Lismore’s Post Offices – A Brief History
We are very grateful to Norman Hudson for compiling this article for the website.
We would love to hear from you if have any old photos of the post offices mentioned or examples of any of the earlier datestamps.
Achnacroish Post Office
We are now so reliant on personal computers, laptops, the internet, e-mail, mobile phones and all the other must-haves (or can’t-live-withouts) of the 21st century. We tend to forget what life was like without the facilities that we now take for granted. Many of us have forgotten how important the humble post office was to our everyday lives only a short while ago. We relied on it for far more than just postage stamps. For many years the network of post offices across the UK, including the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, has provided an all-important public and social service. However, many of the post offices’ services are now available elsewhere – including on-line – and some have been lost altogether. For these and other reasons, the number of post offices, both in rural areas and in towns, has fallen dramatically in recent years. Many rural communities no longer have the benefit of a post office within close proximity.
The Isle of Lismore used to have four post offices, though not all at the same time. This is intended to be a brief history of those post offices.
At its northern end, at Point, Lismore is separated from the Appin district of mainland Scotland by a narrow channel. Across this channel, at Port Appin, a receiving house (an early form of post office) was opened in 1788. Letters arriving at Appin for residents on Lismore would have to be carried across the channel to the island, at the recipient’s expense, in a rowing boat. Over 40 years were to pass before Lismore’s own postal service was established. In 1831 a receiving house was established on Lismore itself. Mail from Lismore was stamped with a postmark inscribed “APPIN / PENNY POST”, in two lines. Examples of this postmark are classified as “very rare”. The “penny post” service allowed a letter from Lismore to be sent as far as Appin, on the mainland, for one penny (1d). At Appin the letter would be charged according to the distance it was due to travel. Depending on its weight, a letter to Edinburgh, for example, was likely to cost over one shilling. The cost of posting letters at this time was very high, meaning that, generally, only the landed gentry, the legal profession and the clergy could afford to use the postal service.
The year 1831 was also significant for Lismore for another reason. In that year, the island’s population reached its maximum level of 1,497. It fell steadily thereafter and was 558 by 1891. The population of Lismore was just 146 at the 2001 Census.
By 1839 the Lismore post office was located at Clachan, a location that was more convenient to the majority of the island’s residents. The “Uniform Fourpenny Post”, where the basic rate of postage was reduced to 4d, was introduced on 5 December 1839, and the “Uniform Penny Post” (where the basic postage rate was just 1d) was introduced on 10 January 1840. This was one of the great social reforms of the 19th century. The postal service was now affordable to many and the number of letters carried increased rapidly, hand-in-hand with the spread of education and literacy in the Victorian era.
The first postmark to include the word “LISMORE” was issued in 1848. This was a circular namestamp (with no date) inscribed “LISMORE” around the top half and with two, parallel curved lines around the bottom half. Examples are classified as “rare”. Later, in 1856, a further namestamp was issued, rectangular in shape, measuring 51 x 13.5mm and with the name “LISMORE” between two parallel lines. Examples are “very rare”. As neither of the two postmarks included a date, outgoing letters from Lismore would usually be datestamped, in transit, at Appin and Oban.
“LISMORE” double arc namestamp (RARE)(issued in 1848 and recorded in use from 1851 to 1854)
struck on reverse of a pre-printed notice addressed to Melrose, with 3 July 1854 Edinburgh transit mark on reverse.
“LISMORE” namestamp (between parallel lines) (VERY RARE) (recorded in use from 1857 to 1859)
cancelling QV 1d red adhesive on folded letter inscribed (by the sender) “Lismore, by Appin, July 2nd 1858”
and addressed to Inveraray, with 3 July 1858 “Appin” and 4 July 1858 “Inverary” transit and arrival marks on reverse.
In common with smaller post offices throughout Scotland, the use of Lismore’s namestamps was withdrawn in 1860. It was to be over 20 years before a Lismore postmark was to be used once again on letters from the island.
On 1 September 1881 a new post office was established at Achnacroish, where a pier had been built to accommodate calls by the MacBrayne’s steamer service between Oban and Fort William. The steamer service now carried the island’s mails, to and from Oban. The new post office was issued with a small-diameter, single-circle datestamp (often referred to as a “thimble” datestamp) inscribed “ACHNACROISH”. Examples are “scarce”. For cancelling the postage stamps on letters, Achnacroish post office was issued with a rectangular cancel with nine horizontal lines and with the number “3” in the centre. Examples of this postmark are “rare”. The “3” indicated the post office number allocated to Achnacroish. Numbers had been allocated to Scottish post offices in 1844, alphabetically from Aberdeen (“1”) to Wishaw (“342”). The number “3” had originally been allocated to Aberdour (Fife) but was available to allocate to the new Achnacroish post office in 1881.
The original Lismore post office remained at Clachan but was felt to be of minor importance and was not issued with any postal marking. The office was abolished on 2 April 1892 and, on the following day, the Achnacroish post office was renamed “Lismore”. A double-circle datestamp with “LISMORE” at the top and “612” at the foot was issued. Examples are classified as “scarce”. The 1844 series of post office numbers continued to grow as new post offices were established, with each new office being given the next available number. Thus the ‘new’ Lismore post office was allocated the number “612”. (The highest post office number was 755, issued to the Isle of Canna in 1899).
In 1900, the “LISMORE / 612” datestamp was replaced by a new, larger datestamp inscribed “LISMORE-ARGYLL” and with a small cross (a “cross pattee”) at the foot. Presumably the name “Argyll” was added to distinguish the Scottish Lismore from the Lismore in County Waterford, Ireland. This datestamp was to remain in use until 1936. Despite this longevity, examples are classified as “uncommon”.
