200 years of Post Office

A look at the long history of our Post Office services in Ardgay and Bonar Bridge. From horse-drawn mail to the arrival of trains, and from motorbikes to postbuses. (Part 1)

Ardgay Post Office staff posing in front of the new building, in 1906. Back row left to right: Mr James Ellis (merchant), David Ross (by name Collins) who would walk from Ardgay to Clashmore each day to deliver Andrew Carnegie’s mail, Danny MacGregor (from Daisybank), Hugh Ross (Oldtown), Tom Ross (Ardgay Hill), Robert Ross (brother of Hugh), John MacGregor (Oldtown), Unknown, possibly Bob MacGregor, William Ross (Airdens), Mr Ewan MacDonald (postmaster). Front row: Miss Maclean, Mrs Ellis (wife of merchant), Miss Catherine M Macdonald. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown
Ardgay PO staff in May 1911. Mr E. Taylor had been appointed postmaster the previous year. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown
Letter from 1909 apparently recommending a motor car to transport the mail from Ardgay to Clashmore.
The staff with their newly acquired bicycles in 1922. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown
The staff with their newly acquired bicycles in 1922. The two postmen with the bicycles are Robert Ross (Oldtown) and George Murray (Leith Hall, Airdens). Mr James Ellis is seated, Madge Brown is seated beside him; also kneeling down are newly appointed Alexander Chisholm (Migdale) and John Hugh Cameron from Kincardine.© Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown
Two invoices addressed to Amat complete with stamps dated 1905 and 1910 from James Ellis local merchant and the Balnagown Hotel.
Presenting the new Post Office motorbikes in 1938. Second from left is the postmaster and owner David Mackay. Wearing glasses is his daughter Madge Mackay. The other lady is Jessie Aird and the gentleman on the far right is George Peat. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown

The first Post Office was opened in Ardgay in 1820, and was named Bonar Bridge Post Office. By July 1830 a daily horse post was established between Tain and Ardgay with a salary of £80 per annum. On 27th February 1847 it was agreed, with the wishes of local people, that the postal deliveries were to be discontinued on a Sunday.

In 1848, Mr Wallace from Skibo Castle sent a petition to the General Post Office in Edinburgh on behalf of the people of Bonar Bridge. The correspondence was reproduced in the John O’Groat Journal (26/01/1849): “Another instance of Mr W.’s efforts to promote the public benefit has recently been given, in the obtaining of a Post Office at Bonar Bridge. In the end of September last an application was made to Mr Wallace, by 66 inhabitants of the village, to secure his services in the removal of a disadvantage under which the village lay, having merely their letters conveyed by a mere lassie from the Office at Ardgay.”

The petition was successful, and in January 1849 a Post Office with an annual salary of £4 a year was established in Bonar Bridge to distribute an average of 100 letters per week. Around double that amount was distributed from Ardgay. In 1855 Ardgay was reduced to a sub-office, and in 1858 was renamed Ardgay Post Office. This Ardgay Post Office was situated at the Poplars Farm, by the door nearest to the road.

Arrival of the train

On 6th October 1864 a train covered for the first time the 11 miles between Meikle Ferry and Ardgay, finally connecting Ardgay and Inverness by train. Railways sped-up mail delivery and proved to be a complete game changer. By 1865 Ardgay was considered a ‘post town’ and became a head office with several sub offices under its control such as The Craigs and Culrain. In December1869 John Mackay Ross, aged 28, was appointed postmaster. He served for 33 years and retired in July 1903.

Andrew Carnegie purchased Skibo in 1898. His mail was delivered by postman David Ross who walked every day from Ardgay to Clashmore. The news of Mr Carnegie’s new Scottish home made it around the world, and we find some hilarious –and completely inaccurate– takes, such as this from the Otago Daily Times (03/11/1898): “The little hamlet of Ardgay has therefore this week blossomed out as a postal town, although all its postal business will consist of the Carnegie correspondence, with possibly on one or two letters for neighbouring peasants at Christmas time.”

A letter dated 1909 recommended a daily “passenger motor car” to transport the mail from Ardgay to Clashmore, possibly sent after David Ross, who walked the distance each day, retired.

Mr Ewan MacDonald was appointed postmaster in October 1903 and left in March 1910. At the time it was decided that a larger building was required, so a purpose-built Post Office was erected in the village around 1905-06. In 1915 Mr Ernest Taylor was transferred to Perthshire and Mr James Ellis, a local general merchant was appointed postmaster. The year 1922 marked the arrival of bicycles, and the vans appeared at Ardgay Post Office in 1937. On 13th May 1937 Mr Jack MacKenzie became part time postman in Ardgay, then full time in 1939 replacing Hugh Ross who retired after 46 years of service. Jack MacKenzie, speaking in 1985, remembered delivering Christmas mail late in the afternoons during the war years, when every house was in darkness due to the blackout.

