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Postmaster General of the United Kingdom

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Postmaster General of the United Kingdom
Last in office
John Stonehouse
1 July 1968 – 1 October 1969
StylePostmaster General
AppointerMonarch of the United Kingdom on advice of the Prime Minister
PrecursorMaster of the King's Post
First holderBrian Tuke
as Master of the King’s Post
Final holderJohn Stonehouse
Abolished1 October 1969
SuccessionOverseen by the following:
Department of Trade and Industry
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Home Office
Department for Culture, Media and Sport (1992– )

Postmaster General of the United Kingdom was a Cabinet ministerial position in HM Government. Aside from maintaining the postal system, the Telegraph Act 1868 established the Postmaster General's right to exclusively maintain electric telegraphs. This would subsequently extend to telecommunications and broadcasting.

The office was abolished in 1969 by the Post Office Act 1969. A replacement public corporation, governed by a chairman, was established under the name of the Post Office (later subsumed by Royal Mail Group). The cabinet position of Postmaster General was replaced by a Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, with reduced powers, until 1974; most regulatory functions have now been delegated to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, although Royal Mail Group was overseen by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy before flotation.


In England, the monarch's letters to his subjects are known to have been carried by relays of couriers as long ago as the 15th century. The earliest mention of Master of the Posts is in the King's Book of Payments where a payment of £100 was authorised for Brian Tuke as master of the posts in February 1512.[1] Belatedly, in 1517, he was officially appointed to the office of Governor of the King's Posts, a precursor to the office of Postmaster General of the United Kingdom, by Henry VIII.[2] In 1609 it was decreed that letters could only be carried and delivered by persons authorised by the Postmaster General.[3]

In 1655 John Thurloe became Postmaster-General, a post he held until he was accused of treason and arrested in May 1660.[4] His spies were able to intercept mail, and he exposed Edward Sexby's 1657 plot to assassinate Cromwell and captured would-be assassin Miles Sindercombe and his group. Ironically, Thurloe's own department was also infiltrated: his secretary Samuel Morland became a Royalist agent and in 1659 alleged that Thurloe, Richard Cromwell and Sir Richard Willis - a Sealed Knot member turned Cromwell agent - were plotting to kill the future King Charles II. About forty years after his death, a false ceiling was found in his rooms at Lincoln's Inn, the space was full of letters seized during his occupation of the office of Postmaster-General. These letters are now at the Bodleian Library.[5]

In 1657 an Act entitled 'Postage of England, Scotland and Ireland Settled' set up a system for the British Isles and enacted the position of Postmaster General. The Act also reasserted the postal monopoly for letter delivery and for post horses. After the Restoration in 1660, a further Act (Post Office Act 1660, 12 Cha. 2. c. 35) confirmed this and the post of Postmaster-General, the previous Cromwellian Act being void.

The former site of the General Letter Office in London

1660 saw the establishment of the General Letter Office, which would later become the General Post Office (GPO).[3] A similar position evolved in the Kingdom of Scotland prior to the 1707 Act of Union.

The office was abolished in 1969 by the Post Office Act 1969.[3] A new public corporation, governed by a chairman, was established under the name of the Post Office (the part later subsumed by Royal Mail), which also had responsibility for telecommunications and the Girobank). The cabinet position of Postmaster General was initially replaced by a Minister of Posts and Telecommunications with less direct involvement; this department was dissolved in March 1974,[6] with regulatory functions transferring to the Home Office, the Post Office retaining control of television licensing. Since 1992, most regulatory functions formerly conducted by the Postmaster General generally fall within the remit of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, although the present-day Royal Mail Group was overseen by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy until flotation.

Masters of the King's Post[edit]

Years Master of the King's Post
1517–1545 Brian Tuke
1545–1566 John Mason
1566–1590 Thomas Randolph
1590–1607 John Stanhope, 1st Baron Stanhope
1607–1635 Charles Stanhope, 2nd Baron Stanhope
1637–1642 Philip Burlamachi
1642–1649 Edmund Prideaux

Postmaster under the Commonwealth[edit]

Years Postmaster under the Commonwealth
1649–1653 Edmund Prideaux
1653–1655 John Manley[7]
1655–1660 John Thurloe

Postmasters General of England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom[edit]

The earliest postmasters had responsibility for England and Wales. In 1707, on the Union with Scotland, the responsibility of the office was extended to cover the whole of the new Kingdom of Great Britain as well as Ireland, but with some powers held by a Post Office Manager for Scotland. By the Post Office (Revenues) Act 1710, with effect from 1711, the services were united, but with a Deputy Postmaster for Scotland. From 1784, there were also Postmasters General of Ireland, but from 1831, the postmasters based at Westminster became responsible for the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.[8] In 1922, the Irish Free State became independent, and in 1923 it established its own arrangements under a Postmaster General of the Irish Free State. In 1924 the title became Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.

