A Life of Letters

Brian Shorrock
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Joining the Post Office in 1964 was a physical and mental shock. The weekly wage was £11-15s. I was used to a leisurely 8:30 a.m. start and only working five days a week; this changed to getting out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to start work at 5:30 a.m. and then vigorous exercise for most of the morning until the finish at 11.30 a.m., and this on a six-day working week. However, I usually finished by 10 a.m. on Saturdays. You may think that having afternoons off was great and to a degree it was. For a short time I did some part-time electrical work. I found that to get up at 4:30 a.m. on a regular basis necessitated going to bed early, initially 10 p.m. then later at 9 p.m. Occasional late nights were okay but you felt dreadful the next morning and in any case you usually fell asleep when you finished work in the early afternoon. Before I got onto the vans my job was as follows: 5:30 a.m. start and mail arrived which you sorted into your own frame. I was on part Settle and part Giggleswick rounds and provided with a monstrosity of a two-wheeled death trap, the Post Office bike, which when propped up against the wall was guaranteed to fall to the floor immediately you left it. Then it had to be picked up, not a job for weaklings as they weighed a ton. Punctures were commonplace, which you had to mend yourself. Pedals fell off and chains also broke. The brakes were poor and practically useless in wet weather; this of course kept you not only frustrated but very fit. We were provided with so-called waterproofs. The first ones I received were coloured black, maybe a Post Office ploy to maximise casualties during the winter hours of darkness. The next ones were even more bizarre - white, ideal for dark nights but rendering you invisible in winter snow. They did improve years later with bright colours and being fairly waterproof. The earlier editions became saturated with heavy rain and you swiftly became rather damp. After sorting my round I left the office at 7 a.m., then started at the corner of the street into High Hill Grove, cycled to Whitefriars and started delivery there, proceeding down Church Street, Mains View then Scar View, Northfields, High School then up the Mains, Hart’s Head, Belle Hill, Bankwell Road, Riversdale, Church Street, Castleberg Hospital, Tems Street and then back to the office, emptied the mailbox, took out local letters, stamped them, and tied the contents of the mailbox into a hessian bag. The final collection was 9:15 a.m. I then rushed with the bag to the Town Hall where I put the mailbag on the 9.30 bus to Skipton. Then I went back to the office for a drink and a bite and spent half an hour tying labels onto bags ready for the evening dispatch. The final morning collection was done at 11:15 a.m. A second delivery then commenced departing 11:30 a.m. going round the same route as the first delivery plus some additional ones such as Giggleswick School and Gate House. Letters were fewer thankfully than the first delivery but it still took well over an hour and a half to do it. There was only one delivery on Saturday so after you put the mail on the bus you were finished for a day and a half. The low pay was offset by quite a bit of overtime, particularly at Christmas, the busiest period of the year. In the early years the Christmas mail was compressed into one week, unlike later on when it was well-spread out over nearly 3 weeks. Also, unlike the present day, two deliveries were normal, which meant for instance working from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. In the early days we had assistance at Christmas time from 15 to 17 year old girls or boys. These casuals, as they were known, had to learn the delivery around very quickly even though it would be set up by one of the postmen. One casual only lasted half a day because a trailer accidentally ran over his foot, not a very auspicious start to his career as a Christmas postman. One of my workmates was quite a character, but a hard worker, cycling to Rathmell and walking around the village and a few adjacent farms. On one occasion he was seen crouched in the middle of a busy Church Street in Settle with cars flashing by each side while he tried with his penknife to extricate a penny embedded in the tarmac. Your satchel mailbag was often checked by the postmaster to see if you had brought any mail back.

I eventually managed to get onto the vans, a slightly less strenuous job at least physically. Like the bikes, we had to repair our own punctures and if you had only one per week you were lucky. Needless to say after being repaired they often went flat again. There were no rules and regulations in those early days regarding the depth of tread on tires so no wonder punctures were frequent. The vans themselves were liable to break down or would not start because of a flat battery and had to be pushed or towed away. The first van I drove was a so-called bread van which jumped out of gear, with poor brakes and the steering was very slack. Whilst driving downhill past Croft Close Farm I braked and the wheel slid into the ditch. I travelled a few yards before I hit a hawthorn tree which tipped the van over on its side. Amazingly I had only a slight cut on my head; there were no safety belts in those days. As I had just started on the vans I thought I would be in a lot of trouble but nothing much was said.

One year the Post Office decided to inflict on us a Mini-van which proved hopeless for rough farmtracks. The sump was broken with some regularity, parts fell off and windows disappeared into the door frame. They were finally abandoned due to high cost of repairs.