Last updated 11th August 2014.
A new book on Telephone Vehicles (“Telephone Service Vehicles since 1906”) by Bill Aldridge has been published by Nostalgia Road. 64 pages, A5 format with a good selection of photographs of GPO, Post Office Telephones, British Telecom and BT vehicles over the year. Many of the photographs have been taken by Club members. £7.95 including postage and packing from POVC Sales at 124 Shenstone Avenue, Norton, STOURBRIDGE, West Midlands, DY8 3EJ. Please make cheques payable to the “Post Office Vehicle Club”. You can also order it by Paypal (49p charge applies) by e-mailing us at POVehClub@aol.com and we will invoice you.
2014 is the centenary of the first use by the General Post Office (GPO) of its own motorised vehicles for mail transport with May 1914 the likely month for introduction. Traditionally the GPO had used contractors for its transport of mail, whether by rail or road. In 1891, the War Office had propounded a scheme where the GPO would acquire the vehicles and horses owned by the various contractors in London and other cities and should maintain its own mail services. The idea was to provide a reserve of good horses for government service in the event of an emergency, and to employ reservists of the Army Service Corps to conduct mail services in time of peace. The scheme did not progress beyond the discussion stage but was revived in 1902, again without result. The policy of using contractors extended to rural mail deliveries to which delivery to individual addresses was extended between 1892 and 1897 with rural postmen initially providing their own bicycles or horses for delivery work. In 1896 it was realised that there were economies to be made if the GPO provided the bicycles and departmental machines replaced their riders’ machines over the next few years. The bulk of mail transport was entrusted to the railway companies but there was a need for road transport to convey mails between Head Post Offices and stations, and between Head Post Offices and sub-offices, as well as collections from Post Offices and letter boxes. Generally this transport was horse-drawn in the 19th Century, ranging from simple horses and carts through to horse-drawn parcel coaches. Contractors who supplied these services to the GPO started using motorised transport in 1897 when some local services in London and the London to Redhill parcels coach were so converted. 170 contracts (out of a total of about 1,400) were converted to motor vehicles by their operators during the years leading up to the First World War. Other departments of the GPO, the Stores Department and the telephone service, had been using motorised transport on their own account since 1906. The postal service is known to have considered obtaining its own vehicles on a number of occasions, the last occasion being in 1909. At this time it was estimated that the cost, excluding reserves, would be at least 8½d per mile for a 10cwt. van while a number of contracts had been entered into where the cost was about 6d per mile, making ownership financially unattractive.
By February 1914, the GPO had decided to start a small experiment and it wrote to the Treasury who replied on 15th April 1914 in the following terms:
In report to your Report of 18th February last (207789/13), I am directed by the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury to authorise you to purchase 20 Motor Cycles and Side Cars at a cost not exceeding £1400 with a view to their use on certain Rural Posts.
Their Lordships also sanction your proposals,
(i) that Postmen engaged in Motor Cycles duties should receive an allowance of 6d for each weekday and 9d for each Sunday for cleaning the machines and undertaking minor repairs; and
(ii)that the cost, estimated at about £2, of a course of instruction in the use of the machines, which will required in some cases, should be borne by your department.
For the present the arrangements (including the amount of the allowances) should be regarded as experimental – a further Report being made to this Department as to the financial result in due course.
We know that four Rovers, ten New Hudsons and six Douglas combinations were ordered following the Treasury’s letter and these were followed by a further single Rover the following year, possibly an accident replacement. All these motor cycles were rated at 3½ h.p. and had specially built wicker or metal side carriers of approximately 18cubic feet (cf.) capacity, while the last Rover was 14cf. In addition to the above, the GPO placed in service in 1915 four tricars (nominally 6 h.p.) that were supplied by Warwick and Autocarrier (two each). A simple way of describing them would be motorised box tricycles. They were allocated initially to Clitheroe, Alnwick, Chipping Norton and Chesterfield, going into service in July/August 1915. After initial allocation, it was found that several machines were unsuitable for the services to which they were allocated. Machines of different makes were exchanged between posts, some services were themselves closed down and their machines were transferred elsewhere. Although reference has been found to twenty combinations being in stock on 31st March 1919, when Major Wheeler launched the Motor Transport Scheme for the engineering department, it would appear that only ten were in working order. In fact, at least half had been withdrawn by the date and were being cannibalised for spares with one relegated to internal duty at the Birmingham stores depôt. After the Second World War, the GPO turned over to heavier twin-cylinder machines of about 6-8 h.p. fitted with larger side-carriers of 24-32cf. These were known as Heavy Weight Combinations and their makes included Triumph, BSA, Royal Enfield and Matchless.