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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

The Day the Music Died - Harringay Crown Post Office Closes after 83 Years - what it Replaced in 1936

A post office in a stationers? Disgraceful.....and just like it was a hundred years ago.

With the crown post office at 509 Green Lanes closing its doors for good this week and a new one opening at 37 Grand Parade, I thought it was an appropriate time to look back at the story of the post office in Harringay.

The story of our post office is to a great degree the story of the post ofice throughout London and much of the rest of the country. 

The first general post office in London opened in 1643, just 8 years after King Charles I legalised use of the royal posts for private correspondence. Back then Harringay was farm land. 

What is now Harringay didn't really start to develop until shortly before the middle of the nineteenth century and during the last twenty years of the century things got going apace round here. 

As Green Lanes began to get built up in the 1880s and 1890s, what was to become Harringay's first post office was established. But, as was the case with much of the rest of the country, we weren't big enough to warrant our own purpose-built post office. 

In 1896, Sarah May (36) moved from her previous address at 4 Vale Road to 473 Green Lanes. She  moved in her closest family from Kensington. This included her mother Sarah Ann (66), her sister Rose (30) and her two brothers, Frederick (26) and Frank (24). The two girls shared the surname, May. Their mother and brothers were all named 'Fox'. I assume that this was a second marriage for Sarah Ann. The Green Lanes property they proudly christened 'York House' is now home to Indkia restaurant.

Sarah and Rose set up a stationer's business there, which is referred to in the records as 'Miss S May, Stationer.' Sarah was clearly the boss! By 1902 the premises had become Harringay's first post office and its listing was upgraded to 'Miss S May, Stationer, & post & telegraph office'.

Although no records are available, it is almost certain that this was set up as a sub-post office. During the late nineteenth and first few decades of the twentieth century, 95% of post offices were sub-post offices. By 1913 this was 23,256 out of 24,354 offices. The sub-postmasters received a commission for the transaction of various services and for providing the necessary staff and accommodation. They were not established members of the Post Office workforce, and were often small shopkeepers who welcomed this side-line.

Sarah and Rose ran the business together for five years. The two brothers were not involved. 

I suspect that this might be Sarah and Rose poking
 their noses out of the front door to get in the picture.
Closest thing to an Edwardian selfie?

In 1906 George Robert Mitchell took over and reworked the shop's name to May's Library.

Mitchell appears to have been an enterprising sort who expanded his offering to include the services of a travel agency.

George must have been a busy man. The latter half of the 19th century had already seen Post Offices across the country expand into banking, telecommunications and parcel delivery. From 1880, the Post Office was acquiring progressively greater control of the telephone service, with the entire service being taken over in 1912. From 1908, it acquired a new social role as the chief payment agency for social security benefits, beginning with old-age pensions in that year. 

The 1911 census tells us in that year George (35) was living with his wife, Ellen (35), his son Kenneth (7), his daughter Marjorie and their servant Esther Simmond (18).

By 1913, the family had moved on and Thomas Lawrence had purchased the business. He is recorded as the occupant still in 1915. 

Records during the war unfortunately have disappeared and the next we pick up the trail is in 1920, At this point 473 is being run as 'Roberts Library' and it seems that the post office had temporarily moved down the road to just south of The Beaconsfield. There, at number 347, we find 'Herbert Gray Chemist & Post Office & telephone call office'. This appears to have been a short-lived relocation which may have been due to the dislocations caused by the Great War.

By 1921 number 473 was up and running again as 'Roberts Library & Post Office'. This lasted until the following year. Then in 1922, the premises was taken over by Thomas J Francis and his wife, Ethel. For the first two years the business was run as 'Francis & Norfield Stationers & Post Office'. I can find no trace of anyone called Norfield in the records, so I assume he was a short-term business partner. By 1925 the store was trading as 'Thomas Francis Stationer & Post Office'. Francis ran the business for a further 10 years, with the exception of a year or so.

Between 1927 and 1928, the shop is listed as 'Andrew F Hawes Stationer & Post Office'. Thomas and Ethel still apparently lived above the shop. But, either due to ill-health, or some other circumstance they were standing back from the business. By 1929 the couple had moved up to Southgate. The business was trading as  'F. R. Rhodes, Stationer & post office' with Thomas J Francis listed as postmaster, which it continued to do until 1934.

The eponymous Rhodes appears to have been business partners, Felix and Edith, who lived in Cecile Park, Crouch End. Felix was recorded as formerly having been a colliery agent. Perhaps, he'd been injured in the war or, was simply doing the interwar equivalent of downshifting. Either way, he and his wife co-ran the business with Thomas and Ethel up until 1935. In the meantime the flat above 473 was let to a succession of tenants apparently unconnected with the business.  

The death knell for the old way of doing sub-post offices was sounded by the establishment of two government committees. 

The structure of the Post Office had come in for criticism between the wars. The Bridgeman Committee was set up in 1932 to investigate. Following the report of this committee, the Gardiner Committee was established to determine action to fix the problems unearthed by the earlier committee. In 1936 Gardiner decided that branch offices should predominate in an inner circle of London around head offices, with salaried sub-offices at a greater distance and in less important locations. The changes were implemented between 1936 and 1940.

I am assuming that it was this policy change that led to the closure of the post office at 473 and the establishment of a Crown Office at 509-511 Green Lanes in 1936. Felix Rhodes' death is recorded in the same year. (Coincidentally, 509 had been previously set-up as a stationers, run by W Stokes. 511 had been an outfitters, run as J. S. Berridge, and previously as White & Co.) 

473 continued life as a stationers for some decades to come. Immediately after the move of post office services it traded as 'W & E Roe, Stationers'. By 1964, it was trading under the name Harringay Library, an interesting echo of its Edwardian past. 

In about 1975, the business became Harringay Stationers. In the 21st Century it was the first home of Fast Tech and also to the RMVF charity. For a while it hosted MEM catering. Four or five years ago it was set up as Indika Indian restaurant.

So much for the spin through time, the interesting part of this for me was yet another demonstration of how our idealisation of the past reveals stark similarities to the Harringay we inhabit today (as well as real differences).

In researching this article I came across a short late Edwardian piece about a councillor complaining that rubbish was only collected every three weeks on the Ladder. That's a past we definitely don't want to return to; it shows that for all the cheeseparing cuts over the past decade, our council services are still better than those experienced by our forebears. 

Immortalised here is Harringay Post Office in its last week - https://bit.ly/49rbe8h (Click the targets or margin arrows to move between images).

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Great story. Do you know what the current building is going to be used for? 

No sorry. I don't.

513, next door, is also vacant. But, luckily, our planning department finally seem to be enforcing the rules limiting A3 licences. So I hope it's not going to be another carbon-copy restaurant.

Plus ça change, as they say.

Great piece of research, Hugh, and fascinating! Thanks.

Very interesting Hugh. 

A good read!

I’m a bit surprised about the request. for a more frequent waste collection service. I would have thought your average late Edwardian household would have generated very little waste.



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