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Island Postal History

The post was extended from Newport to Ryde in July 1792, the route following the line of the present road via Wootton Bridge and Binstead. Like the Cowes route, this was a daily service, testifying to the rapid growth in the importance of Ryde by this date, but the route was operated by a horse messenger. This became a twice-daily service in 1810.

On 24 July 1820 the steamboat ‘Prince of Coburg’ inaugurated a thrice-daily service between Southampton and Cowes and from the outset held a postal contract. This vessel was employed for six years but only plied across the Solent in the summer months and the traditional method of sailing packets had to be used in the winter. In addition to the caprices of sudden squalls blowing up the Solent was the perennial hazard of fog and it is hardly surprising that the mail packet was often delayed considerably by inclement weather. Just such an incident was minuted by the Post Office in 1821, and six years later the Hampshire Chronicle reported on 1st January 1827: “In consequence of the dead calm sea on Saturday afternoon, Mr Windover was obliged to proceed with the mail from Cowes in an open boat. Fog came on and after rowing till 7 o’clock in the evening and thinking that they were near Southampton, they re-entered Cowes harbour fortunately without meeting any accident.”

Prior to the completion of the pier at Ryde in 1815, a small stone quay served the fishing vessels based at this village. In 1805 a daily service between Ryde and Portsmouth was instituted by sailing vessel and soon this was also being used for the conveyance of mails, supplementing the more favourable route between Cowes and Southampton. In the spring of 1825 steam packets were established on this route too, the necessary capital being subscribed by a number of public-spirited individuals in £25 shares. These steam packets conveyed both horses and carriages across Spithead by means of two-boats and theoretically at least it was possible for gentlemen to enter their carriages in London and never alight from them until they reached Ryde. This service was put on a more regular footing in 1828 when the Post Office invited tenders for a mail contract. Offers were received from a Mr Heather and a Mr Garratt. Two years later the Portsmouth Steam Packet Company was awarded the contract and in 1832 the Ryde-Portsmouth steamship mail service was extended in frequency.

The sailing packets were eventually phased out in 1838 and a new steamer service was introduced, all year round, plying on a triangular route between Southampton, Cowes and Ryde, once a day in winter and twice daily in summer. This service was timed to coincide with an internal coach service, which, over the previous decade, had become more sophisticated and gradually linked up the various towns and villages in the south-east of the island. Details of the internal communications by 1827 are given in Horsey’s ‘Beauties of the Isle of Wight’, published that year: From Newport to Ryde ‘The Bugle’ would run at 7.45 and 10.45 AM, and at 3.30 PM.

In 1838 the Ryde penny post was extended westwards to Wootton Bridge, which a year later also became part of the penny post network based at Newport. In connection with these services the road was considerably repaired and upgraded.

From 5th June 1840 Uniform Penny Postage applied to the entire country and letters under ½ oz were conveyed any distance, prior to introduction rates of Cowes – Newport and Newport – Ryde cost 2d, and Cowes to Portsmouth via Southampton 7d, Southampton to Cowes or Portsmouth to Ryde 2d. The railway from London to Southampton completed and superseded the stagecoach on the Portsmouth Road.

Wootton Bridge was served by penny posts from Ryde (1837) and Newport (1839) in connection with the latter a two-line stamp inscribed ‘Wootten Bridge / Penny Post’ was despatched from London on the 14th December 1838 and has been recorded in reddish brown ink from 1839 onwards. No attempt was made to rectify the spelling error and the stamp was retained after the office ceased to be a penny post receiving house. No namestamp of the double-arc type was issued until July 1856, a stamp with sans-serif lettering inscribed WOTTON-BRIDGE being then supplied. In 1865 Wootton Bridge was allocated the number C55 in the general list, and an obliterator with three bars above and below was issued. At the same a ‘thimble’ datestamp was provided for backstamping mail. This was incorrectly spelled WOOTON BRIDGE and superseded the following December by a ‘thimble’ with the spelling amended. A somewhat larger single datestamp was issued in April 1872. Two skeletons have been recorded from the early years of this century, a large diameter with WOOTTON BRIDGE alone and a smaller type with WOOTTON BRIDGE / I. OF W. The date of this letter is not known, but it may have been used while the single stamp was being converted to take clock time slugs. A combined stamp inscribed WOOTTON BRIDGE / RYDE was in use by 1922, but this was superseded by a stamp with I OF W substituted for the parent office name at the foot, by 1926. Shortly before the Second World War a combined stamp with RYDE. ISLE OF WIGHT at the foot was issued and is still used to this day to cancel local first class mail.

Two counter stamps are currently in use, differing in the spacing of the inscriptions and having numeral or asterisk above the date. The latter was in use by 1957, but the former was introduced in November 1965. It is not known whether Wootton Bridge ever had charge or explanatory marks incorporating its C55 number, but unstamped postcards from the turn of the century are known with a curious handstruck “1”, which looks as if it was produced locally by carving a piece of wood. No parcel datestamps of early pattern have been recorded, but a stamp inscribed WOOTTON BRIDGE / RYDE / ISLE of WIGHT has been in use since the 1960s.

Source: James A Mackay, Island Postal History Series No.12 Isle of Wight, (1981)

This page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:44

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