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Entries in Post Office (1)

Thursday
Jan132011

Green, Noah (1799 - 1887); Bradshaw, William (1826 - 1879) and Green, John (1840 - 1913) POSTMASTERS

Green, Noah (1799 - 1887); Bradshaw, William (1826 - 1879) and Green, John (1840 - 1913) POSTMASTERS

‘Posts’ were first set up by Henry VIII. They were a series of places along a few strategic routes to enable the royal messengers carrying letters to change horses and so deliver the king’s message as rapidly as possible. Post roads were maintained along these routes (only four for many years). Charles I allowed the public to use this service and the places, where the horses and later mail coaches were changed, developed into coaching inns and those running them into the first postmasters.

This connection between innkeepers and the postal service continued through the eighteenth century. The service was still out of the reach of most of the population but, gradually, the penny post was introduced into the major towns and the mail coaches began to cover much of the country. In 1840 Rowland Hill’s famous nationwide ‘Penny Post’ was introduced and the 67 million letters posted in 1839 rapidly increased to 242 million. The era of the modern postal service had begun

There were some rural post offices throughout the nineteenth century but it was mainly in the towns and was very hit-and-miss and it was not until 1854 that Ringstead had its first sub-post office. Before this, in the1847 Post Office Directory, it states that, 'Letters received through Thrapston'. The 1854 Kelly’s Directory does not name the postmaster but it seems likely that it was Noah Green who was entered below as a grocer and draper.

The Green family had once been important landed gentry whose principal seats had been at Greens Norton and Lowick but, like many such families they lost much of their standing and land during the religious turmoil of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They had owned land in Ringstead and continued as yeoman farmers locally. In the second half of the nineteenth century a branch of the Green family went to Africa, endured the Siege of Mafeking and produced some distinguished military men.

It is not with these Greens that our story is concerned. We will be looking at some of the family who stayed in the village to serve the community. John Green, who was born in 1759, was probably a yeoman farmer. He married Jane Meadows in 1783 and the couple had eight children. A double page spread of the 1841 Ringstead Census is a sea of Greens. Living next door to each other we have the families of five of the sons: Noah, draper; Thomas, vittler; Edward, farmer, Lot, farmer and John, butcher.

Each has a story to tell but we will only tell of two here. Noah, first and then, later in the century, one of the sons of his brother Thomas, called John.

Noah was born in Ringstead on 16th October 1799 and baptised nearly a year later. His parents John and Jane Green were both Baptists and were buried in the Ringstead Baptist Burial Ground. Whether their faith was the reason for the tardy church christenings is not clear for late christenings were not unusual.

Noah married Sarah Wells, across the river in Woodford, on 7th June 1821 and their first child, Ann, was born on 3rd September 1822. She was followed by Eliza Ellen (born about 1825), James (about 1832) and Mary Jane (about 1846). Ann’s baptism is a non-conformist one and the others have so far eluded us so it is possible that they never took place. The long gap between the final two children may be just one of those surprises that nature has in store for us, or because there are missing siblings through infant mortality or, perhaps, the grandparents have taken a grandchild as a daughter. We may never know.

We also have not discovered how Noah made a living at first. We do know that in 1841, at some forty years of age, he is recorded as a draper and in 1847 and 1854 Directories he is also put down as a grocer. One suspects that the village shops were fighting to make a living and, as still happens today and they ‘poached’ each other’s stock in trade in order to make a better living. By careful selection a grocery has a fast turnover and not too much money tied up on stock for long periods. Drapery, on the other hand might have a longer period between wholesale and resale. A village draper’s shop would vary from place to place. In 1847 he is listed as a 'linen draper' but one suspects that his shop might include clothes and hats as well as fabrics. There would probably also be a ‘beer trade’ of haberdashery: ribbons, buttons, cottons, needles and pins.

It seems likely that Noah decided that the new Penny Post offered another opportunity to increase his profits a little. We know from the Kelly’s Directory of 1854 that in Ringstead, ‘Letters through Thrapston arrive at 9 am dispatched at ½ past 3 pm.’ As we have said, it seems likely that this was via Noah’s shop and certainly by 1861, in Melville’s Directory, Noah Green is the postmaster.

