Shrewton Post Office

The first Shrewton Post Office was the house in Salisbury Road that is now called “The Old Post Office”. This seems to have originally been a private house called “Bury View” (a name it again adopted in the 1970s) that was converted into a shop in the latter part of the 19th century.  The section of road between the Royal Oak and the Roundhouse was then known locally as “Bridge Street”.

There was a “penny post” between Devizes and Shrewton as early as 1828. These were unofficial mail services, usually covering quite short distances, operated by local businesses (often shops) at the two endpoint locations.  By 1838 there was also a penny post in operation between Salisbury and Shrewton. It may be that the penny post operated out of grocer Dennis Guyatt’s shop in the 1870s, at what we now call “The Old Post Office”. The available evidence shows that Shrewton got an official Post Office, provided by the “General Post Office” (GPO) in either 1880 or 1881.

From its earliest days the GPO was a department of the government, run by civil servants and headed by the Postmaster General, a cabinet post until 1969. Dennis Guyatt (1829-1903) was Shrewton’s first sub-postmaster and we will be hearing more about Dennis and his successors a little later on.

By 1904, the postbag to Shrewton from Devizes (Shrewton’s postal town until 1911, when Salisbury took over) was fetched each day by Mr Broad’s pony and trap, and another postbag was picked up by Mr Phillimore on his tricycle from Wishford station.  Wishford station was the closest to Shrewton – visitors coming to the village by rail were advised in letters and business stationery to “Alight at Wishford” and use the available carrier services to complete the journey to Shrewton. Perhaps Mr Phillimore ran that early taxi service?

Several photo postcards from Harry Withers’s collection show views of “The Old Post Office”. The one shown here (a colour washed black and white photograph – common in the days before colour photography) has telegraph delivery boys hanging around outside it. This picture dates from some time before 1915 and the boys seem to be between deliveries  This photo is no longer available.

We believe that Shrewton was first connected to the telephone network in 1915 (this is when the telephone pole route first appears alongside dated pictures of the Roundhouse). This is quite an early date, considering that the village wasn’t connected to the national grid for power until 1933.

For a short while, people would only have been able to make or receive ‘phone calls by visiting the Post Office, and the delivery boys would sprint round to fetch any person who had an incoming call waiting there. However, the GPO was soon able to provide phones to homes, so that calls could be patched through, but this service was expensive and so, in most places, only large houses and business premises usually took it up. However, the earliest available telephone directory for Shrewton shows that a third of the phones in Shrewton were installed at farms! It may be that these had to have a ‘phone because they were suppliers to local army bases.

In those early days of telephony it was recommended to answer the phone by saying: “Are you there?”, instead of “Hello”.

From the inception of the telephone network, the village switchboard was located at the back of the Post Office. From here the postmaster (or more usually post mistress) would connect “trunk calls” for people in the village: effectively this meant connecting their call to another operator at Devizes who would then connect to another operator somewhere else and so on down the line to the call’s destination. In those days it could sometimes take up to an hour to connect a call, even to somewhere relatively near, such as Bristol. For longer distance calls it was common to have to “book” a line in advance when you wanted to make a call.

These manual connection methods remained in place until the 1940s when automated exchanges gradually started to replace them. As always, rural areas were the last to get these modern innovations, and Shrewton Post Office hosted the manual switchboard until 1952, when the automatic exchange at Maddington came into operation.
Home telephones didn’t become the norm until the 1960s and 1970s. Up until that time the majority of time-critical communication was done by telegram. Each and every village post office would have had one or more delivery boys to rush out on their push bikes with urgent messages to all parts of the district, come rain or shine.

Phone numbers in the very early days would have been just one digit – “Shrewton 1”, “Shrewton 2“ and so on. Initially at least “Shrewton 1” would have been the Post Office itself. Of course, more phones were soon installed and so extra digits were added. By the 1950s Shrewton phones each had a three digit number.

It’s perhaps worthy of note that Shrewton’s telephone line (at first there would have been just one line in and out of the village, and subscribers had to wait their turn to be connected through it) was routed to Devizes and not Amesbury, or even Salisbury.

At that stage, Amesbury would have been a lot smaller. Amesbury only grew bigger
when it became a stop-off on the A303, a road that was created by joining up a
number of older, smaller, roads during the 1930s – specifically to allow motor
traffic the option of avoiding major towns with narrow streets.

