Some background information about Mary: She married (Elton) Gordon Turl during late
1941 in the Thornbury, Bristol area. The couple then lived at Sharpness in Gloucestershire,
but they had moved to the Hitchin district by 1947. There, between 1947 and 1957,
four children were born, (Elton) John, Anne, Erica and Chris(topher).
In the spring of 1958, the family moved to Windrush, Back Lane, Preston. On 24 April
1958, the three eldest children began attending Preston School. Chris was a pupil
at the local school from April 1962. John left Preston to study Physics at Oriel
College, Oxford. Anne moved to London in 1968. Erica first left to study English
at London University in 1970, but then changed course and attended the Guildhall
School of Music. Chris studied Electronics at Warwick University from 1975.
According to Mary’s account, she was Preston’s postwoman for more than fifteen years
from the mid-1960s until 1980. Meanwhile, Gordon was a vice president of Preston
Following a heart attack, in 1977 Mary’s mother (‘Nan’) moved from Hitchin to Windrush
to be with her daughter and grandchildren. She died, aged 93, in December 1981.
Earlier in the summer of that year, Gordon also passed away at Banbury Hospital.
After their deaths, Mary left Preston in 1982.
Mary wrote this piece after embarking on an Open University course. One of her essays
was about her job.
For over fifteen years, my job was as a village postwoman. I woke at about 06.00,
and had to be at the village Post Office by 06.45 to receive the mail from the little
red delivery van. Then I sorted the letters and parcels, arranging them in appropriate
bundles for the sequence of delivery around the village and outlying farms. I was
scheduled to leave the Post Office at 07.15 – whether I did or not varied, of course,
with the quantity of mail to be sorted.
I was provided with an official bicycle for delivery – a hefty thing with no gears
(so I walked up all hills) and, considering this was a country round with rough roads
and a seemingly unending supply of fallen holly leaves and hedge trimmings containing
brambles, extremely flimsy tyres with too easily punctured inner tubes. The morning
round was scheduled to finish at 08.55. This odd timing, and the fact that the afternoon
round was from 15.05 to 15.55, had something to do with the fact that my particular
part-time status required I should be employed for no longer than x hours (I think
something like 18¼) per week.
Mary and Gordon with Erica, Ann and Chris
When I started the job, I was in my mid forties. Our four children were still all
dependent – the eldest at university; two daughters at grammar school; the youngest
at the village primary school. My husband was in a responsible, well paid job – accountant
and company secretary for an advertising firm.
Windrush, Back Lane in 2006
We had a large house in a large garden. What, in these circumstances, was I doing
applying for a job, albeit part-time? My husband presumably brought in good money.
My children still needed me, I had more than enough to do at home. Was I bored with
restricted village life? Was I planning to neglect my children? Were we spending
extravagantly, trying to “keep up with the Jones”?
Being both by nature unsociable in our private lives, my husband and I would probably
have had no idea what we should have had to possess in order to “keep up” with our
neighbours; but he did buy me every useful labour-saving device possible, for the
simple reason that he thought I had too much to do and needed them.
We both had a working-class background and it would never have occurred to us to
employ someone to do domestic work for me. The only “Joneses” were those my husband
had to keep up with in the course of his work – entertaining colleagues and clients,
business lunches, golfing weekends. That, and as he commuted daily between London
and a little village in Hertfordshire, meant that he was unable to give me sufficient
housekeeping money to balance my budget.
On the other hand, there were many things that forced one to realise that one was
most definitely an employee and, at that, a quite insignificant employee of a large
and, when appropriate, strictly rigid public body. There was the customary Civil
Service-type form of application, complete with supplying references, statement of
qualifications (I could claim none except an ability to walk long distances in any
weather) and, on acceptance, reading and signing the Post Office’s form of the Official
Postwomen of my grade had also to accept a standard 2 weeks summer holiday and no
sick pay under any circumstances. This frequently resulted in plodding on regardless
of a heavy cold, and, in the long run, this was the healthiest time of my life! –
apart from the fact that, oddly for someone who had to earn a living by walking,
I was remarkably clumsy on my feet. I was capable at any time of falling down a step,
up a step or simply falling over my own feet. During my service with the Post Office
I once pitched over the handlebars of my cycle on a gravelly path and spent a month
or so looking like a victim of a serious mugging incident; broke a wrist in a fall
on an icy path, and sustained more sprained ankles than I can remember.
