Historical Post Office roles

Not all Post Office employees were Postmen. The Post Office employed staff in a variety of roles, from Messenger Boy to Packet Boat Captain.


Postmasters and Postmistresses

Postmasters, originally ‘Deputies’, ran local postal services as deputies to the Postmaster General.

Appointment records in archive class POST 58 start between 1737-1774 but the main series of Appointment Books did not start until 1831. They give name, grade, place of work and date of appointment.

The Establishment Books in archive class POST 59 are indexed by name: they list place of work, salary and appointment dates from 1742. Lists of principal officers also include names, offices, appointment dates and salaries from 1893.

Archive class POST 94 contains letters from the Deputy Postmaster General to Postmasters about local services and salaries, from 1672-1692. POST 1 holds Treasury Letter Books, from 1686 to 1976, where details of early appointments and offices can also be found.

Cash Books and Accounts in POST 2, POST 3 and POST 9 list Postmasters, the town where they worked and various financial details from 1677-1850. They include records of payments to and from Postmasters and are arranged by year, department and grade.

Records on running individual offices are held in the Postmaster General’s ‘Report’ and ‘Minute’ series, 1792-1973 in POST 35, POST 38 and POST 42. Separate Irish minutes in POST 36 began in 1831 and Scottish minutes in POST 37 in 1842. Generally arranged by geographical location, they record notable events and include references to individuals.

SubPostmasters and SubPostmistresses

Most SubPostmasters and SubPostmistresses were not employed by the Post Office. They had a main business, like a shop, which offered Post Office services. Generally they are not included in appointment records, though some can be found for the periods 1831-1859, 1844-1859, 1891-1904 and 1909-1913.

Financial records in POST 7 and POST 9 of subpostmasters in London, arranged by year, can be found for the years 1843-1884 and 1798-1854. Records on running individual sub-offices, from 1792 to 1973, are in the Postmaster General’s Report and Minute series in POST 35 and POST 38.

Letter Carriers & Postmen

The title ‘Letter Carrier’ was replaced by ‘Postman’ in 1883. There were few established Postwomen until after the First World War.

POST 59 contains names and some appointment dates of London letter carriers from 1742 to c.1823. They are arranged by department and grade. Appointment records for 1810-1824 are in POST 58. Annual lists for 1843-1856 appear in POST 7.

Details of Letter Carriers outside London appear in the Report and Minute series in POST 35, POST 36, POST 37, POST 38 and POST 42. Reports and Minutes are arranged by geographical location, and refer to individual letter carriers if something noteworthy occurred.

Telegraph Messengers

The monopoly of running the telegraph service was handed to the Post Office in 1870. Boys as young as 13 were employed to deliver the messages, but few appear in the general appointments in POST 58, as anyone below the age of 18 was not normally recorded.

POST 58 has two volumes which give records of appointment for Messengers from 1871-1882, including records of those under 18. They give details of date of birth, name and office.

Packet Boat Agents and Captains

Records of packet agents’ salaries and reports from 1785-1850 are in POST 4, Packet Station Accounts. Contents are generally arranged by geographical location. Appointment records for agents and captains are in POST 58, 1759-1854, and POST 59, Establishment books.

Cash Books in POST 2 record payments to packet captains for hire of their ships from 1677-1809. They include expenditure on “incidents”, notably tradesmen’s bills, and are mostly arranged by year and department.

POST 3, the Accountant General’s Annual Accounts, contain details of expenditure on contract packet boats and private ships, 1854-1938.

Mail Guards

Mail guards were the only Post Office employees aboard horse-drawn mail coaches. POST 58 includes a volume of mail guards appointments between 1798-1847. This is arranged by position, then chronologically. Entries give the dates of employment, place of birth, and former trade.

Mail coach reports for 1835-1841 can be found in POST 10.

Other references to guards can be found in the report and minute series of POST 35, POST 36, POST 37, POST 38 and POST 42. These are indexed by subject, and include records of notable events.

Appointment records are now searchable online via ancestry.co.uk.