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This article outlines the long and interesting history of the postal service in Hungerford.

Hungerford lies, of course, on the important London to Bristol road, and Royal Posts passed through the town in Elizabethan times.

We know of Postmasters in Hungerford from 1690 - we’ve had over 20 Postmasters, and at least ten Post Offices.

It became a Post Sub Office in 1754, and a Post Town in 1786.

There are tales of bankruptcy, of financial success and several crimes. The article includes information about mail coaches, of postage stamps, of Victorian letter boxes, and of the telephone system.

I am greatly indebted to Graham Homer-Wooff who researched the postal history of many towns, and in 1996 wrote "The Postal History of Hungerford", on which much of the early history is based.

See also:

- Eddington Post Office

- History of coaching and Hungerford

- Victorian post boxes in Hungerford

- Telephone System

Photo Gallery:


126 High Street, Mar 2007 - Crown Post Office, 1914


25 High Street - site of Post Office 1857-1890

post theft 1818
post theft 1818

GPO Reward Notice for return of "bag of letters" lost at Hungerford, 23rd Oct 1818

postmens supper 1913
postmens supper 1913

The Postmen's Supper, 1913


14 High Street - site of Post Office 1890-1914

20140708 img_1565
20140708 img_1565

Crown Post Office, Jul 2014. Do you know what the little black missing brick is for? See the text for the solution!

19740701 postbus
19740701 postbus

The Royal Mail Post Bus at Denford Mill. This is one of the four Post Bus services started on1 Jul 1974, and carried mail and passengers to and from Kintbury.

19781002 postbuses
19781002 postbuses

The four Royal Mail Post Bus services started on1 Jul 1974, to carry mail and passengers to and from local villages.

19100000ca 89hs post master
19100000ca 89hs post master

Fred Macklin outside 89 High Street ?c1910. Attached to the picture frame is a postcard saying "F Macklin, Job & Post Master, High Street". (Kindly sent by Andrew Macey)

- 126 High Street, Mar 2007 - Crown Post Office, 1914.

- 25 High Street - site of Post Office 1857-1890.

- 14 High Street - site of Post Office 1890-1914.

- GPO Reward Notice for return of "bag of letters" lost at Hungerford, 23rd October 1818.

- Fred Macklin outside 89 High Street ?c1910. Attached to the picture frame is a postcard saying "F Macklin, Job & Post Master, High Street". (Kindly sent by Andrew Macey).

- The Postmen's Supper, 1913.

- Crown Post Office, July 2014. Do you know what the little black missing brick is for? Click here to see! [The policeman on the beat could step in it and pull up on the handles to reach high enough to view the Post Office safe through a clear slit in the obscured windows. With thanks to Bryan Bint]

- The Royal Mail Post Bus at Denford Mill. This is one of the four Post Bus services started on 1st July 1974, and carried mail and passengers to and from Kintbury.

- The four Royal Mail Post Bus services started on1 Jul 1974, to carry mail and passengers to and from local villages.

The Royal Postal Service:

In the 13th century, Henry III introduced the post of King's Messengers who transmitted. It is said that job of the Postmasters was to provide a relay of horses for these messengers.

Henry VIII created the Royal Mail in 1516, appointing Brian Tuke as "Master of the Postes".

Elizabeth I appointed Thomas Randolph as "Chief Postmaster".

The Royal Posts from London to Bristol passed through Hungerford in Elizabethan times. Robson Lowe, who reviewed the "Corsini" correspondence came to the conclusion that Bristol was served with a post, either mounted or on foot, some 2 to 3 days a week with transit times of 3-6 days.

It is interesting to note that in an "Order for Post" dated 1583 that the man riding post should:

- 1) Not ride without a Guide
- 2) Blow his horn when meeting (a) Company, (b) Passing through a town, or (c) At least three times per mile.

The charges were 1½d per mile on Queen's service otherwise 2d per mile. The speed was to be 7mph in summer and 5mph in winter.

The Royal Mail becomes available to the public:

In 1632, King Charles I appointed a merchant called Thomas Witherings as the “Postmaster of Foreign Mails”.

In 1635, Charles I made the Royal Mail available to the public, with a regular system of post roads, houses, and staff.

Thomas Witherings proposed the building of “Six Great Roads” to speed the transport of the King’s messages from London to the ports.

The Great West Road, running from London to Avonmouth at Bristol, was one of Withering’s six roads, although it is interesting to note that the original “Great West Road” in 1635 ran from London to Bristol via Oxford – not along the Thames valley through Hungerford as it switched to a little later (in 1660).

So, in 1635 a state letter monopoly formally came into being and the public institution of the Post Office was created.

Witherings established Post Offices across the country - the first post office at Bishopsgate Street, London in October 1635.

Even with these designated “Great Roads”, travel was fairly slow – in 1635 letters from London to Edinburgh took 3 days.

By 1640 regular “Stage coaches” appeared, but the roads remained very poor.

In 1660, after the Restoration of Charles II, the preferred route for the Great West Road switched to the route through Newbury and Hungerford.

The Broadsheet of 1669 states that "Newberry" was responsible for Hungerford, Isley, and Lamborn. The list also gives Marlborough as being the post town for Wooton Bassett, Devizes, Ramsbury, Lavington, Calne.

