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206 High Street Elstow

206 High Street February 2012
206 High Street February 2012

206 High Street is Elstow Post Office at the time of writing [2012]. The property was listed by English Heritage in May 1984 as Grade II, of special interest. The listing states that the property was built around 1700 and is timber-framed with pebbledash render and a clay tiled roof with fish scales to the lower block. The main block has two storeys with a single storey block to the north which houses the post office. The door and window to the post office are 20th century.

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. Like much of the county Elstow was assessed in 1927. The valuer visiting the property [DV1/C33/65] found that it was like most of the rest of the parish in that it was owned by Lord of the Manor Samuel Howard Whitbread.

The building was a post office even at that time and the tenant was Walter John Southam who paid rent of £8/12/- per annum. He was also, according to Kelly’s Directory for 1928, a cabinet maker. His accommodation comprised two living rooms, a scullery and two bedrooms as well as the post office. The valuer commented: “Sell picture cards, stationery etc.” Outside stood a weather-boarded and tiled range of two barns measuring 16 feet 6 inches by 12 feet, one being used as a workshop.

On 20th October 1981 County Archivist Patricia Bell wrote to the postmaster of the time about the building [CRT130Elstow18]: “About the year 1905 there seem to have been about 7 separate little properties along the west side of the High Street between the road to Cow Bridge and the way to the Green, though most of these have subsequently been pulled down”.

“110 years earlier in 1794, from a survey made in that year, there seem to have been about 6 separate properties, most of them belonging to the Whitbread estate [the family had bought Elstow Manor in 1792]. We know a little about some of the buildings along the row, but we do not know sufficient to link our historical information with one particular site today”.

“For instance, next to the way through to the Green there once stood an inn called the Chequers ... To the north of The Chequer (which could well have taken up the area of 2 or 3 of the later little cottages) was a house for which there are title deeds among those in the Whitbread collection deposited here. From others sources [Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume IV number 53] we find that in June 1641 one Thomas Bonyon of Elstow, a petty chapman [an itinerant seller of printed material known as chap books – essentially early magazines] settled the house on Anne, his wife so she could have it during her widowhood. Bonyan had bought it from George Eckles, late of Elstow, carpenter, deceased, and as George Eckles’ will was proved in 1636, so the purchase must have been made before then. This Thomas Bonyan would have been John Bunyan’s grandfather, and he died in December 1641”.

“Our next information comes in a deed of 1725, when Martha Berry of London, widow, and her son Robert Berry, together with William Pennyfather, sold the cottage for £30 to George Allen of Elstow. It was described as a cottage with brewhouse hovel in Elstow, occupied by Edward King, late occupied by John Berry, once the property of Thomas Bonyan, and before that of Miles Chambers, abutting south on The Chequer, west on the common green and east on the King’s highway”.

“The cottage passed through various hands being described as a cottage with brewhouse hovel, or just a cottage, until in 1792 it was bought by Samuel Whitbread, when it was owned and occupied by William Knight, labourer. Now, this could have been the site of your house. By 1794 the site of The Chequer seems to have become two cottages, the first (next the way through to the Green) owned by Dixie Chapman and occupied by Thomas Crowsley; the next to the north owned by Edward Chapman and occupied by John Bentham. The property that had once belonged to Thomas Bonyan was in 1794 in two small cottages, and occupied by William Knight and William Palmer. They were stud, clay and thatch, and in bad repair. Further to the north were one or two cottages, with yard or garden, owned by Samuel Whitbread and occupied by tenants. Thus your house may be on the site of the cottage once owned by Thomas Bunyan, but we cannot be sure”.

This is interesting as it shows that the 17th century cottage was still extant in 1794. It suggests that the date of around 1700 ascribed by English Heritage is not necessarily correct, unless the 17th century cottage was extensively remodelled around the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries but not completely pulled down and replaced and so could still be referred to as previously in the occupation of Thomas Bonyan in 1794.

Remarkably, the Southam family ran Elstow post office for around eighty years or more. They are first mentioned in a directory of 1862 when William Southam was the postmaster. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is lucky in having four volumes covering Bedford area post office employees in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These volumes tell us that William Southam junior was appointed sub-postmaster of Elstow in August 1871. His salary was £4 per annum and he was paid an additional £7 per annum for delivering the mail [X378/4]. There was also: “5/6 allowed for delivery 6 days a week at Race Course, Elstow Hardwick and Kempston Hardwick. To commence 9 April 1877”. The ledgers reveal that William had been born 15th December 1831 [X378/7]. On his death William was succeeded by Lily Lettitia Southam, probably his daughter, who was born on 7th March 1875. She was appointed on 26th August 1908. She resigned on 5th June 1911 having worked from 8 am to 8 pm six days a week and 8.30 to 10 am on Sundays. She was succeeded by Walter John Southam, born 4th October 1868. Kelly’s Directory for 1936 is the last to list Walter John as postmaster. The next Kelly’s, the last for the county, is 1940 and in this Percy Walter Southam is listed as postmaster.