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Exmouth historian: Going postal

By Mike Menhenitt

20th Nov 2022 | Local News

Staff at the old post office (later Just-a-Pound) on The Parade, Exmouth in 1893
Staff at the old post office (later Just-a-Pound) on The Parade, Exmouth in 1893

We tend to think of the modern-day post office and the concept of being able to send a letter or parcel anywhere in the world as something that has always been with us.

As ever, this has not been the case as this was once the preserve of the wealthy.

The beginnings of the post office

General Letter Office (1653-1666) site in the City of London, England (By KGGucwa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8926214)

The first post offices were actually established as The General Post Office (GPO) by Charles II in the 1660s.

From then, right up until the middle of the 19th century, a letter or packet was only able to be delivered at huge cost by sending it via the mail coach or poste chase as they were sometimes referred to.

Exmouth's first postmaster-turned-highwayman

The London-Farringdon coach, 1835, by James Pollard

One such coach travelled from London via Exeter to Exmouth bringing passengers and the mail, and this gave rise to coaching inns.

One such in Exmouth was the Globe Hotel, which stood on the corner of The Strand and Rolle Street and was demolished in 1867 and Clapp's Café stood on this site as part of the development of Rolle Street.

Exmouth's first such postmaster was William Pomeroy who seemed to run a prosperous inn at The Globe, but he fell on hard times and was declared bankrupt.

Upon hearing there would be a large sum of money on the coach coming from Exeter, he decided to become a highwayman and rob this coach as his last act before fleeing the area for pastures new. 

He rode out and stopped the coach by the entrance to Nutwell Court at Lympstone but his voice was recognised and after nearly being shot he fled the scene and was never heard of again in Exmouth.

Into the modern era

London Ornate pillar box, 1857-1859 (By British Postal Museum &, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11743477)

The modern-day post is really as a result of one man, Sir Rowland Hill who is credited with the concept of the universal postage system whereby payment is made to send a letter or packet anywhere in the country for a fixed fee.

It became known as The Penny Post after the first postage stamp, The Penny Black in 1840.

In its first year, the number of letters sent doubled, and since everyone was able to post letters at a penny a time, it no longer was the preserve of the wealthy.

The first pillar box appeared in 1852 and had been preceded by the first sorting office facility in the City of London.

An example telegram

The post office was a source of great pride to the Victorians, and those who worked in it were held in high esteem as there were several deliveries a day and telegrams were delivered as soon as the telegraph was received, often by small boys.

Exmouth's first post office

Exmouth Post Office on Chapel Street, before its move to WHSmith (cc-by-sa/2.0 - © N Chadwick - geograph.org.uk/p/1111393)

Exmouth's first post office proper was Gwydir Place at the junction of Strand and Chapel Hill where Mr Sheppard was the first postmaster.

It then moved to Strand and occupied what became the Lloyds Bank building, now TSB, where Mr W L Hiorns ran it within his stationary business. After that it moved to the bottom of Albion Street under Mr Melluish.

It then moved again in 1857 to The Parade under Mr W Walker and then in 1874 to Post Office Square which was roughly where the old Royal Cinema was and under a grand gothic arch which led to Waltons Supermarket.

Finally, in 1910 under Mr E C Pye the post office moved to its grand building towards the top of Rolle Street, almost opposite Holy Trinity Church; the building now being occupied by solicitors.

Much later, the post office moved again to Chapel Street and now after yet another move it is part of the WHSmith's shop there.

This has only been a brief introduction to the institution that was the post office in Exmouth. The museum has much more information and a display of the post through the ages in the town.

If you would like to know more please visit the museum's website or you can email Mike at [email protected].

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Ed: This article is from Mike Menhenitt's Walking Through Exmouth History series. Use the links below to read previous articles:

Part One: The beginnings of Exmouth, from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age

Part Two: Exmouth in the Iron Age - and the arrival of the Celts

Part Three: Roman coins and Viking raids

Part Four: The impact of the Norman conquest, and how places in Exmouth got their names

Part Five: How Exmouth became a fashionable seaside resort in the 18th century

Part Six: How the docks brought prosperity to Exmouth - and then became the marina

Part Seven: The coming of the railway

Part Eight: Turnpikes, toll houses and inns in Exmouth

Part Nine: Jobs your ancestors had in the town through the ages

Part 10: The town's first museums - and the museum as it is today

Part 11: A horse-drawn fire engine and the history of Exmouth Museum

Part 12: The Rolle family

Part 13: Exmouth's cost-of-living crisis in the 19th century

Part 14: Clapp's Cafe and the development of the town centre

Part 15: The Exmouth woman who fought Napoleon

Part 16: Exmouth's connection to the wife of Lord Nelson

Part 17: Exmouth's connection to the wife of Lord Byron

Part 18: Exmouth's connection to Mary Anne Clarke, mistress of the Duke of York

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