Initially it was the recipient of the post who paid the fee, and he had the right to refuse to accept the item if he did not wish to pay.

The charge was based on the distance the item had been carried so the GPO had to keep a separate account for each item.

Jeremiah Purton - Hungerford’s first known “Postmaster” (1690-1716):

We think the first Deputy Postmaster for Hungerford would have been appointed around 1670, but the first name we have is Jeremiah Purton in 1690.

He had a salary of 5s per month (£3 p.a.). This low salary indicates that Mr Purton did little more than 'mind the shop' and busied himself only with local letters.

So, Jeremiah Purton was the first of 21 Postmasters in Hungerford. The full list is shown here.

Francis Stanley of Wantage:

We don’t know much about Jeremiah Purton, because he was rather overshadowed by the 'star' of the area, Francis Stanley, the postmaster of Wantage.

Francis Stanley was clearly a great entrepreneur and he 'mopped up' the whole postal area. By 1712 he was running a Crosspost to Westbury in Wiltshire via Hungerford and was paid £200 4s for doing the job.

By 1715 his salary was some £475 p.a. whilst Mr Purton was still on his £3 p.a.!

Thomas Knobbs (1716-1723):

With the collapse of Francis Stanley's empire in 1716, the new Deputy of Hungerford, Thomas Nobbs (Nobs or Nodes) grabbed the opportunity presented and took over much of Stanley's southern empire.

By 1717 Thomas Nobbs' salary was £147 18s; by 1720 it was £196 4s and by 1723 it was approaching £300.

Thus Hungerford under Thomas Nobbs became the Wantage of former years. He was responsible for delivery of letters to three counties.

Unfortunately he went bankrupt in 1723 and the petition filed on 22nd July listed his delivery area:

' .. duties of Thomas Nodes, the Deputy of Hungerford, who as well as his predecessors, had the inspection and management of several places; viz: Hungerford, Great Bedwin, Pewsey, Upperhaven, Netherhaven, Amesbury, Stoke, Lavington, Westbury, Trowbridge, Bradford, Warminister, Shipton Mallett, Bruton, Wells, Froome and Mere .... in default in his accounts, owing to the Crown £1,112.9s.1d". He received the mail along the Great West Road and then used his personal delivery system to complete the contract. It seems he collected the money all right but failed to pay his dues to their Lordships!

Richard Biggs (1723-1731):

Thomas Nobbs was replaced by Richard Biggs who retained the route system but negotiated to be paid for one fifth of all letters through his hands - £330 pa. during 1723-33.

Phillip Allen (1732-1770):

Biggs' successor, Phillip Allen, took the routes and payment 'as is' and during the period 1733-1770 averaged a comfortable £300 pa. This payment dropped in the mid 1750s as some Bristol Mail was routed on Witherings' old route via Oxford. Dodsley records this in 1756 in his " New description of the Roads".

The Post along the Great West Road ran three times a week on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, returning to London on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Ralph Allen, the famous and all-powerful doyen of the Bath postmasters was not satisfied with this, and he paid for a ride on the Great West Road six days a week. Bath, and the Bath Road, were booming.

Hungerford was made a Sub Office in 1754 under Phillip Allen and a Post Town in 1786 (Dendy-Marshall).

The Bath Road becomes Turnpiked:

The Old Bath Road ran north of Hungerford through Chilton Foliat and Ramsbury to Marlborough. In 1726, the first Act was passed to improve the road. The Duke of Somerset gave permission for the New Bath Road to run through Savernake Forest to Froxfield. This was further improved by an Act of 1744. See also Coaching and Turnpike Trusts.

Misbehaving Postboys!

The Postboys were supposed to take about 38 hours for the journey from London to Bristol, but as the "Bath Journal" records on 5th Nov 1770, this was not always the case:

"The London Mail did not arrive here till five hours after the usual time owing to the Postman's getting a little intoxicated on his way between Newbury and Marlborough and falling off his horse into a hedge; where he was found asleep by means of his dog...".

John Powditch (1770-1778):

By 1770 John Powditch had replaced Mr Allen as deputy. He retained the Wells Bye Post with a salary of £197 4s.

Home delivery becomes a “free” service – in Hungerford:

The original plan of the GPO, all over the country, was to allow Postmasters of country towns to demand a fee for delivery.

Those who were expecting letters were expected to call for them at the Post Office.  If they wished them to be delivered to their home, an additional fee of 1d. or 2d. (according to the conscience or cupidity of the postmaster) could be charged, kept by the Postmaster.

Several towns brought actions against the Post Office to decide if prepaid postage ought not to ensure delivery in the boundaries of post towns. Hungerford was selected by the Courts as a typical case, and secured a judgement in its favour Michaelmas 1774.

Mary Powditch (1778-1799):

John Powditch died in 1778 and his wife Mary Powditch took over. Her salary was £37, against her husband's £300 in former years.

We know that the Post Office was in Charnham Street at this time, but we are not sure of its position. A Tithing of Charnham Street dated 1780 gives Mr John Snook as the post-office owner, with Mrs Powdish (sic!) as occupant. The 1781 tithing gives John Pearce as owner, with Mrs Powdish and George Thatcher as occupants.

The Coaching era:

The popularity of coaching increased enormously in Mary Powditch’s time starting in the 1780s. This “coaching era” was to last for about 60 years.

