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Bardon Mill Post Office History

The official date of the Post Office opening in Bardon Mill & Henshaw is the 13th of December 1849 and for almost a century it was housed in Bardon Mill station. This was nine years after the introduction of the national penny post and although nearly twenty years had elapsed since the Post Office first started to use the railways, in many places like Bardon Mill the mail was still being delivered by coach and horses. Before 1849, the nearest Post Office was in Haltwhistle. Even after 1849, it was neither possible to post a letter in a letter box, nor to pre-buy a stamp. This meant that all paid mail had to be taken to the office. The lack of alternative for outlying districts meant that some mail was still sent unpaid, with the recipient paying twice the price of a stamp.

PO Station
It is most likely that the first Postmaster was John Harrison who was also the Station Master or Keeper at Bardon Mill station in 1851 and was listed as Postmaster in 1854. John was still there in 1864. In 1855 the local Post Office became the responsibility of Carlisle District, changing from Gateshead, probably demonstrating the growth of the mail business nationally.

Between 1864 and 1891 there is uncertainty over the title of Postmaster. In 1881 William Dent was the Stationmaster and his son George was listed in the census as the village postman. In 1888 the office earned increasing status when it was designated a Money Order (M.O.) office. This was important as it allowed people to send cash securely in the days before electronic transfer and credit cards. By 1893 the Post Office had become a Telegraph Office (T.O.) making it even more of a centre of village life. In 1902 it was designated a Railway sub-office and finally in 1905 Bardon Mill became an official Post-Town.

James Thompson appears in the 1891 census as Postmaster. He was almost certainly the last Postmaster at the station, for he was there in 1918. We know from the records of the 1901 census that Jane Hogg age 22 was a Postgirl. At the same address Margaret Cowing 29, was also a Postgirl and William Cowing her husband, gave his position as Postman. In 1920 Luke Dodds took over as Postmaster and moved the Post Office to a new location at Oakdene which he had built as his private house on the Newcastle to Carlisle Road. Dodds was a man with a reputation for getting things done. His name was local, but he was a South African and was known as ‘the man who built Johannesburg’. His daughter Ella worked in the office and following her father's retirement, took on the role of Postmistress. She married Billy Pattinson who became the village postman. Many years later Billy died outside Oakdene, killed by a motorbike, crossing the by now very busy A69. Before that in 1937 the Carlisle postal division was split and Bardon Mill was allocated to the Hexham area.

Ella's assistant Postmistress was Doris Lowdon who took on the superior position in 1943, only to move the office in 1950 to Yielder’s shop a couple of hundred metres away, next to the village green, where it remained until its closure in January 2009.Shop & Post Office
Those who remember Doris, say that she had a fondness for animals and regularly offered food to the horse of a local carter, whenever he stopped outside the shop. One day Doris was slow in coming out to give the animal its treat, so rather than wait or suffer disappointment, the horse decided to go inside, with its cart behind and remind Doris that she had neglected her duties.

During Doris's tenure there was a postman called Jim Scott, whose reputation as a singing postman found international recognition. Jim had fought in the army, serving in India and in the trenches of the First World War, from which he suffered injuries that sent him back to Bardon Mill. During the Second World War, axis prisoners of war from neighbouring camps, such as Featherstone, were sent to the villages to work on farms or to do good works. One of these parties found itself landscaping the gardens behind the Fox and Hounds pub (now part of the gardens of Tavern House, South View and Hawthorn Cottage). Some years later, one of the German P.O.W.s wrote of his experiences here, including an account of an old gentleman who used to lean over the wall, to watch them work and who serenaded them with songs from the trenches of 1914-18. That man was our postman Jim Scott.

Doris Lowdon had an assistant Antoinette Wilson, known as Netta, who later made many contributions to the life of Bardon Mill residents and provided a lot of material for the written history of the village with her accounts of life here. In the 1950s there were four postmen delivering in the locality. They made two; some say three, deliveries a day locally and the mail was sorted here when it came off the train, starting with the first at 7.30 am. The Telegraph Office closed at 7.00 pm. By then Post Office work also included the sales of items like National Insurance stamps to local workers, passports, television, radio and dog licences. Doris retired in 1959 and at a presentation ceremony she was praised by everyone. "Mrs. Smith paid tribute to Miss Lowdon’s work for the community, her quiet efficiency in the post office and her willingness to help in so many areas of public service". Hexham Courant May 15th 1959.

The next Postmaster and almost the last male Postmaster, was Colin Reed. Colin became Postmaster around 1959 and died over the shop. He was succeeded by his wife Elsie, who carried on until around 1992. Elsie Reed’s daughter Dorothy (later Stokoe) worked not only for her, but for the next incumbents Eve and Paul Makarski. The Makarskis too were replaced by Lynne and Paul McSweeney. Lynne was Postmistress until she left the area in 2000. Her husband Paul tried to run the office, but was not allowed to do so, for he had not been trained in what was now a very demanding position, that made use of computers and required security clearance.

In 2001 the shop closed temporarily and the Post Office was only kept going by the irregular use of outside relief staff. Later that year Irenée Cowans and her husband John took over the running of the shop and Post Office, for which Irenée took on the role of Postmistress. She was not to know that she would be the last holder of this important and responsible position.
Post Office 2009
In the meantime, the status of the sub Post-Office was diminished by the erosion of services, meaning that it could not compete with online suppliers and supermarkets selling stamps, whilst local and central government reduced the amount of business that used the counter service. Despite the advent of banking and insurance services, customers had many other ways of paying bills, sending mail and collecting pensions and were discouraged from using the Post Office for these.

The 9th of January 2009 was the last working day in a one hundred and sixty year history of the Post Office in Bardon Mill. From then on the villages around Bardon Mill, including many far flung communities around Hadrian's Wall would have to rely on a mobile service from Stocksfield and the alternatives of Haltwhistle and Haydon Bridge, an almost mirror image of life before 1849.

Thanks in compiling this history should go to Maureen Brook, Cath Homer, David Reay, Antoinette Wailes-Wilson and Postal Heritage. All mistakes are mine. Paul Mingard.