The Post Office


"To carriers, masters of stage coaches, coachmen, watermen and bargemen, masters of vessels or passage boats, either coastways within Great Britain or to or from Ireland, or to and from parts beyond the seas, against unlawfully collecting, carrying or conveying letters, and to all persons whatsoever against sending letters otherwise than by the post..."

Exeter Flying Post 27 October 1814 p1 col4


File:Charles Cooper Henderson - Mail Coaches on the Road- the `Quicksilver' Devonport-London Royal Mail about to Start with a new Te... - Google Art Project.jpg

Above: Mail Coaches on the Road: the 'Quicksilver' Devonport-London Royal Mail about to Start with a new Team (The Devonshire to London Coach) by Charles Cooper Henderson (1803 - 1877). Date: between 1820 and 1830. Oil on canvas.

In the public domain, issued by   Accessed 10-10-2013                                           

Sept 23 1601. Dartmouth. 'Hen. Hayward, mayor of Dartmouth, to Sec Cecil. John Hext, postmaster of Ashburton, scruples to receive letters directed to you from this town; if you give some command in that behalf, those letters will be the more speedily conveyed.'
Calendar of the State Papers of the reign of Elizabeth 1601-1603, with Addenda 1547-65, ed Mary Anne Everett Green, London 1870, p100

Originally for the sole use of the king and the royal court, the postal service was created in 1516. According to Royal Mail, the first master of the posts was Sir Brian Tuke. - accessed 20-11-2021

A list of packet posts, or post masters, who sent 'packets' between London and Plymouth in 1629. shows Thomas Cruse at Ashburton.
'These postmasters were bound, 8 March, 6. Charles I, in 50l each for the faithful performance of their engagements - a faithful and speedy conveyance of all letters that should be brought to them. Their horses were directed to be "able and sufficient, and well furnished of saddles, bridles, girts and stirropes, with good guides to looke to them; who for their said horses shall demand and receive of such as shall ride on them, the prices accustomed". The postmaster was also to have ready "two bags of leather at the least, well lined with bayes or cotton, to carry the packet in". He was also to have ready "hornes to sound and blow so oft as the post meets company, or four times in every mile." '
George Roberts, A Social History of the People of the Southern Counties of England, London, 1856, p511

1635 The first public postal service began, with letters being carried by individuals on horseback between 'posts'. At each post the postmaster would take out the letters for that place, and a new post-boy would continue the journey with the remaining letters.
The cost of sending letters varied according to the distance they were carried, and most letters, unless they came from major cities, were paid for on receipt.

According to an article in Postal History International, letters stamped with ASHBVR/TON written on two lines and framed around existed as early as 1714, and continued until at least 1755.
Ashburton and its Receiving Houses, Vernon A Rowe, Postal History International, December 1977, vol 6, p279

 1784 After lobbying by John Palmer, and with the support of William Pitt, the Post Office allowed a mail coach to make a journey from Bristol to London - it completed its task in less than half the time than the previous system.

From this date mileage marks were used to determine the correct cost - this system continued until 1839, when weight, rather than mileage, was the determining factor.

Mail coach routes quickly multiplied, with the London to Exeter route in place by the end of 1785. Routes then became established between main towns as well as to and from London.

Each mail coach carried an armed guard, who sounded a horn to warn people that the coach was coming. They also carried passengers both inside and outside the coach, but no-one was allowed to sit with the guard at the back. The coach also only stopped for postal business, not for the convenience of the passengers. If the coach did not have to stop at a particular town, the guard would throw out the bags of letters to the Postmaster (also called the Letter Receiver), who would in turn throw bags of outgoing letters up to the guard.

Contracts were awarded for operating these coach routes, with the contractors organizing fresh horses  along the route, about every 10 miles.  Accessed 09-10-2013 Accessed 20-10-2013

   The British Postal Museum and Archive hold many records for the appointment of employees of the Post Office from early Victorian times until to 1956. Amongst them, in POST 58/39, are the records for deputy postmasters.

