Thornbury and District Museum August 2018
Post Office records indicate that Thornbury had become a ‘Post Town’ by 1770. It’s not known what the arrangements were for the post at that time, but in 1784 a new improved mail service was introduced between London and Bristol. This meant that mail posted before 8 o’clock in the evening arrived in Bristol by midday the next day.
The Post Office Museum has a record of a letter dated 1793 from Thornbury “praying that the Birmingham to Bristol mail coach may pass through”.
In 1796 the superintendent, Thomas Hasker, wrote to the Hon. Charles Francis Greville, who had proposed to take the Bristol to Birmingham mail coach through Thornbury.
Hasker said “Years ago the road was reported as incomplete, but Wilkins will go and report on it. At present the mail is taken there by a runner at £10 per annum. The decision must be left to the contractors for all the Innkeepers and Coach masters from Bristol to Birmingham are in a Company, thirty-four in number, and if they should say they will not, a new Connection cannot be formed. For this slight diversion from the present route, to pass through Thornbury, Mr Weeks be allowed an additional five minutes”.
It seems that this proposal was not granted and so mail to and from Thornbury was sent to Bristol, or it had to link up with the mail coach on its route from Bristol to Birmingham.
Before the days of penny post and adhesive stamps, towns off the main post roads which were used by the Royal Mail Coaches, had to make their own arrangements with the nearest post town for collection and delivery.
With Penny Posts, the postmaster made an arrangement to collect and deliver from non-post towns on payment of an extra one penny. In 5th Clause Posts, postmasters were authorised by the 5th Clause of an Act of 1801 to make an agreement with local inhabitants to carry letters at an agreed sum.
Bristol had 63 ‘Penny Post’s, but only one 5th Clause post, which was Thornbury, established in 1825.
Thornbury letters were stamped “Thornbury, 5th clause, clause post”. Under these regulations one penny was charged for the delivery of each letter at Thornbury.
In 1825 a ‘direct ride’ from Bristol to Thornbury began. This was a horse post to and from Bristol which appears to have replaced the previous foot messenger arrangement. The contractor also delivered and collected bags at Almondsbury and Filton, which were both “penny posts.” The ride arrived at Thornbury at 12.45 and left to return to Bristol at 2.00pm, allowing sufficient time for Thornbury folk to answer their letters by return of post.
The 5th Clause postal service in Thornbury came to an end on 15th February 1839 when it converted to a penny postal service.
The earliest postmaster recorded was John Bevan in 1797. There were only four other people who served in that capacity in the following 160 years; George Shepherd; his son, William Evans Shepherd, Henry Robbins and Charlie Pitcher.
The 1830 Pigot’s Commercial Directory noted that the Royal Mail service between Bristol and Birmingham had been diverted to go through Thornbury. By 1838 Thornbury was officially listed in Post Office records as a ‘sub-post town’.
The 1840 Tithe survey and the 1841 census show George Shepherd as the Postmaster living at 65 High Street. The records at the Postal Museum show that George’s salary for running the “subordinate office” in Thornbury was £16 a year. The 1851 census shows that George had moved the Post Office to the property now known as 45 High Street (which coincidently, became the site of the Post Office again in the late 1950’s). The 1851 census shows George was a grocer. The 1856 Post Office directory indicates that George was also trading as a tallow chandler and Norwich Union insurance agent.
By 1856 the Post Office were granting money orders, and by 1868 the Post Office was offering a savings bank as well as its other services.
In Victorian Times there were two or three collections and deliveries each day, seven days a week. However, the townsfolk back then were not satisfied.
An article appeared in the Bristol Journal in 1869 highlighting the fact that “Probably, there were few towns in England where letters are delivered so late, and the mail bags despatched so early, causing much inconvenience to the business public of Thornbury and surrounding villages”.
By 1876 the Post Office had moved to 28 High Street. Henry Robbins was postmaster there for 33 years until his death in 1908. In the 1880’s Henry became the first postmaster of Thornbury to have the role of selling stamps as well as running the postal service.
Henry Robbins never owned the property. In October 1908 Charlie Pitcher applied for and got the position of sub-postmaster at a salary of £164 and he became the owner of the property.
We know that like his predecessors, Charlie had to supplement his income. The directories show that he ran a stationer’s shop as well as the post office and that he later offered a library service.
Charlie Pitcher continued running the Post Office until the late 1950’s. His second wife, Jessie, continued living at 28 High Street and the Post Office moved to 45 High Street where it was run by David Pearce whose father had previously run a grocer’s shop in the same premises.
It remained there until the late 1980’s with a coffee shop/antique shop upstairs called Granny’s Attic. When this closed, the Post Office became incorporated into the convenience store at 9 High Street, which is now operated by the Coop.
Information and pictures supplied by members of the research group at Thornbury and District Museum.