From at least the time of the introduction of the ‘Penny Black’ in 1840, Great Ellingham has been served by a Post Office. This service to the community continues today with the Post Office & Stores in Long Street.
But has this building always been the village’s Post Office?
A few facts about the Post Office System
The Post Office was established by King Charles II in 1660. A postage date stamp was first used the following year.
Prior to mail coaches being introduced in 1783, letters for distribution around the country were carried on horseback.
1783 was the year in which Postmen began to wear uniforms in the streets.
Until the changes to the postal system and the revision of charges in 1840, the recipient of the letter would have to pay the postal charge, which was expensive. It is quite likely that many a recipient would have had to refuse delivery because they did not have the means to pay (or, they had means to pay, but just refused to take delivery!)
The adhesive postage stamp was invented by Sir Rowland Hill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Thomas Spring Rice, in his budget of the 5th July, 1839, put forward a resolution to reduce the postage on letters (weighing no more than half an ounce) to a uniform rate of one penny. Despite initial opposition, the resolution was carried and a Bill was subsequently passed.
On the 10th January, 1840, the penny postal system came into force with the ‘Penny Black’ being established. The changes also meant that the postage was pre-paid i.e. the recipient would no longer bear the cost as it was paid for by the sender.
The ‘Penny Black’ was replaced by the ‘Penny Red’ the following year. The change came about because the cancellation mark was difficult to see on the ‘Penny Black’.
A copy of the original envelope which contained a letter dated 18th July 1858 sent to Benjamin Barnard from John Nichols
The Post Office Pillar Box was introduced in 1852.
1845 White’s Directory states the Post Office at Great Ellingham to be at “Jas. Rose’s”. Letters arrived daily from Attleborough. The same directory lists James Rose as one of two grocers in the village. The other grocer being Richard Wilemer.
Four years earlier, the 1841 census finds 30 year old grocer and draper James Rose living in Great Ellingham with his wife Elizabeth and children Charles aged 2 and nine month old Susanna.
By the time of the next census in 1851, James Rose had moved to Attleborough.
White’s Directory of 1854, tells us that the Post Office is now at Charles Hannant’s and that letters arrive at seven o’clock in the morning and leave the village at seven in the evening.
The 1851 census captures 23 year old unmarried Stepney born Charles Hannant living in Church Street, Great Ellingham. He is described as a grocer and draper employing three assistants.
White’s Directory of 1864, again confirms that the Post Office is at Charles Hannant’s. Although the 1861 census finds Charles Hannant at the home of his parents in Stepney, his wife and children are still living in Great Ellingham – at the next property along from the Parish Church towards the Crown Inn. The Hannant family may well have been past residents of what became known as Ye Olde Thatche Shoppe. Living nearby, is the next Postmaster, Edmund Fox.
Charles Hannant is again at the home of his parents in Stepney at the time of the 1871 census. By 1881, Charles and Susan Hannant with their children are living in Market Place, Swaffham.
Great Ellingham born Edmund Fox became the next Postmaster. The 1871 census captures 64 year old tailor and postmaster Edmund Fox with his wife Sarah living in Church Street, Great Ellingham. Ten years later, the 1881 census finds the couple still living in Church Streeet with Sarah now being described as an ‘assistant in post office’ to her husband,
The First Edition of the Ordnance Survey Map (1879-1886) shows the Post Office in Great Ellingham to be next to the Crown Inn.
I believe the Post Office in Church Street was in the building to the right hand side of the Crown Inn – possibly the shop with the sign over the window furthest to the right.
Edmund Fox was postmaster in the village for over 20 years. He was succeeded by Great Ellingham butcher, William Wilkins.
The 1891 census captures postmaster and grocer, 47 year old William Wilkins with his 43 year old wife Ann Amelia and six children living in Church Street near to the Crown Inn. The former postmaster Edmund Fox and his wife are also still living in Church Street.
Given that William Wilkins was living in Church Street when Edmund Fox was postmaster (and also living in Church Street in 1881), I cannot say for sure whether or not Edmund Fox and William Wilkins actually moved home at the time the post office business transferred from Edmund Fox to William Wilkins.
However it is clear from the census returns of 1891 and 1901 that postmaster William Wilkins and his family were living in a property next to the Crown Inn during that period.
Kelly’s Directories from 1896 to 1916, list William Wilkins as the postmaster in the village of Great Ellingham. At some point prior to 1920, the Wilkins family moved to the present Post Office building.
The above postcard appears to date from around 1907. The 1911 census just gives the address for 57 year old widower William Wilkins, his 26 year old daughter Anne Maria and his grandaughter nine year old Ellen Amelia, as the ‘Post Office, Great Ellingham’.
William Wilkin’s house was said to comprise of six rooms which would not include the shop, any scullery, bathroom or closet. A conveyance deed concerning a nearby property confirms that William Wilkins was the owner of the Post Office property in 1920.
I think it likely that the Wilkins family moved to the present Post Office building between 1901 and 1911.
Anne Maria Wilkins
On the death of her father in 1922, Anne Maria Wilkins became the postmistress at Great Ellingham Post Office. Kelly’s Directory of 1925 lists Miss Annie Maria Wilkins as a grocer and postmistress in the village. Her tenure as postmistress came to an end on her death in 1953 after some thirty years.
I do not know who became postmaster (or postmistress) in succession to Annie Wilkins – something to find out! However, local residents recall that a Mrs Everett was at the Post Office in 1964. I remember Mr and Mrs Chattle at the Post Office during the 1970s.
The History Press website. https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/a-short-history-of-the-post-office/ Accessed 02.05.2020
Hodder, Edwin. 1901. The Life in a Century. George Newnes Ltd. Strand. Page numbers 412-414.
1845 White’s Directory. Viewed www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/NFK/Ellingham_Great/White1845 accessed 14.01.2019
1854 White’s Directory. Viewed apling.freeservers.com/Villages/EllinghamGreat54.htm accessed 14.01.2019
1864 White’s Directory
1878 Harrod Directory
1883 White’s Directory. Viewed www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/NFK/Ellingham_Great/White1883 accessed 14.01.2019
1896 Kelly’s Directory
1904 Kelly’s Directory
1912 Kelly’s Directory
1916 Kellys Directory
1925 Kelly’s Directory
1925 Kelly’s Directory
(Directories available at Norfolk Record Office & Norfolk Heritage Centre, Norwich. Attleborough Heritage Group, Attleborough Community & Enterprise Centre, Church Street, Attleborough NR17 2AH)
1841 census HO107/781/8
1851 census HO107/1823/70, HO107/1823/131, HO107/1823/132
1861 census RG9/298/38, RG9/1237/90, RG9/1237/90
1871 census RG10/578/104, RG10/1841/88
1881 census RG11/2008/6, RG11/1974/92, RG11/1974/96
1891 census RG12/1549/79A
1901 census RG13/1867/79
1911 census RG14/11473/114
Great Ellingham Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office.PD/609
1879-1886. First Edition of the Ordnance Survey Map. Historial Maps of Norfolk website. www.historic-maps.norfolk.gov.uk accessed 03.05.2020
1920, 25 October. Conveyance Deed. Houchen & Others to Pilgrim. Butler Family Documents.