In 1937 William Campbell from Craigton left Ardgay to work in Rogart Post Office. Willie’s duty for the past 17 years had been a walking route which started at Drumliah and took him over the hill to Tulloch, Craigton, and Garvary, with a bag on his back and parcels tied on with string. Also in 1937, Sutherland Meiklejohn was employed as postman in Ardgay until his retirement in 1963 when he was replaced by Ian Matheson.

Staff in 1960 as postmaster David Mackay and postman Jimmy Holmes retired. Back row left to right: Eric Mackenzie, Jack MacGregor, Sutherland Meiklejohn, Jack MacKenzie. Front row: Jimmy Holmes, David Mackay, Bunty Gordon, Greta MacDonald, Robin Ross. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown
In February 1969 Jim Ross, Invershin postman, retired. Back row, left to right: Jackie MacGregor, Willie Mackay (Lairg) Jack MacKenzie, Ian Matheson, David Ross. Front row: Johnny Ross (Lairg), Jim Ross, Mrs Bartlett (Invershin postmistress), Alan Meiklejohn. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown

The first postbus came to Ardgay in 1973. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown

Postbus, 1973. Ian Matheson drove the postbus up Strathoykel the first day and the last house on that delivery is Brae, where this photo is taken with customer Duncan Macleod. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown
Guide dog Struie, 1973. Ardgay PO raised funds to train two guide dogs, Carron and Struie. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown
Jackie MacGregor receiving an award for excellent driving in 1982. Left to right: Bert Skene, Inverness Head Postmaster Duncan Francey, David Mackay, Jackie MacGregor, Ian Matheson, and Ardgay postmistress Greta MacDonald. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown
Jackie MacGregor and retired postman Sutherland Meiklejohn outside the PO in the 1960s. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown
Retirement party for Jackie MacGregor in the Inveroykel Hotel in 1984. Back row (left to right) Ian Ross (station master), David Mackay, Ian Matheson. Front row: Angus Macleod, Bert Skene, Greta MacDonald, Jackie MacGregor, Bunty Gordon and Jack MacKenzie. © Greta MacDonald / Donald Brown

Miss Bunty Cameron (later Mrs Bunty Gordon) began work as assistant sub postmistress on 5th March 1941. She would replace postmaster David Mackay in 1960. Bunty later recalled that she was unable to cycle from her home in Mid Fearn to Ardgay PO on her second day due to deep snowdrifts. The staff in 1942/43 were: David Mackay (postmaster), with assistants Bunty Cameron and Pansy Ross. Postmen were Sydney Ross, George Murray, Jimmy Holmes, Jack MacKenzie and Sutherland Meiklejohn.

John (Jackie) MacGregor joined the staff in 1947. He began his postal deliveries on a bicycle around Bonar Bridge then later delivered the mail up Strath Carron and Strathoykel in a post van.

On 17th September 1956 Greta Macdonald joined the counter staff and became postmistress when Bunty retired in 1980. Rory MacLeod was transferred from Ullapool to Ardgay Post Office in 1949 while Eric Mackenzie replaced George Murray in 1956.

Angus Macleod, David Mackay and Bert Skene joined the staff in 1973. In the same year the first postbus came to Ardgay PO. It would take paying passengers along the line as well as delivering the mail. Between 1971 and 1973 Ardgay PO raised £520 to train two guide dogs for the Blind Association named Struie and Carron. Postmistress Bunty Gordon was officially thanked and a photo of each of the dogs was displayed in the Post Office. The retirement of Jackie MacGregor in 1984 marked the end of an era. We will look at the last 37 years of history in the second part of this series in the next edition.

by Donald Brown & Silvia Muras

Last Updated on 10 September, 2021 by Kyle Chronicle

1 thought on “200 years of Post Office”

  1. John Mackay Ross’ father (Alexander) was the postmaster in Ardgay per the 1851/1861 census.
    Alexander died in August 1869, aged 76.. Alexanders father William Ross occupation was recorded as Tacksman.

    Alexander was also an executor of the Will of William Ross whose gravestone is inscribed with :-

    Sacred to the memory of WILLIAM ROSS son of JOHN ROSS tenant of Soyal who departed this life at Evanton on the 6th day of March 1841 aged 68 years. He sunk or mortified £100 sterling in the office of the British Linen Company Bank Tain the interest to be paid annually to those of the name of ROSS then on the Poor’s Roll parish of Kincardine. His will is entered in the Parish records.
    This stone is placed here by his executors DONALD ROSS postmaster and merchant in Evanton ALEXANDER ROSS postmaster & merchant in Ardgay and WILLIAM ROSS tacksman Ardgay.
    December 1855.

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