Working at the Post Office

Table of Contents

This article describes the changing whereabouts of the various post offices, the sub-postmasters/mistresses, staff, post boxes, times of collections and deliveries, prices of merchandise, the advent of the old age pension and the introduction of the 'Separation Allowance' payment, plus the commencement of the telegraph and telephone services

When my great-grandson became tall enough to post a letter in a post box without being lifted up, my thoughts began to stray back through the years, musing on all those other little children who have loved posting letters in Mumbles. This then led on to thoughts of the history of the postal and other communication services in the village, which then evolved into this story of those working ‘On Her Majesty’s Service

The first reference to a postman in the Mumbles Trade Directories is that of William Collier who came to Mumbles around 1818 and married a local girl, Ann Phillips on 14, September 1819 at All Saints’ Church. He must have become quite well known and trusted in the area as by 1830, Mathew’s Swansea Directory states that he had three occupations of Schoolmaster, Warden of Oystermouth Castle and Postman.

Post Offices in the area

Mumbles Post Office

Mumbles Post Office

There was a post office in Mumbles from the 1840s, when Margaret Jones was shown in Hunt’s Directory of 1848 as being the sub-postmistress. Then following her dismissal in 1861, James Orrin, who until then had been Master at the British School in Dunns Lane, successfully applied for the post and succeeded his mother-in-law, becoming sub-postmaster at 4, Commercial Place, Southend, the site of today’s Mumbles (Carlton) Hotel. He and his wife, Alice moved in with their first three children and the family in time, increased to twelve - ten sons and two daughters. Some of them also worked in the business - Alice and Annie, as telegraphists and Henry as a Post Office Clerk. Frederick became an Assistant Superintendent at Swansea General Post Office.

James Orrin's signature

James, who was well known in the area as always being conscientious and honest, held several other positions, such as Clerk to the Mumbles Local Board, Overseer to the Poor and Collector of the Rates.

For these, he earned £40 p.a. plus £20 p.a. for renting out two rooms in the Post Office Chambers for the Local Board meetings. He was also Secretary of the Mumbles Benefit Building Society, an agent for Sun Fire Office and for Kernick’s vegetable pills and a contact point for the sale of local properties. This busy man was also a Deacon at Bethany Baptist Church at Norton, Superintendent of its Sundayschool and a member of the Loyal Oystermouth Castle Lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellows. He and his wife also took in visitors, such as the Norman family and Miss Hughes of Cheltenham in 1869; the Cullum family and Miss Collins in 1872; and ‘three single ladies from Cardiff’ a little later that year. James was later to die tragically aged 65, from a fall into a tank of boiling water at Southend Station.

The Post Office at The Dunns.

In 1906, his widow, Mrs. Alice Orrin, by now sub-postmistress sent in a planning application for new premises at The Dunns, now occupied by The Cat's Protection League and it opened in 1907, when she then signed over the business to her daughter, Annie.

The Post Office at The Dunns.
An advert from, Rumbles From Mumbles, a booklet of poems by H. F Maslen, 1926
A, advert from a Mumbles Press booklet.

Southend Post Office

Consequently, Southend was now without a post office and later that year, Mary Smith incorporated a new sub-post office into her grocery shop (now the site of the new apartments, named Mumbles Reach) at 3, Beaufort Buildings Southend. Carl Smith remembers that ‘it was in my Grandparents’ home and run by my Grandmother (Mary Rosina Smith nee Gebhardt). Grannie died in 1951 and then it was run by two of my aunts, Sula Smith and Flo Stammers. The premises closed in 1960.’

Southend Post Office.
The Dunns Post Office

The Dunns Post Office

William Hullin Jones had opened his Post Office, shop and shoe repair business in 1891 on the corner of Newton Road and The Dunns. His family was also involved in the enterprise— daughter, Elsie and son, John as Post Office Clerks, with his wife, Elizabeth, running the shop alongside. In 1906, they were ordered to close their Post Office counter, due to the proximity of the new one further down the road at The Dunns and in February 1914, they were to lose their home and business in a massive fire, which destroyed the entire building.

