1 January 2013

Architectural Drawings: Charles Edge's Post Office

Plans for the alteration of the New Royal Hotel (previously Portugal House)
into the new Post Office on New Street, by Charles Edge. 1842.
Section B is the original house, built c. 1774, and section A is the c.1830
extension for the New Royal Hotel.  

Communication is one of the most important parts of our daily lives, you can gauge that simply be seeing how many people walk around the streets on their mobile phones. Before the technology that we rely upon today, the only way to stay in touch with distant family and friends was via written mail. As Birmingham grew, the services, such as the post office, had to grow with it in order to accomodate for the growing population. The first known post office was in a small Georgian cottage with room only for a handful of people, which was later converted, but by the 1840s a larger premises was required. But Birmingham was growing quickly, and over the Victorian era two more custom built post offices had to be erected. The many post offices erected offers an insight into just how quickly buildings could become surplus to requirement in the rapidly growing town.

The architectural drawings for the 1842 conversion (some of which are included in this post) were produced by architect Charles Edge,* who may have been responsible (in some part) for extending the building ten years previously when it was converted into a hotel, the New Royal Hotel. Edge worked initially only the west wing (marked A above), transforming it into the post office,  but then about ten years later converted the original house (section B), a grand Georgian gentleman's home called Portugal House, into Inland Revenue offices. The majority of his work seems to have been on the refurbishment of the interior sections, and Edge's designs for the serving section of the post office can be seen, below, as well as designs for the workings of the shutters, and the posting window. The top diagram is of the serving area, but as it is a plan we cannot be certain how close to the finished design it is, but it does offer some insight into the working of the early Victorian postal service.

Below is my own illustration showing the side view of the west wing how it probably would have looked after being altered by Charles Edge, using some of his own drawings as a guide. Although the main structure does not seem to be altered from the time that the building was a hotel, it seem from Edge's drawings of 1842 that he may have added the long portico that stretched along the side of the building. The arched window is the posting window shown above.

If we travelled along from here to the right we would find the white gates that are seen in the top image (where the arrow is), and this was the access from Post Office Place (now Ethel Street) to the Post Office Yard behind. This was where, on the 1851 census, some of the post office employees lived, but it also adjoined some of the back buildings used by the Theatre Royal, coloured pink.

* The collection of Charles Edge's architectural drawings (MS1703) are from Birmingham Library and Archive Services, the archive is closed for transfer to the new building at present. I have included a selection of the Post Office conversion in this post, but there are more available.

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