Postmarks of Great Britain & Ireland
Part 2 – Railway Station Postmarks

CLICK HERE for a Bibliography of references to the Station Postmarks of GB & Ireland

We will divide this page into two parts, both of which are based on the books Railway Station Postmarks by DP Gowen (published by the Railway Philatelic Group in 1978) and Postmarks of British & Irish Railway Stations 1840-1997 by WT Pipe (published by the Railway Philatelic Group in 1997).

Part 1 – What are Railway Station Postmarks?
Part 2 – Types of Railway Station Postmark

This page deals with all STATION postmarks, whatever their source, but first we need to dispel a couple of myths.

Myth 1: Railway Station Postmarks  are much the same as Railway Sub Office (RSO) postmarks. This is simply NOT TRUE – the two are quite different.

Myth 2: Railway Station Postmarks (with STATION or variants thereof in the stamp) are mainly from post offices which happened to be located at or near a railway station, but did not necessarily have a direct connection with the railway. This is largely NOT TRUE, although there were post offices which fell into that category.

Part 1 – What are Railway Station Postmarks?

Railway Station Postmarks are predominantly postmarks applied at ‘Forward Offices’ (see next) and containing the text STATION (or Stn., or Statn. etc), although it is undoubtedly true that some such postmarks were applied at other varied offices. This page deals with all such postmarks, whatever their source.

Forward Offices

In the days when mail was delivered long distance by horse drawn mail coaches, the Post Office set up Forward Offices (or Forwarding Offices) roughly 100 miles along each route. At a Forward Office, a coach would drop off mail bags for that region. The Forward Office would sort the mail into Post Towns, and deliver them onwards to those Post Towns. These Forward Offices could be thought of as the forerunners of the later Regional Distribution Offices (but on a smaller scale).

When the Post Office started transferring mails from coaches to the railways, they naturally set up similar Forward Offices to process incoming mails delivered down the line by railway. These Forward Offices would usually be at or near a railway station, and would often have STATION in their addresses and postmarks).

Forward Offices were primarily sorting offices and did not normally provide a full range of post office facilities, although they usually had a letter box into which the public could post letters.

The only mails to get a Forward Office postmark were the letters posted directly into the Forward Office. (In some ways you might think of a Forward Office as a stationery TPO, but in a building rather than on a train!). It should be noted, however, that mail in transit was sometimes ‘back stamped’ (stamped on the back of the letter) to record the date and time of its passage. Such back-stamp postmarks can also be found from Forward Offices.

We will reiterate that most Railway Station postmarks were applied at Forward Offices or their equivalent, but the following situations muddy the water a little!

We will reiterate that most early Railway Station postmarks were applied at Forward Offices or their equivalent, but the following situations muddy the water a little!

Other Offices using Railway Station postmarks

  • Out of town Stations: Railways sometimes sited a new station a mile or two from the town it was supposed to serve. In time, small settlements grew up around this station … and were named after the station itself (e.g. Washington Station, to distinguish it from the nearby Washington village). In some cases these settlements acquired their own post offices, which naturally took the name of the settlement, and therefore had the word STATION in their addresses and postmarks. Such post offices had no direct connection with the railway, but the railway was the reason why they were there in the first place!
  • Sub-offices: If a post office (for whatever reason) had STATION in its title, any sub-office would have the full name of the parent office in its title (including STATION), even though the sub-office itself might have no connection with the railway.  Thus, STATION (or some abreviation thereof) would appear in the postmark of the sub-office. A variant of this is where a sub-office included something like NEAR STATION in its address and postmark.
  • Indirect Station references: Some offices included their street address in postmarks. If the address was something like STATION ROAD then this would appear in the postmark.
  • Post Offices operated by Railway Staff: Occasionally, a new community post office (not a Forward office) was on the station itself, and initially operated by railway employees. Such offices would normally include STATION in their addresses and postmarks. An example of this was Rannoch Station Post Office, so called to distinguish it from the office in the village of Rannoch. There were also on-station post offices, initially operated by railway employees, which did not include STATION in their title – but, of course, these did not have Railway Station postmarks.

[Details of the types of Railway Station Postmarks are still to be added.]

