First class look at early days of the postal service

Bognor post office
Bognor post office
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Do we really know about the postal service here in Bognor Regis?

Was the main Post Office always where it is today? The quick answer is – No.

The Arcade, Bognor

The Arcade, Bognor

As early as 1798 there is reference to a post office in the town, and it is thought to have been housed in a hotel, possibly in the vicinity of the seaward end of West Street.

By 1807 the service had became more established in the town and an office was situated in a building called Derby House in Lyon Street which was demolished in 1939 for road widening. It was adjacent to Valhalla on the corner of Lyon Street and the High Street.

These premises had a multiple use and were utilised as the booking and parcel office for coaches to London.

Mr Joseph Ragless and his wife occupied the position of Post Master until 1839 when the post office moved to the other end of the High Street.

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The next site was in a library building on the corner of Lennox Street. This building eventually became known as Webster and Webb, the publisher, library and printing services. Here the London mail was received daily at 6.30am with local letters arriving at 10am.

By 1859 the town saw yet another move when the Post Office relocated into No 3 in the High Street and a James Meaden, who was a confectioner, became the postmaster. These premises eventually became part of Olby’s Departmental Store, where the Clock Walk complex is now situated.

The situation did not remain static for long and in 1866 Edward Prebble, a go-ahead business man arrived from Tunbridge Wells, and set up his business at 25 High Street as a printer, stationer and postmaster.

When he died in 1874 his wife continued as the postmistress until she married Edward Wood, who was to become the most famous postmaster in the town.

When Edward Wood joined the Post Office he was paid the princely sum of 2 shillings 6 pence per week.

By 1883 the population of the town was over 4,000 and the postal service was rapidly increasing as well as improving. The sale of stamps and stationery continued to rise alongside an increasing trade in fancy goods

Moving again in 1887 it was raised to the status of Head Post Office. This time to the corner of York Road, where it remained until 1901 when it was replaced by the National Provincial Bank. The site was vacated by KFC and remains empty.

The next move was to the newly constructed arcade in 1901 where it originally occupied premises on the west side. However due to increasing trade, it eventually expanded upstairs. By now the postmaster had a staff of 26 and was handling in the region of 45,000 letters per year.

In September 1922 a contract was signed for a plot of land along the High Street. On lst February 1926 the present Post Office building was opened by Lord Leconfield and cost in the region of £20,000.

The press reported this opening and described the new facility as: “The till accommodation will allow ten clerks to service at the same time and telegrams will be dispatched from the counter to the telegraph room on the second floor by an electric tube.

“A table and two chairs are provided in the centre of the hall for the convenience of customers wishing to write letters or read periodicals while waiting for telephone calls. This innovation was no doubt greatly appreciated.”

Changes continued and in 1949 the building was enlarged to accommodate the rapidly expanding telephone business and 1972 they also opened a telephone exchange in Gloucester Road.

The Post Office has now remained in its current premises for 80 years and has become a part of the community. Recently the main Post Office has moved into WH Smith in London Road, leaving the Royal Mail and Parcel collection department in the High Street.

The Post Office telephone exchange in Bognor was opened on the 2nd April 1903 and had 49 subscribers at that time. At the same time there was a similar number of subscribers still with the National Telephone Company and it was agreed on 3rd August 1903 that the Bognor Post Office Exchange and the National Telephone Company would be amalgamated or ‘were to be connected by wire’.

The first telephonist at the Bognor switchboard recalled in 1977 that when the Post Office opened their accommodation in the Arcade in September 1903 they only had 20 lines to operate the new service.

One of the earliest records of telephone installation was between the Pier Box and the Pavilion, which cost £5 10 shillings - quite a sum of money in those days. The local postmaster at that time was Mr Wood.

Many of the early discussions with regard to the installation of telephones were between the Fire Service and the exchange.

Before the end of 1903 there were complaints being received regarding the introduction of telegraph poles, which were to ‘disfigure our town’.

I wonder what would be their view today, with the introduction of the phone masts and satellite dishes.

It was in 1912 that there was the ‘diversion of the National Telephone Company’ from No 4 Albert Terrace in the High Street, to the new Post Office premises in the Arcade, York Road.

This was in the same year that the government took over the control of the private telephone companies. Within 10 years there were 264 lines in the town and this number continued to increase and interestingly this information was reported monthly in the local papers.

Another piece of information available was that from February 1923 telephone subscribers were able to obtain weather forecasts for the next day, if they phoned the telephone exchange after 5pm.

Complaints still continued and in 1924 local business men were complaining about the delay of 40 seconds when making a connection the report continued that ‘the girls were very nice but they were very slow’ but the suggestion was there ‘need for more ginger in the manipulating of their boards’.

I think this means they should speed up!

In 1924 the Bognor Telephone Directory was issued within the Town Guide, and covered 14 pages of A5 and listed all the public call offices. This service continued to increase and the number of subscribers also increased so much so that one of the major problems during the Second World War was the purchase of telegraph poles, which had been obtained pre-war from Norway, Sweden, Russia and Poland and subsequently they had to find a sufficient supply of poles in this country.

The Land Army Girls were trained in checking trees to ensure their suitability for the required purpose. It was estimated at that time that there was in the region of 17,000 miles of pole routes, which contained 2,000,000 poles - so you can see the problem.

Such problems which luckily we do not have today.

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