|The Village Postman's Tale
Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - November 1996
The postman has been a familiar figure around the area for many years nowadays travelling in his red van making deliveries and collecting the mail twice a day in many parts. The frequency of visits was much the same a hundred years ago but the working methods were very different.
For this issue we rely on the recollections supplied by Mr Faircloth, now living in Cheshire, of the tales his father told about his years as postman for Birch and Layer Breton.
We know, from records held by the Post Office in London, that Willie Samuel Faircloth, born on the 13th August 1866, started work, as a licensed letter carrier, at Colchester Post Office in 1889. We believe he had formerly worked at "The Fleece" in Head Street as an ostler and even earlier had been at Birch Park working for the Round family when he left school.
He was born in a 4 roomed cottage at Hardy's Green where, in 1891 his father Samuel aged 67 lived with his wife Elizabeth and their sons Harry and Fred. The men all worked on the land. For most of his working life Willie and his family lived at 67 Maldon Road, Colchester.
Willie's duties were split into shifts starting at Colchester Post Office at 6 am. There he would collect the mail and sort it before setting off for Birch, delivering at other places on the way. He would complete his deliveries between 9.30 and 10 am. Then he was free until 4 pm when he would start his collections from post boxes in the Birch area, clearing others on the way back to Colchester where he would finish his day at 8 pm. Until 1923 the Sunday hours were from 7 am to 1 pm and his working week was of six days plus alternate Sundays!
This kind of shift work - known as split shifts - was not all that popular and it meant that he had to be up at 5 am every day in order to dress and light the fire for the family before leaving the house at 5.40 after putting a kettle of water to boil! After collecting the mail he would leave the Post Office on his outward journey. The first call was to his home where, as the water had boiled, he would make a cup of tea to take up to his wife. On winter mornings, a spoonful of "Johnny Walker" whisky was added to his own cup to keep the cold out as he set off to pedal through the countryside to Birch.
Leaving the house for the second time in the morning, his first call was to Shrub End Post Office (Mrs Morris). He was responsible for deliveries to all the houses between Straight Road and Birch Post Office which was then at the Maldon Cross Roads not in the village street as it is today. He also had responsibility for deliveries to Stanway Green as far as the fiveways junction, the Baysmill, Stanway Hall and the estate workers cottages between Stanway Hall and Warren Lane. He always had a good dog with him who had been trained to carry and deliver letters and later he had an auxiliary postman to help out around Birch. He was an ex naval man, Phil Fisher, who lived in a cottage on the Birch side of Heckford Bridge.
On arrival at Birch Post Office the mail would be resorted and Phil Fisher would set off to deliver to the more outlying parts - almost to Easthorpe one way and Layer in the other. The auxiliary did not collect mail. Among the non-official tasks carried out by Willie was acting as intermediary between doctor and patient; parents and grown up children who had left home on marriage or were in service locally; and between shopkeeper and customer. He always carried a supply of stamps (financed by himself) for people living a distance from the post office and against, all rules and regulations, would accept stamped letters for the post! Such actions were much appreciated in times when people were less mobile than today and they lived some miles from the nearest post boxes.
He retired in 1926 and during his 36 years he saw many changes. Until 1908 he had to supply his own transport and received an allowance for doing so. His starting pay was 80p per week and when he retired he was getting £1.85 plus a uniform allowance! At one time he had a donkey to ride on; at another a pony and cart, and, when the roads improved, he bought a bicycle. On several occasions he had to push his carrier laden bicycle through snow to Birch and back.
In the afternoon the collections from the post boxes started at Hardy's Green, then to Layer Breton Heath and all the boxes between back to Birch Post Office, Stanway Green and Shrub End, Peartree Road, Brickwall Farm and so on. The route depended on the direction of the wind and the state of the cross field tracks he used but he would finish by calling home at about 7 pm. On the ringing of his bicycle bell someone would dash out to collect his meal satchel which usually contained fresh eggs. Then he would set off to finish his day. Not surprisingly on his way home for his evening meal he would often call at the Grosvenor Hotel for a very well earned drink!
Willie spent almost all of his 79 years in and around Birch and he died at Hardy's Green, in the house he was born in, in 1945.
The Parish Newsletter of February 1920 reports the burial of Mary R Wilsmore, aged 80, who had "managed the Post Office (at Layer Breton) for more than 60 years and her work, especially in these days of pensions, etc., brought her into sympathetic touch with all her neighbours; and she has literally died at her post of duty". She had, in fact, succeeded her husband John when he died and, in turn, their son took over.
Layer Breton also had at one time as postman a Mr Harvey who had a wooden leg. He fetched the post from Kelvedon which is a return journey of 14 miles!
Those were indeed the days!
We hope to be able to provide some idea of what Willie found to do during the hours between his postal duties, in a future issue.
Note: See Issue 10, February 1998 - 'The Village Postman's Life Off-Duty