When Bognor post office stood next to Valhalla

A queue at the post office in Bognor SUS-150625-091027001
A queue at the post office in Bognor SUS-150625-091027001

This week I thought we could turn our eyes to the post office and look at its journey throughout the years.

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

An early sketch of Derby House in Lyon St. SUS-150625-091051001

An early sketch of Derby House in Lyon St. SUS-150625-091051001

Was the main post office always where it is today? The quick answer is – no.

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 the office was now situated in a building called Derby House in Lyon Street.

Demolished in 1939 for road widening, it was adjacent to Valhalla on the corner of Lyon Street and the High Street.

A view along the High Street c1914 SUS-150625-091016001

A view along the High Street c1914 SUS-150625-091016001

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

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

During this period the post was brought from Chichester by carrier cart. Joseph and his wife then delivered the mail throughout Bognor, with Felpham receiving a delivery three times per week.

The post office’s next site was in the library building on the corner of Lennox Street.

SUS-150625-091039001

SUS-150625-091039001

This building was eventually to become 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, a confectioner, became postmaster. These premises eventually became part of Olby’s departmental store, which is now the Clock Walk complex.

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

SUS-150625-091104001

SUS-150625-091104001

He also endeavoured to launch two local papers, but without success.

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 in 1869, he was paid the princely sum of two shillings six pence per week.

Under the management of Edward Wood, many of the Victorian albums showing views of the town were published and he was also renowned for producing and selling postcard views of the town.

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.

The post 0ffice was to move again in 1887 when 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 last occupant of this building was the Kentucky Fried Chicken food outlet.

The annual Goodwood race week was an extremely busy time for the post office and during this period an extra clerk was supplied from Brighton to help with the increased workload.

The next move was to the newly-constructed Arcade in 1901 where it originally occupied premises on the west side.

However, due to increase in 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 February 1, 1926, the present post office 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 10 clerks to service at the same time and telegrams will be despatched 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 will no doubt be greatly appreciated”.

The new building was complete with its ‘silent telephone chambers’ and ‘amazing telephonic advancements’.

I wonder what these people would have thought of today’s telephonic advancements.

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

The post office has now remained in its current premises for 89 years and has become a part of the community.

Today customers can purchase a wide range of stationery goods at the post office shop within the building.

In December 1951, the Bognor Observer produced an article which provided an insight into the service provided by the post office for Christmas.

In that year there were 78 casual employees just for the Christmas period and in the run-up to Christmas, more than 212,000 letters were posted.

The report mentioned that pre-war, the average figure was 250,000.

Perhaps in the new year, I should visit the post office and review the changes both in style and numbers that are using today’s facilities!

As we all know, postal services have changed over recent years. The collection and delivery service is very different from the days when it was possible to send a postcard in the morning, knowing it would arrive in the afternoon.

With the growth of the internet, emails, Facebook and other technology, a postal service for the transmission of words has decreased.

Employers tend to require a very instant service and thus a number of post offices have closed over recent years. Recently some have been renovated and provide a wider service and longer hours.

They sell tickets for National Express, some foreign currency and lottery tickets.

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