These records show that in 1820 William Lloyd was appointed on the resignation of Mr. Eales.

He resigned in December 1833, when Samuel Porgate Knowles took up the post.

William Barons, innkeeper, was appointed at the beginning of 1842, when Knowles resigned.
See for information on appointments throughout the country. Accessed 8-3-2014

 When a bake-house and malt-house in West Street were advertised to let in 1834, Ashburton was described as a Borough, Market and Post Town.

Applications had to be made to Mr Cooke of Exeter, or Mr Morcombe, mason, of Ashburton - any letters had to be post-paid.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 24 August 1834 p3 col4

1835 A Mrs Lloyd died in Exeter, 'late of' the Golden Lion Inn, Ashburton. She was the mother of Mr Lloyd, postmaster of Ashburton.
Exeter Flying Post 19 March 1835 p2 col6

  In 1838 Marian* Adams, aged 74, died. She had been the letter carrier to the town for 44 years, earning the 'paltry sum' of two shillings a week for delivering letters and newspapers twice a day.

Her donkey, Betsy, bridle, side saddle and plated spur were all sold at auction, and were bought by the Sexton, Wm Hamlyn, for 3s 6d.
Western Times 27 October 1838 p3 col4

* 'Miriam' below, and a Miriam Adams's death is registered in the December quarter of 1838        

Miriam Adams had a stone put up by public subscription in 1858.      

'This tablet is erected to the memory of Miriam Adams who  for forty four years discharged the responsible duties of letter carrier to the Post Office in the town with uniform cheerfulness and strict fidelity.' She died October 12th 1838 aged 74.'
See Background to the tombstone survey, in the sub-menu to Churches and memorials        
Right: Miriam's gravestone in Ashburton churchyard. It is now almost unreadable.
My own photograph 2022

The first adhesive postage stamp, issued in Great Britain, was the Penny Black, used from May 6th 1840

However the letter below, sent from H Callard to R Tucker Esq, appears to be still using the old system.  The letter (not in an envelope), is folded to 8.5cm x 5.5cm - approximately 3" x 2", and was sealed on the back with wax.

From my own collection

In 1841 Samuel Lloyd, a clerk in the Ashburton Post Office, was on a charge of felony. He absconded and arrived in London, intending to board a ship, George, headed for the Cape of Good Hope. However he missed the ship, and fifty pounds reward was now offered if Samuel was apprehended and convicted. Samuel was about 17 years old, about 5 foot six inches in height with light hair and pale complexion. He was slender, with a thin face, and was wearing a pilot coat and brown mackintosh; he had last been seen at Deptford, attempting to purchase a hat.
The Examiner, 3 January 1841, p14
Many thanks to Jerry Parker for passing this item on

1842 S P Knowles resigned as postmaster. W Barows*, of the Golden Lion Hotel, was the new postmaster
Western Times 12 February 1842 p3 col5
*almost certainly should be Barons.

1844 The Post Office* was in East Street, with William Barrons as postmaster. Letters from places such as London and Exeter arrived each morning at 8.45, and were despatched each afternoon at 5.20. Letters from Kingsbridge and Totnes arrived at 9, and were despatched at 5.
Pigot and Co.'s Directory of Berks, Bucks etc. 1844 Part 1 p4

* The same directory lists the Golden Lion Family Hotel, with landlord George Bate, as a posting house (and excise office).

A post or posting house could either be a post office, or an inn or other property where travellers could hire horses. It is possible that the Post Office was  located in the Golden Lion, or it may have been elsewhere in East Street.

