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2 Bedford Street Woburn

2 Bedford Street May 2012
2 Bedford Street May 2012

Number 2 Bedford Street was listed by the former Ministry of Works in October 1952 as Grade II, of special interest. The ministry dated the building to the 18th century but noted that it was a reworking of an earlier, probably 17th century, structure. This suggests that the property may have been one of those damaged by the great fire of June 1724. It forms one building with 4 Bedford Street.

The property is built of brick and most of front elevation brickwork is of vitrified bricks laid in header bond, with red brick dressings. The building is thought to contain a timber framed core. It has a steep pitched roof with 20th century tiles. The building comprises two storeys and attics. The ground floor was reworked "in the late 19th century" when it was converted into a shop although, as we will see, that reworking may have been earlier in the century.

During the 20th century and, maps reveal, the latter part of the 19th century, the property was Woburn Post Office. During the period from 1823 to 1940 only four people are recorded as postmasters in directories. These directories were not printed every year but every few years. Stephen Dodd, in Bedford Street, wrote and published a history of Woburn in 1818 in which he described himself as postmaster. He was also listed as postmaster in 1823, 1839 and 1847. Dodd describes his post office in his book as follows: "On this Office much duty devolves, and that at very unseasonable hours; the Bedford cross post arrives at half-past nine with letters from the counties of Huntingdon, Cambridge, Norfolk, Rutland &c., which are transposed into bags for Scotland, Ireland, and all parts of the north; the London letters are forwarded by the Chester mail about eleven, and those for Dunstable, Saint Albans and Barnet, by the Manchester mail, which brings letters from the north about half-past sleven. The Chester mail arrives from London at two in the morning, with the London bags for this town and Ampthill, the latter of which is forwarded at five, with those to and beyond Bedford, by the man-mail, which brings letters from the north about half-past eleven. The box closes at nine. Letters after that time, till half-past nine pay one penny; from half-past nine to ten, two-pence; and after ten sixpence. Hours of delivery - from the 5th of April to the 5th of October, at seven o'clocl, and during the winter quarter at eight. There is no attendance at the office during divine service on Sundays, viz. from half-past ten to one in the forenoon, and from two to five in the evening".

In 1853 and 1854 John Charles Peeling, also in Bedford Street, was postmaster, by 1864 he had been replaced by Joseph Sergeant, listed as being in the High Street in 1877, 1885 and 1890. By 1894 he is listed as being in Bedford Street and in 1898 the postmaster, in Bedford Street, was Henry John Fisher and he is listed in every directory until the last one for the county in 1940. On the face of it the post office was not at 2 Bedford Street before 1894 but in fact a map of 1882, during a time when it is recorded as being in the High Street, shows it at 2 Bedford Street. This suggests that the terms Bedford Street and High Street were interchangeable for that stretch of properties at the time and also suggests that it is possible that 2 Bedford Street was the post office as far back as 1823.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Woburn, like much of the county was valued in 1927 and the valuer visiting 2 Bedford Street [DV1/C137/110] found that, like most of the town, it was owned by the London and Devon Estates Company.

The tenant was, of course, Henry John Fisher who paid rent of £35 per annum. As well as being the postmaster he was a stationer. The ground floor comprised: the shop measuring 17 feet 6 inches by 14 feet 6 inches; the post office measuring 16 feet by 14 feet; the telephone exchange measuring 10 feet 6 inches by 7 feet 9 inches; a hall; a living room measuring 13 feet 6 inches by 15 feet; a kitchen and pantry and a line cupboard. A cellar ran beneath. The first floor contained: a bedroom measuring 9 feet by 15 feet; a reception room measuring 17 feet by 13 feet 6 inches; a bedroom measuring 14 feet 9 inches by 13 feet 9 inches; a boxroom; a bedroom measuring 10 feet 3 inches by 15 feet 6 inches and a W. C. The second floor comprised three attics.

Outside stood a barn, a paper store, a garage, a pony stable, a stable for two horses and a store barn with a loft over. There was also a four battery room for the post office. Fisher was a printer as well as a stationer and had a brick and slate machine room outside measuring 27 feet by 16 feet 6 inches by 12 feet with a Wharfdale printing machine (“Cylinder Double demi”) and a platen printing machine (“Crown Folio”) as well as a 27 inch paper guillotine. The machinery was run by a 3½ horsepower gas engine. There was also a separate brick and tiled composing room split into two sections measuring 16 feet 3 inches by 19 feet by 12 feet and 15 feet 6 inches by 19 feet by 11 feet respectively. At the end of the entry the valuer has also noted a small platen printing machine measuring 8 inches by 12 inches and a ruling machine measuring 2¼ inches wide.

Directories list all the postmasters as far back as 1823 as stationers or stationers and printers. From 1898 to 1940, however, 1 to 3 Market Place (then numbered as 1 High Street) is separately listed as Fisher and Sons, stationers, so that part of the business seems to have been run from there with the printing run from the post office.

The building remained a post office throughout the 20th century. At the time of writing [2012] the property is Bedford Street Gallery, the post office having moved to 17 Market Place early in the 21st century.