With the introduction of the Uniform Penny Postage in 1840 demand for postage services increased and this led to the introduction of Pillar Boxes to mainland Britain in 1853. The 1863 Kelly’s Directory describes Ullenhall’s postal provision simply as ‘Pillar Letter Box – Letters through Hockley at 9am; cleared at 5.20pm’.
In the 1861 census Mrs Rebecca Cooke was living with her husband, William Cooke, a grocer and bootmaker, and their six children. She gives her occupation as “Office keeper”, and it may be that by this date she was providing a limited post office service from their premises. The family were probably living at the house now know as ‘The Old Bakery’.
Rebecca Cooke, now a widow, is listed as a grocer and postmistress on the 1871 census, with her daughter, Jane, as her assistant. Letters arrived from Birmingham via Hockley Heath at 9am; dispatched at 5pm. However it was still a limited service and Henley-in-Arden was the nearest money order office (Kelly’s Directory 1872). Twenty year old Lucy Richmond from Perry Mill was the letter carrier. Apparently the Cookes insisted on maximum utilisation of Lucy’s time and, whilst they waited for the mail to arrive, they got her to help with weighing out sugar.
By 1891, when ‘Ullenhall Post Office’ is actually listed on the census returns for the first time, the youngest daughter, Catherine Cooke, had become the Postmistress and Grocer. From this census it does look as though the Post Office was based in what is now ‘The Old Post Office’.
William Washington Richards became the sub postmaster in 1894. His father owned a house in Henley and William helped him with the production of Lithia Water, a medicine for the treatment of kidney stones, for which he had invented a special aeration process to render it more palatable. His sister, Norah, ran the post-office in Henley and another sister, Grace, the telephone exchange.
Mr Richards was “sworn in” by magistrate Thomas Henry Goodwin Newton of Barrells, and took the Post Office over on his wedding day. At the time they moved into their new home it had already been converted from two cottages to a single dwelling.
The post office business had been confined to stamps and postal orders as the two ladies running it had been reluctant to have the ‘new-fangled telephone’ installed. William Richards expanded the business and by the beginning of the twentieth century it was a Money Order and Telegraph Office, provided Express Delivery and Parcel Post, was a Savings Bank, and Annuity and Insurance Office. He was also a grocer and many products could be purchased from his shop.
“ . . . here everything was sold, shoe laces (leather) cottons, snuff, mousetraps, thick twist, paraffin, sweets and biscuits. I remember the different coloured glossy rounded tea canisters about 2ft. high on a shelf behind the counter, I only remember Mazawatti in a green canister”. (Mary Pugh, born 1901)
“One of my favourite memories is of playing around outside the post office (safe in the streets in those days!) and being called in by Mr Richards to see if I would deliver a telegram – for the princely sum of 3d! I’d gladly agree because of the prospect of returning to the village to spend the 3d on broken biscuits perhaps or 1d on Gobstoppers or aniseed balls – or perhaps some sherbert”. (Flo Morgan, born 1910)
“This was kept by an easy-going man called Billy Richards. Here we could buy Raspberry, Pear and Acid drops, as well as Humbugs, all sold from large and often sticky bottles, and wrapped in conical paper bags. Billy would sometimes leave the shop in charge of Mrs Richards, while he ran across the road to the Village Tennis Club for a set or two. He served underhand which was unusual for a man, even in those days!” (Decima Britten nee Coldicott, 1900s)
William Washington Richards daughter, Evelyn Grace, was born in October 1895. She became Ullenhall postmistress in 1933 when he father fell ill.
As well as running the Post Office and shop she delivered daily papers which she collected from Danzey Halt. She met her husband, William Laughton Sparrow, when delivering papers to Danzey Farm where he worked. They married in 1943, but sadly she was widowed in 1946.
As in her father’s day the shop seemed to sell everything, from biscuits to tennis balls. On her retirement in December 1978, at the age of 82, Mrs Sparrow was presented with a portable television set and an inscribed certificate.
She moved across the road to Walmer Cottage and the Post Office was sold to John and Anna Best as a private house. The post box, which had been in the wall next to the door of the Post Office, was replaced with a pillar box in front of Ullenhall School. Similarly, the telephone box moved to outside the school. For a while post office services were provided by Henley post office on a Tuesday and a Thursday in the Village Hall. The post-master, Mr Soobry, would be locked in the kitchen and serve through the hatch door.
(Sources: include Ullenhall News Feb 1979; May 1981)