In 1891 Messrs Whiteway and Foot, selling the London Inn, described it as a Family and Commercial Hotel and Posting House. This is obviously being used in the sense of a place to hire horses, as the Post Office was by then in St Lawrence Lane.
Pigot's Directory of Berks, Bucks etc. 1844 p5
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
Western Times 28 August 1891 p1 col6


1846 The stamp office moved to Mr Burrow's, at the Post Office.
Western Times 14 March 1846 p6 col4

A large box and bag of mail arrived at the Post Office from Kingsbridge, sent from the ship Ellenborough. The ship had been at the Cape of Good Hope: Capt Close was the captain.
Western Times 9 May 1846 p6 col5

Inhabitants of places such as Broadhempston and Staverton not only had to pay the postage rate, but also had to pay 4d or 6d for people to bring their letters from the Post Office. A petition resulted in a daily post: when the London letters and newspapers arrived in Ashburton, a carrier then took the relevant items to the outlying parishes.
Western Times 12 December 1846 p5 col4

In 1847 the Western Times reported that the Quicksilver Mail was about to leave the road, replaced by steam.

 It still appears to have been operating in October, but perhaps on limited routes -  The Exeter Flying Post detailed the journey of a letter from Plymouth to Brent. The Quicksilver mail carried the letter through Brent on its way to Totnes, and it then went to Newton by rail. It arrived in Ashburton the next day, and from here a messenger carried it by foot the eight miles to Brent.

'This is your Railway Improvements'.

Exeter Flying Post 28 October 1847 p3 col5

1848 The Western Times thought that the Postmaster General should be petitioned to have the Plymouth post delivered to the South Brent railway station. Plymouth letters at the time could take twenty hours to get to Buckfastleigh and Ashburton, which the paper obviously considered too long.

Western Times 223 September 1848 p7 col4

1849 The Post Office closed on Sundays from 10am until 5pm.

To save 'trouble and inconvenience', a postage stamp had to be put on letters.

Western Times 3 November 1849 p6 col5


In 1851 the Exeter Flying Post reported that the Post Office had moved to the head of East Street*. The paper said that whilst this was 'very convenient for the few' who lived near it,  it was a long way for everybody else.

In the same column the paper reported that a valuation had been undertaken of the mail cart that travelled from Newton Abbot to Ashburton. The harness was valued at 12s 6d, the pony at 20s and the coach at 10s. 'Bravo Whig economy.'

Exeter Flying Post 10 April 1851 p8 col4
* See the 1861 census item below 

1852-53 The Post Office was in East Street, with William Barons as postmaster. Letters from all places such  arrived each morning at 7, and were despatched each afternoon at ten to six.
Slater's Directory of Berks, Cornwall, Devon etc. 1852-53  p5 

1857 The Western Times said that a post box at the Bullring would be a 'great accommodation.'

The same article said that some people could remember the mail coming from Exeter in a small cart drawn by one horse. Mail sent from Ashburton to Plymouth went by a messenger on a horse carrying saddlebags.

Western Times 11 July 1857 p7 col1

The Bullring post box, which could take letters and papers arrived a year later.

Western Times 18 September 1858  p6 col6

In 1859 Mr Govier, with the letter sack on his back, fell down between the wheel and the shaft of the mail cart when the horse started. He dislocated his shoulder.

Western Times 12 March 1859 p7 col2

Above: Letter sent to George Caunter in 1861
From my own collection

1861 William Barons, aged 73, is still post master on the 1861 census. The Post Office is roughly six properties up from the Golden Lion on the same side of the street (ie the south side).

William Barons died 22nd June 1863, and was described by the Western Times as having been post master for nearly thirty years.

His daughter was appointed postmistress in his place.

Western Times 26 June 1863 p6 col2

Western Times 10 July 1863 p8 col2

 'Post and M O and T O, S B and annuity and insurance office. (Railway sub-office. Letters should have R S O Devon added). William Henry Edgecombe, postmaster, East Street. Letters are delivered 7 and 11 am and 4.30 pm, dispatched at 4.32 and 7.15 pm. Box closes at 7 pm weekdays and 2.30 pm on Sundays. Money orders are granted and paid from 8 am to 6.30 pm.

