At this time Stornoway was beginning
to develop into a fishing port of some importance. But the town was largely
cut off from the vast moorland expanse of rural Lewis.
In the Statistical Account of 1796,
the minister of the parish of Stornoway wrote: "Road-making was only begun
in this island in 1791, and a road is four miles distant from Stornoway
across a deep moss of ten computed miles, to the other side of it." It
was many years latter before a road was built connecting Stornoway with
The minister at Barvas, writing in the
same Statistical Account, advised about the lack of roads and bridges:
"…from this side of the village of Stornoway is reckoned from twelve to
eighteen miles of broken swampy moor without so much as the form of a road
across this long and fatiguing space." (No change there then!)
It is interesting to note that in 1836
Stornoway boasted no fewer than 18 licensed taverns, four inns, seven
drinking-shops, and seven ‘miscellaneous’ – a polite way of describing the
low shebeens so common in this period. Yet there was no jail in Stornoway,
or anywhere else in Lewis for that matter.
In line with the general practice in
other parts of the United Kingdom, the Stornoway Post Office was expected to
open on Sundays, and a mail delivery took place on that day. This offended
the Sabbatarianism of the Stornowegians, and in 1848 the General Post Office
bowed to the wishes of residents and decided that Sunday working should
The arrival of the parcel post in 1883
meant a great increase in the workload of the Stornoway Post Office. In
1887, Stornoway postmen were equipped with uniforms for the first time. This
was also the time of the great herring boom, when the population of
Stornoway would double overnight with the arrival of the fish-curers from as
far afield as Grimsby and Yarmouth. In addition, foreign fishing boats from
Holland, Germany and Russia would throng the harbour, transforming the
seafront with their forest of masts. The volume of mail delivered
of Lewis – upwards of 3,000 Lewismen were employed at sea - tended to
move around the coast; to Fraserburgh, Aberdeen and south to Grimsby,
following the migration of the herring.
RIGHT: A Morris J4
During the fishing season, fishermen
would write home to their families from far afield. Not only was staff
increased to cope with this mail, but also a parcels handcart was added in
1900. A bicycle was provided for the use of the telegram messenger, but
every winter it had to be returned to the Post Office stores at Mount
Pleasant in London. In 1905 it was decided that the bicycle should remain in
Stornoway all year round.
Construction of the road from
Stornoway to Harris, through the parish of lochs, began in 1830. It was
eventually completed in 1854, and though it was a road only in the vaguest
sense of the word it was sufficient for the GPO to contemplate an expansion
in the postal services.
It was proposed to run a foot-post
from Stornoway to Tarbert twice weekly in summer and once weekly in winter,
at a cost of thirteen shillings a week. Two runners were employed on this
service: one messenger took the mail as far as Balallan and the other
carried it from there to Tarbert. This service came into operation on 29th
Others early vehicle arrivals in Stornoway
Morris Commercial 1 ton van
Bodywork: BXW 776 (August 1935); EXM 385 (January 1939); EXM797 (April
Morris Commercials Ls with 70cf.
Bodywork: FGN629 (September 1939).
Morris Commercial T2 1 ton with 160cf.
Bodywork: EXD 696 (July 1938); GGJ 359 (September 1940); GGJ 967
Morris Commercial Series Ys with 100cf.
Bodywork: GGJ 899 (December 1941).
In 1857 the foot post was converted to
a horse post, and in 1859 a mail gig was used. From 1861 to 1863 a Mr
McDiarmid held the contract for what became known as the ‘Stornoway-Harris
In 1880, Sir Kenneth MacKenzie, one of
the proprietors in Harris, asked that the service be improved. But no
significant improvements were made until 1884 when a new contract was drawn
up for the renamed ‘Stornoway-Harris Mail Car’.
DK Henderson of Bayhead, Stornoway,
operated the Mail Car (in reality, a two-wheeled horse-drawn cart), at a
cost to the Post Office of £140 per annum. This service only lasted for two
years and was withdrawn in the summer of 1887; nearly fifty years would pass
before the overland route would be used again.
In 1935, John Mitchell, pioneer of bus
services in the Stornoway areas, obtained a sanction from the Traffic
Commissioners to run a daily bus service from Stornoway to Rodel, via
Tarbert and Leverburgh. This service received a substantial boost when the
GPO awarded Mitchell a contract to transport local letters and parcels
between Lewis and Harris.
In addition to Mitchell and Henderson,
another private Bus company, Peter MacAulay, was operating a service to
Carloway. These firms were awarded local mail contracts and carried letters,
packets and parcels on their routes prior to the introduction of the red
motor mail vans in 1926.
The first motor mail vans used on
Lewis were Fords - 1 ton Model ‘T’s. Most were reconditioned ex War
Department chassis. In 1927/28, Morris Commercial chassis dominated the
orders, taking over from Ford as the favoured type of vehicle.
The First World War brought the first
commercial vehicles to Lewis and by 1917 there were complaints about them
tearing the surface of island roads. This led to the formation of the Lewis
Motor Owners Association in the 1920s, when the number of petrol-driven
vehicles had risen to 250, and pressure was brought to bear on the County
Council in Dingwall for improvements to the roads.
The earliest recorded vehicle allocated to the Head
Postmaster in Stornoway was November 1933 with the delivery of ALX 789, a
Morris 15cwt, 105 cubic foot mailvan. Serial number 5140. Chassis number