Barney Coy, Rural Postman, Extraordinaire!

Barnard Coy, better known to one and all as Barney, was born 18th July 1838. His father also called Barnard (snr), died 16th April 1838 aged 40 years old, just some 3 months before Barney was born. His mother Priscilla (née Clubley) was from the village of Welwick and was a school teacher there. He had a sister Priscilla and a brother James.

Barney grew up in the village of Easington. He later became an apprenticed tailor to Mr. Philip Loten, who ran the Neptune Inn. Mr. Loten was also a tailor by trade and father of the taxidermist who founded the famous Easington Museum. Barney a devout Primitive Methodist, met and married Elizabeth Hall, who lived in Easington, but was born at Flamborough on 13th January 1847. Her father Mr. Bride Hall, was a master blacksmith in Easington. He too died at an early age being only 43 years old. Elizabeth was the second eldest of a family of eight. Barney and Elizabeth actually married in Hull on June 8th 1867 at St.Mary’s in Lowgate Hull. They went on to have eight children, the first one being born in 1868.

In 1871 when in his early thirties, Barney applied for and received the appointment of postman for the Easington District. His round was from Easington to Spurn Point, a position he would hold for the next 35 years and 1 month, an extraordinary record.


Barney Coy outside his home in High Street, Easington

In the 1881 census, Barney is described as a Tailor and Rural Messenger; he was then living down High Street with his wife Elizabeth and six children. In 1883 his wife gave birth to twins, but tragically she died two days afterwards. She was the last person to be buried in the church yard in Easington. All burials thereafter took place in the newly opened cemetery a little way out of the village on the Humberside Road.

The journey from Easington to Spurn and return is 15 miles. Barney covered this journey on foot, 6 days a week. This amounts to 90 miles a week. Allowing for on average 1 week off per year multiply 90 x 51 and this equals 4,590 miles per year. Multiply that by 35 years and 1 month, and this comes to a staggering 161,000 miles. This is the equivalent of walking nearly six and half times around the world!  Not only is this an extraordinary achievement in itself, but at the time there was no actual road down to the end of Spurn. A railway line was put down during the First World War, but it was not until the 1940s that an actual road was laid.  In Barney’s time the road just consisted of sand, gravel and cobbles and so during this marathon feat he trudged over 66,000 miles on loose sand alone. Sand was not the only obstacle he encountered, at times Spurn was subject to high tides (this is still the case today) and the road often washed through in places.





                   Spurn awash - March 2007                                                            September 2011

On one occasion Barney had to wade thigh deep through the water, but the mail always got through. He was never once known to be late, in spite of being wet through on numerous occasions, with icicles hanging from his beard in severe weather.    

        Barney on his long lonely walk on Spurn,                 view of Spurn with the railway line, this was

         here you can see his six stripes                                    put down some years after Barney had retired                                                                                       


Barney not only encountered the elements in his daily travels, but on some occasions  rendered valuable service to shipping. On one occasion whilst walking in thick fog, he heard a steamer whistling close to the shore. He hastily went to the spot and shouted to them, that they were still two miles north of Spurn. On another occasion in similar foggy conditions, a steamer was coming directly at the beach, when he used his postman’s whistle to alert them and so avoided a maritime accident.

Among other articles apart from shipping that came ashore, Barney came across a whale of about 70 tons, and on another occasion one of about 10 tons. He not only had to carry the mail to Spurn, but during the early construction of the present lighthouse in 1894/5, Barney had to carry samples of bricks, sand and gravel, as it was necessary to have fresh–water sand and gravel for use with the cement for the construction of the lighthouse base.

In the service of the Post Office an employee was entitled to a stripe for every 5 years of good conduct and unblemished long service, and also received an additional 1/- (5p) a week for each stripe. Barney accrued six stripes (30 years) which in fact should have had seven, but the Post Master-General never anticipated anybody ever achieving more than 30 years service! In his contract he was also allowed a yearly ‘boot’ allowance of 21/- (£1:05p)

Copies from Barney Coy’s official Post Office instruction book giving his route

On one occasion a high postal official came to the district, and on meeting Barney, began to take a deep interest in the mail he was carrying. When the stranger laid his hand on the bag, Barney at once requested him to desist, and told him it was contrary to instructions for anyone but himself to touch the bag until it was delivered to Easington Post Office. The incident did Barney no harm, and was indeed the cause of some amusement when the stranger’s identity was revealed. During some of Barney’s time at Spurn, he would deliver and collect the mail from Eliza Hopper, who ran the Post Office there.


              Spurn Postmistress Eliza Hopper                           Spurn Post mark of 1904


                       The old letterbox door from                         The old Post box at Spurn Lifeboat Station         

                      Easington Post Office


Barney lived with his children in a small two-bed roomed cottage. Some of the children would sit on the stairs, as the house was so small, and after a day’s work, Barney would sit cross legged on a table and follow his old trade as a tailor carrying out sewing for some customers. He loved to play Ludo every Saturday night and always brought a bar of Fry’s chocolate. He hated to lose at Ludo.

At the age of 68, and at the end of his working career, he had always enjoyed the best of health, and he swore that Spurn and Easington were ideal places for invalids. If they cannot get better there, he said, they cannot get better anywhere else. Barney was off sick for practically the first time, with a sprained ankle, a few months prior to his retirement.

Barney finally retired in December 1906, with a virtually unblemished employment record. He was awarded the Imperial Service Medal, which is inscribed ‘For Faithful Service’. He is quoted as saying he loved the life of a post man, but looking back upon the past he would not like to commence the task anew, although as he pithily remarks ‘I am only 68 yet’.  After his enforced retirement, he had been out for a long walk, but sadly complained of feeling queer, because he was not walking to Spurn as usual. But, he added, with the hopefulness of a philosopher, ‘I think I shall get used to it!


                  The Imperial Service Medal                    Barney Coy wearing his well deserved medal

After retiring Barney lived with one of his daughters Frances, in the same family home down High Street, until the day he died.

Barney with two of his daughters, Frances and Elizabeth

It would seem that Barney remained fairly fit and well during his latter years. It appears that he carried out some farm work, helping out at Harvest time with threshing. He also carried on with his old profession of tailoring, making and repairing items of clothing for people of the village.  One day a ship was wrecked on the beach at Dimlington. It was carrying a cargo of wood. Not to miss an opportunity like this, Barney dragged his grand-daughter out of school to help carry some of the wood back home. He was around 80 years old at this time. They then hid the wood under a pile of coal in one of the stables to avoid the beady eye of the Customs Officer. Then after a safe period of time he built a small shed in his garden from his ill gotten gains, like many others in the village!


               Barney in his garden with  his shed                        Even in old age Barney still had a                      (probably) made from illicit wood!                         look of mischief about him.

Barney Coy died on 10th June 1928 aged 89 years old. He was buried in the cemetery at Easington, next to this brother James.


The graves of Barney Coy and his brother James

Mike Welton 2012

With thanks to Janet Ostler his great grand-daughter for information and photos supplied.


A newspaper article written in June 2012 describing, a policy that letters will not be delivered in Doncaster if it is raining, due to the fact a postman had slipped on a wet mossy pavement and broke his shoulder. Health and Safety strikes again! I wonder just what Barney would have thought!

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