[The following passage from the Chambers 1838 Gazetteer of Scotland appears on pages 350-52. — George P. Landow.]
Che first regular post established between London and Edinburgh, was instituted by Charles I. in 1635, and the time allowed on the road was three days. Letters were thus transmitted to and from not oftener than twice a-week, and frequently only once, and the postage of a single letter was sixpence sterling. In 1649 the parliament of England took the Scottish posts under their jurisdiction, and in 1654, Cromwell put the General Post Offices on a new footing, by farming them for the sum of £ 10,000 per annum, on which occasion the postage of a letter to Edinburgh was reduced to threepence. This active personage afterwards took great pains to ensure rapidity in the carrying of letters, among other regulations obfiging the person carrying the mail not to stop more than seven minutes and a half at every stage. In the reign of Charles II. the system of the posts again fell into abuse, and the revenue drawn from this source was conferred on James Duke of York. In 1662 the first post betwixt Edinburgh and Ireland was established; in 1669 a post was appointed to go betwixt Edinburgh and Aberdeen twice a-week; and in 1695 the Scots parliament established posts over the whole of Scotland. Desirable as such an important measure was, it appears to have had little effect on the general system.
By an act of the British parliament, 9th Anne, c. 10. the Scottish post establishment was put under the administration of a regular Post-Master-General, in correspondence with the Treasury, and the rates of postages were regulated. Yet, for more than half a century aftei this was accomplished, the mails were carried in a very tedious manner, and so late as 1757, a hundred and thirty-five hours were consumed in transmitting letters from Edinburgh to London. The improvement of the roads and carriages in about thirty years afterwards made the greatest difference in the time occupied in travelling with the letter-bags. In 1789, the modern mail coach was introduced into Scotland; the first coach arriving on the 10th of April of that year.* [* When this coach set off for the first time, from Ramsay's Inn at the bottom of St. Mary's Wynd, an immense crowd gathered round it out of curiosity. ]
About the year 1776, a species of Penny Post was established by Peter Williamson, an eccentric native of Aberdeen, who having been kidnapped in his boyhood, and sold to the plantations in North America, was carried off by the Indians, among whom he lived for many years, till getting free, he returned to Scotland, and set up a coffee-house at Edinburgh, where he used to attract customers, during the time of the American war, by exhibiting himself in the dress and arms of those savages whom the enlightened government of the time received as allies into their armies. The situation of Peter's place of business near the Parliament House caused him to be frequently employed by lawyers to send his servants with messages and notes of business to divers parts of the town.
Finding, at length, that this employment was almost in itself a business, he conceived the idea of establishing a regular system, whereby letters deposited with him, might be sent at fixed hours over the whole city, at the charge of one penny each. He, about the same time, commenced the publication of a biennial street-directory. We find, from an advertisement attached to his Directory for the year 1780, that his penny, post letters were then delivered once an-hour, that he had agents throughout the town to receive them for him, besides his own place of business, and that the scheme was already so successful that, like the owners of quack-medicines, he was obliged to use a particular mark to distinguish his letters from others that were handed by imitators and rivals.
The establishment was eventually bought up for a certain compensatory sum by the General Post Office, and became an integral part of their system, though they do not seem to have ever managed it with the same activity. The Scottish penny-posts were authorized by an act of parliament, 5th Geo. III. c. 25. Recently, the arrangements of the Scottish Post Office establishment have been greatly improved by the active supervision of Mr. Godby, late Secretary, who, under the Deputy Postmaster- General, placed the minor details of the institution on the best possible footing. The gradual and steady increase of the revenue from this department through the course of the last hundred and twenty years, presents a striking proof of the increase of traffic in Scotland in that period of time.
The Scottish posts yielded in 1707 only £1194, in 1730 £5399, in 1757 £10,623, in 1774 £30,461, in 1780 upwards of £40,000, in 1796 £69,338, and in 1828 the gross amount was £203,137, while the expense of the management was nearly £29,000. The following statistics from a Parliamentary Report by Commissioners of Revenue Inquiry give a good idea of the value of the Edinburgh Post Office alone, and the traffic in letters and newspapers. In the week ending December 14, 1828, which is taken as an average, the money drawn by the Post Office was £ 2,535, 11s. 54d., the number of letters delivered was 29,965, and of newspapers 5550; the number of letters put in was 33,138, and of newspapers 17,534; the number of letters passing through Edinburgh was 27,707, and of newspapers 8568. Thus the number of deliveries of letters and newspapers in Edinburgh in one year will amount to one million eight hundred and forty-six thousand seven hundred and eighty, and the number of letters and newspapers dispatched will be two millions six hundred and thirty-four thousand nine hundred and forty-nine. How different an idea does this statement present of the literary intercourse betwixt Edinburgh and other places now carried on, from that offered by the fact, that about sixty years since, the mail was known one day to arrive from London with only a single letter.