As we have said, Penny Post was introduced in 1840 with a simplified 1d per half-ounce fee paid for by the sender to replace the old system which required the recipient to pay according to the number of sheets of paper and the distance travelled. In the new system, which was nationwide, the sender paid one penny (1d) per half ounce, whatever the distance. This led to a huge increase in mail and ordinary people in small villages like Ringstead now found the sending of letters was within their means.

In 1843, Sir Robert Peel had laid down the principle that, ‘All places, the letters for which exceed one hundred per week, should be entitled to a receiving office and a free delivery of letters’. Later, the new criterion for the establishment of a ‘post’ was its chance of financial success and between 1851 and 1857 Post Office surveyors went around every village and hamlet to review the postal arrangements. New postal routes were established and it seems likely that Ringstead was one of the new sub-post offices that was authorised as a result. The surveyors also set area boundaries and the local postmaster was responsible for ensuring that letters were delivered within that area at no extra cost to the sender or recipient. In order to become a postmaster one had to provide references but one would imagine that a man from a well-connected family such as the Greens would have had no problem with this.

The sub-postmasters were appointed by the Treasury if the cost to the Government was less than £175 per year and by the Paymaster-General if more than this figure. It would have nearly always been a local shopkeeper, of good character, who could provide some counter space. They also had to provide a slot in a window or box, initially locally made, for the letters to be handed in. At first the service would only have been for the receiving and distribution of letters and Noah would have been paid a small annual sum based on the number of letters that he dealt with. It could not have been a business by itself and there were grumbles throughout the century that the allowance was enough to cover the expenses and work done by the sub-post masters.

In the 1861 census Noah’s entry seems to be ‘Draper etc’ which perhaps indicates that Noah did not see the post office as a major part of his income. We do not know when he gave up the post office and drapery business but it may have been when he was sixty-five which would have been around 1865. We do know from an 1869 Directory that by that date the Post Office had been taken over by a William Bradshaw.

The 1871 Census has Noah, now aged 71, as a,’retired draper’, living with his wife Sarah. Ten years later he is still retired but, at 79, his wife Sarah, together with their widowed daughter Eliza, is working as a milliner. Eliza had married her cousin Luke and, it is believed, taken her sickly son John Lot Green to South Africa. But, as we have said, that is another story. It seems likely that the draper’s shop had also sold hats and now the two women are once again having to earn a little to help them all survive in the couple’s old age. Some indication that they, like most other people were finding it hard in their old age can be seen from the Ringstead Gift Charity books which shows that the couple received nine shillings, the couple's rate, in December 1879 and 1880. The charity used one quarter of its income for the 'the inhabitants of Ringstead, over the age of 60 who are, in the opinion of the Trustees, deserving and necessitous'.

Noah and Sarah died within months of each other in 1887. They were buried in Denford Churchyard, like a number of other Ringstead people, once the small Ringstead Churchyard (The Baptist Burial Ground finally closed for burials in 1894) had stopped being used. Their epitaph reads:

Sacred to the memory of Sarah the beloved wife of Noah Green of Ringstead. Born Feb 8th 1803 died January 20th 1887. Also of Noah Green Born Oct 16th 1799 died Nov 12th 1887. “Here they bore the cross. There they wear the crown.”

Although they were buried in the churchyard of a parish church, the use of the birth dates and of the biblical text perhaps hints at a non-conformist background.

If we go back to William Bradshaw, he had been baptised on 30th April 1826 in Thrapston, the son of John Bradshaw, blacksmith, and his wife, Sarah. The 1841 census finds them living in Titchmarsh Lane, Thrapston with Williams six siblings. We must guess that William is following his father’s profession for the census only tells us the work of the ‘Head of the Household’. We do know that in a few months in 1850 the family is turned upside down. On 10th July, Sarah Bradshaw dies and within three months John Bradshaw, the widower has married again, to Emma Parsons, a farmer’s daughter from Little Addington. She is some twenty years his junior

In the following year the Census informs us that the newly married couple are still living in Titchmarsh Lane. John is not only a blacksmith but also an occupier of 23 acres of land. Living with them are three of his children, a nephew, a grandson and eight lodgers. By 1861 the couple have five new children. Mysteriously, Emma has only aged three years. Perhaps the age gap between her and her stepchildren was deliberately widened. The only two of John’s original family now living at home are Thomas (32) who is a blacksmith and Susan (22) who is put down as a ‘general servant’. Is this last description just the enumerators or an indication of how the first family were treated by John?

