Monday 15 April 2024

Greenock's first pillar boxes

 In January 1856 Greenock got its first Post Office pillar boxes.  

They are described as “octagonal in shape and about three and a half feet high.  The letters will be deposited in a box placed beneath the slit, which is guarded inside by valves from any attempt to abstract letters”.  The first three pillar boxes (or letter boxes) were placed at George Square, Brougham Street and Rue End Street.

The postmaster at the time was Thomas McMillan (1820-1889).  Thomas McMillan, born in Kilmacolm, worked in Robert Cowan’s drapery business at Cathcart Square, later going into business with another draper at premises in Hamilton Street.  A strong supporter of Viscount Melgund in the 1847 Parliamentary election when he became Greenock's MP, it was said that it was through this influence that he was appointed Postmaster for Greenock in 1848.  He remained in that office until May 1888 when he retired through ill health.

Some of the Greenock Post Office staff in 1872.

When he first became Postmaster, the post office was in Church Place (at the west side of the Mid Kirk), it was later moved to William Street then the lower floor of the Customhouse.  Later a new building was opened in Wallace Square (now Greenock’s central library)where a large staff were employed.  He was a member of Trinity UP Church (now Lyle Kirk, Union Street).  He married Janet Suttie in 1844.  The family lived at Maybank, Finnart Street, Greenock. 

Photo source - Greenock Burns Club

Janet Suttie (wife of Thomas McMillan, postmaster) was one of the daughters of Thomas Suttie (1788-1857) and his wife Janet Brown (1791-1857).  Thomas Suttie was a smith in Greenock with premises at 18 Cathcart Street.  He was a manufacturer of, among other things, post boxes.  In 1857 Suttie & Co received a large order from the East India Company to supply pillar boxes for India – 20 for Bombay and 50 for Bengal.  They were quite ornate, standing at five feet and surmounted by a crown.  Suttie also made pillar boxes for other parts of Britain.  Thomas Suttie also designed a Range Boiler which was put in use in heating Greenock’s gaol.  He provided railings for many local buildings and was employed to install a new safe in one of Greenock’s banks.  They made grates and boilers for many local premises.

Another of Suttie's daughters, Robina Suttie (1826-1896), married Hugh Macfarlane, bank agent and justice of the peace of Paisley at Innellen in 1859.  You can see a needlework sampler made by Robina in 1839.  It is now in the possession of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  

Thomas Suttie died while on a visit to his daughter in Millwall, London in 1857.  His wife, Janet, died just a few months later.

Charles Suttie (1816-1897) was the son of Thomas and took over the company on his father’s death.  He married Susan Clark (1839-1899), daughter of John Clark, jeweller in Greenock in 1859.  They had a large family of seven sons and three daughters and lived at 40 Forsyth Street.  Their eldest son, John Clark Suttie died in 1882 at Cradock, South Africa.  The family emigrated on the P and O ship SS Clyde to New Zealand in 1883 and settled at Onehunga, Auckland.

You can see a photograph of a Suttie Pillar Box here.

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