Freda tells about her life growing up in Freethorpe post office, a family history, and taking over the running of the post office in 1977, returning to the house that she was born in.
I was born in 1945, right at the end of the war, in the house that we are sitting in now, the post office.
I went to Freethorpe Primary and passed the 11 plus and went to Yarmouth High School. I don’t know whether children these days would actually do what we did. I started away from home at about ten to eight in the morning, cycled to Reedham, caught the ten past eight train to Yarmouth, which got in about 15 or 20 minutes later. I walked from Yarmouth Vauxhall across the Haven Bridge to the bus stop and then took the bus to Lynn Grove, Gorleston. We never got to school before 9 o’clock so we always missed assembly. In the evening there was a ten past four train. If we felt energetic we had to run the length of Lynn Grove, catch the bus, run from the Gorleston side of the Haven Bridge through to Vauxhall station, but I didn’t always feel that energetic. I think the attraction of going into Yarmouth to get some chips or something like that was greater.
Then we caught the five past five train and I didn’t get home until about quarter to six, so it was a long day. My brother went to school in Norwich so that wasn’t as bad, not so much travelling.
I remember, it must have been either my first or second year at school and it snowed and snowed very hard and there was no closing of schools in those days. I can remember we were in the steam train which had a sort of snow plough on the front of it and we were half way across the marshes and we’d obviously ploughed into a snow drift and shuddered and stopped, started again. Anyway we got to Reedham station and I think what had happened was that the parents of the children had got together and some of the farm workers from Sutton’s Farm, and they were waiting at the station for us. They had come across the fields with lanterns and everything and took us home because the roads had just filled up with snow. I’m not sure if we were at school the next morning, probably not.
After school I did a secretarial course at the further education college at Gorleston. I did a pre student nursing course at Attleborough Wayland Hospital then went to the Norfolk and Norwich. I did do a year but it really wasn’t for me, but something I regret to a certain extent.
I think the thing that happened was that I was 17 years old and I had four gentlemen who died and I was there on my own at the time and it just upset me. Nowadays I suppose one would have counselling. I went on to become a medical secretary for a doctor in Yarmouth.
From there I got married and lived at Blofield for ten years, had children and then moved here in ‘77.
Freethorpe Post Office
I think the thing was, I’d always loved this house, absolutely loved it and I could always see the potential of what we could do with it. Dad was very very ill at the time and Mum wanted a smaller house so they gave us first option, we had two small children and felt we needed to move so my parents said, ‘Well look we’ll give you the first option when we sell the house’. This included the post office, which if it hadn’t been my parents it would have gone somewhere else. It wasn’t cut and dried by any means, I had to go for interviews and training, but then I had my mother behind me. So I just had somebody come in and stand at my shoulder telling me what to do.
I didn’t really need that of course, I looked at it like this basically, I had a full time job, I didn’t have to worry about the children being ill or school holidays or anything like that, it was a godsend at the time, it really was.
History of Freethorpe Post Office
I think that my great grandfather Charles Brock, was the first postmaster in Freethorpe, I do wonder if there was somebody lurking in the background that may have been the very first. But I do have a photo of him standing outside the post office on the corner of Old Chapel Road with one of his sons and his daughter. Now, we’ve tried to date the photo and I do know that it’s pre-1918 because his son died on Armistice Day. The girl in the photograph is my great aunt who then took it over from her father.
The post office was an important focal point of the village at that time. My great grandfather was a tailor by trade and the one storey building beside the house and shop was apparently where he had a long table to cut the cloth and he used to sit on the table cross legged and make the suits. So he was both postmaster and tailor.
Looking back to my childhood I guess that he must have delivered the mail as well, because in the photograph he has a mail bag over one shoulder.
It was the first telegraph office in this area I think, so he would receive telegrams and go out and deliver them, as did my father when I was young.
I’m not absolutely sure when my great aunt took over because I don’t know when my great grandfather died. But I do know that she gave it up in 1942 and that’s when my mother took over.
My mother was born in 1912 and the thing I love about my mother’s memories is the fact that her first memory was her father picking her up on evening, taking her outside and she saw a Zeppelin flying over, going on its first bombing raid to Norwich. And I thought, you know for her to sit and to write that she’d actually remembered it, isn’t that something.
Quite unusually for a village girl she got an apprenticeship at Bonds, which is now John Lewis, as a milliner and she absolutely loved it. She lodged with her aunt and probably came home at weekends, but I don’t know.