Wall box, North Street, cleared at 6 pm, West end  6.5 week days only.
Kelly's Directory of Devonshire 1889 p 25


Above: The Golden Lion Hotel, East Street. The edge of the portico supporting the lion says, (I think) Family Hotel and Posting House.
From my own collection

Above: The Post Office, St Lawrence Lane
My own photograph 2013

The new Post Office (in Station Road/ St Lawrence Lane ) was opened on the 6th September 1890

Western Times 8 September 1890 p2 col4


William H Edgecombe is still the postmaster in the 1891 census.Edw

in W Johns is a (the only?) Town letter carrier and grocer in the same census.

'The mail cart came from Newton Abbot in the early morning, and went on to Buckfastleigh, returning about seven o'clock in the evening. During the day letters went off by train and a letter to London postetd at 9.10am was delivered in London the same afternoon. The Post-office was open to 7pm and on Sundays for a few hours for telegraph purposes and the sale of stamps. Incoming letters by the morning mail were quickly sorted and the country postmen started on their rounds. They carried special locked bags for the landed gentry.'
John Satterly, Memories of Ashburton in Late Victorian Days, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, vol 84, Torquay 1952, p27

1901 Miss Ethel Hays of Ashburton won first place in an examination for 'female learners' in the Post Office, held at Exeter

Western Times 1 March 1901 p6 col1

In the 1901 census John F. Eales, aged 51 and living in St. Lawrence Lane, is a rural postman. Married, with two daughters, he was born in Guernsey.
1901 Census RG13, Piece 2053, Folio 5, p2

1908 saw a devastating fire in St Lawrence Lane in which John R Eddy, aged 80*, died.

The blaze threatened the adjoining buildings of the Post Office and Holly Cottage, but both were saved.  

Western Times 10 August 1908 p4 col7

*Death registered as John Robert Eddy, aged 79


In 1916 a postman, Mr F H White, retired. He was presented with an ebony walking stick with a silver mount. He had worked for nearly 32 years covering the Ashburton, Widecombe and Buckland route. 

Western Times 29 December 1916 p10 col1

A motor hearse broke down at the top of Austwell [sic] Hill in September 1923: it was on its way to a funeral in Widecombe. The coffin was transferred to a royal mail van.
Western Times 7 September 1923, p7 col4

Above: Sign at the corner of St Lawrence Lane and East Street.

My own photograph 2013

Mr H Hannaford retired from being a postman in 1928. He had begun as an auxiliary postman in 1892, and had worked on the Holne and Poundsgate, and later the Woodland and Landscove rounds. He was presented with a mahogany clock and sugar basin.

Western Times 10 October 1928, p13 col1

In 1936 William Wilkinson, otherwise known as Blackjack or Snowball, was found dead at his lodgings in Kingsbridge Lane. Regarded as Ashburton's most eccentric character, he spent most of the year wandering over Dartmoor, or sleeping in a hut near Bickington.

Although far from destitute, when he was found his many layers of coats and jackets were mostly held together by safety pins. He had appeared before the justices at least twice charged with attempting to defraud the Post Office by sticking used stamps to parcels. His defence on one occasion was that he had £800 invested in the Post Office, so would be unlikely to want to defraud it.

Western Times 17 April 1936 p6 col3

Mrs Leonard Waldron*, an Ashburton postwoman, was involved in an accident in July 1949. Her cycle collided with a car at Caton Cross, and the St John Ambulance Brigade took her to Newton Abbot Hospital.
Western Times 8 July 1949 p8 col3
*Possibly Winifred - a Winifred J Beevers had married Leonard Waldron in the Newton Abbot district in 1940


                                      The Telegraph and Telephone

In 1842 a 'scientific gentleman' visited Ashburton, allegedly looking for a suitable location for a telegraphic establishment. Rippon Tor, 1549 above sea level, seemed a likely choice.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 17 December 1842, p3 col3