Until that point, most traffic heading from the South East corner of the country to Exeter would use the A30, through Stockbridge, Salisbury and on to Shaftesbury. In the early quarter of the 20th century, what is now the A303 past Stonehenge was little more than a country lane. Our next picture, a grainy 1920s panoramic shot, shows Stonehenge in the right distance and the buildings of Stonehenge Airfield – demolished 1929 – in the distance on the left. The photo makes clear how the modern Stonehenge vista is more a recreation of the ancient scene, than a survival of it.

The A303 gradually took on more and more traffic as it was upgraded and improved from the 1930s onward, until by the early 1960s it had altogether replaced the A30 as the preferred route to the west.

We know that Dennis Guyatt (does anyone have a picture of him?) was Shrewton’s first postmaster. The Guyatts seem to have come to Shrewton from Abbots Ann, near Andover. Dennis Guyatt was born at Abbots Ann in 1829, but his father, George, probably moved the family to Shrewton when Dennis was quite young.

The 1881 census shows Dennis as “Sub Postmaster” residing in “Bridge Street, Shrewton” with his wife Janet (who was born in Scotland in 1823). Dennis and Janet seem to have had no children; however, another of the Guyatt family, William, (possibly Dennis’s brother) was Shrewton Parish Clerk for 35 years (nb: Shrewton, Maddington and Rollestone each had their own separate Parish Council’s until 1934). When Dennis Guyatt died in 1903, there became a vacancy for a new Postmaster at Shrewton.
Thanks to Barry Stickland (pictured standing next to the roundhouse in October 2009) and family history researcher Tony Wright, we know quite a lot about what happened next.  Barry’s great grandparents, Charles and Annie Welch, applied for the vacancy at Shrewton Post Office.  Charles had been a teacher and then moved on to be sub-postmaster at Devizes Barracks and was well qualified for the job: Thus, in 1903, Charles Welch became Shrewton’s second sub-postmaster.

Whilst the post office itself remained at the same building, Charles and Annie seem to have resided in the “White Lodge” a few doors down.

Barry has provided a picture of Charles and Annie standing outside the “White Lodge” at an unknown date – possibly the 1910s. That’s Annie on the left. In the middle is their daughter Mabel Welch (later Mabel Stickland, Barry’s Grandmother), who also served at Shrewton Post Office for a great many years.

Charles and Annie ran the Post Office until 1923, when Charles died. His son Cyril then took over as postmaster, with his wife Alice. It seems very likely that Cyril Welch was the one who moved the Post Office along a few doors to what is now called “The White Lodge”. Certainly by 1924, the “Old Post Office” (as it is now called) was a private residence.

Barry Stickland remembers White Lodge as the Post Office very well, because during his growing up years – the late 1950s and early 1960s – he spent a lot of time there with his great uncle and aunt, Cyril and Alice. He well remembers playing in and around the roundhouse, which in those days was always unlocked! Cyril and Alice ran the post office for over 40 years. The next photo is from Barry’s family collection, taken outside the White Lodge in about 1930, and shows (left to right) James Read-Stickland (Barry’s Grandfather), Mabel Stickland, Alice and Cyril Welch, Glenda Welch,

John Stickland (Barry’s dad) and Joan Stickland (Barry’s Auntie).

Strangely, there seem to be no available photos of the White Lodge as the Post Office. However, we do have a picture of this section of Salisbury Road – and the next picture is a detail from a Postcard dating from around 1950:
This shows the “Shrewton Post Office” sign outside the White Lodge. There are two cyclists just visible in the picture.

The more distant cyclist is just passing the Royal Oak, which is on our left just behind the thatched cottage (we can see its roof on the skyline). The cyclist nearest to us has passed the Royal Oak and is just about to pass “The Old Post Office”, also on our left. This postcard is from the late Lila Grisley’s collection.

This picture clearly shows how the track of the main road has changed since those days. In about 1973, the half dozen buildings which stood along the riverbank, just out of shot on the right hand side of this 1950s scene, were all demolished. It was then that the road was widened and straightened, becoming as we know it now.

Even today, The White Lodge building retains some tell-tale features suggesting its former purpose, such as a duct cover inscribed “Post Office Telegraphs”, adjacent to the back room in which the old switchboard (long gone) was installed.

