|Copyright E Brown 2011 Creative Commons|
Having enjoyed the TV dramatisation of the novels I was interested to explore the experiences of my 4x great grandmother Elizabeth Alvey who was post-mistress of the village of Burton Joyce in Nottinghamshire. Although, this is not strictly a blog post about Gedling - the focus of my one place study - Burton Joyce is the neighbouring village and the story that I have unravelled about the changing role of the 19th Century post office is as relevant to Gedling as it is to Burton Joyce. It is a story that put the large number of post-mistresses right at the heart of dramatic technological, financial and commercial change.
The early role of women in Britain's Post Office is highlighted in the earliest available Nottinghamshire trade directory - the Nottingham Directory of 1815 - which refers to a Post Office on the High-street in Nottingham that was run by a Mrs Rayner. Pigot & Co's Directory still has Mrs Rayner in place 13 years later in 1828-9. Mrs Rayner must have been a prominent figure in Nottingham at a time when women were almost completely absent from any kind of clerical work.
|Burton Joyce 1951 Copyright Archmage01 2011 Creative Commons Licence|
At this point in time there were no established post offices in the Nottinghamshire villages and the distribution of letters and parcels was largely the responsibility of various private "carrier" services. Burton Joyce is less than 6 miles north east of Nottingham but in 1832 Whites directory recorded that the village carrier service run by a John Swinscoe ran just twice a week.
By 1847 Slaters directory records some competition between carriers with "Goodwin" offering a daily service from the Lord Nelson and Martin a Saturday service from the Dove and Railway. This competition appears to have been temporary as by 1858 Wrights reports again just a twice weekly service by Goodwin departing from the Lord Nelson. But in the late 1840s and early 50s other changes had taken place to undermine the carrier service. A train station had opened at Carlton just a few miles away and by 1851 a post office of some form must have opened because in the census of that year my widowed 4 x great grandmother Elizabeth Jackson (nee Alvey) was recorded as "post mistress".
|Copyright Steenbergs 2011 Creative Commons|
Elizabeth continued in her post - that she repeatedly recorded in the census as Post Mistress - right into her 80s. In her final years she was supported by her unmarried daughter Patty, who had previously left Nottinghamshire to work as a domestic servant, and on Elizabeths's death in 1875 Patty took over the role of Post Mistress or as the 1876 Post Office Directory still insisted on calling it "Receiver". By 1876 the post was delivered twice a day from Nottingham but the villagers had to go to Carlton to get Money Orders or make use of the new Telegraph Services and Government Annuity & Insurance Schemes.
Ellen assisted Patty in the Post Office before her Aunt's death and subsequently took over as Post Mistress and continued to run the service after the birth of her two children. Just a year after Patty's death Ellen had added Parcel Post, Express Delivery and Telegraphic Money Orders to the services that she offered. (Kelly's 1904). The instant transfer of money that Ellen's Telegraphic Money Orders allowed would have been quite unimaginable to her grandmother Elizabeth who just 50 years before had to wait for the post to arrive on foot once a day from Nottingham.
The final record I have found so far of Ellen's work as a Post Mistress is a rather sad one - it being a bankruptcy order against her son Herbert in the Edinburgh Gazette in November 1929. I don't know how much longer Ellen continued to work at the Post Office after 1929 but between them Elizabeth, Patty and Ellen - a widow, a spinster and a married mother - continuously ran the Post Office in Burton Joyce for over 80 years during which communication between their little village of Burton Joyce and the rest of the world was transformed.