Years Postmaster General
1660–1663 Henry Bishop
1663–1664 Daniel O'Neill
1664–1667 Katherine O'Neill, Countess of Chesterfield
1667–1685 Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington
1686–1689 Laurence Hyde, 1st Earl of Rochester
1689–1691 John Wildman

Two Postmasters General, 1691–1823[edit]

From 1691 to 1823 there were two Postmasters General, to divide the patronage between the Whigs and Tories.

Year 1st Postmaster General 1st Party 2nd Postmaster General 2nd Party
1691 Sir Thomas Frankland Sir Robert Cotton Tory
1708 Sir John Evelyn
1715 James Craggs the Elder Charles Cornwallis, 4th Baron Cornwallis Whig
1720 Galfridus Walpole Edward Carteret
1725 Edward Harrison
1733 Thomas Coke, 1st Baron Lovel
(Earl of Leicester from 1744)
1739 Sir John Eyles, Bt
1745 Everard Fawkener
1759 Robert Hampden, 4th Baron Trevor William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough
1762 John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont
1763 Thomas Villiers, 1st Baron Hyde
1765 Thomas Robinson, 1st Baron Grantham William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough
1766 Wills Hill, 2nd Viscount Hillsborough Francis Dashwood, 11th Baron le Despencer
1768 John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich
1771 Henry Carteret
(from 1784 Baron Carteret)
1782 The Viscount Barrington
1782 Charles Bennet, 4th Earl of Tankerville[9]
1783 Thomas Foley, 2nd Baron Foley[9]
1784 Charles Bennet, 4th Earl of Tankerville[9]
1786 Thomas Villiers, 1st Earl of Clarendon
1787 Thomas de Grey, 2nd Baron Walsingham
1789 John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland Tory
1790 Philip Stanhope, 5th Earl of Chesterfield
1794 George Townshend, 1st Earl of Leicester
1798 William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland
1799 George Leveson-Gower, Baron Gower
1801 Lord Charles Spencer
1804 James Graham, 3rd Duke of Montrose
1806 John Proby, 1st Earl of Carysfort Robert Hobart, 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire
1807 Thomas Pelham, 2nd Earl of Chichester Whig John Montagu, 5th Earl of Sandwich Tory
1814 Richard Trench, 2nd Earl of Clancarty
1816 James Cecil, 1st Marquess of Salisbury

A single Postmaster General, 1823–1900[edit]

In 1823 the idea of a Whig and a Tory sharing the post was abolished.[9]

Years Postmaster General
1823 Thomas Pelham, 2nd Earl of Chichester
continuing in office alone
1826–1827 Lord Frederick Montagu
1827–1830 William Montagu, 5th Duke of Manchester
1830–1834 Charles Lennox, 5th Duke of Richmond and Lennox
1834 Francis Nathaniel Conyngham, 2nd Marquess Conyngham
1834–1835 William Wellesley-Pole, 1st Baron Maryborough
1835 Francis Nathaniel Conyngham, 2nd Marquess Conyngham
1835–1841 Thomas William Anson, 1st Earl of Lichfield
1841–1845 William Lowther, Viscount Lowther
1845–1846 Edward Granville Eliot, 3rd Earl of St Germans
1846–1852 Ulick John de Burgh, 1st Marquess of Clanricarde
1852 Charles Philip Yorke, 4th Earl of Hardwicke
1853–1855 Charles John Canning, 2nd Viscount Canning
1855–1858 George Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll
1858–1859 Charles Edward Abbot, 2nd Baron Colchester
1859–1860 James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin
1860–1866 Edward John Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley
1866–1868 James Graham, 4th Duke of Montrose
1868–1871 Spencer Compton Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington
1871–1873 William Monsell
1873–1874 Lyon Playfair
1874–1880 Lord John Manners
1880–1884 Henry Fawcett
1884–1885 George John Shaw-Lefevre
1885–1886 Lord John Manners
1886 George Grenfell Glyn, 2nd Baron Wolverton
1886–1891 Henry Cecil Raikes
1891–1892 Sir James Fergusson
1892–1895 Arnold Morley
1895–1900 Henry Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk

Postmaster General, 1900–1969[edit]

