Robert Parker: Carrier of letters

When I discovered Robert Parker (born 31 May 1863, St Luke, Middlesex, United Kingdom)1 I wanted to discover more about his life, as my ancestor (and namesake).

Robert’s father was Charles (my Great, Great Grandfather) a basket maker by trade. Charles is listed on the 1851 Census for Stowmarket, Suffolk, United Kingdom as as a basket maker; a trade he held for at least 50 years (being listed on the 1901 Census as a basket maker, and in 1911 retired)2.

I don’t have a great deal of information for Mary Ann Broom, Robert’s mother. Occupations for women aren’t usually entered on the census. However, Mary was born in 1840, in Kingston, Middlesex, United Kingdom. Mary married Charles (a widower) in 1859, in St Martin in the Fields, Middlesex, United Kingdom. She was 19 years of age and a spinster3.

I don’t know anything about Robert’s early life. He is listed at 7 years of age on the 1871 Census4 with his father and mother in St Lukes, Norwood, Surrey, United Kingdom. He is the second son, the first son Charles was born 1860 and the third William born circa 1870. The family have two lodgers and interestingly a servant. I can’t quite picture the family, headed by a basket maker affording a servant, however the census details Mary, in the relationship to head of the household, as a servant. Perhaps she worked for another family nearby. I do know Robert joins the post office as a letter carrier on the 7 February 18805.

Robert married on the 19 December 18816 aged 18 (which seems very young to me) in St Paul’s Church, Newington, Surrey, United Kingdom. Between the years 1876 and 1899 the percentage of grooms in the United Kingdom marrying under the age of 21 was never higher than 8.4%7. In fact when I looked into consent and marriage I was surprised to find the following:

  • The age of consent (for heterosexual acts) in England was set at 12 years in 1275 (during the reign of Edward I). It was lowered to 10 years in the latter part of the 16th century. Therefore, there was, and is, no age of consent for the male participant (unless the female participant is an adult). In this case the law relating to sex with a minor comes into force8.

Back to the marriage; Robert married Matilda Phillpott, 26 years of age and a spinster. Matilda was a servant at the time, and listed her address at marriage as 41 St Pauls Road, Newington, Surrey, United Kingdom. Her father Richard was a plumber. Robert at 18 was a bachelor (I suppose we can expect that) and his occupation a postman (44 St Pauls Road, Newington, Surrey, United Kingdom). So perhaps Robert and Matilda were neighbours? The marriage was undertaken by Banns (the public declaration of the impending marriage) in the parish church, 3 weeks before the proposed wedding. Banns were used to allow parishioners the opportunity to raise a concern, thus potentially preventing the marriage.

Robert is listed on the English census returns as a letter carrier (3 April 1881), inspector telegraph (5 April 1891), overseer of postmen (31 March 1901) and overseer in 1911 (2 April). In fact Robert served 43 years and 3 months for the London Postal Service, and on his retirement around 1923 (the records aren’t specific with a date) he is noted as an assistant superintendent9. Robert retired around his 60th year (at the the right time as the first pensions were paid by the post office in 190910). His pension is recorded as between £260 and £320 a year (£7,792 – £9,590 in 2005 money)11. His wage detailed as £300 a year.

The British Postal Museum and Archive holds a wealth of information on your post office ancestors including nomination and appointment books, establishment records and pension records amongst others12.

The Royal Mail started its life much earlier than I realised in 1635 with Charles I opening his service to the general public. I suppose I equate the start of the Royal Mail with the history of stamps, but these came over 200 years later. In 1657 Oliver Cromwell (a local Huntingdonshire man, politician and ultimately Lord Protector) set up the General Post Office. ‘Penny Post’ services started in cities in 1680 (the first being London), culminating in a nationwide Penny Post service in 1840, following the introduction of the penny black postage stamp by Rowland Hill. In 1883 the parcel post was introduced and Robert’s job title would have changed from letter carrier to postman13. The Post Office took control of the telegraph service in 1870 and the telephone service in 1912. In 1969 it became a public corporation. British Telecom was formed and floated in 1981 (like my father, you may have bought shares). In 2001 the Post Office became a PLC adopting the short lived name ‘Consignia’. This was soon changed to Royal Mail Group14. In 2013 the Royal Mail Group was privatised15.

Robert didn’t settle in Newington, Surrey, United Kingdom upon his marriage. In the 1891 Census he is listed (with his family) in Croydon, Surrey, United Kingdom (Crown Cottage, Moffat Road)16. In 1891 he is still in Croydon, but now at 35 Westow Hill17. In 1901 he has travelled almost 10 miles to Camberwell, Surrey, United Kingdom18. I think this shows (as with many of my ancestors) that they moved around far more than we give them credit for.

Robert and Matilda produced 3 children, including my Great Grandfather Charles Thomas.

  • Edith was born in Penge, Surrey, United Kingdom.
  • William was also born in Penge.
  • Charles also born in Penge, Surrey (on a later census Charles is listed as born Beckenham – which is close to Penge).

Having located Robert on the 1911 Census we find a further insight into his and his daughters life19. The family are still in Camberwell. Robert is 47, and has been married 29 years. Within the household are his son-in-law Benjamin Akehurst, 29 years, a clerk and his wife Edith (Robert’s 29 year old daughter). The couple have been married 4 years and have a daughter Eva aged 3 years.

Robert took a highly prized, secure job as a letter carrier around 1881. Decent pay and steady reliable work would have encouraged both Matilda and himself to start a family, move to another part of London and support his eldest daughter and new husband with accommodation. No doubt the smart uniform gave Robert status within the community. By 1868 a uniform had been adopted by the Royal Mail; a military style tunic in blue with GPO initials on the collar. To complete the outfit a hat with red trimming and peak was supplied. By 1882 good conduct stripes could be worn with pride on the left breast (I wonder how many Robert received?). I remember my father wearing the grey post office uniform in the 1970’s, however this returned to the blue colour in the 1980’s. Robert would have been used to starting his day around 4.30am (a trait that hasn’t been passed on to me!) for sorting the mail by hand. Unlike today he would have taken lunch at the post office before heading out for a second round20.

I believe Robert dies aged 60 years in the 2nd quarter of 1923 (April, May, June) in Kingston, Middlesex, United Kingdom21. I do need to order the death certificate to be certain of this fact as the indexes do not supply enough detail.

The post office has featured in my family more than I realised, with Charles Thomas (Robert’s brother and my Great Grandfather) joining the post office. My father, a descendant of Charles Thomas joined the post office in 1969 encouraged by his mother (a secure, well paid job – always in demand she told him when he considered changing profession). However her knowledge of the post office was based upon her family who also had post office connections. Do you have post office connections? If so a visit to the archives would, I believe, be time well spent.

Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Cambridgeshire. He delivers courses, coaching, talks, and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for further details. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation. What stories could your ancestors tell?


My blog next month:

Edward David Nash, born 15 January 1915…

1 Source:,

2 Source:

3 Source:,

4 Source:

5 Source: appointments (1876-1882), Royal Mail Archive, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL

6 Source:,

7 Source: Probert, R. Marriage Law for Genealogists the definitive guide, Takeaway publishing, 2012

8 Source:,

9Source:, Royal Mail Archive, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL

10Source: Consignia, Information Sheet No. 3 Key dates in the post office’s history


12Source: Family Tree Magazine, April 2011

13Source: Consignia, Information Sheet No. 3 Key dates in the post office’s history

14Source: Family Tree Magazine






20Source: Practical Family History Magazine, June 2009