Postmaster General of the United Kingdom

Postmaster General of the United Kingdom

Albert Illingworth 1916–1921
Style Postmaster General
Appointer Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Precursor Master of the King's Post
Formation 1517
First holder

Brian Tuke

as Master of the Kings Post
Final holder John Stonehouse
Abolished 1969
Succession overseen 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 which 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 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 (from 2010 until 2015 Vince Cable).

Masters of the King's Post

YearsMaster of the King's Post
1517–1545 Brian Tuke
1545–1566John Mason
1566–1590Thomas Randolph
1590–1607Sir John Stanhope
1607–1635Charles Stanhope
1637–1642Philip Burlamachi
1642–1649 Edmund Prideaux

Postmaster under the Commonwealth

YearsPostmaster under the Commonwealth
1649–1653 Edmund Prideaux
1653–1655 John Manley[4]
1655–1660John Thurloe

Postmasters General of the Kingdom of England

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

Two Postmasters General

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

Year1st Postmaster-General1st Party2nd Postmaster-General2nd 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[5]
1783 Thomas Foley, 2nd Baron Foley[5]
1784 Charles Bennet, 4th Earl of Tankerville[5]
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

In 1823 the idea of a Whig and a Tory sharing the post was abolished.[5]

YearsPostmaster General
1823 Thomas Pelham, 2nd Earl of Chichester
continuing in office alone
1826–1827Lord Frederick Montagu
1827–1830William Montagu, 5th Duke of Manchester
1830–1834Charles Lennox, 5th Duke of Richmond and Lennox
1834Francis Nathaniel Conyngham, 2nd Marquess Conyngham
1834–1835 William Wellesley-Pole, 1st Baron Maryborough
1835Francis Nathaniel Conyngham, 2nd Marquess Conyngham
1835–1841Thomas William Anson, 1st Earl of Lichfield
1841–1845William Lowther, Viscount Lowther
1845–1846Edward Granville Eliot, 3rd Earl of St Germans
1846–1852Ulick John de Burgh, 1st Marquess of Clanricarde
1852 Charles Philip Yorke, 4th Earl of Hardwicke
1853–1855Charles John Canning, 2nd Viscount Canning
1855–1858 George Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll
1858–1859Charles Edward Abbot, 2nd Baron Colchester
1859–1860James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin
1860–1866Edward John Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley
1866–1868James Graham, 4th Duke of Montrose
1868–1871Spencer Compton Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington
1871–1873William Monsell
1873–1874Lyon Playfair
1874–1880Lord John Manners
1880–1884Henry Fawcett
1884–1885George John Shaw-Lefevre
1885–1886Lord John Manners
1886George Grenfell Glyn, 2nd Baron Wolverton
1886–1891Henry Cecil Raikes
1891–1892Sir James Fergusson
1892–1895Arnold Morley
1895–1900Henry Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk
1900–1902Charles Stewart Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 6th Marquess of Londonderry
1902–1903Austen Chamberlain
1903–1905Edward George Villiers Stanley, Lord Stanley
1905–1910Sidney Buxton
1910–1914Herbert Samuel
1914–1915Charles Hobhouse
1915–1916Herbert Samuel
1916Joseph Pease
1916–1921Albert Illingworth
1921–1922Frederick Kellaway
1922–1923Neville Chamberlain
1923Sir William Joynson-Hicks
1923–1924Sir Laming Worthington-Evans
1924Vernon Hartshorn
1924–1929Sir William Mitchell-Thomson
1929–1931Hastings Lees-Smith
1931Clement Attlee
1931Sir William Ormsby-Gore

Postmaster-General, 1931–1969

Name Portrait Term of office Political party Prime Minister
William Ormsby-Gore 14 August 1931 Conservative Ramsay MacDonald
Sir Kingsley Wood 10 November 1931 Conservative
George Tryon 7 June 1935 Conservative Stanley Baldwin
Neville Chamberlain
William Morrison 3 April 1940 Conservative
Winston Churchill
Harry Crookshank 7 November 1943 Conservative
The Earl of Listowel 19 October 1945 Labour Clement Attlee
Wilfred Paling 17 April 1947 Labour
Ness Edwards 28 February 1950 Labour
The Earl De La Warr 5 November 1951 Conservative Winston Churchill
Charles Hill 7 April 1955 National Liberal Anthony Eden
Ernest Marples 16 January 1957 Conservative Harold Macmillan
Reginald Bevins 22 October 1959 Conservative
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Tony Benn 19 October 1964 Labour Harold Wilson
Edward Short 4 July 1966 Labour
Roy Mason 6 April 1968 Labour
John Stonehouse 1 July 1968 Labour

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. p. 1454.
  2. Walker (1938), p. 37
  3. 1 2 3 "Division No. 1 (Postal Services Bill) [15 Jun 2000] – Column 1782". Volume No. 613 – Part No. 104. Hansard. 15 Jun 2000. Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  4. "Manley, John (c. 1622–99)". History of Parliament Online. 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Falmouth packet archives accessed 9 June 2008
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