It was largely fuelled by the popularity of Bath as a “health resort” and social “must-be-seen-at” place, and was largely led by John Palmer, the licensee of the 'Theatre Royal' in Bath.

The Palmer family ran two theatres - the other was in Bristol. John ran a service of fast post chaises between the two theatres exchanging actors and properties. It is thought that this activity gave him the idea for the fast mail coaches. The concept proved a great success and lasted for nearly 60 years.

The journey between London and Bristol was taking some 15-16 hours. The Palmer coaches left the 'Swan with Two Necks' in Lad Lane at 8pm arriving in Bristol around 11am.

By Victorian times under 12 hours was the target. Dinner in London and Breakfast in Bristol!

The physicians of the day stated categorically that "the Dew celerity of the coaches would give rise to affection of the brain". There was also a problem with there being no standrd time across the country. Bristol's time was 20 min behind London's so the timepieces had to be adjusted to loose 20 min on the Down run and gain on the Up run.

The coaches were built in Millbank by John Besant. On his death in 1791, John Vidler carried on the business. The coaches were not sold but hired out on a double mile basis. London to Bristol including maintenance was about £14 per week.

The tale of the lost breeches!

The coaches came through Hungerford around 5am. There is a delightful story of the Postmaster's wife, who, groping around in the dark for the letter bags, threw down her husband's leather breeches to the waiting Mail Guard. These were packed in the boot - the error not being discovered until the coach arrived at the GPO!

The 1792 Universal British Directory (and the 1796 Billings Directory) both list Mrs Powditch as Postmistress, and the Post Office in Charnham Street. Details, times, places and costs are listed. Hungerford to London post cost 4d. Eight or ten coaches pass daily through Hungerford except Saturday.

Universal British Directory, 1792:

Post Office. The post Office is in Charnham Street, where mail coaches go through, the high road to Bath, Bristol, and Exeter, they leave the bags at Hungerford froma London, Maidenhead, Reading, and Newbury, about half past four in the morning, and take the Marlborough, Calne, Chippenham, Bath, and Bristol bags. On their return to town they reach Hungerford about eleven o'clock at night, and take the London, Maidenhead, Reading, and Newbury, leaving the Bristol, Bath, Chippenham, Calne, and Marlborough bags, the downward post every night in the week. No post goes from Hungerford to London on Saturdays consequently the London mail does not come in 'til the Tuesday morning.

The postage from London to Hungerford is 4d, from Hungerford to Maidenhead 4d, to Reading 3d, to Newbury 2d, Marlborough 2d, Chippenham 3d, Bath and Bristol 4d.

The Bath and Bristol mail coaches change horses at Hungerford, as do two of three other coaches, there being eight or ten that pass daily through the town except Saturday. The fare from Hungerford to London is 18s to Bath and Bristol 13s.

In the List of Post Towns 1793 Hungerford is shown with mail arriving at 5am and departing at 11pm.

The cost of letter post:

The cost of a letter from Hungerford to London was:

- 1711 - 3d
- 1784 - 4d
- 1796 - 6d
- 1805 - 7d
- 1812 - 8d

Sarah Liddiard and the theft from the Post Office:

In 1793 a local woman, Sarah Liddiard, was convicted at the Assizes at Salisbury of the theft of Bills and Notes from a letter in Hungerford - her husband was a Letter Carrier for the Post Office. She was sentenced to transportation to Australia.

General Post Office, 15 March 1793:

Whereas Sarah Liddiard, the wife of William Liddiard, lately a Letter Carrier in the Post Office in Hungerford, was convicted at the assizes held at Salisbury the 9th instant, of feloniously stealing Bills and Notes, which were taken out of a letter at Hungerford;

and at the same assizes an indictment was preferred and found against Mary Richardson, the wife of Thomas Richardson, Hungerford, painter, mother of the said Sarah Liddiard, as an accessory after the fact to the said felony so committed by her, the said Mary Richardson was committed to Devizes Bridewell on the same charge in November last, but escaped from thence on the 24th December. Whoever shall apprehend the said Mary Richardson and secure her in any of his Majesty's gaols of this kingdom, shall be entitled to a reward of FIFTY POUNDS to be paid on her conviction.

Sarah was eventually convicted at Wiltshire Assizes, 9th March 1793, and sentenced to 7 years deportation. She had married William Liddiard on 8th October 1792. She initially spent a few years on a prison hulk, before departing October 1795. She arrived on the Indispensable on 30th April 1796. She remarried in Australia.

In October 1795 Mary Powditch petitioned the Postmaster General, praying his office to purchase a house in which to conduct the business of her office, but she failed to get support.

Mary Powditch resigned on 27th September 1799 due to ill health. The Post Office noted that "she is now penny less and owes money. She was postmistress after her husband, and an inspector in the Dead Letter Office. She is not hostile to the Government; suggest a pension of £5-6 p.a.".

Mr Francis (1799-1808):

Lord Camden recommended a Mr Francis for the vacant post in October 1799 but Lord Ailesbury objected saying that the Post office should 'not take away the bread from a man with eleven children and doing the job satisfactorily.' This means that the Surveyor, Mr Woodcock must have placed a man in charge of Hungerford in September on a temporary basis. His name is not recorded.

However Mr Francis got the job with a salary of £41 12s. Bye Work £15: Riding £20.

