This is probably the oldest picture of Old Costessey Post Office that I have. It is likely that it was taken shortly before the First World War. Before this new building was built the Post Office was on the other side of Townhouse Road, next to the White Hart. Originally it did not belong to the Welch family, being built by the Costessey Estate in 1898. It must have been purchased by Francis Welch when the Estate was sold following the 11th Baron Stafford’s death in 1913.
You can see the shop has just a door, a window and a post box. In the next picture (below) the shop has been extended to two windows. The baby with the postman in the trap is probably Barney Welch, which would make the date 1915, the year of his birth. The business has acquired a large advertising thermometer on the wall on one side of the door, and an enamel advert for Caley’s Chocolate on the other.
The horse and trap was used in postal deliveries, and it was undoubtedly this vehicle which was used to collect the mail bags for Costessey from Drayton Station in the early morning. I suggest that it was used as the mail van is today, to deliver the bulkier items. Of these you can see a good number in the next picture, “Heavy Mail During the War”. With F. Welch in shirt sleeves and his daughter in a summer dress. I do not think this seems like Christmas, although the number of parcels makes it seem seasonal. Nothing about the caption reveals the time of year.
The next photograph shows Mrs Welch in her shop. This would have been taken in the 1950s. She retired in 1962 after an involvement with the business of over 50 years, having started as a young married woman helping her husband. Barney (her younger son) continued as Sub-postmaster for another 25 years plus. Before taking the business over from a relation, John Laws, Margaret Welch (née Lockett) used to pray that the Post Office would come into her husband’s hands (so Janet Welch informed me). Her prayers were duly granted!
In her day the shop was well stocked, but by 1988 when I became a postman at Old Costessey the only things left on the shelves were Heinz Oxtail Soup and McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits. These were stocked not because of public demand (of which there was none) but because these, together with Lucozade, were Barney’s staple diet. The doctor soon ended the Lucozade because of its high calorie nature. His other favourite tipple was Guinness which was almost as high in its calorific content (170 in a pint in fact). For lunch, day after day, Janet and Barney had Birds Eye Shepherd’s Pie and over-boiled Brussels sprouts.
As you may appreciate they made no money from the shop, so they were fortunate that the Post Office Counter continued to be quite busy, although the income from that probably only covered the cost of employing the staff. That left Janet and Barney just the income from supervising us, the three part-time postmen, to live on.
The final enlargement of the shop must have taken place in the late 1960s. Much of the brickwork was apparently done by Fred Barnes. He made the retaining wall for the layby which was placed in front of the shop to accommodate cars – parking was becoming an essential requirement by 1960. This he made from reinforced concrete using old wire netting to provide the strength! Barney thought this strange, but I think it was just the sort of ruse that would have appealed to my father. (Indeed it was very similar to the way we used a length of chain link fencing to reinforce our garage foundation at Poringland.) The living quarters of the Post Office had also been enlarged, perhaps at the same time, when the single storey extension to the right of the front door was built on. A bedroom then was provided on the first floor above the shop.
Janet Cullen and Barney Welch had met at Shefford in Bedfordshire during the Second World War. Barney was serving in the officers’ mess and Janet was working in an explosives factory. In spite of their mutual attachment neither would leave their mother, which meant they did not marry until 1959 when Janet’s mother died.
The first part of Costessey Post Office to close was the delivery side. We three postmen were transferred to Bowthorpe which meant a cycle ride before we started sorting the morning’s mail. This happened in the early 1990s. Barney was then in his late 70s. Next the PO Counter was transferred to the shop at 10 West End, just across the road. Barney received a cut glass rose bowl from the Post Office in recognition of a quarter of a century’s dedication. It was nice enough but not much to show for a lifetime’s work. They struggled on for a few more years in the closed shop, Janet dying first, and then Barney moved into a Home in Taverham. The old post office building was sold. The bulk of their inheritance was left to the Cambridge University Veterinary Hospital at Madingley, in recognition of the great part animals had played in their lives. They were childless.