Portrait Name
Term of office Party Ministry
Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 6th Marquess of Londonderry
(1852–1915) [10]
10 April 1900
(in Cabinet from 2 November 1900)
8 August 1902 Conservative Salisbury IV
Austen Chamberlain
MP for East Worcestershire
(1863–1937) [10]
8 August 1902 6 October 1903 Conservative Balfour
Edward Stanley, Lord Stanley
MP for Westhoughton
(1865–1948) [10]
6 October 1903 10 December 1905 Conservative
Sydney Buxton
MP for Poplar
(1853–1934) [10]
10 December 1905 14 February 1910 Liberal Campbell-Bannerman
Asquith I
Herbert Samuel
MP for Cleveland
(1870–1963) [10]
14 February 1910 11 February 1914 Liberal Asquith II
Asquith III
Charles Hobhouse
MP for Bristol East
(1862–1941) [10]
11 February 1914 25 May 1915 Liberal
Herbert Samuel
MP for Cleveland
(1870–1963) [10]
26 May 1915 18 January 1916 Liberal Asquith Coalition
(Lib.Con.–et al.)
Joseph Pease
MP for Rotherham
(1860–1943) [10]
18 January 1916 5 December 1916 Liberal
Albert Illingworth
MP for Heywood until 1918
MP for Heywood and Radcliffe from 1918
10 December 1916 1 April 1921 Liberal Lloyd George I
Lloyd George II
Frederick Kellaway
MP for Bedford
1 April 1921 19 October 1922 Liberal
Neville Chamberlain
MP for Birmingham Ladywood
31 October 1922 12 March 1923 Conservative Law
Sir William Joynson-Hicks, Bt.
MP for Twickenham
12 March 1923 28 May 1923 Conservative
Baldwin I
Sir Laming Worthington-Evans, Bt.
MP for Colchester
(1868–1931) [10]
28 May 1923 22 January 1924 Conservative
Vernon Hartshorn
MP for Ogmore
(1872–1931) [10]
22 January 1924 11 November 1924 Labour MacDonald I
Sir William Mitchell-Thomson
MP for Croydon South
11 November 1924 7 June 1929 Conservative Baldwin II
Hastings Lees-Smith
MP for Keighley
7 June 1929 2 March 1931 Labour MacDonald II
Clement Attlee
MP for Limehouse
2 March 1931 3 September 1931 Labour
William Ormsby-Gore
MP for Stafford
3 September 1931 10 November 1931 Conservative National I
(N.Lab.Con.–et al.)
Sir Kingsley Wood
MP for Woolwich West
(1881–1943) [11]
10 November 1931 7 June 1935 Conservative
National II
George Tryon
MP for Brighton
7 June 1935 3 April 1940 Conservative National III
(Con.N.Lab.–et al.)
National IV
Chamberlain War
William Morrison
MP for Cirencester and Tewkesbury
3 April 1940 7 November 1943 Conservative
Churchill War
(All parties)
Harry Crookshank
MP for Gainsborough
7 November 1943 4 August 1945 Conservative
Churchill Caretaker
The Earl of Listowel
4 August 1945 17 April 1947 Labour Attlee I
Wilfred Paling
MP for Wentworth
17 April 1947 28 February 1950 Labour
Ness Edwards
MP for Caerphilly
28 February 1950 5 November 1951 Labour Attlee II
The Earl De La Warr
5 November 1951 7 April 1955 Conservative Churchill III
Charles Hill
MP for Luton
7 April 1955 16 January 1957 National Liberal Eden
Ernest Marples
MP for Wallasey
16 January 1957 22 October 1959 Conservative Macmillan I
Reginald Bevins
MP for Liverpool Toxteth
22 October 1959 19 October 1964 Conservative Macmillan II
Tony Benn
MP for Bristol South East
19 October 1964 4 July 1966 Labour Wilson I
Wilson II
Edward Short
MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central
4 July 1966 6 April 1968 Labour
Roy Mason
MP for Barnsley
6 April 1968 1 July 1968 Labour
John Stonehouse
MP for Wednesbury
1 July 1968 1 October 1969 Labour

Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, 1969-1974[edit]

Portrait Name
Term of office Party Ministry
John Stonehouse
MP for Wednesbury
1 October 1969 19 June 1970 Labour Wilson II
Christopher Chataway
MP for Chichester
24 June 1970 7 April 1972 Conservative Heath
John Eden
MP for Bournemouth West
7 April 1972 4 March 1974

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brewer, J.S.; Brewer, John Sherren; Brodie, Robert Henry; Gairdner, James (1864). Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII. London: Longman, Green, Longman, & Roberts. pp. 1454.
  2. ^ Walker (1938), p. 37
  3. ^ a b c "Division No. 1 (Postal Services Bill) [15 Jun 2000] – Column 1782". Volume No. 613 – Part No. 104. 15 June 2000. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  4. ^ "John Thurloe, Secretary of State, 1616-68". british-civil-wars.co.uk. 23 April 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
  5. ^ Papworth, Dorothy (1990). "John Thurloe". Wisbech Society Report. 51: 14–16.
  6. ^ "Records created or inherited by the Department of Trade and Industry, 1970-1974, Telecommunications and Post Division, and predecessors". The National Archives. nationalarchives.gov.uk. Retrieved 27 June 2021.
  7. ^ "Manley, John (c. 1622–99)". History of Parliament Online. 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  8. ^ Chambers's Encyclopaedia: A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge: Vol. VIII (London: W. & R. Chambers, Ltd., 1901), p. 347
  9. ^ a b c d Falmouth packet archives Archived 16 December 2012 at archive.today. Retrieved 9 June 2008
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sat in Cabinet
  11. ^ Sat in Cabinet from 20 December 1933

External links[edit]