Tuesday, December 18, 2007
POST EARLY FOR CHRISTMAS
What will become of our favourite old post offices? Much speculation at present! Although many smaller post offices have already disappeared, many fear the closure of their Brentwood post office which has stood in its present location at the corner of St Thomas Road and High Street for almost seventy years. Even before this, the earlier building - an ornate Dutch gabled post office built in 1891- was one of the most popular meeting places in Brentwood.
Christmas time, of course, was extraordinarily busy for staff, particularly the postmen who started at dawn and were used to delivering mail at least three times daily – even on Christmas Day itself. They also received the mail from Billericay which was driven in by special van for onward transmission by GPO workers, one of whom, was our lovely Jack Bartlett – now aged 93.
Much has been written about Brentwood’s first known postmaster. He was Samuel Smith, who in 1637 earned £5 a year, a sum that remained unchanged until 1760. At the end of the 18th century, letters from Brentwood were despatched at 5am and the mail received from London the same day via the mail-coaches and, in earlier centuries, by post boys on horseback.
Around that time, the medieval Crown Inn existing for centuries in Brentwood High Street was used as a postala centre. This was managed by the formidable Emma Birt. A few years later, the Chequers Inn was used for receiving post and we know that a shop at 109 High Street, still extant, which stood opposite the ancient Town Hall was a hive of business, collecting and sorting mail.
In 1872 the Post Office declared that parcels not exceeding 12-ounces in weight could be sent by letter-post. That year, 200,000 letters containing small gifts were sent through the post in Essex alone at Christmas time. By then the famous Henry Cole had introduced the first official Christmas card which started an avalanche of cards for those who could afford to buy and send them.
One Brentwood resident, writer and photographer, Geoff Perrier has wonderful memories of starting at the General Post Office as a 14-year-old messenger. This was during World War Two. His duties included cycling to Warley Barracks daily, delivering dozens of coded telegrams arriving in the town. He remembers some of the quaint uniforms during worn by GPO postmen. “They wore double-peaked hats looking like bosuns from Nelson’s days and delivered the letters and parcels to shop-keepers in huge two-wheeled wicker baskets. These were bright-red with the GPO initials painted in black letters on the side. Geoff has written his wonderful memories entitled Reflections.