The General Post Office
The foundation-stone was laid by the Prince of Wales on the 17th October, 1876. So far as postal service was concerned, Glasgow had very modest beginnings. The first little office of last century was in Princes Street, then designated Gibson’s Wynd.* It consisted of three apartments. The front one measured twelve feet square, and the two at the back were closets, each ten feet by six. The delivery bole consisted of a hole broken through the wall of the close! Except on the occasion of that important event of the day, the arrival of the mail coach, this bole was generally kept shut by means of a sliding board; a gentle tap, however, caused the immediate appearance of His Majesty’s postmaster, bobbing up like Punch out of his box. Government paid a rental of £7 yearly for the premises, and the postmaster’s salary was £30 per annum!
Southern Side of Square
General Post Office (Left),
Messrs. Wm. M’Laren and Co.’s Warehouse (Right).
Photographed for this Work by Messrs. Brinkley & Stevenson,
Regent Gallery, Glasgow.
As years went on, Glasgow was becoming a town of considerable importance. Here were merchants carrying on extensive country trade and also foreign commerce to a considerable extent. The irregular nature of the delivery of letters by running-boys was felt to be a great drawback to business. It therefore became a practice with our wealthier merchants to send their letters express by special messengers of their own. As this, however, was rather an expensive mode of transmitting their correspondence, they contrived the means of obtaining the assistance of the postmaster in sending off their express despatches under the cloak of the post-office seal, upon which the express-boy proceeded on his way, and, at all the stages he came to, he readily obtained horses on the official authority of the Post-Office.
About the year 1800 Glasgow’s primitive post-office was removed to a small dwelling-house in St. Andrew’s Street, and in 1803 to the back land in the court at 114 Trongate. In 1811 it was removed to larger premises in Nelson Street, in 1840 to Glassford Street, and in 1856 to South Hanover Street. The foundation-stone of the present splendid but inadequate edifice was laid on the 17th October, 1876, by the Prince of Wales. The Prince and Princess were the guests of Lord Provost Sir James Bain on the occasion. The day was observed as a high holiday in Glasgow; the square was densely crowded with spectators of all classes, and the ceremony was altogether of a most imposing character — nearly 8,000 Freemasons from every part of Scotland surrounding the Prince as he laid the stone with full masonic honours.
Before the plan was adopted of carrying the London mail by the mail-coach, protected by a guard in scarlet livery, and armed with cutlass and blunderbuss, Glasgow was very ill supplied with the means of sending light parcels and boxes to the south. Heavy goods were at this time forwarded to London by the Newcastle waggon, a ponderous machine with broad wheels and drawn by eight horses. It travelled, on an average, twenty-five miles a day, rested two days in the course of the journey, and reached London in eighteen days, a journey which can be accomplished now in nine hours! It was the event of the week to see the old, romantic-looking mail-coach, painted in gold on both of its side doors, bowling into the city by way of Gallowgate, the scarlet-liveried guard poised on the projecting seat behind the carriage, with a goat’s skin dangling over, and a bear’s skin to cover his legs, together with a huge great-coat and innumerable tippets to protect him from rain or cold. But the days of these picturesque coaches are now gone; the steam-engine has driven them from the highway, while Puck’s prophecy in the “Midsummer Night’s Dream”—
“I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes”—
has been abundantly fulfilled in that wondrous servant of man, the chained and controlled lightning flash!
Standing by the polished granite pillars of the spacious Post Office, and gazing on the large and well-appointed hotels on the northern or sunny side of the Square, we feel that they, too, contribute their share to the picturesque ensemble all around.
* Very wrong to change “Gibson,” the name of the worthy Provost, and founder of commerce in our city, to “Princes.” How much better to commemorate our local great men in the names of our streets than to import foreign names, such as Fitzroy, Carnarvon, and Grosvenor. We are improving lately. We have got James Bain Street, James Watson Street, and Collins Street, but as yet we look in vain for M’Onie Street, James King Street, and John Muir Street. Unless we take the American system of first, second, third, and so on, the names ought to have some meaning.