All of the Penzance great and good – and there are plenty of those –gathered at the top of Market Jew Street today. Even Sir Humphry was looking on – but the town’s most famous son may have been disappointed to find that he was not, on this occasion, the focus of attention. In fact, as far as the great chemist is concerned, most of us had our backs firmly turned. For we were here to celebrate the opening of our new Post Office, over on the other side of the road, just up the hill from the harbour.
So, who are the great and the good? It would be simply impossible to list them all. I certainly spotted W S Lach-Szyrma, Prebendary Hedgeland and Charles Ross. There was a brace of Bolithos, a trio of doctors and the coroner. The postmasters from neighbouring boroughs – indeed, from as far afield as Truro - graced the event with their presence. And of course our own Mayor – Mr Victor – and postmaster – Mr Uren - officiated. Which of those are great, and which good? I shall leave that for you to decide. But I should add that the ladies were not forgotten – several were shown around the building in the morning, before the gentlemen arrived for the official ceremony.
All through the summer, we have been watching the Post Office come into being, with its magnificent granite frontage and decoration. It is beautiful! Better than that even, it is commodious: the counter is 20 foot long! Although as is their practice, the Post Office only rents the place: the Mount’s Bay Bank is the actual owner, and without the Bank – indeed, without Mr Bolitho himself - Mr Uren’s staff would still be striving to conduct their business from the Market House – telegrams, parcels and all.
We listened to the Mayor, who pronounced the magnificent structure “a building equal to the requirements of the town… second to none of any building of that kind in the west of England”. And to Mr Uren, who quite rightly claimed that for the postal service to be served by such a building on such a site is an essential for a civilised town – and “conducive to the future welfare and benefit” of Penzance. As the Mayor pointed out, wherever there is civilisation – at home or in the colonies – postal communication is to be found. Hardly a village, these days, is not equipped for the despatch and receipt of letters. And then there is the telegraph, “help-mate” to the postal service. Excitement mounted as a telegram was sent to the Postmaster General – and within minutes, a reply!
How we marvelled at the contrast drawn with the past, as outlined by Mr Bolitho – the old woman carrying just “two small bundles” of letters round the town in a basket; the four days – four whole days, mark! – that it took a letter from London to reach its intended reader. But now, what a change - with 90,000 messages arriving every year. The cable lines of three separate companies passing through the town. And since August 1st we’ve had the parcel post - 3d per pound, and a whole 7lb weight for a shilling. Serving under Mr Uren: two superintendents; thirty clerks and carriers. And progress is sure to continue, the speakers agree. In the next century, the 20th, progress will be such that folk may look back on these proud builders and think them a “load of old dolts”. But in the meantime: once again - hurrah for the Post Office!
Cornishman 8th November 1883, page 6
Cornish Telegraph 8th November 1883 page 7
http://www.gbps.org.uk/information/rates/inland/parcels-1883-1966.php (accessed 25 10 2017)
One shilling in 1883 was the equivalent of about £2.50 today https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/default0.asp (accessed 25 10 2017)