His appointment was clearly unpopular with someone as a stream of letters flowed into the GPO accusing him of various crimes. Most were rejected as having no foundation.

One letter of November 1804 reported that a letter from Hungerford was stolen: "the crime was done by two lads, both of tender age, one the son of the postmaster; the other has been committed to Reading Goal charged on suspicion of a felony; the postmaster must be told not to employ persons under the age of sixteen and must not have access to the business of the Office. No dismissal is necessary. "...

However by June 1808, Mr Francis after nearly nine years of what was clearly an unhappy time, resigned. The Post Office noted that he had suffered an unusual degree of calamity and misfortune and was the object for great commiseration!

Thomas Atherton (1808-1809):

Lord Ailesbury (Charles Brudenell-Bruce, 1st Marquis of Ailesbury, MP for Marlborough) pushed for a Mr Fowler but Thomas Atherton was appointed in June 1808 with an increased salary of £71 12s: Riding £71. Thomas Atherton was the miller at Queen's Mill in Bridge Street, and had been Constable of Hungerford in 1804. He also owned 11 Bridge Street. Perhaps he ran the post service from there.

The £71 was for a Ride to Lambourn but as a letter of 17th August shows, Mr Francis had made other arrangements for this Ride prior to his resignation! "The late postmaster was in the habit of underletting the ride to Lambourn which is contrary to Standing Orders. The full price of £71 p.a. is at a very low rate and were it performed in the regular way by horse without the carriage of parcels, I am satisfied we could not get anyone to do it except at a great advance. But as it is now done for £42 by a common carrier who keeps a horse & cart for parcels & Pax and as the people of Lambourn appear to be satisfied, I see no reason for altering the plan. The only reform necessary is to reduce the Postmaster's allowance to which the carrier receives.."

Note that as the contractor could carry parcels, he did not warrant the correct Post Office rate which would have demanded exclusive use of the cart for Post Office business. Lambourn had been under Wantage since Francis Stanley's time (1695-1717). Stanley had paid for a deputy at Lamborn out of his own salary. In the 1793 List of Post Towns, Lambourn is still under Wantage so a transfer to Hungerford occurred around 1800. The Lambourn mail came with the main Hungerford Bags on the coach which passed to the north of the Town. Mr Atherton was given an allowance of £6 pa to employ a person to take in the Bags from the coach and deliver them by cart to the Post Office.

In August 1809 the Lambourn Ride was reviewed; the allowance was increased to £56 but the contractor had to pay £4 horse tax from his own pocket. The contract price increased over the next few years due to the hostilities on the Continent which pushed up the price of provender. By 1810 the cost was £70 and by 1817 the Ride had been extended to Ramsbury in Wiltshire.

In a letter dated 21st April 1809 Thomas Atherton sought to resign. Lord Ailesbury declined to nominate a successor, but in June 1809 Lord Ailesbury recommended the appointment of Mr John Westall (a local shopkeeper).

John Westall (1809-1836):

John Westall replaced Mr Atherton and their Lordships were quite happy to allow him the £70 as they noted that "we are only paying £5.8s per mile , whereas elsewhere we are paying £7.8s per mile.".

Loss of a bag of letters. 1818:

In October 1818, as the Reward notice (see Photo Gallery) shows, a bag of letters was lost from the Mail Coach. It is not known if the 5gns was claimed.

John Westall, a linen draper, lived in the Market Place (probably 25 High Street) – he’s in the 1823 Directory as an Auctioneer & Appraiser and agent for the Albion Assurance Co. The Westalls were a large Hungerford family. Joseph Westall, possibly John's brother, was at 44 High Street.

By 1830 he had moved to larger premises in the High Street, was agent for the Phoenix Assurance and had added a Linen draper, haberdasher and hosiery business to bolster his income from the Post Office. The Directory also shows an Elizabeth & Jane Westall running a day/boarding school in the High St; a busy family indeed.

How Postmasters submitted their takings to London was answered by a letter of November 1824. Mr Westall wrote to their Lordships asking if he could now have his credit of £8 from the year 1815. It seems that Postmasters, when they had accumulated suitable amounts of coinage would go to the local Bank to buy Draft Notes. These were valid for a certain period of time and could easily be included in the London Mail Bag. In Mr Westall's case the Notes were on the Newbury Old Bank for £16. These Notes were received in London on Saturday December 9th 1815 and sent to the Receiver General who did not present them to the Bank of England until the Monday morning; too late to be honoured. Mr Westall went to the Newbury Bank and managed to get a refund of £8.

Nine years later, he was still trying to recover the other £8. Lord Chichester (?Henry Pelham, 3rd Earl of Chichester) replied: "I think he should be paid the £8 but not his travelling expenses to Newbury. Why don't Postmasters submit their money in Bank of England Notes ?..." The Secretary replied: We have considered this but it is impracticable. In many parts of the country B of E notes are almost unknown. In Offices with large receipts, the Postmasters pay into local Bankers who furnish Drafts at short date without any charge for stamps (duty). I may mention that one office, the Postmaster is suffered to remit about £100 in silver which though inconvenient on many accounts, is considered preferable to his retaining large sums in his hand until he could procure Bills or Notes for that amount."