Cyril and Alice ran Shrewton Post Office at the White Lodge until 1965, when retirement beckoned. Cyril died in 1974 and Alice in 1978. The next picture is one that Barry Stickland took in the early 1990s of The White Lodge, once again a house. In the 1980s, the current owner moved the lovely iron railings back from the road a little, to protect them from passing traffic and provide a parking place.

There is some confusion about who took over as Sub-Postmaster from Cyril Welch, and at what date they took over. However, we do know that in 1968 some old run down cottages called Bethesda Buildings, and the remains of the Bethesda Chapel (thus the street name) were demolished in Chapel Lane and replaced with the buildings which stand there now (does anyone have pictures of that building going on?). At that time, the new building on the corner of High Street and Chapel Lane became Shrewton Post Office.

By 1970 the Post Office was being run by Jeffrey and Margaret Homersley. We’d love to include pictures of them – preferably at the Post Office – if anyone has any?

Please email shrewtonweb@gmail.com if you can help.

In 1975 Gordon and Doreen Horsfield had taken over. We do not have pictures or background to the Horsfields, but would love to hear from anyone who has. Again, shrewtonweb@gmail.com is the address to use.

The Post Office at the corner of Chapel Lane was run, from 1981 onward by Val Gosden – wife of Denis Gosden – and their son Philip. Denis had a career as a world class bacteriologist and was a world authority on the deadly E-Coli bacterium.

When Val’s health declined in 1991, Denis took early retirement and assumed the role of sub-postmaster. Sadly, Val died in 1995, but Denis ran the post office up until he finally retired – for real this time! – in 1998. Denis went to live in retirement at Warminster and he died in February 2003. (Does anyone have pictures of Val and Denis we can use? Please send to shrewtonweb@gmail.com if you can help).

In August 1998, a couple newly returned from South Africa, Denis and Cleo Hourihan, took over the post office and ran it for the next 6 years. During this time the shop also sold sweets, gifts, stationery and magazines.

When the Hourihans retired in November 2004, the post office moved along the street to be included in the Londis shop, where it resides in 2009.

Our next picture shows Monica McAlees, the first customer, cutting the tape on the morning of 22nd November 2004 to declare the new location open for business. Looking on are Kingsley Clifford (incoming sub-postmaster) and Cleo Hourihan..

 The final picture is of the person you are most likely to see behind the counter in Shrewton Post Office if you visit it today, in late 2009: This is Curt Eijvergard (pronounced “Ever-yard”).  Curt was previously sub-postmaster at the Boreham Road shop and post office at Warminster. When that shop closed down, he looked around for another Post Office, and ended up doing the daily commute to Shrewton, as assistant to sub-postmaster Kingsley Clifford.

So, the site of the Post Office in Shrewton has moved around quite a lot, but of course the role and character of all Post Offices has evolved continuously over the years.
In pre-phone and pre-car days the Post Office was the sole contact point to the outside world. Later, it became primarily a place where people would go to do business with the government, buying dog licenses, car tax, premium bonds and national savings and collecting pensions.

Some of these functions remain today, but in a highly connected and mobile world, the role of Post Offices has again been changed. They now provide a large diversity of services ranging from manned cash point to bank branch, to custodian of the electoral role. For many local businesses, including Internet businesses supplying goods worldwide, the village post office makes it possible to operate out of Shrewton and for people without cars, it remains a facility that is as indispensable as it ever was.
The Post Office is a village focal point: A place for sending things to the outside world, an information point and a place for serendipitous meetings between villagers.

Village Post Offices have been notoriously hard to keep viable and everyone in the village needs to be sure they use Shrewton Post Office to the maximum possible, to ensure it remains in place long into the future.

Special thanks to Barry Stickland and Tony Wright for their invaluable help and information in putting this feature together.

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One thought on “Shrewton Post Office

  1. That was a most interesting article. Thank you. I grew up in Shrewton during the 50’s and 60’s. I remember Cyril and Alice Welch quite vividly. Alice always referred to Cyril as “boy”. In fact we young locals used to refer to him as Boy Welch too.
    I remember Belbin’s shop across from the Post Office. Great Ice Cream. In the mid 50’s it went really exotic when Walls Tutti Frutti arrived. Bits of exotic fruit with a funny name to us at the time. I think Phil Bond lived nearby but now things get a little hazy. Best wishes to you all. Mark Young.

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