Post Office & Telephone

MULBARTON POST OFFICE IN THE EARLY DAYS

In White's 1845 Norfolk, John Todd is listed as at the 'Post Office'. This, of course, is only 5 years after the introduction of the Penny Post and stamps for mail. An earlier Directory (1839) lists him as 'shopkeeper'.

Mary Todd is listed as Postmistress in 1854 (his widow or daughter?)

The 1869 Post Office Directory states that 'Letters arrive from Norwich at 9 am, and outgoing mail is taken at 4.30 pm 'by foot post'.' The postmistress is another member of the Todd family, Mrs. Harriett Todd, who is also listed as a shopkeeper.

White's Directory, 1883 lists Samuel Gowing as shoemaker, parish clerk and sub-postmaster. He signed Mr. Turner's carriage licence receipt in 1885 above). In the 1891 census and the 1896 edition of the Kelly's Directory, he is listed as shoemaker and postmaster. His successor must have been Mr. Middleton....

Ordnance Survey Maps of the 1880s & '90s mark the Post Office as opposite the World's End, north of what is now 'Butler House'. Local people recall a shoemaker's being there between the Wars, although subsequently the shoemaker moved to premises next-door to the Tradesman's Arms.

POST & TELEPHONE from the Parish Council Minutes

1910, April 15th Parish Council asked for a Post Box at the lower end of the Common.
(One was put in the wall of the Malthouse, next-door to the Tradesman's Arms, until the 1970s, when it was transferred to Long Lane.)

1916 Sept. Council supported a protest at stoppage of mailcart for the Village so that letters arrived very late. The following January a formal resolution was sent to the Postmaster General about alteration of postal services.

1920 April 20th Annual Parish Meeting at the School, chaired by Mr. Chas Frost:
'The Chairman proposed and the Vice Chairman seconded, that as several people have expressed a desire to use the telephone. The Clerk be instructed hereby to apply to the Postmaster at Norwich for a Public Telephone at the Post Office or some other suitable place. Carried nem con.'

1924 Oct. 20th [Letter read] 'With reference to the PC application for a Sunday collection of mails, notice was received from the Postmaster of Norwich saying that authority had now been given for the facility asked for. First collection to be at 6.40 pm Sunday August 24th 1924.'

1934, March: 'That as a matter of convenience the Postmaster of Norwich be asked to have a telephone Kiosk erected in the Post Office yard, in place of the box now inside the Post Office.'

1935 Aug. 27th [A letter] 'From the Post Office, Norwich, stating that the conditions do not warrant the provision of a post box at the Rosary corner.'

1950 Feb: Mulbarton sub-Post Office to close on Sundays. Phone box requested for Cuckoofield Lane, near the growing number of Council houses.

(Requested again Nov. 1952; no date for installation, but at the Annual Meeting in 1967, people 'asked that asphalt should be placed around the telephone box at the junction of Cuckoofield and Birchfield Lanes as this area was very muddy.')

MEMORIES OF THE 'OLD' POST OFFICE:

The Post Office by the pond - probably c.1907 and some of the children may be from the Postmaster's family.
The Post Office by the pond - probably c.1907 and some of the children may be from the Postmaster's family.

The Post Office was on the Norwich Road [opposite the pond], the Postmaster being Mr.Middleton. On his death [in 1949], Mrs. Middleton took over, assisted by her daughter, 'Babs', and daughter-in-law Audrey. The telephone exchange was in the back room and all calls to and from the village were handled there. For a short time a small tearoom existed there, mostly used by residents of the Norwich City Council's Old People's Home established in Mulbarton Hall.                                                                                          (Miss O. Burrell)

P.O. at Mulbarton loses the Middletons (excerpts from Eastern Daily Press, June 1969)

....It was in 1899 that the family started its long connection with the post office at Mulbarton - when Frederick William and Rose Ellen Middleton moved from Brooke and took over the sub-post office, then in Norwich Road. Two years later the post office moved into a new building, now called Brooke Villa. There Mr. Middleton completed 50 years' service and was awarded the B.E.M. for his work. When he died in 1949, his daughter, Miss Vera Middleton, took over the reins and continued with the work, helped by her sister-in-law, Mrs. Audrey Middleton.

.... Brook Villa has been converted back to a private house [but] Babs and Audrey Middleton (or 'the Girls') still have reminders of their long association with the post office. A telephone box stands outside their front garden and they still have the desk used by Mr. Middleton when he first took over. "There was some money passed over that desk," they said. "We should not be sitting here now if we had it all."

....Miss Middleton recalls two particular events which still amuse her when she thinks back to them. "We used to stock stationery goods and one old lady bought some sealing wax and without doing anything to it tried to rub it on a parcel. One of the postmen told her 'It would be a good idea to put a match to it'". And she remembers the fresh salmon from Scotland which had evidently been held up in the post for some time: "The roof nearly raised."

