One of the many gems in the vast archives of the Post Office is a six-volume collection of letters from a Colonel Whitley in Head Office to the men (and not a few women) working across the country as postmasters. A former private secretary to King Charles II, Whitley effectively ran the nascent General Post Office for five years with conspicuous success. Those under his charge found him, as we might say, firm but fair.
In a letter of November 1672, Whitley sternly advised one Mr Watts to crack down hard on a slipshod junior whom he had been foolish to employ on the mails. As the Colonel pointed out, there could be no room for incompetence in His Majesty’s Service – ‘however I am not for Severity, when there is unavoydable accident in ye case … [and] soe far as I can, I will excuse you, and Remaine Your very loving Friend’.