United Kingdom Postmaster General
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United Kingdom Postmaster General

Postmaster General of the United Kingdom
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Albert Illingworth.jpg
Albert Illingworth 1916-1921
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
Successionoverseen by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

The Postmaster General of the United Kingdom was a Cabinet-level ministerial position in HM Government. Aside from maintaining the postal system, the Telegraph Act of 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 authority governed by a chairman was established under the name of the "Post Office (that part subsumed by Royal Mail)". The position of "Postmaster General" was, with reduced powers, replaced with "Minister of Posts and Telecommunications"; since when most such regulation instead has been delegated to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. However the present-day Royal Mail Group was overseen by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills prior to 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 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 (12 Car II, 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 authority governed by a chairman was established under the name of the Post Office (however, the part later subsumed by Royal Mail). The position of Postmaster General was initially replaced with Minister of Posts and Telecommunications with less direct involvement; since this 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 is overseen by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Masters of the King's Post

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

Years Postmaster under the Commonwealth
1649-1653 Edmund Prideaux
1653-1655 John Manley[4]
1655-1660 John Thurloe

Postmasters General of England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom

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.[5] 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.

Two Postmasters General, 1691-1823

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[6]
1783 Thomas Foley, 2nd Baron Foley[6]
1784 Charles Bennet, 4th Earl of Tankerville[6]
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, 1823-1931

In 1823 the idea of a Whig and a Tory sharing the post was abolished.[6]

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
1900-1902 Charles Stewart Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 6th Marquess of Londonderry
1902-1903 Austen Chamberlain
1903-1905 Edward George Villiers Stanley, Lord Stanley
1905-1910 Sidney Buxton
1910-1914 Herbert Samuel
1914-1915 Charles Hobhouse
1915-1916 Herbert Samuel
1916 Joseph Pease
1916-1921 Albert Illingworth
1921-1922 Frederick Kellaway
1922-1923 Neville Chamberlain
1923 Sir William Joynson-Hicks
1923-1924 Sir Laming Worthington-Evans
1924 Vernon Hartshorn
1924-1929 Sir William Mitchell-Thomson
1929-1931 Hastings Lees-Smith
1931 Clement Attlee
1931 Sir William Ormsby-Gore

A single Postmaster General, 1931-1969

See also


  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 2013.
  4. ^ "Manley, John (c. 1622-99)". History of Parliament Online. 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  5. ^ Chambers's Encyclopaedia: A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge: Vol. VIII (London: W. & R. Chambers, Ltd., 1901), p. 347
  6. ^ a b c d Falmouth packet archives Archived 16 December 2012 at Archive.today. Retrieved 9 June 2008

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