The family appear to be living in the same house as before but now the Census tells us it is the ‘White Hart’ and there are five lodgers. Next door are a number of houses in ‘Bradshaw’s Yard’ so perhaps John has developed some of his land or outbuildings. Soon after the Census John is dead and by 1871 Emma has remarried and has three more children. Her surname is now Hubbard.

What William made of all this we can only guess at. William had set up himself as a blacksmith in Ringstead by 1847 and had married Ann Beeby of Raunds before his mother’s death. By 1851 the couple were living in Ringstead. Did he decide to leave because he saw what was happening around him or , perhaps the more likely explanation is that he needed to move to set up on his own. Certainly, Flora Thompson records that it was usual for the sons of blacksmiths to leave the family forge and become journeymen smiths, learning and earning a living, before returning to the family business. Of course it was not far from Thrapston and it seems that there was a need for a new blacksmith in the village.

There were other blacksmiths recorded in the village during this time including John Tomlin, Charles Hitchcock, and a local journeyman called John Fairey. We write a little more about these in the biography of John Fairey. Some of these did not have their own blacksmith's shops and may, at one time, have worked for William.

William Bradshaw seems to have been an energetic and talented man who realised that he would need to diversify for his business to survive. In 1861, he is listed in the census as, ‘blacksmith, parish clerk and grocer employing one man and one woman'. His wife, Ann is not recorded as living in the house but perhaps she is visiting relatives. A stonemason and his wife from Doncaster are lodging with him. It is about this time that the Ringstead and Denford churches are being repaired so perhaps that is why he is lodging there. It may be that William was taking in the lodgers as part of his parish clerk duties.

This was before the establishment of the secular Parish Councils in 1894 as part of the elected local government of England. At this date the parish clerk was part of a church system going back a thousand years. He was appointed by the rector, and approved by the archdeacon, and acted as clerk to the rector and, sometimes, to the vestry. In some parishes he also assisted in church services and led the congregation’s responses and a few pulpits still remain that have lower tiers where the clerk stood. The clerk might also act as the sexton and even dig the graves and look after the churchyard. One can imagine that a blacksmith would be very useful in these practical capacities. William would have received a small annual fee for his clerical duties and presumably would have also been paid for any graves that he dug.

Growing up in Thrapston, William would have had access to a number of schools and it seeems that he received an education mostly denied to children in Ringstead before the establishment of the school.

As we have seen, the Post Office Directory of 1869 records that William is now also the sub-post master so he has added one more string to his bow. ‘Letters arrive through Thrapston at 7 am and are dispatched at 4.35 pm. There is no delivery on Sundays. The nearest money order office is at Raunds.’

Sunday working was a major issue in the later Victorian period, opposed by religious groups and the emerging trade unions. In the middle of the century about half of the rural posts did not work on Sundays and about half of the remainder had their walks shortened and, in some cases, a substitute was provided on alternate Sundays. In the 1870s The Government made easier for Sunday services to be discontinued. Among Post Office employees, Sunday working was one of a number of grievances which led to unrest throughout the second half of the century with strikes, especially in London, in the last decade.

 

Front of popular music hall singer Arthur Lloyd’s ‘The Postman’ song for voice and piano (c 1866)

Oh her heart it always goes pit pat

When she hears the Postman’s loud rat tat’

Coloured lithograph by H.C. Maguire 

By kind permission of The British Postal Museum and Archive

 

The sub-post offices were subject to inspection twice a year by the head postmaster of the area and also by higher officials in the Post Office hierarchy. Flora Thompson tells of one such ‘Surveyor’ who arrived in a top hat and immaculate morning suit. After inspecting the post office, he then interviewed one of the postmen who was refusing to work on a new Sunday evening collection on religious grounds. It was a brave stance for he was not a young man and ‘knew that his post and his pension he had so nearly earned hung in the balance’. Despite the Surveyor’s report the man was allowed to not work on Sunday evening. It must be remembered that , like today the sub-postmaster was self-employed ,running a business, but the postmen ,who were earlier called ‘letter carriers’, were employed directly by the Post Office. Post women, like Laura in Candleford Green, began delivering letters towards the end of the century

A blacksmith’s shop and a post office may seem an odd combination but it is just this same joint enterprise in Candleford Green that Flora Thompson writes about. Dorcas Lane did not run the blacksmith’s shop personally but she employed the blacksmiths and fed and housed the young journeyman smiths. It seems likely that William too, could not have done both jobs.

