the short period of hours. The amount produced annually by the post-office is also of importance, even in a country where the revenues are greater than any ancient or modern country. It appears by the official returns, that the gross amount of the revenue from the post office, for the year ending the , was , from which deducting a sum of leaves a net produce of applicable to national objects-exhibiting in itself a monument of the extensive commerce and active intercourses of Great .

The present situation of the general post office in , though possessing the advantage of being in a centrical situation, is inconvenient for business so extensive ; and more than years ago it was determined to erect a new post-office on a larger scale, and more worthy of this great city, on the site of .

has always been celebrated as a place of traffic and resort for merchants from all parts of the world. From an old book printed in , it appears that the Pope's merchants frequented this place and sold their wafer cakes (i. e. the host) sanctified at Rome, their pardons, &c.

this fine flower have they made the chiefest of all their trish trash. I pray thee, gentle reader, were not his pardoners merchants to them? Yea, it is well known, that their pardons, and other of their trumpery, hath been bought and sold in

Lombard-street

, and other places, as thou wilt buy and sell a horse in

Smithfield

.

In the middle of , before the fire of London in , stood the small church of St. Gabriel Fenchurch, which was not rebuilt, but the parish united to St. Margaret Pattens. On the north side of this street is , which takes

696

its name from an ancient mansion, or large house, the property of the honourable family of the Cullums, which took up the whole site of this street.

In this ward, on the south side of , but backward from the street, is the hall belonging to the Hudson's Bay company. It is an extensive brick building, adorned with pilasters, architraves, &c. In the hall is a vast pair of horns, of the Moose deer, weighing , and various canoes; and in another room, the picture of an elk, killed in the presence of Charles XI. of Sweden, which weighed and . In the court room is a portrait of prince Rupert, by sir W. Lely.

On the same side of is ; on the west side of which is Pewterers'-hall, a very good and convenient building, now let as a hat manufactory. In the court-room, which is a small apartment in a private house adjoining, is a portrait of Mr. William Smallwood, who was master of the company in the reign of Henry VII. and gave them the hall with a garden, and tenements adjoining. His portrait represents him in a black furred gown and hat, with his will in his left hand and his gloves in his right. In the window is a dial in stained glass, with the motto , and a representation of a spider and fly.

 
 
Footnotes:

[] Percy Histories, London, vol. iii. p. 45.

[] Vide, ante, p. 58

[] Lament against the city of London.

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 Title Page
 Dedication
 CHAPTER I: The site, extent, buildings, population, commerce, and a view of the progressive increase of London
 CHAPTER II: List of the parishes and churches in London, with their incumbents, &c
CHAPTER III: History and Topography of Aldersgate Ward
CHAPTER IV: History and Topography of Aldgate Ward
CHAPTER V: History and Topography of Bassishaw Ward
CHAPTER VI: History and Topography of Billingsgate Ward
CHAPTER VII: History and Topography of Bishopsgate Ward, Without and Within
CHAPTER VIII: History and Topography of Bread-street Ward
CHAPTER IX: History and Topography of Bridge Ward Within
CHAPTER X: History and Topography of Broad-street Ward
CHAPTER XI: History and Topography of Candlewick Ward
CHAPTER XII: History and Topography of Castle Baynard Ward
CHAPTER XIII: History and Topography of Cheap Ward
CHAPTER XIV: History and Topography of Coleman-street Ward
CHAPTER XV: History and Topography of Cordwainer's-street Ward
CHAPTER XVI: History and Topography of Cornhill Ward
CHAPTER XVII: History and Topography of Cripplegate Ward Within
CHAPTER XVIII: History and Topography of Cripplegate Yard Without
CHAPTER XIX: History and Topography of Dowgate Yard
CHAPTER XX: History and Topography of Farringdom Ward Within
CHAPTER XXI: History and Topography of Farringdon Ward Without
CHAPTER XXII: History and Topography of Langbourn Ward
CHAPTER XXIII: History and Topography of Lime-street Ward
CHAPTER XXIV: History and Topogrpahy of Portsoken Ward
CHAPTER XXV: History and Topography of Queenhithe Ward
CHAPTER XXVI: History and Topography of Tower Ward
CHAPTER XXVII: History and Topography of Vintry Ward
CHAPTER XXVIII: History and Topography of Wallbrook Ward