When Mr. F. W. Middleton died in 1949, a funeral report and obituary stated:

"A bell-ringer since he was 14, Mr. Frederick W. Middleton of Mulbarton died on Saturday in Wroxham Church where he had been ringing with others on the church bells. He was 78.... He was by trade a shoeing smith and received the certificate of the Worshipful Company of Farriers in 1897. His long service as sub-postmaster was recognised by the award of the British Empire Medal. He had previously received the Imperial Service Medal in 1930..... a member of the Church choir for 50 years... joined the Norwich Association of Ringers in 1905...." He was also a PCC member and the local correspondent for the "Eastern Daily Press" for over 50 years.

Frederick William Middleton, BEM, 1861-1949; Sub-Postmaster 1899-1949
Frederick William Middleton, BEM, 1861-1949; Sub-Postmaster 1899-1949

End of an Era at Mulbarton Post Office
(from Eastern Evening News, Saturday May 31st, 1969)

At Mulbarton the Middleton family has become something of an institution. For 70 years they have been responsible for running the village post office. But the era ended today with the retirement of the present postmistress, Miss Vera Middleton.

She has held the job, combined with the tiny village store, for the past 20 years, taking over after her father died in 1949. "He was the postmaster for 50 years before that" recalled Miss Middleton.

She first helped her father in the post office when she was just 12years old. "Because I was so young I needed special permission from the Post Office," she said. She remembers the mail being delivered to the post office by horse and cart from Norwich and later by bicycle.

A 13-mile walk in the snow to deliver mail at Mulbarton and neighbouring villages remains fresh in her memories....

The new sub-postmaster is to be Mr. A. R. Harrod who runs a store in Birchfield Lane, Mulbarton. (See General Store and Chemist Shop for photos of the new PO)

THE VILLAGE POSTMAN

'In the days when postmen done a delivery on Christmas Day, one postman stands out: Bill Haverson DCM, ex-Sergeant-Major, Royal Norfolk. Bill liked a chat and he liked a drink, and he had every right to. Christmas mornings he was ambushed all round the village - a tot here, a tot there. Normally the corner at the Tradesman's Arms was his downfall. Bill would fail to make it and he would be left sitting in the road with his bicycle round his neck.'

At Christmas the Wingfield Hall was hired for sorting the Christmas mail.

Postmen had to have their wits about them - this envelope found its way to Frank Carver at Christmas 1958: no doubt Mulbarton Post Office had some chuckles at the description on the envelope!

The Telephone comes to Mulbarton

The Post Office served as the telephone exchange. When one walked in, the switchboard was beyond the counter and was a fascinating thing - all those little flaps that jumped when a number was called and plugs that were stuck into the holes under the flaps. In those days there were no dialling codes, one lifted the receiver, waited for the operator to speak, then asked for the village and number. Several people had single-figure numbers as phones were only for business or posh people.                                            (Tony Kent)

MULBARTON'S TELEPHONE EXCHANGE (Contributed by John Cranston, Norwich, who is researching Norfolk Telephone Exchanges and their history.

Mulbarton's first telephone subscribers were served by a line from the Eaton exchange, a manual switchboard in south-west Norwich which was opened in 1905. (It moved into new premises at 401 Unthank Road in 1929, and has remained there ever since). It would have been expensive for the people of Mulbarton to pay for the installation of, and quarterly rental on, individual lines all the way from Eaton, as each line was a pair of copper wires carried overhead on telegraph poles. Therefore many subscribed to what the GPO called a rural party line, a system by which normally up to 12 subscribers shared one line or pair of wires, which zig-zagged across the countryside connecting up all the properties. The Mulbarton line is unusual in having had 14 that I know of. The idea had come from America They were also known as farmers' lines as the system was introduced to provide an affordable telephone service to farmers and other businesses in outlying areas.The advantages were a low rental, and free local calls. The disadvantages were the possibility of other subscribers listening in, and the fact that when a call was put through, half the telephone bells on the line rang at once. Eaton was a "magneto" exchange at that date. All the subscribers would have had magnetos - small generators with handles which the subscriber had to turn in order to call the operator.

A subscriber had to count the number of times the bell rang in order to work out if the call was for them. Each bell was connected to either one wire or the other, and to earth. When the operator put through a call, she connected a current to only one of the wires, and rang it the requisite number of times, according to who the call was for. So, for subscriber "y3", she would connect to the b-wire of the rural party line, and ring three times. For subscriber "x2", she would connect the ringer to the a-wire and ring twice. Get it?The GPO would only open a new exchange for an area if there was a minimum of eight guaranteed subscribers. Once open, lines to this exchange became cheaper to rent for most people, because they were shorter. Normally, a standard rental was paid by everyone within two miles (later three) of the exchange. Over that sum, there was supplement for every additional furlong. But even after a new exchange was opened, it seems from my researches that many people preferred to stick to the old party line system, either because the rental was lower or because of those free local calls. There is no record of any phone service in Mulbarton in the 1912 directory, but by 1920, the rural party line had been set up. The number was Eaton 201 (Eaton 202 mainly served the Hethersett area.)

