TitleThe Village Postman's Life Off-Duty - Birch Centenary Chronicles 10
AbstractThe Village Postman's Life Off-Duty

Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History

Centenary Chronicles - No. 10.

Published in Parish News - February 1998

Thanks to the kindness of Mr and Mrs Reeves, Mill Lane, Birch, we have acquired a considerable number of back issues of the "Essex Countryside" magazine. Although this area does not feature very frequently it has been interesting to look back at the comments made in the 1960s and we hope to use some of the information.

In issue 5 of these Chronicles we used the recollections of Mr Faircloth, now resident in Cheshire. Some of these concern his father, the former postman for Birch and Layer Breton, while others are his own memories of the 1920s and 30s. Mr Faircloth Senior retired to Hardy's Green from Colchester on leaving the Post Office returning to the house he was born in until he died in 1945. The following recollections tell of how he used his time between the two spells of official duties each day and how he spent his retirement.

His Post Office work was split into two shifts - deliveries in the morning and collections in the afternoon. This meant that he had the time from 10 am to 4 pm to himself! The centre for the "breaktime" was Hardy's Green where William the postman became William, son of Samuel and Elizabeth, cottagers. With the cottage went 4 acres of good fertile ground, 2 acres of which was let off as allotments to others and the remainder, plus the large garden, were used to grow vegetables and fruit for use by the family, either at home or in Colchester. Peas and runner beans were sent to Barny Springer, Covent Garden, London.

William bought what he called "dredge" timber; timber sawn from trees felled by estate workers from Birch Hall, at give away prices. This was cut into suitable lengths and stood on end to dry out. During wet weather, and the winter months, this would be cut up and split into pieces of manageable size ready to be taken to his home in Colchester for fuel. The coalman always conveniently finished his round at Hardy's Green, collected anything and delivered it to the family in Colchester. He was paid in kind with vegetables, fruit or rabbits.

Pigs and poultry were kept and there was a ready sale for eight week old weaners at a price of £2 each and for clean killed wild rabbits - up to 4 dozen at a time for delivery to regular customers by the coalman who sold them for 6d (2½p) each. Rabbits also provided William's son with a sideline as he was paid for delivering them and would also skin them and sell the skins if required.

In the days before public transport, or ready access to bicycles, getting from A to B was a matter of personal arrangements and on Saturdays William's son would make his way from Maldon Road, Colchester to Hardy's Green with the milkman. Milk would be delivered to the Drury Farm dairy and empty churns be picked up for return to New Bockingham Hall Farm - plus young William. Three hundred yards walk and he would be at his grandparents for the day. His return journey was made when Mr Church's milkcart from Hellens Farm passed the cottage. This would also pick up the milk from New Bockingham and then arrive at Drury Farm at 4.30 or 5pm. William, junior, then had to walk down Maldon Road. If it was raining he was draped in a heavy sack held together with pig rings which would get heavier the wetter it got. He usually had a stick over his shoulder with a couple of brace of rabbits dangling from it for delivery on the way home. Just what would we make of it today - things were so very different 80 odd years ago!

Prior to retirement the whole family would move, during the summer school holidays, from Maldon Road, Colchester, to Hardy's Green. Hutton's would loan a four wheeled horse drawn trolley, driven by "Wimpy" Mead to carry all the bedding and everything likely to be needed for the stay.

The country pastimes practised by William junior included fishing at Birch Lake (with the Squire's permission), Shemmings or Norfolk's ponds but most of the time was spent helping father with fruit and vegetable growing or looking after the pigs and poultry. His father had certain shooting rights and a number of people from the Colchester Post Office would visit the cottage to go rabbiting - and, of course, sample the rhubarb wine!

William senior was a real character and always on the go. If the weather was suitable for gardening then that was where he would be found; if the hounds were due to meet then he would follow them - or at least anticipate the run to see the fox break cover. At other times a stroll down to the "Angel" to meet with his cronies was called for. On occasions these same cronies would call at the cottage after William retired from the post office. Along two thirds of the cottage there was a lean-to shed, the highest point of which reached almost to the eaves, the roof sloping down to seven foot from the ground and being about eight feet wide. It contained every conceivable type of trap and tool.

Winter vegetables were stored there plus bags of pig and poultry feed. A large rack for storing apples ran the whole length at a high level and you needed a box, or a pair of steps, if, as a youngster, you wished to pinch one!

More importantly the shed was also the meeting place in wet weather. The locals would gather to have their half pints. Home made wine perhaps or from the garden there was a well worn path along the back of Mrs Humphries garden hedge to a little gate at the rear of her house which was the local store and off licence. There were no "opening hours" so far as the Faircloths were concerned and the beer would be collected in a small container which fitted into a bucket and was covered with a small piece of sacking as camouflage. These gatherings continued, usually on Sundays, after William retired from the post office and at such times the world was put to rights over quantities of beer or the very strong, mature rhubarb wine or whatever else was available - so much so that, occasionally, some made their way home in a wheelbarrow!

Adopting a well known phrase - it was true that they didn't have much money but they did see life!

PublishedFebruary 1998
SourceMersea Museum / Breton Heath