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.
Several photo postcards from Harry Withers’s collection show views of “The Old Post Office”.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks to Barry Stickland
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.
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.
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.
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?
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, firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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.