(See fuller details in Everyday Life in the Police Service)

Sub-Postmasters and Mistresses at other Post Offices

West Cross Post Office

Due to the expanding population and the growth of tourism in the area, more post offices were opened. The Kelly’s Directory of 1884 records Mary Ann Nicholas as ‘sub-postmistress at West Cross’. By 1891, she had been succeeded by Harriet Waring, wife of the Collector of the Poor Rates for Oystermouth, aged 38 who accompanied by her daughter, Mary Ann as Post Office Clerk, ran the business from their home on the seaward side of Mumbles Road, a few doors from The Currant Tree Inn. By 1906, Miss Edith Pencroft had taken over from Mrs Waring and by 1914, was succeeded in turn by Miss Gertrude Maslen, who ran the post office from her home a little further towards Mumbles, at Albion Cottage, West Cross.

An advert from, Rumbles From Mumbles, a booklet of poems by H. F Maslen, 1926
A pre 1952 advert

By the 1940s, the Evans family were running the West Cross Post Office from their home in Spring Gardens (now occupied by the Baywash Launderette).

Mr Ladums outside New West Cross Post Office
Their Kiosk at West Cross Station.

In the early 1950s, their daughters, Hilda Pelham and Peggy Ladums transferred the business and, with their husbands, Ron and Don, ran it from 13, Alderwood Road, West Cross, one of a brand new row of shops. In addition, they had a kiosk at West Cross railway station, open for an hour or two each morning, selling papers to people travelling to work.

Newton Post Office

Newton villager, Charles Williams opened his post office on Newton Road a few doors down from The Rock and Fountain in 1885, when his premises was described as ‘grocer and baker, post office, maker of Smith’s patent Hovis Bread. (Hovis was a shortened name taken from ‘Hominis Vis’— strength of the man).’ By 1901, Mary Bevan was the The new West Cross Post Office sub-postmistress living there with her husband, James, an insurance agent and three children.

Newton Post Office

The post office later moved to the corner of Newton Road and New Well Lane, where The Kelly’s directory records that by 1906, Miss Gladys Gibbs was the sub-postmistress. She then married and carried on as sub-postmistress as Mrs. Gladys Bevan but by 1931, she had been succeeded by Miss. H.B. Powell and by 1937, by Mrs. E.T. Ironside.

Blackpill Post Office

Blackpill Post Office, next door to Woodman Public House.

By 1931, the post office was under the management of Mrs G. Court within their tobacconist and sweetshop at 90, Mumbles Road (now also a private house) complete with a coinoperated red telephone box outside. (Today, the post office counter is within the grocer’s shop at 110 Mumbles Road).

George Hopkins had opened his mail office next door to The Woodman at Blackpill (this premises is now a private house) back in July 1853, but was still serving as post-master in 1906 at the ripe old age of 90. His daughter Charlotte held the position of a post office Clerk and letter carrier until 1895 when she married John Libby of Southend and became the mother of Harry Libby.

By 1931, Miss Orrin, Mrs Smith and Miss Maslen were continuing to ‘man’ their counters at Mumbles, Southend and West Cross, but by 1937, Mumbles Post Office was in the hands of Mrs. F.B. Jones.

Norton Post Office

In 1937, Mrs. G. Morgan opened a new post office in Norton on Castle Road adjacent to Raddon’s Forge and was succeeded for a short while by William Roderick.

Postal Staff

Various postwomen were employed by James Orrin through the years – Mary Jones, (his sister-in-law), Mary Davies of Hall Bank, Mary Rosina Gebhardt (later to run the Southend Post office) and postman, Francis Pond. James may have been given an allowance to pay his staff instead of them being paid directly by the General Post Office. Near neighbours to the Orrins were the Thomases of Somerset House, who all worked for the Royal Mail — William, 18 was a postman, his sister, Margaret, a post girl, who later worked for the Orrins and their brother Thomas as a telegraph boy from the age of 14.

