|Volume 6, Number 6 - Winter 2006/2007|
A Postal Mystery: by Peter Keen
SCARS members work hard to publicise the Society, carrying out restoration work. attending conferences, fund raising at boat rallies, delving into archives and giving talks. Now and then their efforts are rewarded by an approach from a member of the public who has something which they feel might be of interest to the Society. In this way SCARS has been fortunate to receive a number of invaluable historical photographs and some unique eye witness accounts of life along the Sankey through the years.
Following a recent talk given by a committee member one of those attending the meeting mentioned an interesting postal cover in his possession. He sent photographs of the envelope to be examined.
The first side was of the conventional lay-out with the hand written address, Broad Street in Ludlow, carrying the usual penny red Victorian stamp and the post mark WARRINGTON, dated 30th August 1857 at sorting office F.
It was only when the reverse side was viewed that things became more interesting. First of all the folded sections of the envelope were outlined in black. Whilst this lining was sometimes used to show evidence of tampering, it was more often an indicator that the envelope contained news of a bereavement.
As one would have expected there is the post mark of the destination sorting office, in this case SHREWSBURY, dated August 31st 1857. A prompt delivery on the following day, something which could not be guaranteed nearly 150 years later.
The final piece of information was the most intriguing. This took the form of a third post mark, dated 30th August 1857, the original day of posting, identified with sorting office A at WIDNES DOCK. This raises a number of questions. We know from the old maps that there was a school and an Inn on Spike Island along with the "Spikes", or lodging houses, but no mention has been made of a post office.
The direct route to Shropshire was southwards from Warrington but here we have an item being carried westwards to Widnes. Why did it go in that direction and did it travel by rail or by canal?
By the mid 1850s the St. Helens Railway had completed its lines from Widnes to Garson, where Daglish's coal drops were doing sterling service, and from Widnes to Warrington, linking in with the national system at Arpley. However, the rail viaduct across the Mersey at Runcorn had yet to be built (1868) so how did the letter progress southwards? Mail was more often than not carried by rail since it provided a faster service but in this case it would have had to have crossed the Mersey before linking up with a railway. It could certainly not have travelled the whole journey by water, assuming that there were waterways available, since it reached Shropshire on the following day. Did the letter travel by canal to Widnes, cross the Mersey by ferry and then be placed aboard the nearest railway?
Why did the letter not simply travel south to Crewe and Shropshire along the existing rail routes? Was there some form of industrial dispute going on, a strike of rail workers on that particular line which necessitated the re-routing of mail? It was about this time that the St. Helens Railway was involved in discussions on future expansion of the rail network in south Lancashire with various other companies. It was not in a position of strength financially and there was more than the hint of animosity in the air. Was there some petty move to cause inconvenience to someone?
We have previously had some excellent feed back from members, as with the railway passes, so any explanation for the above scenario would be most welcome.
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