Everybody caught the train to Yarmouth or Norwich, so she did that. Then in 1942 my father was in the RAF and they were thinking about war work and she took the post office over as war work. I don’t know if it is still the case but certainly in those days as postmaster you provided the premises so she brought it down to this house.
It wasn’t easy moving the post office from Chapel Road to here in the middle of the war. They had to bring everything to do with the post office and the shop. As this house is L-shaped and the L-shape goes to the road it made sense to have the shop close to the road. It was originally a wheelwright’s but my grandfather on my mother’s side was a builder so he was able to kit the whole place out, make it more habitable. I think that he probably had to beg and borrow building material as you know in the middle of the war there wasn’t very much.
I’m not entirely sure of the daily routine, I do know that they would have dealt with ration cards.
Actually, it’s reminded me, the mail came I think from Acle, which was a larger post office and it arrived here at 6 o’clock in the morning and Mother always had somebody helping her – a mail man or woman – more likely a mail woman being the war time. She’d be here by half past six and they’d start sorting the mail. The mail came again in the middle of the afternoon and I think once a day on Saturday.
They delivered the mail by bike, twice a day. In those days Halvergate, Reedham and Cantley had a post office, as did most villages, so they serviced Freethorpe and Wickhampton.
As it was war time there were more telegrams being sent. The phone would ring – I’ve still got the Bakelite telephone somewhere – but yes the phone would ring, I can remember as a child picking it up and a voice on the end would say, ‘Telegram for you’ and you’d get a notepad and write out the address and the telegram and then Mother would take it. She had the most beautiful writing actually and so she’d write it out and there was always a stamp on the corner to make sure that it was official and then it used to go in these little buff envelopes. When I was a child, if it was say four or five houses along the road I’d go and deliver it. Anywhere further away you might get on your bike and deliver it and I can remember actually being paid as well, but I am not sure how much, probably about tuppence something like that.
Dad was demobilised in September 46, and of course by then mother was well established and it was difficult; I think that Dad worked at Cantley factory for a while. We had a smallholding then with pigs, chickens and a few cattle and so really with Mum having a permanent job, and Dad, well he never did not work you know, he always found something and then he took on delivering mail at times. He always took the telegrams. In fact something that sprung to mind from seeing the exhibition that you did at Reedham the other day, I can remember him cycling out to the houses on the marshes and taking me, strapping a cushion on the crossbar, it was quite an adventure.
Coming up to Christmas time was quite fun as a child. Representatives from various warehouses would have visited the shop during September and Mother would have chosen what she wanted from a catalogue. There were always lots of toys and then we would get these huge boxes delivered and opening it was like Christmas for the whole of December. I can always remember helping Mum and Dad emptying the boxes, pricing up the toys and everything.
I sold toys when I was there too but then you’d go to the warehouses and pick the toys off the shelves. I could then store things in what is my utility room.
There was no telephone box in the village when I was a child, not probably until the mid 50s because the telephone box was actually in the post office, in the corner. So if someone wanted to phone someone, an emergency or whatever they would knock on the door and they were allowed in.
I took over in 1977 and for the first three or four years I had to go and empty the telephone boxes. Then British Telecom had a drive whereby they wanted everybody to have a telephone in their homes. You could have them installed for a very small amount in those days, so most people thought, ‘Right we’re going to have a telephone’ and I think that was the demise of telephone boxes.
Taking over the post office in 1977
When I took over in ‘77 things were changing, modernising in small ways. The delivering of the mail had changed somewhat, we were still obviously dealing with outgoing mail but incoming mail, that was taken away. There were two letterboxes in Freethorpe and one in Wickhampton and these were emptied by the postman from Acle. I wouldn’t have anything to do with that.
I was also running the shop which entailed selling everything but groceries and newspapers. Cards were an absolutely fantastic seller, I dabbled in wool and at one point I sold a lot of wool, it was very popular; these trends come and go don’t they? I sold sweets, chocolates, and baby clothes which I absolutely loved. People could get their groceries from a shop two doors down; there was one on the common as well, we had a pub then too but we don’t have one now.
We probably had more people come in than Mum did, because Halvergate post office closed. Reedham has never closed but as Reedham is at the dead end they don’t get the passing trade. By the time I finished in ‘97 it was quite a thriving post office but then the Post Office was beginning to think that they didn’t want to have to deal with small post offices in the countryside and given the opportunity they closed them down.
Telegrams became less relevant and then money changing became a thing, you could get your euros or whatever at the post office. We also dealt with insurance and then the Lottery, that was a big thing.