The 1891 census confirms that John Edwards, 23, of Park Street was a postman, Frederick Gibbs aged 16 of Landsowne Place, was a Letter Carrier; John Bisco of Longfield Cottage, Norton and William Tucker of the Caswell area were post office Clerks.

In July 1919, the Mumbles Press announced that ‘Miss Mary Davies who has been a postwoman for forty-four years has been suitably recognised by the Postmaster General on her retirement.’ During the Second World War, Fred Mitchell of Chapel Street worked as a Postie during the day and along with this role, served in the evenings as Company Sergeant Major in the Mumbles Home Guard.


In major towns, postmen might have been issued with uniforms comprising a frock coat, which had previously been predominantly red (hence they sometimes came to bear the nickname ‘robin’). But from 1861, the coats were blue, with red collar, cuffs and facings, emblazoned with G.P.O and their identification number on the shoulder. The post-ladies were not issued with uniforms until the outbreak of war in 1914, when more of them were needed to take on the jobs vacated by the men. These comprised a blue serge skirt, coat and blue straw hat. In 1929, the straw hats were replaced by a felt ‘slouch’ hat and in 1941, by a peaked felt cap plus, for the first time, trousers, which may have been worn by Mollie Palmer and Maudie Webborn, two of the post-ladies then working the Mumbles ‘round.’


In May 1917, the Postmaster General revealed that, ‘it has been decided to pay the supplementary employees . . . the war bonus paid to the permanent staff hands. All hands, male and female will get a bonus of 5 shillings from 1st January, with the exception of those who are . . . not yet 18, who will get the same amount, but only from May.’ By 18 September 1917 the Cambrian Daily Leader was reporting that ‘post office servants are making a demand for their present war bonuses to be converted into wages and raised to 15 shillings a week for every full-time employée male or female.’

Post Office Merchandise

In the early years of the nineteenth century, Britain was notable for the establishment of a postal system throughout the country and the Empire.

Postage Stamps

In 1839, the price of letter postage was 4d per ½oz rate regardless of distance this only lasted for thirty-six days, as on 10 January 1840, a uniform penny post was charged for prepaid letters and 2d if the fee was to be collected from the recipient. In May of that year, the world’s first postage stamp, the ‘Penny Black’ was inaugurated for use in the UK and Ireland, but soon, its colour was changed to red. The cost of a stamp was reduced in 1871 to 1d for 1oz weight and to ½d for ½oz weight. Letter rate was 1½d by 1918, increasing to 2½d in 1940 and 3d in 1957.

King George V stamp
King George VI stamp
Queen Elizabeth stamp

The stamps were on perforated sheets, which totalled 10/- and 5/-, had to be neatly detached before selling. Plain postcards (address and an integral ½d stamp on one side, message to be written on the other) were introduced in 1870 and newspapers could also be posted for ½d. This meant that postage and, thus easier communication was now affordable by many. 1899 saw the introduction of the picture postcard with space for the ½d stamp, plus a message and the recipient’s address on the reverse side. This ½d price was to remain the same until 1918, when it increased to 1d, then 1½d in 1921, 2d in 1940 and 2½d in 1957.

Money Orders

Had been instituted in 1856 in values of up to £5 as a safe way to transport money. Postal orders were launched in 1880, with denominations from one shilling to twenty shillings, plus a charge from ½d to 2d and necessitated a date stamp. One could make the amount up to any interim sum by affixing postage stamps to the order. There was a bewildering array of official forms, such as the Blue Savings Bank or the Postal Order abstract. The cash was kept in a drawer divided into three for the gold, silver and copper coins to be stored separately (paper money was rarely seen) and counted at the end of each day, when the totalled amounts were filled in on a cash account sheet.

