The origins of the modern post office are intrinsically linked to St Austell through the person of Ralph Allen who was born in St Blazey in 1693. Allen is famous for devising a new way of organising the postal network and through a personal franchise received the huge annual income of £12,000. Allen later became Lord Mayor of Bath, where he amassed a second fortune quarrying the stone from which the city is built.
Another notable son of St Austell, Samuel Drew, the famous Cornish Methodist theologian, had an early connection with the Post Office. Samuel’s father held a contract to carry the mail between St Austell and Bodmin and often brought his son along. He later described to his son and Samuel’s bother Joseph, “a dreary journey of twenty miles in the darkness of night through frost and snow”. His task was to deliver his packet of mail to a ‘receiving house’ where at one o’clock in the morning he placed his packet of letters through an unlocked window “so that the family might not be disturbed”.
Therefore, it was perhaps unsurprising that Joseph Drew followed in his father’s footsteps to become St Austell’s postmaster. Joseph is listed in Pigot’s directory for 1830 as occupying premises in High Cross Street – where the Post Office still stands. In a similar fashion to today’s postmasters, he had to supplement his income from the Post Office through other activities – in Joseph’s case through the sale of coal and timber.
By 1871 the Post Office had moved to this location, in Church Street, in what was then known as the Bull Ring, which was under the management of William Guy. In 1873 the Post Office directory listed this building as a telegraph office. Therefore, St Austell received its first electro-magnetic communications system only 5 years after it had been set up by the General Post Office. By the 1900s the building was also being described as a ‘telephone office’. The need for more space to accommodate a new telephone exchange as well as an expanding sorting office that prompted a move back to High Cross Street and the opening of a brand new building in May 1922.