In May 1825 John Westall applied for an increase in salary to pay the person collecting the Bags from the coaches. The Post Office approved: "the distance is ½ mile and the individual who performs it is disturbed twice every night by the Up & Down coaches. £6 is considered inadequate and a modest addition of £2 would be satisfactory." There is no mention of who the 'individual' was but he must of course have lived on the main coaching road.

The Lambourn Ride continued under Mr Westall. In 1827 the cost was raised to £75 but he was warned that the bags were to be carried at 7mph and not the present tardy pace. In December 1828 the Rider was armed with Pistols & Holsters as the route was through sparsely inhabited and lonely woods.

The Rider obviously upset a Tollgate keeper as a letter of April 1829 demonstrates : "A short time ago the Keeper of the Preston Toll Gate between Hungerford and Lambourn advised the Rider was carrying Pax. I encouraged him next time this occurred to lay information in front of a Magistrate, which he did and the Rider was fined in the Courts. In consequence of this the Rider has conducted himself in the grossest manner towards the Gatekeeper who appealed to this Office for protection. The Rider was dismissed as a very improper person. The offence is punishable with hard labour in a House of Correction. . . "

A natural reaction perhaps? The story continues with another report three days later: "I have received a Memorial signed by all the decent people in the neighbourhood, besides individual applications setting forth that the account upon which the Rider was dismissed were false! He has not carried Pax; that his general character is irreproachable and also that the Gatekeeper, his accuser, is a man of no reputation; that the Magistrates only fined the rider costs because the evidence was not satisfactory .Under the circumstances the rider should be re-employed. I only regret that when the matter was reported more effort was not made to ascertain the facts. .". A happy ending after all!

On 5th January 1832 Ramsbury was reduced to a Sub Office and John Westall was sent there via Lambourn to instruct the new Receivers in their postal duties. He submitted a claim for expenses, - the Post Office noted cannily "If the Surveyor had proceeded to those places, the expense would have been considerable. Now however it is confined to the allowance for the postmaster of Hungerford ..... £2. . "

The 1830 Piggots Directory stated that "Letters arrive from London and the North every morning at a quarter before four, and are dispatched every night at half past eleven. Letters arrive from the West at 11.30pm and are despatched at 3.45am. Office hours - the box closes every night at nine, but letters are received until ten by payment of one penny with each"

In September 1836 the Revd. Atwood wrote to the Post Office to ask if the Bristol Mail could carry the Bag of letters for Froxfield. The Surveyor, Mr Rideout went to Hungerford and having spoken to Mr Westall, responded: "As the Mail Coach only stops at Froxfield to change horses, it would be necessary to make Froxfield a Post Town and as the letters do not exceed 3 in a day, the expense of delivering such trifling correspondence would scarcely cover the expense of delivery. .Refused. "

John Westall died in 1836 (buried 22 Aug 1836), and his son Samuel Westall was appointed Postmaster.

Samuel Westall (1836-1840):

It was Samuel Westall receiving the mail via the fast Bristol Mail Coaches which thundered along Charnham Street through the night. At least a dozen mail coaches and stage coaches ran on the Bath Road daily.

Much was about to change.

The arrival of the "Universal Penny Post", 1840:

The first big change was the arrival of the “Uniform Penny Post” in 1840.

This incorporated the two key innovations of

- a uniform postal rate, which cut administrative costs and encouraged use of the system, and

- the adhesive pre-paid stamp.

The famous social reformer Rowland Hill was the inspiration behind this sweeping change. It is said he had seen a poor woman refuse a letter from her son. The charge was a shilling, and this she could not afford. He paid it for her, and she told him he should not have done so, for there was nothing in the letter but a blank sheet of paper. She said it was useless for her son to write, for the postage was far beyond her means; but when he went away to work she had arranged with him to send a blank sheet at regular intervals. She always refused to take it in; but as long as it came, she knew he was alive and well!

Rowland Hill understood what a grief it must be to poor people to have no real news of absent relatives; and this was one of his strongest weapons in his fight to reform the postal system.

It followed that letters could travel over any distance in Great Britain for the standard rate of one penny.

The first stamps were issued in May 1840 - the Penny Black, and the Two Pence Blue – for ½ ounce and one ounce respectively.

Ann Hincks (1840-1846):

The arrival of the Penny Post also heralded in a new postmistress - Ann Hincks. (A Sarah Hincks had run the Black Bear (now The Bear) in 1823.) The 1840 Directory shows Ann and Mary Hincks running a Booksellers & Stationers in the High Street. She continued to supervise the Lambourn Ride and until 1841 received the London Bags by Mailcoach.

The Railway:

The second great change was the arrival of the railway. The arrival of the Railway Age, in particular the opening of Brunel's Great Western Railway from Paddington to Temple Meads Station, Bristol on 30th June 1841, brought about the demise of the Mailcoach.

Much to many people's surprise, this was followed very rapidly by a collapse of the coaching trade, and everything associated with it (see Coaching). Ditchfield in his book notes the 'gloom and desolation of the once bustling hostelries'. The contractors tried to save some business by running linking coaches to the nearest station.

Unfortunately the GWR track did not follow the Bath Road. At Reading, the line swept northwest in a large arc passing through Didcot, Uffington, Shrivenham and Swindon.

This isolated the old Bath Road towns like Newbury, Hungerford and Marlborough. They were forced to find links with the Railway.

