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A look at Darlington's postal history as plans to merge post office with WHSmith are announced

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A look at Darlington's postal history as plans to merge post office with WHSmith are announced

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1561

JOHN GLOVER is the first known postmaster of Darlington. His well-established Durham family were skinners and tanners in Skinnergate and made gloves in Post House Wynd – the street between High Row and Skinnergate was then known as Glovers Weind.

1606

POSTMASTER John Glover bought the Talbot Inn on the north-east corner of Post House Wynd and High Row. For 200 years, the Talbot was Darlington’s main post office, with stables behind for the post horses.

1635

THE first regular postal service between London and Edinburgh began. Even in 1788, it took five days for a letter to travel between the two cities – if it arrived. Highwaymen and pilfering postboys often stole the post.


1726

THE Darlington postmaster applied the first postmark bearing the town’s name to letters. In 1785, the postmark was modified to read “Darlington 239” as the town was 239 miles from London. In 1788, that was modified to “Darlington 244” when someone worked out precisely how far the town was from the capital.

1730

MARY CLEMENT, the 15-year-old daughter of the Darlington postmaster Hammond Clement, was causing scandal in London by consorting with the 19-year-old son of the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Sir Robert was not happy with his boy Edward carrying on with a lowly apprentice milliner like Mary, so Mr Clement dashed down from Darlington to remove her from the “vortex of temptation”. However, Mary sneaked away from her father and into the arms of Edward, with whom she stayed forever – even though Sir Robert forbade marriage. Mary had three daughters, Laura, Maria and Charlotte, who blossomed into the most beautiful ladies in the kingdom. Laura married a bishop; Charlotte married Lord Huntingtower and Maria joined the royal family by marrying the Duke of Gloucester, who was the brother of King George III and third in line to the throne.

1763

POSTMASTER John Boys was fined 1s 6d for allowing his “packet coart”, or parcel cart, to block Post House Wynd.


1841

IN the year after Rowland Hill introduced the Penny Black, the first stamp, the first stretch of mainline, between Darlington and York, opened, quickly followed by an extension to Newcastle. The railway radically altered the postal service as much as the Penny Black, making it faster, cheaper and more reliable.

1846

ON November 26, Henry Nesibit (known locally as Harry Boots) who was “the conductor of the mail cart” (now known as the postman) drowned in the millpot where the Sports Direct multi-storey car park is today. Harry had collected the nightmail from Bank Top station and, with the river in flood, had attempted to cross using the ford rather than the bridge. The nightmail bags were later found downstream at Polam Hall in a “tolerable” condition.

1847

THE railway changed the post business as radically as the email has. The last horsedrawn mailcoach arrived in Newcastle in 1847 draped in black crepe as people mourned the passing of an age. In the same year, the grand Talbot Inn ceased to be the grand post house – the Talbot was finally demolished in 1902 to make way for a bank (Virgin money is currently on the corner) but you can still see the arch into the stables in Post House Wynd. Instead, the post office downsized to an old cottage on Northgate near the entrance to Steam Mill Yard – it was little more than a window out of which stamps were sold.

However, this downturn in the post office’s fortunes was only temporary: the penny post took off and the post office became a government agency. The increase in workload coincided with plans for the demolition of Steam Mill Yard which was to be turned into a new thoroughfare to be called Crown Street. The post office needed new, bigger premises…


1867

ON August 10, a £3,500 post office opened a few doors south. It remains a handsome stone building with its name in big letters over the door although today it is occupied by Top Man. It was designed by James Williams, the Government’s Office of Works architect, who also designed surviving post offices in Newcastle, Stockton, Middlesbrough and Durham, although there is no evidence that visited a single North-East town.

The new office had a “spacious” posting hall and a sorting room lit by 19 gas lights which enabled round-the-clock sorting.

At the opening ceremony, it was said that ten years earlier, the Darlington post office had employed three clerks and three “letter carriers” but that had grown to eight clerks and seven “letter carriers” who dealt with 130,000 letters a week.

1869

THE Post Office was connected to the telegraph system which is why the following year The Northern Echo was established in an old shoelace factory nearby in Priestgate – it needed access to the latest telegraphs so it could bring its readers news from around the world.

1881

IN May, General Sir Henry Havelock-Allan of Blackwell Grange, who had won the Victoria Cross during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, rode on horseback up to the door of the post office wanting to send a telegram. He cracked his whip, which he believed was his signal for a postal servant to come dashing out and attend to his needs. When none arrived after a few moments, the impatient war hero rode into the post office, slapped his telegram on the counter, and rode out again.


1912

WITH the General Post Office taking over the private National Telephone Company which served Darlington from an exchange in Priestgate, a large extension was built behind the Northgate post office to house a telephone exchange and sorting office. The curved building fronted on to Crown Street, was designed by CP Wilkinson of the Government’s Office of Works and was built on shifting, watery land.

This is believed to have given rise to one of Darlington’s greatest oddities: the dozen or more discreet cast iron headstone-shaped markers that say “GPO 1 mile” on them. In 1912, the annual telephone subscription to the Post Office for unlimited calls was £8-a-year for a private house not more than one mile from the exchange. Darlington is unique in the country in being ringed by these markers.

MORE ARTICLES
1944

A NEW telephone exchange was built behind Bondgate Methodist Church on what had been a school. The Crown Street building became solely a postal sorting office.

1956

THE Northgate post office reopened after a radical transformation just in time for the Christmas rush. The post hall had been redesigned with French walnut panelling and Australian walnut counters, and there were now 15 positions to serve the public. A 100ft conveyor belt connected the front counter with the sorting office behind, and the re-opening was performed by the mayor, Alderman H Buckborough, who used the latest technology to send a Telex (a text message sent to a teleprinter) to the Assistant Postmaster General in London and to the Burgomaster of Mulheim, Darlington’s twin town.


1981

THERE were sub post offices in Haughton, Hurworth and Cockerton, plus Cleveland Terrace, Portland Place, Milbank Road, Victoria Road, Albert Road, Greenbank Road, Springfield Road, East Mount Road, Salisbury Terrace, Pierremont Road and High Northgate. A sub post office in Blackwellgate, which in the 1840s had had its own postmark, had closed in 1977. (Is this list of Darlington sub post offices complete? Please let us know if we’ve missed an office out.)

1982

THE Duke of Gloucester formally opened Royal Mail House beside the inner ring road which became a regional sorting centre. Within a decade, it was handling 750,000 letters a day which it delivered to a 2,000sq mile area. But Crown Street was empty…

1984

AFTER 120 years, the Northgate post office was converted into a shop – it was Dorothy Perkins and more recently Top Man – and the empty Crown Street sorting office was turned into the main post office.

2019

IN September, the post office is due to leave Crown Street and snuggle into WH Smith in the Cornmill Centre. But what will become of the curved building that began life 107 years ago as a sorting office and telephone exchange?
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