The End Of A Postal Era (4 July 1975)
No development is more significant of the rapid growth of the new city than the recent opening of the big new postal sorting office – the “Mount Pleasant” of Milton Keynes. It may be said to mark the end of one epoch and the beginning of another in the postal service.
The appointment of Bletchley as the postal centre for North Bucks was one of the many consequences of the creation of its railway junction in the 1850s – which was not so very long after the inception of the Penny Post itself. The various branch lines left no village in the area more than five-and-a-half miles from a railway station. Even on the smallest branch lines there were several trains a day and their convergence at Bletchley station made it a natural choice for a central post office. Indeed, the first office seems to have been known not as Bletchley, but as Bletchley Station.
Up to the marketing of the so-called “safety” bicycle in the 1880s the postmen actually walked round their villages from their local stations and back, and apparently thought nothing of it. For instance, in the 1870s the postman for Stoke Hammond walked there from Bletchley station via Water Eaton, delivering the mail on route. At that time Water Eaton did not have a post box and the postman, on his way back from Stoke, announced his arrival at the green by blowing a horn. He also carried stamps for any who needed them.
One wonders at the economics of the system. No doubt these improved with the introduction of the bicycle, since one postman could then be employed to cover more villages. But the postman’s job was never an easy one physically up to the arrival of motor mail vans.
The first central office in Bletchley seems to have been in the building hard by the station entrance and now demolished which later became the well-known railway service “Coffee Tavern.” This served up to 1885. Then were built the much larger premises which still stand at right angles to the station entrance and which did duty right up to 1959.
Villages actually on branch lines such as Woburn Sands and Winslow, had six despatch times and three delivery times daily.
At the head office itself there were ten “latest times for posting” per day, ranging from 2.15 am to 10.30 pm and four “in town” deliveries per day from 6.50 am to 6.45 pm.
Among the 35 sub-offices were Fenny Stratford, Bletchley Road (Queensway) and Far Bletchley.
Since 1870 the Fenny sub-office has had three locations, all within a few doors of each other on the same side of Aylesbury Street. In 1870 the sub-postmaster was prominent tradesman Mr Riddiford.
On his death his daughter, Mrs Symington, became post-mistress. Later the office moved to the present site of Fortescue’s garage shop and still later to its present premises, which previously had been occupied by Hands, the chemist.
In the 1870s the present Queensway was just a road from the town of Fenny Stratford to the village of Bletchley. There was very little property on it and the sole postal facility was a letter box which was cleared twice a day, the deliveries being made from the head office.
As the road and side streets came gradually to be built up in the 1880s and 1890s a sub-office was opened by a Mr Alderman at the western corner of Oxford Street and Queensway. In 1904 the job was taken over by a man famous in Bletchley’s early development, Mr Hedley J Clarke. He transferred the office to his own premises, a small shop the site of which now forms part of the premises of A Pollard and Son, the ironmongers. He was paid 10s a week for the use of the premises, pens, etc., and he had to keep open from 8 am to 8 pm. But among all his subsequent multifarious activities, including moving to a much larger building next door (now the site of Elmo’s). he held that sub-postmastership for 43 years before handing it over in 1947 to his son, Colwyn.
Meanwhile the head office itself was extending its scope. I remember how in the years after the last war places like Wolverton objected successfully against having their mail addressed “Wolverton, Bletchley,” though that had become the factual postal position.
Even before the start of Bletchley’s post-war “artificial” development the 1885 head office was over-flowing with mail and at Christmas especially use had also to be made of other premises in the town. With town expansion Mr Clarke’s sub-office in Queensway became increasingly busier. Then, in 1959, the head post office was transferred from the railway station to the new building in the town’s main shopping centre.
Besides breaking the direct link with the station, the move caused the closure of Mr Clarke’s sub-office, though for a few months the road which had once needed only a postbox found itself not with just one post office, but with two, one on each side of the road. Many preferred the older one until it closed.
And now, a mere 16 years later, that big bright Queensway office is itself somewhat relegated; the address of Bletchley and Wolverton alike is the same as the tiny village called Milton Keynes; and the old Penny Post has become near enough the One-and-Fivepenny Post.