Parcel Post

Although there had been a private parcel service for many years, it was not within the reach or finances of the ordinary person. When in 1880, Henry Fawcett became Postmaster General, he believed that the Post Office should provide a parcel service in addition to its other duties. Called the ‘Inland Parcels Service,’ it began on 1 August 1883, following negotiations with the railway companies, which had agreed to carry parcels in return for 55% of the gross postage value. Each post office counter was issued with a scales, sealing wax to seal the string and cork hand-stamps to postmark the stamps on the parcels. Following its largely faultless introduction, the main problem according to Mr. Fawcett was that of ‘the public inexperience in the art of packing!’

Postmen on bikes had begun to be seen delivering mail in 1880. The parcel post was introduced initially with a 7lb weight limit, the charge for postage being 3d per pound up to 1/- for 7lbs. This meant a heavier and slower delivery time for the letter carriers and their job description then changed from being that of ‘Letter Carrier’ to ‘Postmen/women.’ Additionally, the popularity of postcards led to problems for the Letter Carriers as this ‘had thrown an immense amount of work onto them,’ which was compounded by ‘the unwillingness of many recipients to attach letter boxes to their premises,’ consequently causing delays in the deliveries.

Introduction of the Old Age Pension

On 10 June 1908, the Liberal introduced the Invalid and Old Age Pension Act, which would come into force on 1 January 1909. By November 1908, there had been over two hundred applications in Mumbles and Gower. The pension would be paid by the Government to anyone, ‘of good character,’ over seventy years of age, married or single, with an annual income of less than £31..10s. It was to be administered at the local post offices to differentiate it from the stigma of ‘going on the parish’. People were to apply for it by filling in a form and returning it to the post office from which they wished to draw the money — 5s for a single person and 7s..6d, for a married couple.

It is widely considered to be the foundation of the modern welfare state.

During the Great War, the Government implemented the ‘Separation Allowance’ payments, to be paid through the Post Office to the wives of men who had left to go on active service. The allowance amounted to 12s..6d per week for the wife, 15s..0d for the wife and one child and 2s..0d for each additional child. For the bereaved widows and orphans of post office workers, there was assistance from the ‘post office relief fund,’ to which other post office employées were encouraged to donate.


Bottle-green post boxes had first appeared in the UK in 1853 and in 1857, wall boxes were introduced in Shrewsbury, each embossed with the Latin insignia of the monarch, VR.

By 1874, they were all painted in the standard ‘pillar box’ red, which we still know today and bore VR, (shown) EV11R, GVR, GVIR or EIIR on the fascia, according to the monarch of the day.

Locally, there were collection boxes at each post office and the 1877 OS map of the area shows that there were also post boxes set into the walls outside Gilbert’s Cliff Villa, in Overland Road and opposite Bath House at Norton Road, later followed by one in the church wall at Church Park (shown here) which, to this day still bears the VR insignia on its face. By 1914, there were also wall boxes at Castleton, Thomas Hill, Rosehill, Rotherslade, Langland, Nottage and Upper Church Park, each with several collections a day.

Postboxes on the Railway

With the increased use of the postal service, in 1896, it was decided to install posting boxes on the Mumbles Railway coaches, which would be cleared at Rutland Street station and the mail transferred quickly and securely to the main post office in Wind Street, ‘a convenience highly appreciated by business people.’ This service remained in operation until the line was electrified in 1929.

Collections and Deliveries

The Mathew’s Directory of 1816 recorded that ‘the post goes out from the Mackworth Arms Inn in Wind Street, Swansea which had taken delivery earlier from the London Mail Coach, (every day) the Cambrian Post Coach (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) or the General Picton Post Coach (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), but is only delivered to Gower including Mumbles on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Outgoing post from Mumbles was sent in the evening on the relevant days.

