By Geoffrey Washington
Sending written messages has been done by one method or another since around 3,000 B.C, but surviving records from our area are much more recent than that. Oliver Heywood (1630-1703) a former Vicar of Coley, was a prolific letter writer and his first reference to receiving a letter by post in 1682. A letter from Jeremy Lister in London to his brother is dated 1684.
In 1759, three deliveries of post arrived from London each week carried by horse drawn carriages travelling at 3-5 m.p.h, with the journey taking around three days. Horse drawn posts were armed as they were very vulnerable to attack and had frequent encounters with highwaymen, even the environs of Halifax. In those days, the White Lion Inn in Silver Street was used as a collection and delivery point.
The earliest record of a post office in Halifax dates from 1770 when the office was on the site of the present Bowling Green public house in Winding Road which is curiously very close the present sorting office at the bottom of Gaol Lane.
The first Post-mistress was Mary Wainman, who was paid the handsome sum of £60-3s-4d per year for her labours. This, in comparison with similar positions elsewhere in Yorkshire at the time was considered to be a high salary. Subsequently, the Postmaster at the Winding Road Office was John Bagnold, followed on his death by his wife Tabitha.
By 1823, the Halifax Post Office had moved to 6, Westgate, when one postman was sufficient to deliver all the mail in Halifax. However, a second postman was required in 1837 at which time the premises were at 10, Cheapside, and by 1840 a third man was appointed. This reflected the growing postal business in the town.
However in the period 1847-1851 there developed among the business fraternity a widespread dissatisfaction with the postal facilities in Halifax, so much so that in 1849 the Halifax Courier suggested a subscription list should be opened to pay for better premises. Hence in 1851, new premises financed by private subscription were taken up at 6, George Street, adjoining the Union Bank, (later Somerset House) The public entrance was in George Street, but the mail was brought in through a yard behind the Griffin Hotel. It was said that Halifax had one of the most commodious and convenient Post Offices in Yorkshire. Not only that, the public enjoyed the benefit of a well regulated and illuminated clock in the doorway of these high class premises.
By 1859, the postal staff had increased to four clerks, a stamper, and an outdoor delivery force of eight postmen with 22,000 letters being delivered per week. But the work of the Post Office was growing. For example, the Post Office Savings Bank was established in 1861 and was administered from George Street, as was the newly developed telegraph business in 1870. The increased load made these premises inadequate for the purpose and new accommodation was sought.
So it was in 1887 that the present purpose built General Post Office was opened in Commercial Street, an area which was just developing as a commercial centre of Halifax. The new building also provided for sorting arrangements and a telephone exchange above the public counter. Subsequently, several alterations were made, in 1909/10 the sorting office was extended and in 1927 the extension into the Old Cock Yard was made.
Since 1927 various modifications have been made to the Commercial street office, but the most fundamental change was made in 1972 when the purpose built administrative offices and sorting office were opened at the bottom of Gaol Lane, so near to the first known Post Office in Halifax over 230 years ago. So far as can be ascertained, most, if not all of the sorting is now done in Bradford or Leeds.
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