Strangely, records for 1841-45 do not recount any facts of this period.

However, we know that a Mailcart was established in 1841 linking Newbury with Swindon. As Hungerford is on the direct route to Swindon, there is little doubt that the service also encompassed Hungerford and may explain the lack of records for the period from Hungerford.

There is a letter dated 25th January 1846 stating that the Swindon contractor (Mr Hearne?) was dismissed for overturning the mailcart.

Charles Osmond (1846-1889):

Ann Hincks resigned on 15th June 1846 due to a 'serious illness' and was replaced by Charles Osmond of 130 High Street, Parish clerk, Stationer, Toy dealer & agent for the Norwich Union.

He must have been a youngish man as he remained in office for the next 44 years. (This was probably the same Charles Osmond recorded in the 1841 census as a butcher, aged 20 years at 10 High Street. He seems to have been a versatile young man!).

He was given an allowance of £20 pa for a letter carrier to deliver Town letters.

(It should aslo be noted that George Chesterman, aged 46 years, a widower, is recorded in the 1851 census for (probably 35) Charnham Street, as being "Postmaster, employing 2 men). He lived there with his 4 daughters, 1 son, his sister and a servant.)

Hungerford's first post-woman:

Charles Osmond wrote to the Post Office volunteering his wife for the duties! The Secretary replied: "We should not allow the postmaster's wife to be a letter carrier. It utterly destroys the check on the local letter account and also there strong objections to the office of licencee being in any instance held by a female." The Postmaster General, the Marquess of Clanricarde, did not however agree: "I presume this opinion is forwarded upon experience but I do not see why man and wife cannot perform the duties of postmaster and licensee in small towns. Such arrangements impose more responsibilities on the postmaster".

So Hungerford's first town delivery was undertaken by a woman.

Mr Osmond moved the site of the Post Office on 17th July 1849, no doubt to larger premises; address still given as 'High Street'.

The Railway came to Hungerford:

The Berks & Hants Railway Co. had built a line from Reading to Newbury and in December 1847 had extended the line- a double track broad gauge to Hungerford. The Company was bought by the GWR and the Post Office initiated plans to carry mail bags on this line for £50 pa. This offer was rejected by the GWR who demanded £100 per annum. The Post Office in turn rejected this amount stating that £100 was more than a quarter of the value of the letters— £216 4s 8d. It seems that the postmaster used a 'quarter value' as a rule of thumb for expenditure. The Secretary kept at the problem and during the period December 1852 - Febrary 1853 made the following arrangements with the GWR: The P.O. would buy a second Class fare ( Mon-Sat ) at 3s 5d per day for a messenger to take the London Bags from Reading via Newbury to Hungerford. Cost £53 p.a. The GWR agreed but stated that they would in no way be held responsible for the Bags and postmaster must employ their own Guards. The bags were then picked up from the Station and delivered to the postmaster.

Mr Osmond gets into deep water!

By 1856 there were two deliveries by train per day and yearly receipts about £300.

1856 was also the year in which Mr Osmond's career nearly came to a close, as "charges of a serious nature" were brought by the Post Office.

The postmaster of Newbury at that time was a Mr Henry Ashley (1847-56) - who was dismissed for being a debtor and falsifying accounts. Apparently Mr Ashley was tipped off that the Surveyor was going to pay him a visit and knowing that his stamp account was short, sent to Hungerford in the middle of the night for a supply of stamps to complete his stock. A letter of 28 Oct continues the story: " ...that Mr Osmond complied with the request, doubtless being well aware at the time of the purpose for which the stamps were required... Next day, when Mr Osmond discovered the serious state of Mr Ashley's position, he resorted to the disgraceful expedient of passing himself off as a "Mr Williams" sub distributor of stamps at Hungerford, who had at one time given the postmaster of Newbury £10 worth of stamps, in hope that he would, by this means regain compensation for his loss. The whole transaction is so discreditable that postmaster of Hungerford should be dismissed."

During the following weeks testimonials arrived from Hungerford requesting the return of their valued postmaster. The Surveyor confirmed the hitherto blameless character of Mr Osmond and after some deliberation the Post Office decided that Mr Osmond may not have known the true purpose of the 'middle of the night' stamps so agreed to his reinstatement on 26 Nov. Mr Frederick Adnams became postmaster of Newbury and like Mr Osmond remained for another 35 years in office.

By 1857 postal business was on the increase so Mr Osmond moved again in the High Street to larger premises on 18th May.

In the 1861 census, at 25 High Street are Charles Osmond (43), Postmaster, Post Office and at Arman's Yard (rear of 11 Bridge Street) John Adams (48) Postboy.

In November 1862 a 24m single track extension of the original Berks & Hants Railway was opened to Seend near Devizes. The High Street was now spanned by a railway bridge which was replaced in 1898 when the line was converted to double track.

Post boxes (wall boxes):

Post boxes were introduced in large towns as early as 1852. The earliest wall box in Hungerford was in Charnham Street, installed 1877.

Follow this for much more on Victorian post boxes in Hungerford.

The Telegraph System:

In 1870, in common with other post offices the Hungerford office was connected to the Telegraph system.

The charges were 1s for first 20 words, then 3d for each additional 5 words or part thereof.

