Horses have been used to carry messages from the very early days, when post boys would deliver messages by horse. In the 18th Century horse-drawn mail coaches were introduced, which cut mail delivery times by more than half.
But while efficient, mail coaches suffered many tragic accidents. In a previous blog we recounted the sad tale of a mail coach caught in a snow drift in Southern Scotland. We also found a lantern slide showing a coach in difficulty on a broken bridge. This and other images of horse-drawn mail from the Royal Mail Archive can now be seen on Flickr.
Accident, Lanark. Detail of a lantern slide showing a scene of a broken bridge where there central portion of the span has fallen into the river below. A coach is hanging off the right hand edge with two horses dangling in their harness. (2012-0139/1)
The advent of the railways in the 19th Century further sped-up mail delivery, and mail coaches were withdrawn from use. However there was still work at the Post Office for a good horse, and horses were used to pull carts, carriages and vans until at least the mid-20th Century.
Interestingly, horses were also entitled to sick leave. A note held in the Archives from 1898 states that:
Mr T C Poppleton’s horse of The Post Office is suffering from sore shoulders and unable to perform his official duties.
Horse’s sick note, 27 October 1898.
Horses were not employed directly by the Post Office but were provided by contractors. A number of the images we have put on Flickr show scenes from the stables of McNamara and Co, who provided horses for postal duties in London.
Horse in the stables of Messers McNamara and Co., 1949. (POST 118/1988)
By the late 1930s horses had largely been replaced by motorised vehicles, although they were used in remote areas on a limited basis. The last London post horse, Peter, left Post Office headquarters in the City of London on 23 September 1949.
The last horse drawn mail used in London leaves on delivery. (POST 118/1982)
View our images of Horse-drawn Mail on Flickr.
Wandering Genealogist’s recent blog on a mail coach accident involving his ancestor reminded us of two photos in our collection relating to another mail coach tragedy which occurred in Southern Scotland.
On the morning of 1st February 1831 mail coach driver John Goodfellow and mail coach guard James McGeorge set out from Dumfries to Edinburgh. This article on the Scottish Memories website relates:
Snow had begun to fall heavily as they boarded their mail coach bound for Moffat and they had occasionally to force the vehicle through deepening drifts to complete this stage of their journey: but both…were experienced middle-aged men with a strong sense of duty and “a bit of snow” was not going to stop them.
Having taken on two more horses and some extra passengers the coach continued through the intensifying snow until after a mile and a half Goodfellow and McGeorge were forced to abandon their efforts.
While two male passengers returned to Moffat on some of the horses to raise the alarm, and several female passengers sheltered inside the coach, Goodfellow and McGeorge decided to proceed on horseback with the mail. Tragically, both men succumbed to the snow after a few more miles, although their horses made it to a nearby farm.
Postie Stone as seen in 1938.
A monument to the pair, shaped a little like post box and now known locally as Postie Stone, was erected in 1931 on the spot where the men died. Photos in the BPMA archive of the monument, which were taken in 1938 by the GPO Photographic Unit, show three men, one of whom is a postman, inspecting the memorial. The surrounding landscape looks bleak, although a more recent photo which appears on The Gazetteer for Scotland website shows the area to be green and verdant.
Sadly, this tragedy is one of many which have occurred in the history of the British postal service. But like the posties on the RMS Titanic, the commitment to deliver the mail shown by Goodfellow and McGeorge is notable.
Posted in Archive, Catalogue, Collection
Tagged blizzard, Dumfries, Edinburgh, Gazetteer for Scotland, GPO, GPO Photographic Unit, heroism, James McGeorge, John Goodfellow, mail, mail coach, mail coach accident, mail coach guard, memorial, Moffat, postie, Postie Stone, Scotland, Scottish Memories, snow