 Mulbarton's own exchange was open by November 19, 1924, but may have started about two years before then. It had a Central Battery Signalling switchboard - this means the subscribers would not have needed a magneto. They simply lifted the phone and the operator was alerted at the switchboard by an electromagnetic indicator. But the subscribers would each have needed a battery at their own premises to power the transmitter and provide a "speaking current".

In the September 1924 book there were a lot of subscribers listed, so I'm inclined to put the opening at around 1922. This is because I believe the original subscribers would have been allocated numbers in alphabetical order (see below). This nearly works (excluding the Post Office which is almost always no. 1) up to Mulbarton 7. And anyone who joined up after opening would have been allotted the next available number, regardless of their name. By 1924 the number structure just LOOKS like an exchange that's been around for a few years.One other interesting thing: from being a village served by a rural party line, by 1924 the Mulbarton exchange had two rural party lines of its own connected to it: line 26 serving Braconash and Hethel, and line 27 which stretched as far as Stoke Holy Cross (well Stoke Mill, anyway). In addition, there were two conventional party lines (with just two subscribers each) in Swardeston - numbers 24 and 25. The old Eaton 201 rural party line was no more.

By 1928, the numbers were up to the 40s. By then the Bracon Ash rural party line was extended (or had a branch put off it) to Flordon and Wreningham. 

Gradually, the rural party line service was wound down through the late 1930s as subscribers changed or opted for their own lines. As far as I can see, only the Hethel party line was still in existence by 1939, with Messrs Myhill and Rackham still having their original and slightly idiosyncratic phone numbers. Swainsthorpe was served by Mulbarton exchange (and its automatic successor) until 1969, when that village was moved onto the new automatic Swainsthorpe exchange (which isn't in Swainsthorpe at all; it's in Newton Flotman; but that's one letter longer, so naming it Swainsthorpe saved a few pennies on ink in the directories, I suppose)

Manual telephone exchange in (old) Post Office.    L>R Mrs R E Middleton; Audrey Middleton at the switchboard; Elaine (Babs) Middleton
Manual telephone exchange in (old) Post Office. L>R Mrs R E Middleton; Audrey Middleton at the switchboard; Elaine (Babs) Middleton

Middleton Tone to Dialling Tone: Automatic Exchange for Mulbarton
(Eastern Daily Press, 6th February 1951)

A strange impersonal buzzing will greet telephone subscribers on the Mulbarton exchange today instead of the cheery tones of members of the Middleton family who have between them operated the switchboard since its installation 26 years ago. At 1pm the Post Office telephone department are switching over from manual to automatic working.

Completing the last 24 hours of their day and night service which has gone on for over a quarter of a century, the members of the Mulbarton Post Office all-women family "team" were yesterday receiving farewells from many of their 150 "friends" on the other end of the lines. Among them Mrs. R. E. Middleton*, aged 78, still takes her turn at the board. For 51 years her husband was sub-postmaster at Mulbarton until his death in 1949 and he was awarded the B.E.M. for his work. Her daughter, Miss Elaine Middleton, known to all her subscribers as "Babs", is now sub-postmistress and has also worked on the exchange for the past 26 years. Completing the trio of "Mulbarton's most familiar voices" is Mrs. Middleton's daughter-in-law, Mrs Audrey Middleton, a comparative newcomer who started after the war.

The new automatic exchange is part of [....a programme to replace] manual exchanges [which] will reduce the time taken to get calls through. Miss Middleton is sure, however, that "her" subscribers will "miss the personal touch". They are so used to lifting the telephone and asking for names of persons or businesses that it will be strange for them to have to look up the number. She has to admit that pressure of work has increased from the time when there were only 27 lines. Now the exchange deals with as many as 300 calls a day.

The changes have not only affected the Middleton family. Subscribers have had their telephones changed for ones with dials. So strong was habit that one of them at first refused to make the change, preferring the Middletons' "personal touch".

[*Mrs. R. E. Middleton was the Founder President of Mulbarton & District W.I. She died in November 1962, aged 90]

Improvements continue...

In January 1994, Mulbarton got a new improved computerised telephone exchange. But it meant all-change for phone users: Mulbarton's 5-figure numbers were prefixed with the figure 5. It gave customers in the (then) 0508 area access to various new services. Almost exactly 21 years later, in December 2004, Mulbarton had access to broadband.