1871 (Census) 25 High Street: Charles Osmond, Postmaster Willes Cottages (N. of Salisbury Arms) Frederick Barns post messenger to Kintbury
1877 (Kelly Directory) Three Swans Hotel: Mrs. Jane Bell Free – family and commercial hotel and posting house.
1881 (Census) 25 High Street: Charles Osmond (illegible), Charles Woolston and James Shaw, Postal Clerks. BellYard: Charles Dobson (27) Postboy ?36 High Street: George Challis, rural postman 90 High Street: Ephraim Vockins, postman.

In October 1879, Mr Osmond lost some letters from his office. On investigation by the Post Office, it seemed that his son, Charles Alexander Osmond had something to do with their disappearance, and the Authorities insisted that the son 'should be sent away from home'.

Presumably he was, for we next hear of him again in a splendid advert in the 1887 Directory as Proprietor of "The Plume", High Street, with 'marquees and tents suitable for garden, fishing, lawn tennis and cricket parties on the shortest notice'! A few years later a Mrs Edith Osmond was running the Bear in Charnham Street; an enterprising family.

In December 1889, after nearly 44 years, the office at Hungerford became vacant with, I assume, the death of Mr Osmond.

Henry John Barclay (1890-1898):

Henry John Barclay became the new Postmaster on 4th February 1890 and the Post Office took the opportunity to reorganise the office. The Surveyor noted dryly that "the salary of the late Postmaster was decidedly below average and I propose £150p.a. forthwith. Three Assistants in the office at £100 work 11hrs daily."

The quality of work under such conditions is not satisfactory so I propose to establish two Sorting Clerks/Telegraphists plus an allowance of £39 p.a. to reduce the hours to 9½ daily. This will cost an additional £43 p.a.". Further staff - a Clerk and two extra Temps (one the Postmaster's wife) were engaged in November 1895.

In 1891 the Surveyor decided that the Post Office was too small so increased Mr Barclay's rent allowance from £2510s to £52pa to "enable the postmaster to fit up an enlarged and improved office adequate to the increased requirements of the service. The postmaster must find personal accommodation elsewhere." Mr Barclay's personal accommodation must have been extensive as we shall see shortly!

More misdemeanours:

In August 1891, after numerous complaints about missing letters, the Authorities arrested the Postmaster's assistant, Mr J W H Osmond. A search of his house revealed a brooch subsequently identified as having been enclosed in a letter which failed to arrive. Other Post Office articles were found and there was little doubt that the theft ''was of a systematic kind'. He was sentenced to 3 years penal servitude in November 1891.

A few years later the Postmaster himself was under suspicion as a letter of November 1898 reveals: "When the Account at Hungerford as checked by the Surveyor, the cash was deficient by £198 13s 0¼d. Mr Barclay, unable to make good the account, was suspended. His explanation was that the deficiency had been growing for 3 years during which period he had continually missed money and stamps from his safe although he only, so far as he knew, had a key. He had been afraid to report losses for fear of loosing his appointment as careless and untrustworthy. Mr Barclay has no income other than £150 salary and has a wife and 13 children to support. There is a suspicion against one of Mr Barclays sons, a youth who appears to have had access to the premises and has been spending money beyond his earnings. His attitude during the hearing was unsatisfactory. However it seems the postmaster has been using official cash for personal reasons and with no little cunning manipulated his accounts to conceal their nature. I propose Mr Barclay should be appointed a Sorting Clerk elsewhere.". To no avail! In spite of his large family, their Lordships however did not agree, and demanded that he be dismissed.

Joseph Matthews (1899-1905):

He was replaced by Joseph Mathews who had come to the attention of their Lordships in a unusual manner as a letter of 9th December 1898 shows: "I bring to your notice the case of J Mathews, Clerk at Ashford. In 1891 he rendered valuable assistance in the Sandgate Lifeboat when the crew of the 'Benvenue' were rescued. The Postmaster General besides expressing his appreciation of the gallant conduct displayed by Mathews directed that his name should be noted for future promotion. He is now 31 yrs old and doing Post Office work for 15 years and in receipt of maximum scale, viz £140 pa. Considering the circumstances under which the previous Postmaster left, I submit that the office should he placed in the hands of an officer who has no previous connection with Hungerford."

Under Mr Mathews, the first Town Sub Office at Eddington was opened on 10th April 1899 under a postmistress, Miss Mary Brothers, and a Wall box was placed outside.

The Telephone System:

Hungerford Post Office, along with all other post offices, was first joined to the Telegraph System in 1870. Wherever possible, the necessary wires followed the railway lines.

Telephones started to be used in London in 1878, and were installed in Reading from 1899.

The first telephones were installed in Newbury in 1901 - with 23 listed subscribers.

In 1899 telephone lines were erected between Newbury and Marlborough, passing through Hungerford, but Hungerford still had no connection to the telephone system.

In 1904 a petition was received from Hungerford for a connection with the Telephone System. The Surveyor reported that 'sixteen persons would undertake to rent apparatus, and as a trunk circuit has recently been erected between Newbury and Marlborough, a line could be led to Hungerford for £145 to include apparatus etc.'.

Mr Mathews supervised this installation and in the summer of 1905 returned to his native Kent at Chislehurst.

Follow this for much more on the Telephone System.

Isaac Pountain (1905-1915):

Mr J. Pountain arrived from Derby where he was an Overseer on 15th August and was paid £200 p.a.

