Oxford post boxes: St Aldate’s Post Office
Oxford’s General Post Office at 102 to 104 St Aldate’s was built between 1878 and 1880, at a cost of about £10,000. The architect was E. J. Rivers, Esq. of Her Majesty’s Office of Works; the builders were Messrs Symm & Co., of Oxford; and the Clerk of the Works Mr H. Luff. On the morning of Wednesday 25 June 1879 Thomas Arnall, the Postmaster of Oxford, laid the foundation stone.
Oxford’s only post office had been at the south end of the old Town Hall on the other side of St Aldate’s Street since 1842, but by 1878 it was no longer big enough. The new Post Office was built of Chilmark stone on four floors, to be used as follows:
- Basement: Clerks, letter carriers, and sorters’ kitchens, battery room, boiler rooms, stores, coals
- Ground floor: Public office, with Postmaster’s room, and passage to a sorting room at the back that had lavatories for the clerks and letter carriers
- First floor: Telegraphic instrument room, clerks’ rooms, messengers’ room, lavatory
- Second floor: Apartments for a resident porter, consisting of sitting room, bedroom, and kitchen, and rooms for telegraph and postal stores.
The arch over the doorway is supported on each side by a cluster of polished Mull granite columns, and in the arch there is “a beautifully carved coat of arms”.
By 1903 the Post Office had again outgrown its space, and Messrs T.H. Kingerlee and Sons built a large sorting office at the back, as well as a new room for the Postmaster, retiring rooms for the clerks and postmen, and new lamp and store rooms. Telephone and messengers’ rooms were also added, and telegraph messages were conveyed from the instrument room to the boys’ room by means of a pneumatic tube. Electric light was then to be brought in to the old building and the extension.
In 2003 St Aldate’s Post Office building was bought by Merton College, which leases the ground floor back to the Post Office and the upper floors (which have been converted to office space) to other tenants. The basement is currently not used, but a planning application from the college to convert it into a restaurant was approved on 7 November 2006. This permission has expired, and another was submitted in November 2010. The letter box shown above (which has a large hole beneath it which originally took letters straight down to the basement) will be moved to the north of the recess, and the cash machine will be removed and replaced by entrance steps to the basement restaurant.
Newspaper reports about St Aldate’s Post Office 1879–1903
These give much fuller information about the building’s original design and use.
Planning applicationa 06/01840/FUL and 10/03174/FUL
Above: Drawing by the architect E.G. Rivers, engraved by James Akerman (published in The Building News of 22 August 1879). This shows what the Post Office would have looked like before the shop on the left (102 St Aldate’s) was demolished to allow for an extension with an archway to the south. A postman with a sack on his back is shown walking along an alleyway that presumably leads to the sorting area.
William Compton, ironmonger was at 102 St Aldate’s in 1879, and at No.105 on the other side was Richard Badcock (upholsterer & cabinet maker) and his family.
Below: Postcard of St Aldate’s Post Office dating from c.1905.