PK Cable Map 1880's

PK Cable Map 1880's

Friday, 11 February 2011

GPO Time

I asked Julian Stray at the BPMA about GPO time for Adam Hart-Davis. This was the response.... it links into Post Office Telegrams, thought you might be interested...

As you are aware. The Post Office tended to reply on contracted services to supply the transport element of mail collection and delivery. This would apply to sea (Packet boats), road (Mail Coaches, Mail Vans, Horsed mails etc.), railways (the various railway companies, light railway etc) and any other (air, trams, bus and so on). This was via competitive tender. Constraints were specific and demanding. For example, on the railways, the 1838 Conveyance of Mails act gave the Postmaster extraordinary power in demanding that the companies transport mails at times set by him, regardless of how that fitted in with their own operating requirements. Any disputes went to an independent arbiter (Railways and Canals Commission I believe), contractors were paid an agreed rate. Needless to say there were frequent disputes and some contracts remained unresolved for years, the Post Office frequently unwilling to go to an independent arbiter in case they were found against, with a large financial loss as a result. Things like the 1903 GWR test case had repercussions still felt in the 1960s.

Both on the road (Mail Coaches from 1784) and on Rail (from 1830), to avoid unnecessary conflict and argument, the Mail Guard (the only Post Office employee accompanying the mails on Mail Coaches and many trains) carried a locked Time Piece (clock) together with a Time Bill. The Time Bill detailed the stopping points, times of arrival and departure, time allotted for stopping etc. Along with a few other extra details depending on the mode of transport, type of mail, period etc.

It has been quite difficult for me to locate much relating to these within the RM Archive, the detail may be there but it has proved to be elusive. To add a little more detail from what I have found:

We have four timepieces in the collection. One has a key, none have a case. Two are manufactured by George Littlewort, London, one by David Murray, Edinburgh and the fourth by Edward Smith, Dublin. Time pieces were no doubt supplied by other manufacturers too. The Inland Incident Books will almost certainly show payments to those firms. Even though I have not found it, I have also (in the past) seen mention of a person being paid to wind the clocks at GPO (St. Martin’s-le-Grand).
Object numbers: OB1995.328, 2009-0060/14, E11988, OB1996.549. Three are out on loan or display at present.

These could become quite battered and misused. There is a lovely account from 1795:

“ … the Guards frequently throw the time pieces in the Pouch from one to the other when they change…”.

The same report also contains a detail that I had not seen before:

“… we have regulated them to gain about 15 minutes in 24 hours, that when they are travelling Eastward they may be with real time, therefore they gain about 10 minutes in their way to Weymouth which, added to the Clocks so far west, being a few minutes slower than in London, is the cause of the variation in the time Bill at Weymouth”
Ref: POST 10/26 pp211, 212

Certainly if this was the case, making clocks run faster or slower depending on the direction in which the mails were running, it did not remain the case. I can not see this being the practice for long. I have my doubts over practicality despite the reference, for example, what happened on the return trip (The Up mail)? Despite time pieces being individually numbered the logistics of ensuring the gain (or loss) for each particular piece on each particular route would, I feel, be insurmountable.

We also hold a number of time bills for the various routes, some used, some not. These show the expected/contracted times. You may recall the lovely example from December 1840 from the York-Manchester route that records the delay due to the death of a horse on the journey!

Bills were usually printed in batches of 200 and in the earlier years the colour of ink also explained the service: black ink for Night Mails, red for Day Mails and green for trains not under a fixed notice but accompanied either by a Mail Guard or Mail Messenger.

As you know, time varied across the country. Most of this was put to ease before the Royal Assent was given to the 1880 Statutes (Definition of Time) Bill. The railways had already introduced ‘London’ time across much of the network. I have seen catalogued reference to some previous efforts by the Post Office in this direction:

‘Greenwich time signals relayed from Central Telegraph Office, period 1870-1946’ Ref: POST 30/2536
This is held at the BT Archives so I haven’t seen it. The relevance to the Post Office is that they had taken control of Inland Telegraphs in this country from 1870.

The Post Office Circular (that is, instructions to postal staff) for 29 July 1872 contains the following:

“Greenwich Time to be observed at all Post Offices in England & Scotland.
Hitherto it has been the rule of the service to observe local time for certain purposes at Country Post Offices, while Greenwich time (spoken of in the Book of Rules as “London” or “Railway time”) has been observed for certain other purposes.
In future, Greenwich time (which is notified daily to all Postal Telegraph Offices) is to be observed solely at all Post Offices in England and Scotland.”
Ref: POST 68/471, p100

Just thought I would add something to get you started..

have a good weekend, Libby

No comments:

Post a Comment