By the 1840s in Mumbles, Mary Jones was taking care of one collection and one delivery of post per day. By 1865, there were two deliveries at 6.45 am and 3.15 pm and three dispatches 9.45am, 1.45pm and 5.15pm every day to and from James Orrin’s post office. This had increased to three of each by 1869, much of it transported on the horse-drawn Mumbles train. It was estimated that the cost of this was £40 p.a. By 1895, there were four deliveries and three dispatches per day. The frequency was the same at the other post offices, but the times differed slightly. The Kelly’s 1901 directory notes that there was a 7am collection and a 6.35am dispatch of post on Sunday.

By 1950, post offices on ordinary working days were open from 8.30am until 6.30pm, Mondays to Saturdays, 9am until 10.30am on Sundays and 9am until 12 noon on bank holidays. During the week, there were five collections from post boxes throughout the day and one on Sundays. The records also show that there was even one delivery of letters and parcels on Christmas Day, Good Friday and Bank Holidays, with the exception of Boxing Day.

The incoming post was sorted by the Postmaster/mistress and given to each postman/woman for delivery to each house. Hours for all the employées were long and started when the early morning post arrived and carried on until 8pm, although there might be breaks throughout for meals. However during October 1915, it was announced that ‘because of the restrictions in the illumination of streets and houses and the consequent danger in effecting the delivery of correspondence after dark, the last postal delivery will be made from Monday next at 4pm instead of 6pm.’ This service continued until September 1923, when post office vans were introduced in Swansea instead and were first used on the Mumbles route that year.

Occasionally, the counter staff might be asked to write a letter for people who were nervous of writing one themselves or reading incoming mail for those who could not read.

Sometimes the addresses on the envelopes were illegible or incorrect. In September 1917, an envelope was received at the Dunns Post Office addressed as here -

In the 1950s, Eunice Brain lived with her mother in Dunns Lane and it became the custom for the Postie commencing his ‘round’ at the sorting office, to enter through their front door and exit their back one, on his way to his deliveries in Walters Crescent and beyond, sometimes perhaps stopping for a quick cuppa!

The Great War was to usher in many, albeit temporary, changes in the operation of the postal service. In 1914, every male employée in Britain was sent a letter encouraging them to enlist and by December of that year, 28,000 had done so. Many local lads enlisted, among them Alfred Morgan, employed in the Swansea Post Office, who joined the Royal Engineers. He would be one of 36,000 United Kingdom postal workers serving in the fighting forces by 1915. As the Postmaster General said in his speech to the House of Commons in July 1915, ‘it is planned to increase the numbers by the release of sorters, labourers and postmen desirous of enlisting . . . labour deficiencies to be made good by employing women and men not fit for the army. But those measures are for the duration of the war only . . . there was to be special leave for postmen obtaining harvest work.’

Llais Llafur of 15 March 1919 believed that ‘it is very unlikely that the full postal service in force before the war will ever be resumed on the old scale. The object of this is to secure better and more regular working hours for postmen.’


On Saturday 9 September 1893, when after watching the Regatta at Southend, sub-postmaster, James Orrin began to walk home along the track of the Mumbles Railway and fell into a tank of boiling water at Southend station. This was a receptacle situated between the tracks to catch the boiling water from the steam train on its arrival at its terminus (Southend at that time). The Cambrian reported on the inquest, which was held at Mumbles Police Station, commenting that ‘his death has cast a gloom over the quaint little seaside resort.’ Prior to the hearing, Sergeant Meyler had empanelled a jury, which first went to inspect the water tank, before convening at the Police Station for a hearing in front of the Deputy district Coroner, Mr. Talfourd Strick. Following statements from various witnesses, a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ was given. The funeral was held on 14 September at Oystermouth Cemetery.

In 1910, two artillery men, Walter Andrews, aged 29 and Raymond Wheeler, aged 26, had been to the mainland from the Fort on the lighthouse island, to post some letters and were trying to return there, when their boat overturned and they drowned.

