A tale of Brentwood’s post offices
PUBLISHED: 12:04 16 October 2020
Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent talks about our first offices in the borough.
There’s nothing like the indignation, even anger, of a town’s residents when the “powers that be” demolish familiar buildings in their local High Street. This has certainly been the case over the centuries in Brentwood. But, sometimes, destruction and replacement of ageing structures have been necessary and even welcomed.
This was the case when the first purpose-built post office was opened on the corner of Brentwood High Street and St Thomas’s Road in June 1891. Locals were delighted with the new building’s elegant architecture and Dutch-like gables. Customers entered the heavy front door and the counters and fittings were made from beautiful oak. It blended well with some of the finely built offices which also served as homes of the wealthier residents owned by Brentwood’s doctors, bankers and lawyers occupied by the wealthier professional classes.
The work of our early postal services was associated with the development of the stage-coaching traffic. Brentwood was used as a postal halt from the early 17th century, Samuel Smith being the first named postmaster in 1637. His annual wage of £5 remained unchanged until 1760.
From 1785 letters were despatched from Brentwood in the London-Norwich mail coach and ran for the next sixty years. An early proud boast was that mail despatched at 5am would be delivered in London same day. We owe a debt to William White’s Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Essex, which he published in 1848 and which still offers historians valuable information concerning our town.
Our first post offices were closely associated with the then existing ancient inns. Several addresses can be seen in the archives, one being the famous Crown Inn whose postmistress was the formidable Emma Birt. In 1793, James Tyler was appointed postmaster in 1804 and on his death in 1819 his widow Maria took over, holding the office until her resignation in 1854. The General Post Office required her to supply a competent assistant in1851 as old age prevented her from carrying out her duties which also involved selling books and toys. In mid-Victorian days, the post office was recorded as being open from 8am until 9pm. Maria’s place was taken by William Turner who was an upholsterer. Many shopkeepers then worked at several jobs,
We owe much to the local philanthropist and writer, John Larkin who. in his memoir written in the 1920s, describes the shops in the High Street and their owners, who lived about the premises. He describes how some of the shops had such low, narrow doors, that local upper-class ladies wearing fashionable crinolines were unable to gain access.
Just before World War ll, work began on a replacement for the 1891-built post office. Again, disapproval ensued, but eventually in 1938 the current modern building was opened, apparently with the citizens’ approval and acceptance.
Changes came again in 2007 when news was reported that this large 1938-building was to be closed and the business of the post office would be transferred to a shop in Bay Tree premises.
Hot air again was expressed in the local press, but people got used to visiting the post office at W H Smith.
For some years, the old post office building remained sad and neglected. However, life moves on and we now see a beautifully remodelled building which happens to be the offices of the notable legal practitioners Pinney Talfourd, standing stands proudly at 130 High Street in much the same way as our Victorian lawyers’ offices did in yesteryear.
To learn more about Brentwood History, read Brentwood in 50 Buildings (signed copies at WH Smith and Waterstones Book shops throughout Essex) and via Amazon.