1871. Telegraph wires were being erected between Totnes and Ashburton. 'It appears now that we shall soon have this convenient communication so long expected by the manufacturers and tradesmen of this place...' The Western Times concluded that the railway works had caused the delay.
Western Times 27 October 1871 p8, col3 

'In the 1880s important legal decisions were made which confirmed that the Postmaster General's monopoly in providing telegraphic communication extended also to telephonic communication and placed the destiny of the telephone in Britain in the hands of the Post Office.'
H J C Spencer, Post Office Telecommunications Journal, Aug-Sept 1953, - Accessed 24-04-2017

Both Buckfastleigh and Ashburton were connected to the telephone exchange system during August 1890
East and South Devon Advertiser 9 August 1890, p7 col3

The earlist numbers in Ashburton were single or double digits. It looks as though all numbers were 3 digits by the 1950s - advertisements in the official Ashburton Guide show that the Golden Lion had become 205 (previously 5), Ashburton Motor Works had become 215 (previously 15) and Barnes' Café had become 330 (previously 30)
Official Guide of Ashburton, undated but between 1952 and 1961

                            Some early Ashburton telephone numbers:

Ashburton and Buckfastleigh Hospital 3
Kelly's Directory of Devonshire 1935

Edwin Tucker and Sons Ltd. Ashburton 4
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 27 March 1931, p4 col6

Golden Lion Hotel. Ashburton 5
Western Morning News 17 December 1919, p2 col7

Rendell and Sawdye. Ashburton 8
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 4 January 1935, p1 col4

Ashburton Motor Works. Ashburton 15
Advertisement in Burrow's Guide to Devon and Cornwall, 1921, p158

Thos. Wm Hobbs, The Globe Hotel, North St. 17
Kelly's Directory of Devonshire 1935

Charles H Baker, collector for the Urban District Council 19
Kelly's Directory of Devonshire 1935

Bowdley Farm. 20
Advertisement, Guide to Ashburton, undated but c.1930-33

London Hotel. 29
Advertisement, Guide to Ashburton, undated but c.1930-33

Barnes' Café. 30
Western Morning News 12 April 1930, p12 col3

C Cowley, 16 West Street. 42
Advertisement, Guide to Ashburton, undated but c.1930-33

Kingsley Hotel. 43
Advertisement, Guide to Ashburton, undated but c.1930-33

The Card House Café. 73
Advertisement, Guide to Ashburton, undated but c.1930-33

Sly's Dairy and Café. 85
Advertisement, Guide to Ashburton, undated but c.1930-33

Holne Chase Hotel. Ashburton 100
Western Morning News 23 January 1937, p8 col1

Before 1958 an operator had to manually connect you to telephones in another exchange.

Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) began in 1958 and was completed in 1979. The system involved each area having a dialling code: Ashburton was 0364.

On April 16th 1995 the code became 01364, when, in common with other areas, a '1' was inserted.

                                   Some telegrams sent and received
For a brief history of the telegram, and an example of one sent by H B Wrey, see the 1880s section of the Virtual museum

On Easter Monday 1879 the Volunteers were about to leave by train to take part in manoeuvres. Lieut Col Templar sent a telegram to cancel the manoeuvres because of rain and snow.

Western Times 15 April 1879 p4 col4

Above: A telegram to H M Firth in 1876.
From my own collection  

A series of telegrams in 1880 told of the stranding and possible wreck of the steamer Sorata at Cape Jarvis, en route to Melbourne. Later telegrams said that the passengers were safe, and that the ship might be saved.
Western Times 24 September 1880 p8 col5 

1904 A liberal victory for the Ashburton division was announced by telegram. The majority was much greater than had been anticipated, and the liberals were delighted. 'Needless to say, there was corresponding depression on the other side.'
Western Times 15 January 1904 p10 col3