In July 1908, William Devonald of 13, Gloucester Place was killed while trying to board a train at Swansea Gaol. He had only recently started work at the Swansea Post Office as a trainée telegrapher and had ‘not yet received his uniform.’

Corporal Wyndham Jones served with the 3rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade.

Misfortune was to strike Lewis Jones, a postman living at 1, Beaufort Terr. Blackpill, when news reached him and his wife, Sarah that their son Wyndham had been killed in action in France on 28 December 1916, aged 24. He had previously been wounded in the leg and had spent most of 1916 at home convalescing, before being returned to France in November, where he was killed a month later.

Corporal Harold Stammers served with the 6th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.

The Smith family at Southend Post office were also to suffer during the Great War, when their son-in-law, Harold Stammers, married to their daughter, Flora Annie, was killed in action in France on 18 August 1916, leaving a baby son.

James and Gertrude Court of Blackpill also heard that their son, James, husband of Iris, had died of influenza just a month before the end of hostilities on 17 October 1918.

On 17 January 1941, while on his ‘round,’ and seeking shelter during an air-raid, postman Ivor Williams was wounded outside The Woodman Inn at Blackpill when a bomb exploded on the doorstep. He died the following day aged 45.

The Telegraph Service

Methods of communication were now starting to change for ordinary people and one of the new inventions of the day was soon to come to the post offices at Mumbles village.

The Cambrian reported on 17 March 1871, that George Grant Francis (Mayor of Swansea back in 1854) had written to the Postmaster General asking that a post office telegraph system be installed in Mumbles. He wrote, ‘I was greatly disappointed on going to the post office to find that it could not send a message of importance . . . I can hardly imagine that you would willingly permit such an important place as this [Mumbles] . . . the Roadstead . . . oyster fishery . . . limestone trade . . . Fort and Coastguard Station . . . visitors and rapidly expanding population . . . to remain without such a facility.’ By July, a letter had been received announcing ‘the start of a telegraph extension to Mumbles’ In 1872-3, the Postmaster General was authorized to pay the Duke of Beaufort (the owner of the shoreline) two guineas per annum ‘for the right to erect telegraph poles and wires between Blackpill and Mumbles’. The remains of these poles can still be seen below the sea wall at Oystermouth.

It was decided that a telegraph station would be erected on Mumbles Head. The advantage of the scheme was soon to be illustrated by an incident reported in the Cambrian on 5 March 1880, that The Ida of Llanelly sailing from Swansea, had telegraphed from Mumbles Head, to say that she had had to turn back following a collision’.

Mumbles Lighthouse and Telegraph Station.
Local fisherman wait to relay messages.

Sometimes, local fishermen would wait nearby in their boats to relay messages to and from the telegraph station. The Telegraph also enabled Oysterdredgers to keep in touch with their families while fishing further away from home.

The Docks telegraph office, which also served Mumbles, had been opened in Gloucester Chambers in 1867. The Post offices of James Orrin and William Jones and later, the one at West Cross, were now connected to the telegraph service, for which there would be a financial payment to cover the cost of delivering telegrams to a recipient’s door.

Staff had to be trained in the transmission and reception of telegrams. In the larger post offices, the message would be typed in Morse code on to a piece of perforated tape using a keyboard-like device called a ‘stick punch’. Then the tape was automatically run through the system, which transmitted the message and the recipient’s machine punched the incoming Morse code message on to a paper tape, with the printer decoding it into ordinary script.

The smaller offices operated an ABC system which was read by sight. The telegraphist would turn a handle, which guided a pointer from letter to letter on a dial marked with the alphabet and with the other hand, depress a key thus spelling out the message. There was also a ‘receiver’ dial for incoming messages.