At present the duties of the General Post Office in Edinburgh are executed by a body of eighty- two individuals, among whom are a Deputy Postmaster- General and Cashier; a Secretary; and about thirty-six clerks. The number of letter-carriers is thirty-one.* [* The late Mr. H. J. Wylie, clerk of the circuit court of Justiciary, who died in 1830 at an advanced age, remembered when there was only one letter-carrier.] The first mentioned official exercises his duty of superintendence only as the agent of, or the medium of communication with the head office in London. The salaries of the clerks connected with the receiving and dispatching of letters are far too low, being less than those of any other government functionaries, while the duties are excessively burdensome. In 1822, the official arrangements of the office underwent a total revision in consequence of the detection of a most extensive system of fraud. The particulars of this infamous and singular case are thus given by the Report:
Sometime in the year 1822, the Postmaster-General received information of the existence of an extensive system of depredation upon the Post Office revenue of Scotland, carried on by a combination between some of the clerks in the office and the whole body of the letter-carriers; the nature of the fraud being thus described by Sir Francis Freeling: 'In point of fact, the letters were stolen from the bags, and never were brought through the proper channels, but given into the possession of the letter-carriers, and at certain periods there was a division of the spoil, according to the rank and standing of the individual in the department.' Extraordinary as it must seem, although it does not appear that any particular caution was used by the officers, amounting in number to forty-one, who had confederated to carry these frauds into execution, yet no suspicion was entertained that any improper practices were in existence, and for a period of probably twelve years at least, they remained undetected. The remorse or apprehensions of a letter-carrier were, it appears, at length so far excited as to induce him to make a voluntary communication of all that had taken place, and the information thus acquired was so ably and judiciously used by the Solicitor of the department, as to lead ultimately to the discovery of every person who had been engaged in the frauds, or who had participated in the booty. One of the clerks absconded and was outlawed, and some of the letter-carriers were imprisoned; but it having been fpund, upon a careful and deliberate examination of all the evidence connected with the subject, that sufficient legal proof to prosecute to conviction could be obtained only against one individual, a supernumerary letter-carrier, who had been employed hut a few weeks in the office, it was deemed inexpedient, under all circumstances, to make that solitary case the subject of a trial in a public court of justice. If the fact, that for a period of ten weeks subsequent to the first discovery of the frauds, the revenue of Edinburgh had increased at the rate of £119 per week, can be taken as a fair ground of calculation, the extent to which the revenue was defrauded, during the continuance of this nefarious combination, cannot be estimated at a less sum than £6000 per annum; and assuming that the frauds were carried on to the same extent during the stated period of twelve years, the whole sum which was thus embezzled would amount to upwards of £70,000."
It may further be mentioned that it was generally understood, that besides defrauding the revenue of postages of letters, the officers had likewise kept up letters passing to and fro containing money. The exposure, then, of such complicated villany necessarily led to the conclusion, that the duties of the superior and superintending officers of the establishment must have been wholly neglected, or performed with a culpable remissness and inattention; and the removal of these officers, and the supply of their place by others of more active and vigilant talents, were the immediate consequence of the disclosures. Mr. Augustus Godby, a gentleman of zeal and ability, who had formerly been acting as Surveyor of the North- West District of England, was appointed to be placed at the head of the establishment as Secretary, and to almost this individual alone may be traced that surprising exactness in Scottish post-office arrangements now organized. We have been somewhat particular in our notice of the above circumstances, not so much for their peculiar interest, as for the purpose of mentioning that the disclosures of the fraudulent conduct of the post-office functionaries led to the introduction of Englishmen into all departments of the government revenue in Scotland, and that on such an extensive scale as to have given much reason for national dissatisfaction.
The building appropriated to the Post Office establishment is of modern erection, and stands in Waterloo Place, Regent Bridge, being the first tenement east of the arch. It is an edifice in the Grecian style of architecture, of four storeys in height above the street level, with a spacious open porch in the lower part. It is only distinguished outwardly from the other edifices in the street by the king's arms in relief on the summit. The secretary resides in the building. The removal of the Post- Office from its former quarters in North Bridge Street some years ago, was not a happy change, the present situation being near the outer edge, instead of the centre of the town. As in some measure remedial of this inconvenience, there are twelve free receivinghouses for letters throughout the town, and some penny-post receiving-houses.
Chambers, Robert. The Gazetterr of Scotland. Edinburgh: Blackie and Son, 1838. Internet Archive online version digitized with funding from National Library of Scotland. Web. 30 September 2018.
Last modified 1 October 2018w