On this day … 23 April 1892

The Preston Guardian carried an article on the old post office in the New Shambles on Lancaster Road where the Miller Arcade now stands. This is the first building to serve as a post office for the town that the Preston historian Anthony Hewitson was able to identify, although the town had a postmaster from the middle of the seventeenth century.

Lancaster Road, Preston by Robert H. Bentham
Lancaster Road, Preston by Robert H. Bentham. The post office was operated from the shop at the far left of the picture, which shows the last two buildings of the New Shambles that formerly occupied the Harris site. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/lancaster-road-preston-151910# (Photo credit: Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library)

The next post office was in Church Street, between the Bear’s Paw and Derby Street. In 1821 the postmistress was a Mrs Hardman, who, according to Whittle’s History, operated to the following timetable:

Letters for the south must be put in by half-past six in the evening, and for the north at half-past nine in the evening. London mail arrives at one o’clock in the morning, and is dispatched instantly, on its arrival, with letters to Edinburgh, Glasgow, and all parts of the north. The Liverpool mail returns the same day, at seven o’clock in the evening daily. The Kirkham, Poulton, Lytham, and Blackpool post, every day at six o’clock in the morning.

The first records surviving of a postal service in Preston date to 1667, when the town was well served with mail from the capital with bags for Preston despatched from London on Sundays and Wednesdays each week.

Later in the century, Ralph Rishton, son of a former Preston MP, was for some years the deputy-postmaster for the town, a salaried post that he claimed led him into financial ruin. The role of deputy-postmaster at this time involved considerable responsibility and meant that Rishton had charge of the operations of the mail from Wigan to Kendal, an onerous charge that eventually proved too much for his abilities. He probably operated the service from a house at the south end of the market place.

He was quite possibly acting as a government spy. James II was believed to use ‘politically reliable postmasters to sift through the mails. Letter writers complained that the mail was opened at Preston … The son of the archbishop of York … reported that a private letter containing news “must now serve to light my pipe, for I dare not trust it by the post”.’

If he was being paid to spy for James, those payments would have stopped when William of Orange invaded in 1688, and James fled the country. Not long after he was sacked when his debts piled up, and he was soon petitioning that:

… for many years he provided horses, and despatched the packets between Wigan and Kendal, which is a hundred north country miles, forwards and backwards, for a salary of only 70l. per annum, and also found horses and despatched packets from Wigan to Lancaster, which is sixty-eight long miles, for a salary of 50l. per annum, spending his whole time with the two services; and though your petitioner begun with a considerable fortune, he is now penniless and beggared, and dismissed the office because he is in arrears … [and] prays that his debts may be remitted and that the Postmaster-General may not be permitted ‘to pursue him and put him in prison’.

His debts amounted to just over £570 and became a serious concern to the Preston men who had stood bond for him. They, in turn, petitioned the postmaster-general, ‘praying that in consideration of their paying £250 in part of the £570 which the said postmaster is run in arrears, and unable to pay, the residue may be remitted and they discharged of their bonds’.

Beattie, Edwin Robert, 1845-1917; Interior of House, Old Shambles, Showing Letterbox of Old Post Office
Beattie, Edwin Robert; Interior of House, Old Shambles, Showing Letterbox of Old Post Office; Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/interior-of-house-old-shambles-showing-letterbox-of-old-post-office-236814

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