Part 2 – Types of Railway Station Postmark

Here we illustrate Railway Stations Postmarks types 1 to 19 as originally listed by Gowen (1978) but modified by Pipe (1997), followed by types 19 to 24 as added by Pipe (1997). Where the two type numbering systems differ, we use Pipe’s numbering.

The majority of the illustrations here are from Pipe’s book, but some are from Gowen’s book. Some types have more sub-types than are shown here (see Pipe’s book for these).

Type 1.   Unframed Obliterators (dated double-arc & dated single-arc marks)

type 1a
type 1b
type 1c
type 1d
type 1f

Type 2.   Single Numeral Obliterators

type 2a

type 2b

type 2d

type 2Ba

type 2Ca

Type 3.  Standard Series of Duplex Marks

type 3a

type 3b

type 3d

Type 4.   Squared Circle Cancels

type 3a
(3 broken Circles)

type 3a
(3 broken circles)

type 3a
(2 broken circles)

type 3a
(1 broken circle)

Type 5.   Double-ring Cancels (numerous varieties)

type 5a

type 5c

type 5f

type 5f

type 5f

Type 6.   Single-ring Cancels (numerous varieties)

type 6a
name only)

type 6b

type 6c
(county etc
at bottom)

type 6d
(railway name
at bottom)

type 6e
(continuous text round circle)

Type 7.   Skeleton Stamps (temporary issues – numerous varieties)

A Skeleton stamp was really no more than a framework into which date and time slugs and station name text etc. could be inserted. They were issued to offices when the normal stamp was in need of repair or required some change to it. When the normal stamp was available again, the skeleton stamp was withdrawn.

type 7a
(no circular border)

type 7b
(text around border)

type 7c
(all text horizontal)

Type 8.   Dated Rubber Stamps (numerous varieties – few illustrations available)

Prior to 1885, smaller offices were only issued with undated stamps, but the introduction of the Postal Order system required more security. Dated rubber stamps were issued to these smaller offices rather (than metal ones) because they were cheaper to produce and – as their usage was expected to be less – would probably last as long as the metal ones used in larger offices. Rubber stamps were replaced by metal ones in 1934.

type 8a
(station name at top)

type 8a
(station name at top)

type 8c
(station name horizontal)

Type 9.    Hooded / Scroll Postmarks
Type 10.   Registered Postmarks
Type 11.   Returned Letter (RL) Postmarks

type 9a
(Late Box)

type 9b
(Parcel Post)

type 10a

type 11
(Returned Letter)

Type 12.   Machine/Meter Postmarks

The wavy lines on each side of type 12a marks extend much further than shown here. Type 12c marks can include other embelishments.

type 12a
(machine cancel only)

type 12a
(machine cancel only)

type 12c
(postage stamp plus cancel)

Type 13.   Parcel Post Cancels (double-circle, office name breaks inner circle, undated)
Type 14.   Parcel Post Cancels (single-circle, 6 or 7 horizontal lines, undated)
Type 15.   Parcel Post Cancels (single-circle, dated)

type 13

type 13

type 14

type 14

type 15

Type 16.   Parcel Post Cancels (large rectangle, some dated)

type 16c
(rubber stamp, dated)

type 16d
(rubber stamp, dated)

Type 17.   Railway Company Oval Cancels

type 17

type 17

type 17

Type 18.   Straight Line Cancels

type 18

type 18

Type 19.   Inspectors Marks
(R.W within an oval border, used at York. Known in Blue, Black or Green ink)
Type 20.   Missent Marks

type 19 (Inspector's mark)

type 20

type 20

The last four types are less obvious, and require a bit of thought.

Type 21.   Instructional Marks
Type 22.   Postage Due Marks
Type 23.   Telegraph Codes (as found on parcel post labels)
Type 24.   Travelling Post Office Cancels with Station Connections

type 21a

type 22a

type 23

type 24e

The above illustrations should give you good appreciation of the varieties of Tation Office postmarks. But don’t forget that there are quite a few sub-varieties not shown here. Fot those you will have to refer to Postmarks of British & Irish Railway Stations 1840-1997 by WT Pipe.

CLICK HERE for Postmarks of Great Britain & Ireland – Part 3,  Railway Sub Offices (RSOs)

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