Each town had a code eg. Swansea’s was SS or SX and the telgraphists were taught how to write the messages using as few words as possible, e.g. 1st would be classed as two words whereas ‘first’ would be one. Inches, feet and percent had to be written as such and not as ", ‘or %, but small words such as ‘a’, ‘the’ or ‘we’ could be omitted. The word ‘STOP’ had to be placed between different sentences, but not at the end of the message. The minimum charge to the customer was for ten words. Now ordinary people could contact their families and friends or receive messages within hours instead of days.

Telegrams: 'Peachey, Mumbles.'

Cable companies allowed businesses to register a code address for a small annual charge, so saving the cost of transmitting a long address. Hotels and shops quickly saw the advantage and soon adverts began to appear in the Trade Directories, e.g. Telegrams to The Langland Bay Hotel, had a special code and could be addressed to Delight, Langland.

Telegraph Letter

In 1912, the Post Office introduced a night telegraph service, whereby if messages were handed in before midnight, they would be transmitted by telegraph and included in the first postal delivery the following morning. This, at a cost of three words for ½d, subject to a minimum of 6d, would remain in force until 1943, when it was withdrawn as an economy measure.

During the Great War, the Postmaster General issued an edict ordering the curtailment of the hours of public telegraph business, ‘On account of the depletion of men who had gone for service with the Colours.’ The hours would now be 9am until 7pm for the collection and delivery of telegrams.

The sight of the telegram boy must have struck horror into the hearts of the families of Officers who might receive one, notifying them of the death or ‘missing in action’ of their relative away on active service— families such as those of Blackpill man, George Brown of the Royal Flying Corps, John Tyssil Davies, of Church Park, a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Bernard Marshall, RFC, whose parents lived at ‘Lyndale’ Langland Road, would have received such messages.

The families of the ‘ordinary’ ranks, such as Arthur Daniels, whose family ran a grocer’s shop on Newton Road or Evan Evans’s family of Woodville Road, received letters by post some time later. These would be on form B104/82, informing them that their boy had been ‘Killed in Action’ or form B104/83, received by the Frizell family in Woodville Road, notifying them that their eighteen-yearold son, Frank was ‘Missing in Action’ presumed dead, drowned off the coast of Palestine.

Signalman Frank Frizell, R.N.V.R.
Telegram letter: Sent to Frank's mother Mrs. Mary Frizell, Queens Road,

Telephone Services

The initial telephone services had a complicated inception from when the first telephones were introduced in Swansea in 1881, with three companies jockeying for position in the new emerging market. A little later, the Swansea Telephone Company was formed, which in 1884, was merged with the Western Counties and South Wales Telephone Company, which in turn, became part of the National Telephone Company in 1892. Progress was rapid and soon the Western Mail of 28 May 1904 was reporting that Swansea Chamber of Commerce had met to discuss the installation of telephones at the docks and at Mumbles Lighthouse. In 1905, a third system, the Swansea Corporation Telephone Department commenced, but was sold to the National Telephone Company in 1907, which in 1911 became part of the Post Office telephone service.

From 1891, the ‘South Wales and District Telephone Company’ had a branch office at the Oystermouth Stores at Clements Row, (later used as a shop by John Jones, the Dairy and now occupied by the Mumtaz Indian Restaurant), but by 1901, it had moved to a premises on Newton Road. The 1906 Kelly’s trade directory recorded that Miss Ethel Davies was the Operator at the ‘Swansea Corporation Telephone Exchange at Castleton and the Kelly’s directory of 1926, showed that Miss Winnie Baker was the ‘Caretaker and Operator of the Post Office Telephone Exchange at 3, Chapel Street’. The operators would connect one line to another manually at the exchange. Later, ‘trunk’ calls would be arranged to enable longdistance conversations to be held.

Telephones had been installed for the public’s use at James Orrin’s post office and another in Taylor’s the grocer in The Dunns.

