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Chichester Post Office

By Amanda Rogan

By Amanda Rogan, Learning and Community Engagement Officer at the Novium

The British postal service can trace its origins to 1516 when Henry VIII established a 'Master of Posts,' a precursor to the office of the Postmaster General. The Postmaster General was a member of Government who was responsible for maintaining the postal system and, after the Telegraph Act of 1868, electric telegraphs. He was supported by local Postmasters who were located in towns and cities throughout England and ran local postal services. In turn, they were then supported by Subpostmasters and Subpostmistresses who would offer some post office services alongside other work such as running a shop or other businesses. Early post offices were usually set up in people's houses or other commercial properties. Chichester did not have a custom built post office until the late 19th century.

The first Postmaster of Chichester, John Lucas, was appointed in 1769 with an annual salary of £42.

Between 1783 - 1800 the Postmaster of Chichester was William Carlton who worked from his premises in East Street. Upon his death his wife, Elizabeth, was given permission take on the role after arguing that she had worked with her husband and was familiar with the tasks and routines of postal work. She resigned from the position in 1812 stating 'overwork' as her reason, although there had been some suspicion regarding fraudulent activities at the post office under her management .

In June 1816, John Angell became Postmaster and worked from a premises in South Street. In 1824 John's son, William, was convicted of stealing a letter from the post office which contained £100 and was sentenced to 7 years transportation. He was caught after spending some of the bank notes and later confessed to his father.

At the end of 18th and beginning of 19th century post was sent using Royal Mail coaches along the main postal routes. As Chichester was not directly served by Royal Mail coaches (which ran to Portsmouth and Brighton from London) post to towns and villages was instead delivered by private mail coaches or post boys.

Legend has it that between 1830 and 1850, mail was conveyed between Chichester and Arundel in a cart drawn by four large dogs; this was made illegal in 1856. The transportation of mail at this time was hazardous and robberies were frequent. One attempted robbery of a dog-drawn mail cart took place in 1830. Taking place in Arundel Woods, the letter carrier stopped to give an elderly lady a lift in the mail carriage, despite knowing this was against the rules. A little into the journey, the mail carrier saw a gun beneath the clothing of his passenger and realised that it was in fact a highwayman in disguise. Luckily he was able to remove the would be robber from the carriage and arrived at his destination without injury.

Due to crimes such as these mail coaches often carried a guard. In Chichester, a man named Luke Kent served as the first guard of the Chichester mail coach. His job was to protect the post from attempts to steal it, record journey times and warn other road users when the coach was approaching. Mail guards were armed to deter robbery attempts from Highwaymen. It was reported on his death in 1803, that he left a sum of money in his will to the mail coach on the condition that on future journeys the horn would be sounded as they passed his grave in Havant.

By the early 1830s Chichester was receiving around 31 bags of post a day from Brighton, London and Portsmouth, leading to increased pressure on the post office. Chichester Postmaster, Joseph Angell, complained that the 'duties of the Post Office in Chichester are wholly beyond the powers of one person to discharge'. He had been forced to hire assistance and asked for an increase of salary, a request which was denied. In 1834, John Angell was dismissed as Postmaster, arrested, and had his assets seized due to irregular activity when serving as Postmaster. Mr Angell owed £220 to the post office at the time of his dismissal.

In 1834 the post office moved to West Pallant when John Fuller took over as Postmaster and ran the post office from his premises there. He was succeeded by John Berry in 1856 who established a small post office in his home on South Street. He was paid £140 a year and was later succeeded by his daughter Annie in 1876.

In order to keep up with the growing volume of mail that came to and through Chichester, a separate sorting office was set up at Chichester Railway station in 1884 with rent of £10 per year being paid. By 1890, with the extension of the railway, there were 10 mail deliveries a day into Chichester

In 1891, a larger, custom built post office was built in South Street (currently Hays Travel) and included an on-site sorting office. It was hoped that this site would be better suited for the increasing mail that came through Chichester. Annie Berry retired as Postmistress when the new West Street premises opened and was replaced by the first full time, salaried Postmaster of Chichester, John Little.

In the late 19th Century, Royal Mail began to look at motorised transport as a quicker and more reliable method of delivering post and by 1907, the first vehicle entered service. Chichester had acquired its own post lorry by 1910.

In 1911, Frederick George Bellamy was Chichester's Postmaster and ran the post office on South Street. Services offered at this time included post-dispatch, banking services and a telegraph office. He was supported by 4 local sub-post offices located at East Street, Northgate, Portfield and Whyke.

In 1936, building of a new post office on West Street was completed. The building was designed by David Dyke. The old South Street premises continued to be used as a sorting office until 1964 when a larger site opened at Basin Road. As well as the main post office - there were smaller branches around the centre including ones at Saddlers walk, Summersdale, and Parklands.

Due to a change in the way people use the post office and the number of people using them, it was decided by the Government in 2008 to close 2,500 branches of the 14,000 currently open nationwide. In the Chichester District 4 branches were identified for closure including those at Saddlers Walk and Parklands, and 4 were replaced with outreach services such as Mobile Post Office vehicles which visit rural locations at set times and on certain days of the week.

In October 2016, the post office was once again relocated, this time moving into Sussex Stationers on North Street. The move, which was unpopular with some local residents, was undertaken to ensure the branch is commercially viable in the future so that post office services can continue to be offered in Chichester. The branch currently serves an estimated 2,000 people a week.

Compiled using 'The Postal History of Chichester, 1635 - 1900' by Brigadier G.A. Viner