By 1913 the Surveyor was reporting that the Post Office in Hungerford was far too small and recommended the cancellation of the current lease on Ladyday 1914. The Landlady, a Mrs Hewer, objected to the loss of her lease as she had adapted the rooms for Post Office business and felt that it was not now suitable for other usage

Note: A photograph (see Photo Gallery) of Frederick Macklin outside 89 High Street ?c1910 was in a picture frame to which was attachedd a postcard saying "F Macklin, Job & Post Master, High Street". (Kindly sent by Andrew Macey). We had no previous knowledge of Fred Macklin being a Postmaster.

The new Crown Post Office is built:

After much correspondence the Surveyor decided that a site for a new Class II office should be sought. Messrs Tutt & Son offered to erect premises provided a 21 year lease was signed at a rent of £156 p.a. The Treasury approved in Feb 1914. This Crown Post Office building was erected on the site of Earle's Engineering workshop, and is dated 1914.

It is interesting to note that on the front of the building (now 126 High Street) there is a part brick purposely omitted from the front wall below one of the windows (see photograph above right). This, along with two carefully positioned handles, enabled the local beat policeman to step up and peer through a clear slit in the otherwise obscured window to check the Post Office safe that was in the room behind the window!

Further rural routes developed:

- Northern Ride to Lambourne (from early days)
- 1842: Froxfield and Ham
- 1847: Mail Cart Route: Chilton - Ramsbury - Aldbourne - Lambourn. On 16th October 1865 a Mr Durren the Mail Cart driver was prosecuted and convicted of being drunk on duty. (Later Baydon served from Aldbourne)

Footposts to:
- Froxfield - Shalbourne - Ham: (later the Bedwyns)
- Kintbury - Benham (Halfway) - Gravel Hill
- Hungerford New Town - Shefford - East Garston - Woodlands - Eastbury
- Inkpen - Combe (later Fosbury & the Vernhams)

All were initially performed on foot. The Kintbury Postman had to relinquish his 'Boot Allowance' as in 1903 his walk was shortened to less than 5 hours per day! Records show various problems on the Walks: £8 Remittance for Great Bedwyn lost in transit,-the Under-Secretary of the Home Office lived at Gt.Bedwyn and had his own personal pouch sent from Hungerford: Warrant embezzled,-Postman struck by lightning; Heart Strain and selling Insurance on his walk!

The first tricyle seems to have arrived in 1887 and was put on the Froxfield - Ham Route. Its use spread to other Routes. The cycling Rules & Regulations were somewhat harsh— I do not think I'd like to cycle 25 miles with 112 lbs aboard! Wheel Wobble could be very nasty - a rural cyclist was dismissed for riding his bicycle into a tree whilst intoxicated!

The cycle post on the Fosbury - Vernhams - Lower Green Route which is at the extremity of the Hungerford system was replaced with a Mounted Horse Post in 1902 but after various claims for horse keep and lost horses, the Post Office gave up and reinstated the cyclist in 1908.

For more information on the expansion of rural deliveries, and the hand stamps used, see The Postal History of Hungerford, by G H R Homer-Wooff.

The last Hungerford Postmaster:

Mr. W.A. Wilson was the last Postmaster at Hungerford (1980-1986). His responsibilities were replaced by Area Control from Reading with a Supervisor for each service ie. Counter, Parcels & Letters

On 1st July 1974 four Royal Mail Post Bus services were introduced to carry mail and passengers to and from local villages. (See Photo Gallery).

In 1989 the Post office planned to reduce the Hungerford Post Office running costs further by moving the services out of the 126 High Street building and providing the services in a Sub-Post Office in a High Street retail business.

On 21st July 1990 the Crown Post Office at 126 High Street closed for normal business. Services were transferred to "Post Office Counters" in Martin the Newsagent (later WH Smith, 7-8 High Street). A new red double post-box was erected in the pavement outside Martins.

Postmasters of Hungerford:

1690-1716 Jeremiah Purton
1716-1723 Thomas Nobbs
1723-1731 Richard Biggs
1732-1770 Philip Allen
1770-1778 John Powditch (Charnham Street, site unknown)
1778-1799 Mary Powditch (Charnham Street, site unknown)
1799-1808 Mr Francis (Unknown)
1808-1809 Thomas Atherton (?9 Bridge Street, tbc)
1809-1836 John Westall (25 High Street)
1836-1840 Samuel Westall (High Street, site unknown)
1840-1846 Ann Hinks (High Street, site unknown)
1846-1889 Charles Osmond (130 High Street, --> 25 High Street from 18 May 1857)
1890-1898 Henry John Barclay (25 High Street --> 1891, then 14 High Street)
1899–1905 Joseph Matthews (14 High Street)
1905–1915 Isaac Pountain (14 High Street)

Postmasters in the Crown Post Office:

1915–1923 A. Wise
1923–1941 H.G. Rickard
1941–1947 A.E. Baldock
1947–1961 S. Thomas
1961–1980 R.W. Talbot
1980–1986 W.A. Wilson

See also:

- History of coaching and Hungerford

- Victorian post boxes in Hungerford

- Telephone System

- "The Postal History of Hungerford" by G.H.R. Homer-Wooff, 1996

- The Crown Post Office, 126 High Street

- Eddington Post Office.