Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2011

A Million and a Half Steps to Deliver the Mail

By Timothy Harrison


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Inscribed in the James Farley Post Office Building in New York City are the words “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” If that saying were also used in the United Kingdom, they might have added the word “stairs,” as is evident by this 1935 Associated Press photograph of a postman delivering the mail to the South Stack Lighthouse on the north coast of Wales near the town of Holyhead.

The caption with the photograph says, “Postman R.G. Rees of Holyhead, England (center, foreground) is shown returning from one of his daily mail deliveries, Feb 4, to the Holyhead Mountain Lighthouse (background). In getting to the lighthouse Postman Rees has to climb 403 steps, and he must make the trip even to deliver a postcard. He figured he has climbed a million and a half steps in the last six years.”

Personally, I would have told the lighthouse keeper to get a post office box.

Interestingly the lighthouse is separated from the mainland by a chasm. In its early years, a cable with an attached basket was used to traverse the lighthouse keeper to and from the lighthouse. It is unknown if the postman at that time also used the basket. The basket system was replaced in 1828 by a five-foot wide iron suspension bridge, which was itself was replaced in 1964 by an aluminum bridge, which was replaced by another bridge in 1997.

Although electricity reached the lighthouse in 1938, the station remained staffed until 1984 when its last lighthouse keepers were removed. Today the rocky island and lighthouse are open to the public. However, there is no mail delivery.

This story appeared in the May/Jun 2011 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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