A FAMILY business: Wem Post office in bygone times

Christmas is in the rear view mirror and Post Office will have had their rest, getting back to normal – but what is normal?

In many towns, some even as large as Shrewsbury, the Post Office is a hidden counter in some large chain store, with limited storage space and possibly, but not always, with a sorting office elsewhere in the town. The staff often consists of a few counter assistants without the authority to make serious decisions. It was not always thus.

In Wem, until comparatively recent times, the Post Office was in the High Street, though, as the map shows, in several different buildings at different times. Sometimes it combined its activities with those of the shopkeeper who ran it. This person was usually referred to as ‘the postmaster’.

Throughout the late C18th and the early C19th, the postmaster-ship appears to have been a family concern, with the families changing rarely. The job of the postmaster was to sell stamps and to arrange for the collection and delivery of the mail, and to provide a telegraph service. The Universal Directory of Great Britain 1791 includes the following entry for Wem.

Post-Office- the post is dispatched for London, Monday, Thursday and Saturday at eight in the evening; arrives from London every morning at five o’clock except Tuesday. Despatched for Whitchurch Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, at eight in the evening; arrives from Whitchurch Monday, Thursday and Saturday at the same hour: William Deakin, postmaster.

In 1828, the Postmistress was listed in Pigot’s guide as Miss Jane Deakin, presumably daughter of William. At that date, ‘letters are despatched at half-past nine in the morning, and arrive at half-past three in the afternoon.’ The coaches that delivered the post were doubtless on the route from Whitchurch to Shrewsbury.

Iris Woodward in ‘The Story of Wem’ cites 5 shops that at one time or another housed the Post Office prior to the development of a ‘permanent’ site at the old Seven Stars Inn in the High Street.

Roger Gough was a native of Ellesmere and had come to Wem to pursue his trade as a currier. He first lodged in Back Street (Noble St) before moving to 5, Chapel St. and began running the Post Office, apparently from his home. By 1861, the Post Office had moved back to the High Street.

During their time in charge, the Gough family must have witnessed the demise of the stage coach delivery system as the railway reached Wem in 1858 and large amounts of mail started to be moved by rail.

Roger Gough continued to be postmaster until his death in the 1870s, after which his 58 year old widow, Mary Gough, took over. It was a real family business, with son Frederick a telegraphist and her 19-year-old daughter Mary as a counter assistant.

In 1891, Frederick was listed as the postmaster at 64 High Street (pictured) where he also ran an ironmonger’s business. However the following year, he suffered a double loss as his mother and his wife died, followed shortly afterwards by his sister.

He appears to have left Wem soon afterwards and the Postmaster’s job was given to Joel Stinchcombe.

The Stinchcombes were a Gloucestershire family who had moved up to Wem from Didmarton after running a grocery and drapery there. Joel was also listed as a Post Office messenger for Didmarton and Badminton so had experience of working in the Post Office environment. He took a job as a draper’s assistant in Wem. He and his wife had 9 children, 5 of whom followed him into the grocery business in both Wem and Wolverhampton. His daughter, Eva (Tomlins) ran what is now the ‘Fruitful Deli’ for nearly 30 years and was succeeded by his son Walter.

Joel died in 1899 and is buried at the old Congregational graveyard in Chapel Street. He was succeeded by his son William. The British Service Appointment book for 1902 includes the records

1902 146912 Stinchcombe, Wm. John S.Po. Wem

1906 140231 Stinchcombe, Wm. John Sub-postmaster. Wem, Shrewsbury

In 1908, the derelict ‘Seven Stars’ inn in the High Street was purchased and a new post office was built- a traditional stone-faced building that became typical of many High Streets throughout Britain.

The man in charge was given the title of ‘sub-postmaster’, being under the overall control of the Postmaster in Shrewsbury. The 1911 census lists William Stinchcombe as still being in charge and the staff increased considerably.

The 1911 census shows that 'the Post Office in Wem employed 2 clerks, 1 mail driver, 1 telegraph messenger and 6 postmen. One of the postmen, Charles Thorley, had 2 sons who both became postmen in Wem- yet another post-office family'.

By 1917, the sub-postmaster had changed, with Ernest Roland Clement being in charge up to the early 1930s and Samuel Griffeths from 1935 until at least the start of WW2. However, services had increased dramatically.

In 1934, Kelly’s directory shows that ‘letters arrive via Shrewsbury per mail cart at 6 a.m. and at 2.15p.m. and 6p.m. by train.

Second delivery commences at 2.45 p.m., third delivery (!) commences at 6.30 p.m. Despatches at 9.30a.m., 11.50am and 5.5p.m., 6.45p.m., 7.45p.m., and 9.50p.m.’ A very comprehensive service.