Early Telephone Directories

Sept. 1920 Directory

Betts, Thomas W, Farmer, Mulbarton - Eaton 201y4
Blake S, Butcher, Mulbarton - Eaton 201y5
Campbell Mrs C, Mulbarton Lodge - Eaton 201y6
Church Bros., Chrysanth Nurseries, Swardeston - Eaton 201x3
Davy Bros., Builders, Wheelwrights &c, Swardeston - Eaton 201y3
Deacon G E, Surgeon, Mulbarton Eaton - 201x4
(His Hethersett number, incidentally, was Eaton 1)
Fairman A W Butcher, Farmer, Mulbarton - Eaton 201x5
Hill J W, Lodge Farm, Mulbarton - Eaton 201x6
King T Alfred, Butcher, Swardeston Common - Eaton 201y1
Morter A C, Fruit Grower, Swardeston - Eaton 201y2
Ringer A B, Farmer, Swardeston - Eaton 201y7
Sargeaunt Antony, Mulbarton Hall - Eaton 201x7
Steward Mrs, Gowthorpe Manor, Swardeston - Eaton 201x1
Warren M C, Bescot, Swardeston - Eaton 201x2

[The fact that the lower numbers are all in Swardeston suggests that the line may have been opened initially to Swardeston and then extended.] 

NUMBERS FROM EATON:

201x1 Steward Mrs, Gowthorpe Manor, Swardeston
201y1 King T Alfred, Butcher, Swardeston Common

201x2 Warren M C, Bescot, Swardeston
201y2 Morter A C, Fruit Grower, Swardeston

201x3 Church Bros., Chrysanth Nurseries, Swardeston
201y3 Davy Bros., Builders, Wheelwrights &c, Swardeston

201x4 Deacon G E, Surgeon, Mulbarton
201y4 Betts, Thomas W, Farmer, Mulbarton

201x5 Fairman A W, Butcher & Farmer, Mulbarton
201y5 Blake S, Butcher, Mulbarton

201x6 Hill J W, Lodge Farm, Mulbarton
201y6 Campbell Mrs C, Mulbarton Lodge

201x7 Sargeaunt Antony, Mulbarton Hall
201y7 Ringer A B, Farmer, Swardeston  

Sept. 1924 Directory

Agnew, Mrs Frank, Mulbarton Lodge - 14
Algar, W J, Violet Bank, Swainsthorpe - 2
Allen, A J and C, Rose and Fruit Growers, The Rosary - 13
Berney, Miss D L, Bracon Hall, Braconash - 18
Best, Major T G, East Carleton Manor - 9
Betts, T, Farmer, Mangreen - 27y4
Betts, Thomas W, Manor Cottage - 17
Blake, S, Butcher - 4
Church, Albert J, Florist, Tomato Grower, Roadside Nurseries - 11
Cooke, Frederick W, Swardeston - 20
Cross, R E, Farmer, Old Hall - 23
Davy, H A Blacksmith and Farmer, Swardeston - 25y
Denny, W, Motor Hire, Catering, "World's End" - 5
Dupuis, H F, Mergate Hall - 22
Fairman, A W, Butcher, Farmer - 8
Frost, Charles Jas, Cycle, Motor Agent, Garage - 6
Guardians of the Poor, Henstead Union House, Swainsthorpe - 27x1
Hammond, H, Engineer, Braconash - 26y1
Hill, Mary C - 27y1
Huson, Archer, The Rookery, Swainsthorpe - 27x3
King, Alfred P, Family Butcher, Swardeston - 24x
Landsdell, S F, Swainsthorpe - 27x2
Levine, Mrs E, Manor Farm House, East Carleton - 21
Lloyd, Walter, The Lodge, East Carleton - 10
McDowell Bros, Swainsthorpe - 27y3
Middleton, F W, Cycle Agent, Sub-Postmaster - 1
Morter, A C, Fruit Grower, Swardeston - 24y
Mulbarton Call Office - 1
Mutimer, G H, Farmer, The Hall, Swainsthorpe - 27y2
Mutimer, H R, Corn Merchant, The Mill, Stoke - 27x5
Mutimer, H W, The Limes, Swainsthorpe - 27x4
Myhill, F W, Merchant and Farmer, Red House, Hethel - 26x1
Norwich Co-operative Society, Common Farm, Swardeston - 25x
Rackham, G M, Hill House, Hethel - 26y2
Ramsay, Revd C B P, East Carleton Rectory - 7
Stanton, W C, Hethel Hall, - 26x2
Steward, Mrs, Gowthorpe Manor, Swardeston - 16
Tuddenham, R W, Farmer, Kenningham Hall - 27y5
Warren, M C, Bescot, Swardeston - 3
Watling, A H, Grocer, Draper, Baker, PO Stores, Braconash - 26y3
Westgate, A C, Farmer, Braconash - 15