The 1871 Census has William as Parish Clerk and Sub-Postmaster but also records his wife Ann as Sub-postmistress. This is an unusual recognition of the increasing role of women in such businesses, although far from unique, and one suspects in this case that Ann did much of the work. It seems that the couple did not have any children so perhaps she had more time than many Victorian wives. Working for the Post Office was not taken lightly as Flora Thompson, perhaps the best source for what working in a rural post office was like in the last decade of the nineteenth century, tells us about her first day at work:

Once, when there had was a brisk demand for penny stamps…she tried timidly to sell one, but she was pushed gently aside, and afterwards it was explained to her that she must not handle a letter or sell a stamp until she had been through some mysterious initiation ceremony which Miss lane called being ‘sworn in’. This had to take place before a Justice of the Peace, and it had been arranged that she should go the next morning to one of the great houses in the locality for that purpose.

Laura duly goes to see ‘Sir Timothy’ and, before signing, she had to read out the oath:

‘I do solemnly promise and declare that I will not open or delay or cause to suffer to be opened or delayed any letter or anything sent by the post’, it began, and went on to promise secrecy in all things.

William and Ann are living in Chapel Road and next door, Frederick Bradshaw, probably William’s nephew, is a ‘master blacksmith’. He is just 22 years old and living with his young wife, Emma and their baby son. It seems that William has passed on the role of blacksmith and it is possible that he was beginning to have health problems. Blacksmiths do not seem often to have lived into old age which, when you consider the atmosphere that most worked in, is not so surprising.

The 1877 Post Office Directory records that William is still the postmaster. Everything is much as before but there are now two deliveries a day, at 7.15 am and 2.20 pm. There is still only one collection time, at 4.55 pm.

William died on January 30th 1879 aged just 52 and was buried in the churchyard although no stone now marks his grave. He left a will with a value of under £100. He is listed in the National Probate Calendar as, ‘shopkeeper and parish clerk’ only. Ann became a housekeeper for a farmer in Brigstock and then lived with her nephew, Harry Beeby, and his wife Ellen in Raunds. Ann died in the spring of 1907 aged 83 years.

The post office was taken over by John Green, a nephew of Noah, the first Ringstead Postmaster. Noah’s brother, Thomas, had been an innkeeper or ‘vittler’ (victualler). He had married Katherine May from Oundle and John was their youngest child, born in about 1840. The other children had been apprenticed to a number of trades including dressmaking, carpentry and butchery. John, himself, had first become a shoemaker and the 1861 Census has him living in his family’s public house, the Axe and Compass but still working at that trade.

In 1865 he married local girl, Mary Weekley, and the 1871 Census has the couple living in Shop Street (as High Street was sometimes called) and still a shoemaker. They also have a six-month-old son, John Albert. All around them are shoemakers and farm labourers apart from widow Matilda Wilson (43), who is ‘mangling’ to try to keep her, and her elderly mother, out of the workhouse.

It seems very likely that John took over the Post Office on the death of William Bradshaw in 1879. Certainly, the 1881 Census has John’s occupation as ‘Postmaster and Shoe Agent’. He and Mary now have three children, John A (10), Charlie (8) and Lizzie (5). A young local bootmaker, Joseph Smith, is also boarding with them. Perhaps he is working for John. Next door are his Uncle Noah and Aunt Sarah. Noah is now 81 and, as we have said his wife and daughter are working as milliners to earn some extra money. The elderly couple would have been still able to offer some advice although the work might have changed a little since they had run the post office.

Kelly’s Directory of 1885 records that letter still arrive from Thrapston but now at 6.55 am and 2.15pm and are dispatched at 5.25 pm. The working day has been stretched further although there is still no delivery on Sundays. It also records that the nearest money order and telegraph office is at Raunds. The telegraph first came to Ringstead in 1845, which was very early in its history, but it was only for the use of the railway. It looks as if this usage had not been extended,

Originally there had been a mishmash of companies, small and large, offering telegraph services. They tended to only offer their services in the profitable places and rates tended to vary widely. Many argued for a comprehensive service across the whole country and under Government control. In 1868 an act of Parliament enable this to happen and telegraphs were added to the Post Office services. Nevertheless Ringstead remained too small to be linked to this system during the nineteenth century.

