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According to Volume 2 of Dr. John Walker’s ‘History of the Hebrides’ the Post Office at Stornoway was opened in1756. In fact, the precise date of its opening is known as a Scots Magazine issue in 1756 revealed: "A post office is to be established at Stornoway, in the Isle of Lewis, from the fifth of July next, with packet-boats for maintaining a regular communication with the mainland." The postmaster at Stornoway was Mr. George MacKenzie and he received the sum of five pounds per annum.

The Morris LD 240cf was purchased by the Royal Mail up until 1968

 

At this time Stornoway was beginning to develop into a fishing port of some importance. But the town was largely cut off from the vast moorland expanse of rural Lewis.

In the Statistical Account of 1796, the minister of the parish of Stornoway wrote: "Road-making was only begun in this island in 1791, and a road is four miles distant from Stornoway across a deep moss of ten computed miles, to the other side of it."  It was many years latter before a road was built connecting Stornoway with Barvas.

The minister at Barvas, writing in the same Statistical Account, advised about the lack of roads and bridges: "…from this side of the village of Stornoway is reckoned from twelve to eighteen miles of broken swampy moor without so much as the form of a road across this long and fatiguing space." (No change there then!)

It is interesting to note that in 1836 Stornoway boasted no fewer than 18 licensed taverns, four inns, seven drinking-shops, and seven ‘miscellaneous’ – a polite way of describing the low shebeens so common in this period. Yet there was no jail in Stornoway, or anywhere else in Lewis for that matter.

In line with the general practice in other parts of the United Kingdom, the Stornoway Post Office was expected to open on Sundays, and a mail delivery took place on that day. This offended the Sabbatarianism of the Stornowegians, and in 1848 the General Post Office bowed to the wishes of residents and decided that Sunday working should cease.

The arrival of the parcel post in 1883 meant a great increase in the workload of the Stornoway Post Office. In 1887, Stornoway postmen were equipped with uniforms for the first time. This was also the time of the great herring boom, when the population of Stornoway would double overnight with the arrival of the fish-curers from as far afield as Grimsby and Yarmouth. In addition, foreign fishing boats from Holland, Germany and Russia would throng the harbour, transforming the seafront with their forest of masts.  The volume of mail delivered likewise increased.

The fishermen of Lewis – upwards of 3,000 Lewismen were employed at sea - tended to move around the coast; to Fraserburgh, Aberdeen and south to Grimsby, following the migration of the herring.

RIGHT: A Morris J4

During the fishing season, fishermen would write home to their families from far afield. Not only was staff increased to cope with this mail, but also a parcels handcart was added in 1900. A bicycle was provided for the use of the telegram messenger, but every winter it had to be returned to the Post Office stores at Mount Pleasant in London. In 1905 it was decided that the bicycle should remain in Stornoway all year round.

Construction of the road from Stornoway to Harris, through the parish of lochs, began in 1830. It was eventually completed in 1854, and though it was a road only in the vaguest sense of the word it was sufficient for the GPO to contemplate an expansion in the postal services.

It was proposed to run a foot-post from Stornoway to Tarbert twice weekly in summer and once weekly in winter, at a cost of thirteen shillings a week. Two runners were employed on this service: one messenger took the mail as far as Balallan and the other carried it from there to Tarbert. This service came into operation on 29th March 1855.

Others early vehicle arrivals in Stornoway included:

Morris Commercial 1 ton van with160cf.
Bodywork: BXW 776 (August 1935); EXM 385 (January 1939); EXM797 (April 1939).

Morris Commercials Ls with 70cf.
Bodywork: FGN629 (September 1939).

Morris Commercial T2 1 ton with 160cf.
Bodywork: EXD 696 (July 1938); GGJ 359 (September 1940); GGJ 967 (February 1942).

Morris Commercial Series Ys with 100cf.
Bodywork: GGJ 899 (December 1941).

In 1857 the foot post was converted to a horse post, and in 1859 a mail gig was used. From 1861 to 1863 a Mr McDiarmid held the contract for what became known as the ‘Stornoway-Harris Ride’.

In 1880, Sir Kenneth MacKenzie, one of the proprietors in Harris, asked that the service be improved. But no significant improvements were made until 1884 when a new contract was drawn up for the renamed ‘Stornoway-Harris Mail Car’.

DK Henderson of Bayhead, Stornoway, operated the Mail Car (in reality, a two-wheeled horse-drawn cart), at a cost to the Post Office of £140 per annum. This service only lasted for two years and was withdrawn in the summer of 1887; nearly fifty years would pass before the overland route would be used again.

In 1935, John Mitchell, pioneer of bus services in the Stornoway areas, obtained a sanction from the Traffic Commissioners to run a daily bus service from Stornoway to Rodel, via Tarbert and Leverburgh. This service received a substantial boost when the GPO awarded Mitchell a contract to transport local letters and parcels between Lewis and Harris.

In addition to Mitchell and Henderson, another private Bus company, Peter MacAulay, was operating a service to Carloway. These firms were awarded local mail contracts and carried letters, packets and parcels on their routes prior to the introduction of the red motor mail vans in 1926.

The first motor mail vans used on Lewis were Fords - 1 ton Model ‘T’s. Most were reconditioned ex War Department chassis. In 1927/28, Morris Commercial chassis dominated the orders, taking over from Ford as the favoured type of vehicle.

The First World War brought the first commercial vehicles to Lewis and by 1917 there were complaints about them tearing the surface of island roads. This led to the formation of the Lewis Motor Owners Association in the 1920s, when the number of petrol-driven vehicles had risen to 250, and pressure was brought to bear on the County Council in Dingwall for improvements to the roads.

The earliest recorded vehicle allocated to the Head Postmaster in Stornoway was November 1933 with the delivery of ALX 789, a Morris 15cwt, 105 cubic foot mailvan. Serial number 5140. Chassis number 1791.

 
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