LAST week the News reported that Charmouth Post Office was to close after more than 220 years, making it one of the country’s oldest, so we’re taking a look back at the history of the service in the village.

Charmouth Post Office has had five locations within its 224 years in the village, with the original site now Charmouth Stores (Nisa). It was here in 1806 that Joseph Bradbeer opened one of the first post offices in the country. The Post Office may well have begun even earlier as he was also the tenant of The Mail Coach Inn on the opposite side of the Street which was described as a Post House for the Royal Mail coaches that went between London and Exeter.

Holden’s directory for Charmouth - which contains information on residents and professions - in the year 1810 describes him as the owner of the post office and landlord of the Inn.

The business succeeded and the following year he gave up the lease on the Inn and extended the shop into tea and provisions.

He left the post office to his wife Lydia when he died in 1821, who later married William Dodson Watts, a local teacher. The marriage was a disaster and William went off with her money and left her having to sell the business.

It was bought by village carpenter, John Carter in 1840 and remained in his family until 1864, when a devastating fire swept through it and its neighbouring properties. It was partly rebuilt by Giles Pryer, a builder who owned the adjoining house.

The business never fully recovered, and the son sold it to James Hawkins, the following year. He was only there briefly before selling the post office in 1871 to George Mortimer, who was to make a great success of it extending the shop into drapery as well as groceries. He bought the freehold of the shop and also the other grocers at the top of The Street where Portland House is today. He was to be there for the next 20 years, before moving to London and was then bought by Edward Vince, who continued expanding the range of goods and also ran a separate shop where Melville House is now.

In 1896 after 90 years in the same premises, the post office was taken over by William Holly and moved further up The Street to Wistaria House, where it was to be run by the father and son, William jnr. for the next 40 years.

When the father died in 1931, the son opened part of it as a stationary shop. There was an annex built which was let to a branch of the Wilts and Dorset Bank, which later was taken over by Lloyds Bank.

William Holly junior retired from the post office and its next move was to the top of The Street to Melville House in 1939 where it was run by Ellis and Nora Long. Mr Long was the post master and his wife also worked in the post office and shop. Their daughter, Elise Miles, remembers that her father did not have a car then but had a bicycle with a huge basket on the front. They took delivery orders over the phone, even for a packet of sugar, and ran several deliveries a day.

Postmen filled the post office every morning as the building included a sorting office down the side of the shop where all the local mail was sorted by hand. Inside the shop the post office was at the end and a grill in the front. Parcels were wrapped in brown paper and string with long pencil seals which melted at the end and sealed the string knots to prevent people tampering with them.

Long lines of people came into the post office for their pensions. They also took telegrams, with Nora ringing them through on the big black phone, telegrams were not welcome as quite often it was bad news in this era.

Most of the villagers came into the shop daily as everything they needed was there.

The post office ran until Ellis and Nora retired in 1965.

The post office was again to change sites – this time at the other end of The Street to where the other businesses at that time were clustered on either side of the street.

Devonsedge had formerly been a large guest house with a bakers below run by the Cole family for many years. The ground floor was later subdivided, and the post office rented the left side with a butchers in the other part. This explains why the present-day post box is in its present position rather than on the corner.

There was one last move to the corner of Barr`s Lane and The Street when John and Ruth Withers moved a few doors down to its present site.

In August 1999, Steve and Gill Pile took over the Post Office. Sadly, after nearly 20 years their time there has come to an end and Charmouth has after more than 200 years to face a future without a post office, which has been for so long the mainstay of village life.