We did the commemorative stamps, and one of the first I can remember was of Churchill. Now, he died in 1965 so that must have been when I saw it, when Mother still had the post office. I also witnessed things like passports, that sort of thing too.
Everything is computerised now but we had this huge book that you had to fill in. It started off that you had to do it on a Friday evening and then they changed it to a Wednesday. You had a balance sheet which had to be balanced. It was very difficult at times when you were dealing with a lot of money and as it wasn’t computerised there were a lot of little square pension slips. Well, you can imagine counting these and invariably there were probably no more than two three of the same amount, so you could easily be ten or twenty pounds out. Roger, my husband, would come home from work, look over my shoulder and say, ‘Right, okay, we’ll have our dinner, get the kids to bed and have a look and we’ll check through’. I had done a basic auditing course but I was learning on the job. I actually finished when they were just bringing the Horizon system in, and I was so glad that I wasn’t involved with that, I really was.
You would have a standard amount of money coming in on a Tuesday morning, and you did a requisition for postage stamps every week. I was still doing postal order money, stamps, and child allowance, with the allowance book, savings, pensions, anything that you would go to a main post office for these days.
We were burgled twice when I was at home, before I got married. Mum and Dad had a very large Alsatian. There was a small window on the side here and somebody thought that they were going to get through, the clasp of course was on the bottom of the window. This chap must have been half way through when he was confronted by this very large (and I mean very large) Alsatian and he left half of his jumper on the window catch.
It was funny because when we moved here in ‘77 we had the house virtually gutted and we lived in a caravan with the children at the top of the garden. The post office itself was wide open then, we couldn’t secure it, so for six, eight months it was wide open and then a couple of weeks after we’d taken up residence in the house someone burgled us. They didn’t get away with anything but you know all that time they could have walked in and out without us knowing.
It started off that there was literally a grille in front screwed onto the counter, which wouldn’t have stopped anything at all because you could get over the top and round the sides. I think that they realised that once we’d been burgled they had to do something about it especially as they heard about post offices being robbed in daylight and that there was a danger to life. We had bullet proof partitions, alarms and such like put in, and we had a new safe, which was alarmed put in too. The safe that Mum had was probably about 100 years old, but we’ve still got it today.
We had some absolute characters; there are characters everywhere you go but we had some lovely, lovely people. I remember one, though, in particular, the roadman who looked after the roads, we didn’t get potholes in those days!
It was when we moved here in ’77 and our daughter was about three or four, anyway she wanted to go to grandma’s and grandma by then had moved into her cottage 100 yards up the road. I suddenly realised that she’d disappeared and so frantic I ran out onto the road and there she was wandering down The Green with this old gentleman who had her by the hand. He’d seen her and she’d obviously missed grandma’s and walked on and there he was, and even as an elderly man he was tall, a good six feet and there he was with this little blonde girl walking beside him. There were some really, really nice characters in the village.
There was a local policeman but he was based in Halvergate. We didn’t have problems with flooding. We had two roadmen, one who I have just mentioned, who lived in the village; one lived on The Green one on The Common and you would see them working together if there was a ditch blocked or whatever. We often say that if we still had them here we wouldn’t have these floods, we wouldn’t have potholes or anything because they were always cleaning up, it was very efficient.
Retirement and Riding for the Disabled
I retired, gave it up in 1997. The post office then went two doors along, to Richard Church, he took over in ‘97 and then I have a feeling that his daughter Joanna took it over in about 2014 and had it for about three years. Then it closed and another girl in the village decided that she might be able to make a go of it, and she tried so, so hard but because Joanna had closed the post office they wouldn’t let her open it again.
Retirement has been really good. My husband Roger retired in 2002 and we have travelled a lot. I have always been interested in horses and there was a lady in the village who was associated with Riding for the Disabled (RDA) and she asked me one day if I would like to come and help, and I told her that I would love to. It was really, really satisfying, it was a lovely thing to be associated with. I started off just helping and then ended up as the chief instructor of the Broadland group. I had a whale of a time, lovely, lovely people. People tend to think of RDA as being for children but we actually dealt with adults which was very satisfying, very rewarding, and I did that for 10 years until our grandson was born in 2008.
Our son and his wife have been living in Portugal since 2005 and our daughter, husband and two children are now living back in Norfolk having met in Cardiff. Of course Norfolk has this big draw hasn’t it.
Freda Pipes (b. 1962) talking to WISEArchive at Freethorpe on 21st November 2022.
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