24 September 1904 “LISMORE-ARGYLL” datestamp
on picture postcard showing a view of Lismore Parish Church
The year 1898 saw huge improvements in postal services throughout the Scottish islands. One of the ways in which Lismore benefitted was the opening of a second post office on the island. The office was located just to the north-east of Clachan and was given the name Bachuil. It could not be given the more logical name of “Clachan” because there were already two post offices by that name in Argyllshire. Bachuil post office was named after the nearby Bachuil House, which, in turn, was named after the Bachuil Mòr (Great Staff), the pastoral staff of St.Moluag (520-592), founder of a religious community and centre for Christian teaching on Lismore.
It was not until May 1904 that the Bachuil post office was issued with its own datestamp. The single-circle, rubber datestamp issued to Bachuil at that time was inscribed “BACHUIL” around the top, “LISMORE R.S.O.” across the centre (above the date) and “ARGYLLSHIRE” at the foot. The letters “RSO” stood for “Railway Sub-Office”, indicating that the Lismore post office (at Achnacroish) got at least part of its mail direct from a mail train. Generally speaking, minor post offices used rubber datestamps at this time and the more important offices were issued with longer-lasting steel datestamps.
Writing in 1979, James Mackay (who died in 2007 and who was a prolific author, including many books and articles on the subject of Scottish postal history) showed that no surviving examples of this “BACHUIL...” postmark are known. He went on to say that, “It is not known if Bachuil subsequently had other rubber stamps”. Quite recently, and having never previously seen any postmarks from Bachuil in my 25 years of collecting postmarks from the Scottish islands, two picture postcards, both with Bachuil postmarks, were added to my collection. It’s the “London bus principle” of collecting; you wait forever and then two come along together! Interestingly, neither was the postmark recorded by Mackay, and as the two postmarks were both different we can now record three different rubber datestamps in use at Bachuil post office. The first of the two new single-circle cancels is dated 6 September 1916 and is simply inscribed “BACHUIL” at the top and “OBAN” at the foot. The second is date 17 June 1921 and bears the words “BACHUIL” at the top, “APPIN” across the centre and “ARGYLL” at the foot.
6 September 1916 “BACHUIL / OBAN” rubber datestamp on picture postcard
17 June 1921 “BACHUIL / APPIN / ARGYLL” rubber datestamp on picture postcard
By the mid-1920s, a new single-circle steel datestamp was issued to Bachuil, inscribed “BACHUIL OBAN” at the top and “ARGYLL” at the foot. Examples are classified as “uncommon”. The datestamp remained in use until the closure of Bachuil post office in 1940.
I can only assume that, after the Bachuil post office had closed, residents in the northern half of Lismore complained about their poor postal service. After all, it was a long walk to the Lismore post office at Achnacroish. In 1945 a new post office was opened at Point, at the north-eastern end of Lismore, where an old slipway provided landfall for the ferry from Appin. The new post office was issued with a datestamp inscribed “POINT” at the top and “LISMORE OBAN ARGYLL” at the foot. The post office lasted only 10 years, closing in 1955. Examples of the “POINT...” postmark are officially classified as “uncommon”. I have never seen a postmark from Point post office. Returning to the London bus principle, I am looking forward to two coming along together!
In 1936, Lismore post office was issued with a replacement double-circle datestamp. The name “LISMORE” was shown at the top and the words “OBAN ARGYLL” were shown at the foot. Amazingly, this datestamp is still in use at Lismore post office, over 70 years later!
In addition to the double-circle datestamp, Lismore post office also has a rectangular, boxed datestamp, inscribed “ISLE OF LISMORE / OBAN ARGYLL / PARCEL POST”, for use, as its inscription implies, for cancelling postage stamps on bulkier parcels. It also has a single-circle datestamp, inscribed “ISLE OF LISMORE” at the top and “ARGYLL” at the foot which is of a type issued to some but not all post offices for the purpose of cancelling postage stamps on items thicker than ordinary envelopes or postcards.
In 1969, the Lismore post office, which had been located at Achnacroish since 1892, moved to its present location at Balliveolan, in the centre of the island and about a mile south of Clachan.
A further development in Lismore’s postal history occurred in 1994 when, on 13 June that year, a Royal Mail postbus service started on the island. The service was no.239 (the highest numbered postbus route in the UK was 284). Photographs from April 1996 show the service being operated by a Peugeot estate car L232 LSC. Sadly, the number of postbus services has collapsed in recent years, coinciding with Royal Mail’s era of economic retrenchment. The Lismore postbus service ended on 18 July 2009. At the time of writing, there are now only 17 postbus services operating in the UK, 13 in Scotland and four in England, just a tiny fraction of the former number.
For the last 12 years, Lismore post office, and Lismore Stores, has been run by David & Teenie (Christine) Wilson. The “all-important public and social service” that I wrote about at the beginning of this article clearly lives on with David & Teenie as, in 2006, Lismore post office received the award for Best Rural Post Office in Scotland. It beat 1,100 other entrants to do so. Teenie describes the award as “luck” but, obviously, a great deal of hard work is recognised by such an award.
In this age of e-mail and mobile phones and other means of communication, long may Lismore post office continue to provide the valuable public and social service it has now provided since 1831.
• James Mackay: Island Postal History Series Nos.10 & 11 (1979 & 1980)
• James Mackay: Scottish Post Offices (1989)
Contributed by Norman Hudson (August 2009) (August 2015)