This is an interview with Mrs. Arthur Fricker from October 1986. She lived in the Post Office from 1917 to 1925 and describes vividly the work of the Post Office at the beginning of the 20th century. This account is reproduced from ‘Look! This was Timsbury’ by kind permission of the Cheshire Home.
There were no ‘mod cons’ in those days, no electricity, and oil lamps were the order of the day. They had to be trimmed each day because in the sorting room we required three lamps for the postmen to sort the local letters. The Post office then was in the Square where the fish and chip shop is now. Previously to that it had been over on the opposite side where Wayland Cox’s shop now is. The day commenced at five in the morning and the door had to be opened for the mail to come in which was a horse-drawn van, the driver having to sit in front in all winds and weathers with no cover at all. All our mail went via Radstock, it was sent from there on to Bath, because there was no railway here.
After the mail had arrived in the morning the four postmen arrived, two seniors and two auxiliary. There was a fifth one that did a midday delivery. After they’d sorted, they delivered their mail in the village and all the outlying places, which included Camerton and right to Glebe Cottage. The village wasn’t as big as it is now but the outlying houses are mostly still there. It was a long and tedious journey for some of them, but one postman had to be back to take the 9 o’clock mail to Radstock so he had the shortest delivery. He went out at 9 o’clock taking all that bad been collected during the night. It was letter mail which included small packages at the time. The other senior one came on at 11.15; he’d a longer post round. Then he usually met the 9 o’clock postman coming back. They had to go with their pushbikes but they had to walk most of the way to Radstock. There isn’t much easy cycling thro’ Camerton, is there? They had to get thorough, whatever the difficulties in all weathers.
Then at 12 o’clock there was a part-time postman who delivered mail just to the village. Then at 12 .15 all the postmen gathered except the midday one and did the r rounds over again, except for the very outlying districts.
The Post Office had to open from 9.00 am till 7.00 at night with a half-hour between 1.30 and 2.00, and of course you had to do all the serving and see to the customers and your own household duties as well. The Post Office was the only way of communication in those days: there were a lot of telegrams as well as letters. We had a little telephone on the wall for telegrams or private calls to the Post Office. For the 11.15 post Mr.Ricketts brought extra mail over for us from Farmborough to go with ours so we had a double lot. It was quite a busy little place: not as busy as today of course because the village wasn’t as big but it was more primitive.
There was nothing to help you in the way of ‘mod cons’ and of course there was a stationery line which was nothing to do with the Post Office itself. We sold pens and nibs and pencils, but that was a separate entity for the Postmistress. There was a slab down at the end where people could write, but as a rule they’d say ” Could you do it for me! It was a very interesting life. Pension day on Friday was the most interesting day of the week. At that time it was 10/- a week and there were many people who wouldn’t take a 10/- note feeling that wasn’t proper money.
One dear old soul came up and got her pension and Mrs. Cox paid her with l0/- note not thinking and she came back with it. She said: “My dear you didn’t give me any money this morning, you only gave me a dirty piece of paper” She was in such a state over it.
They all had their foibles but they were so kind these old people. I think of it now I’m old, they used to bring all manner of gifts for Mrs. Cox – cucumbers, tomatoes. One man used to bring a rose for Mrs. Cox every Friday all through the summer, one of those large red roses, they smelt lovely. If she didn’t happen to serve him, he’d come in and say ” Where is she? Gi’er this ‘un’, put it right in front of my face and I’d say ”all right, Mr. Swansbury, 1’11 give it to her.”
Of course, she was kindness itself to them; well you learnt that, you had to be in those days. Around about 1920 I’m not sure of the date, it was decided that a telephone exchange was required in the village because the shopkeepers wanted their own telephones as the nearest one was Midsomer Norton. So it was decided to put a switchboard just inside the sorting room. We started with sixteen subscribers – all the trades people, and the doctor and there was one Paulton Factory on our line and High Littleton Co-op. It gradually expanded and there were well over twenty by the time I left.
We had to control all the calls – there was nothing automatic at all. You had to take it all down. There were little tickets for pricing and they had a callbox on the customer’s side. We always had to see that they knew how to use a telephone because some people didn’t and it was a new thing. It got a very busy little exchange there and eventually the telegrams came through there, via Bath. A local telephone call was 2d and a telegram was 9d.
When a telegram came we had to find someone trustworthy to take those calls out. They got porterage, a small fee f or taking them. There was ld for the village and 3d. for Meadgate or Tyning, 4d down at the mill. That was the highest, except on Wednesdays, when Timsbury had to take and deliver Camerton and Farmborough telegrams. That was 9d. which was a big sum of money. One old lady was very interested in the telegrams. One day she came by and said: ”You know my dearest I’m ever so curious. I can’t understand how you can get those telegrams so nice and plain in their envelopes coming through those little holes.” I took great pains to explain to her. People wouldn’t be so naive today would they?
There was the savings bank and some people put a 1/- or 2/- in their savings book every week. After the Post Office was closed all the accounts had to be done every day in a book – postal orders, licences, everything had to be entered and cash counted up. That account was sent in every night with the last mail at 8 o’clock so you had to do that after closing the office. When the horsedrawn van was withdrawn and the motorised one came, it made it a little easier for the mail man. That was round the same time as the exchange was put in.
It was opened on Sundays for an hour and a half for stamps or the occasional telegram if it was urgent. During the war some of the telegrams brought news of soldiers who had been killed. We did not like delivering them at all because we knew what was in them. You also had to wait for a reply.
When I first came to the Post Office early in 1917 my job was doing housework, lighting fires and helping to clean the lamps, seeing to the two children. I earned 1/6d a week. I remember Joe Cox’s last leave vividly. Monica, the baby was 3 months old. He sat on the sorting office table swinging his legs and was chattering. I was out busy somewhere and I could hear them talking and asking how I was getting on, because I was only a young girl, and Mrs. Cox said “Very well, Joe and she’s ever so good with the children. I was so pleased. Mrs. Cox didn’t do any Post Office work until he went in the army. But within two months, in January 1918, he was killed and she had to take over.
She asked my mother as soon as I left school if I could go and help her out because it was hard for her with the baby. The Rev. Meade-King came and helped her serving in the Post Office every morning. Gladys, her sister was a schoolteacher in the village, so she could only help in dinner hours and late afternoons. It was quite a hard life for her. I didn’t leave till after I was married. I was earning 30/- a month. I was treated not as a servant but as a member of the household. And we had some really funny times. I remember one lady came in once for a dog licence, and I said “Name please?” and she said ”Fido”. “No I said, I need your name not the dog’s.”