Various adverts began to appear complete with both telegraph and telephone numbers. A national service was introduced in 1911, when some adverts carried the ‘local’ as well as the ‘national’ phone numbers. Very few people had private phones at home, but by the 1920s, many banks and traders did e.g. Lloyd’s Bank at 6, The Dunns had telephone number 260; Chamber’s Fishmonger of 16, Newton Road had the phone number 390; Frizzell the Grocer of 2, Woodville Road was number 166 and Peachey Cab Company was number 272.

Bringing telephones to Mumbles was not always straight forward however, as illustrated in the case of George Powell, who on 4, August 1905 while working, fell forty feet from a telephone pole at Norton. Amazingly, he got up and walked home to Southend, where he collapsed and was found to have broken his collar-bone and two or three ribs! Later that month, the Mumbles Weekly Press and Gower News reported that the telephone committee had decided that ‘His case did not come within the Workmen’s Compensation Act and therefore the man’s wages would be stopped!’

During the Second World War in his 1940 budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir John Simon, increased the costs of using the telephone by 15% and the sending of telegrams by 25%. Pay-phone boxes in the street became more common, but it would be many years before people generally had a private telephone in their homes.


I hope you have enjoyed this exploration of the lives of our local Posties who worked in and around the village from the 1850s to the 1950s.

Today, we take for granted being able to communicate instantly with anyone worldwide by phone, whether land-line or mobile, email, Facebook, twitter or Skype, or a multitude of other means, but it is not so long ago, only one hundred and fifty years or so, since people could not do any of these things. Life was more isolated then, although of course, they did not know what they did not have, just as we do not know how we will be communicating in ten, twenty or even fifty years from now! Carol Powell

Note: This article was originally published as a book, 'Law and Postal Order.'

The book version is now out of print, but is still available through The City of Swansea Library Service.


My grateful thanks go to Wendy Cope, Archivist of Oystermouth Historical Association; The Staff at West Glamorgan Archive; to Louise Southall and Ian Thomas, grandchildren of PC Ted Southall; Roger Jones, grandson of sub-postmaster, William Jones; Carl Smith, grandson of Mary Smith, sub-postmistress of Southend Post Office; Ronald Austin for help with material on West Cross Post Office; Audrey Vincent, daughter of Sergeant David Price; Pat Thomas and Gill Langcastle, daughter and granddaughter of Sergeant Edward Shear; Kate Elliott Jones; Hazel Hickson; Rosemary Hixon; David Jeffries, Grafton Maggs and Lorna Palmer.

Post Office Bibliography

Primary Sources

Mathew’s Swansea Directory, 1816, 1830 Hunt’s Directory, 1848 Kelly’s Directory, 1884, 1901, 1914, 1926The Swansea Directory, 1931, 1938 The Swansea Industrial and Trades Directory, 1950 1877. OS map, by permission of West Glamorgan Archive 1891 and 1901 censuses All Saints’ Church Parish Registers Cambrian 17 September 1869, 17 March 1871, 7 July 1871, 8 November 1872, 20 December 1878, 9 January 1880, 5 March 1880, 8 April 1881, 2 August 1872 , 16 August 1872 Cambrian Daily Leader, 7 July 1915, 15 October 1915, 23 May 1917, 18 September 1917, 28 September 1917 Llais Llafur, 15 March 1919 Mumbles Press, 24 July 1919 Western Mail, 28 May 1904 South Wales Weekly Post, 12 February 1916, 12 January 1917

Secondary Sources

Gabb, G., The Story of the Village of Mumbles, 1986Gwynn, D.R., Reynolds, P.R., Warren, H.R., Swansea Philatelic Society A Postal History of Swansea and District, 1984 Kelsall, F., How We Used to Live, 1908-1918, 1975 Orrin, G., James Orrin (1828-1893) His life and times in Victorian Mumbles, 2008 Powell, C., Once Upon a Village, 1996 Thompson, Flora, Lark Rise to Candleford, 1945 www. www.wikipedia_semaphore