When I was a boy in the 1940/50s, every village seemed to have a post office and shop, all with slightly different offerings. My mother frequently sent me on errands to shop at one or other of these local emporiums. They made a lasting impression on me to the point where it became a regular phrase of mine that “I would like to run a post office one day”.
Time of course goes on; I met Edna in the mid-1960s and we were married in 1969, but I was still using the same phrase. I had several different jobs yet I was still saying “I would like to run a post office one day.”
In the late 1970s, Edna said to me that I had better do something about running a post office, or stop saying it. As my job was coming to an end, we decided to start looking for a village store and post office. Most weekends were spent travelling to view all over this region. We came to look at Filkins, but the accommodation was quite small and we had three children to fit in as well by this time. It was slightly off putting when a large RAF transport plane from Brize Norton went over, nearly touching the rooftops, or so it appeared.
Eventually in 1982 we came to view ‘The Post Office Stores’ at Milton-under-Wychwood, a solidly built shop with good living accommodation. Negotiations took place, with Terry and Sue Leftwich and we moved in on 8th August 1983. We were extremely naive about the effort it would take to run the shop and post office but we had discussed this and agreed we would only do it for two years, and then review the situation. The staff, thank goodness, were brilliant, and taught us everything as we went along. There was Janet Peachey in the post office, Kay Burdock in the shop and Edna on the till. Spare time for leisure activities that we had hoped for never materialised as running the shop became a way of life.
There were, at that time, post offices in several other villages nearby: Shipton, which was the oldest sub-post office in England, run by Terry Wilson; Ascott, run by Hazel Tustain in a wooden shed nearly opposite The Swan; Leafield, run by Anne Proctor, again in a wooden shed next to her house near the Green and Fifield, run by Mrs. Mildred Townsend. Churchill was run by Joan Cherry in the front room of her bungalow.
The post office work was all paper based with pension books and benefit books, bills to be paid over the counter, electricity, gas, water rates, council tax, council rents, National Savings and
Premium Bonds etc. All these transactions had to be summarised and written down by hand into very large ledgers which had to be balanced with the stock and cash-in-hand each week.
My history with local post offices changed in 1984 when Hazel Tustain at the Ascott Branch decided to retire. As there was no-one willing to take on the office it was offered to me to run on a part-time basis as a ‘satellite’. It was agreed that I would run it over the bar at ‘The Swan’ which at the time was run by Dot and Dennis Jackson. So for half a day per week, on Monday mornings, I went to
the pub. My Ascott customers were very supportive – a big change from a full-time office. Later the post office was re-located to The Tiddy Hall.
In about 1986 the post office in Fifield was due to be closed, and again no-one else was willing to take it on so it was offered to me, again on a part-time basis, half a day per week,” better than nowt,” as the saying goes. The village hall was the obvious place and agreement was made for me to attend on Thursday afternoons for two hours per week.
This arrangement carried on until the mid-1990s, when Joan Cherry at Churchill sub-Post Office was looking to retire and reclaim her front room. This meant that Churchill became my third satellite office. Once again, the village hall was the obvious location, and the committee room at the back of the hall became the post office. The committee adapted a door to become a hatch for serving customers – quite a cosy arrangement.
As well as post office changes, our shop was going through several alterations as well. Over the past few years we had taken on more staff; Barbara Ford and her sister Jenny Marsden joined us. In the early 1990s we started to bake bread, pasties, pies, pastries, and this led to longer opening hours. At one time we even tried twelve hour opening. This was partly to coincide with starting to sell newspapers. We started delivery rounds and had seven papergirls and boys. Newspapers, hot pies and packets of crisps were all very popular. This meant moving the shop around, to accommodate these extras.
Edna and I were both working 80 to 100 hours a week which became unsustainable, so we decided to relocate just the post office. We discussed with Peter Rawlins about the possibility of moving the post office counter into Rawlins shop on the corner of The Square. It was in Peter’s mind to change how the building was being used and he created five small units instead, one of which he agreed to lease to us as the post office. When it was all fitted out with a new counter and security we opened in June 2006. We took the stationery, dry cleaning, greetings cards, bird food and a few other small parts of the business with us.
In 2012 The Post Office Counters Ltd, were looking to change sub-postmasters’ contracts. The contract that they wanted me to agree to took work away and reduced my salary which rendered my position uneconomic so I retired at the end of November 2014.
This was a very big change for me, as I had a routine on Friday, but the following Monday nothing. After six and a half years I think I’m getting the hang of it.