John is still a shoe agent so, as is the case in many places today, the sub-post office had to piggy back on to some other retail business.

By 1891 John remains ‘Shoemaker and Postmaster’, and his son John Albert  and Charles are shoe riveters and his daughter, Lizzie May, a closer. Again, one suspects that John’s wife, Mary would have run the shop for much of the time but we have no way of telling. The 1894 Kelly’s Directory entry for the Post office is very similar to the 1885 version although the second delivery is now 1.15 pm. It also records that Post orders are issued but not paid. As with the telegraphs, the money order business first started as a private venture in 1791 to help prevent the frequent theft of letters containing money. It became part of the post office business in 1838 and by 1879 twenty-nine million pounds was sent in this way. During the century postal orders began to be issued at Ringstead but were never redeemed locally. For that you had to go to Raunds. One guesses that the Greens did not want to have to hold too much cash for this purpose.

In 1901 the couple are still running the Post Office. John Albert is the only child still at home and working as a shoemaker. Ten years later,John and Mary, both 70 years old continue to serve in the Post office. John Albert, their son, is 40 years old and still single. He is now an Insurance Agent and one wonders if this is part of the scheme introduced by the Post Office in 1864 to offer small life insurance policies (£5 to £100) and annuities aimed at the poorer people in the community. The charges were less than those of commercial companies and the scheme had some success in helping ordinary working class people to make their lives a little more secure.

The Enumerator’s Schedule for the 1911 Census tells us that the Post Office was at No. 3 High Street next to some farm buildings and a few houses before Chapel Yard. There is a photograph which, judging from the clothes, was taken at about this time. It shows John and Mary standing outside the shop where they had lived and worked for well over thirty years. It may be that it was taken when John retired at 70 years old and handed over the business to his son, John Albert.

 

Ringstead Post Office with John and Mary Green in the doorway

Probably taken in about 1911

With the kind permission of Martin Parfett

John died, aged 73, in 1913. The directory of 1914 tells us that John Albert Green is now the sub-postmaster. It also records that there is a wall letter-box near the New Inn which is cleared twice a day. We know that letters would be delivered over the next few years to families which they had desperately hoped that they would never receive.

As anyone who has read, or watched on television, Lark Rise to Candleford will know, the post office became through the latter half of the nineteenth century a trusted and respected institution which was the hubs of many villages. It was one of the few institutions that had an integrated network across the country and revealed itself in the day-to-day lives of villagers like those in Ringstead. It has continued in some villages in this role to this day but the internet and recent Governments’ thinking has put the existence of many under threat.

 

References

Note: I think John Green (vittler, victualler or innkeeper), the brother of Noah, is the one mentioned in the case of the stolen will in Eric Jenkins’s book (see below).

Ringstead Parish Registers

Censuses 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911

Clifton Reynes to Ringstead. Janice Morris (article produced for Thrapston District History Society)

The Amazing Greens of Ringstead. Clive Powys (Northants Life April 1989 [Northampton Library]

Kelly’s Directory of Northamptonshire  1854, 1885, 1894, 1910, 1914

Melville & Co. Directory of Northamptonshire 1861

Post Office Directory of Northants, Hunts & Beds. 1847, 1869, 1877

Ringstead Gift Charity (uncatalogued archive boxes) [Northampton Record Office]

The History of the British Post Office. Joseph Clarence Hemmeon (1912 Reprint ISBN 9781445508160)

Post Offices. Julian Stray (Shire Publications 2010)

English Country Life 1780 – 1830. E. W. Bovill (Country Book Club 1964)

Victorian Northamptonshire; the Early Years. Eric Jenkins (Cordelia 1993)

The Village Factory in Hodge and his Masters Volume II. Richard Jefferies (First published 1880: MacGibbon and Kee Ltd 1966)

Lark Rise to Candleford. Flora Thompson (OUP 1954)

www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/podcasts/parish-admin-records.htm (Re Parish Clerks)

The British Postal Museum & Archive – Online Catalogue [The Postman] (http://catalogue.postalheritage.org.uk )