Photographs from the Turl family album
Anne, Chris and Erica sheltering during a Preston village fete
Chris on the doorstep of Windrush
June 1976 - Mary with ‘Nan’
St Martins Church outing circa 1961. (1) Mary Turl, (2) Ann Turl, (3) Erica Turl,
(4) Chris Turl, (5) Margaret Major, (6) Peter Meadows, (7) Eileen Newell, (8) Barbara
Newell, (9) Clarice Bryan. If you can identify any others, please let me know
A class from Preston School c1960. With the teacher, Fred Orchard are: David Pateman,
Trevor Evans, Betty Watson, M Doyle, K Brown, L Shackleford, P Raffell, Frankie Barratt,
A Griffin, Joan Andrew, Erica Turl, Janet Vaughan, K Boxall, P Rex and C Lenk.
Anne Turl (right) with Margaret Major at a Princess Helena College garden party
In the garden
Mary died in March 2015, aged ninety-five, having returned to Hertfordshire to live
in Letchworth, near Chris and his family.
A bench in her memory now looks across the village green to where the Post Office
used to be - the place where she sorted the post every morning and afternoon before
setting off on her round.
I am grateful to Mary’s daughter, Anne, and other members of her family for providing
her mother’s comments and the photographs.
If you have any reminiscences about life in Preston and photographs you’d like to
share, please let me know. Link: Contact Philip
Val Meyer-Hall (nee Humphries), her mother, Dorothy Humphries (far left), Val Humphries
and ‘Ben’ admire a baby
So, my only reason at the time for applying for the job was that I needed the money.
I was seeking to supply the basic physiological needs of steady work and steady
wages. “High wages” I never attained though. As I was merely supplementing my husband’s
contribution, this was less important obviously than it would have been for someone
who was the family main, or only, wage-earner. (Full-time postmen are not exactly
highly paid, but that is another story.) I started work in the mid 60’s at a little
under £10 per week. When I retired in 1980, I was earning over £30 a week.
Included also in a person’s basic physiological needs are “good physical working
conditions”. It doesn’t need much imagination to realise that there cannot be much
better working conditions, physically, than those of a village postwoman. One has
regular exercise (almost) daily throughout the year. The big advantage is that one
has to do it – there is nothing optional about it. You can’t decide one morning that
you don’t feel like it. If it is raining, you still have to get out there. If it
is so slippery you can’t stand up, you put the chains on your boots and work out
how you’re going to get round, but you have to do it.
But then of course, you also see the trees breaking into bud in the spring, and the
bluebells, and hear the skylarks over the ploughed fields. And some summer afternoon
you may only have a couple of letters to deliver, so you can stand and chat or look
at gardens, or wander away from the road and just sit.
It is easy to protest that self fulfilment; doing useful, interesting work; forming
felicitous social contacts – are more important than the basic considerations of
money and security. No doubt this is so, especially among skilled and/or altruistic
people; nevertheless, I suspect that more often than we care to acknowledge, practical
considerations come first. They certainly did with me, though once I had gained peace
of mind through no longer having money worries, then other values established themselves
– casual social everyday contacts had new meaning – I felt I was doing something
really useful – I appreciated the countryside around me. I had a considerable degree
of autonomy; though an employee, I was not directly under anyone’s supervision and
it wasn’t difficult to feel that I was “my own boss.”
The question of overtime was not a simple one, so far as the established, full-time
postmen were concerned. Before the Strike, it was essential for them to work, permanently,
a considerable amount of overtime if they were to take home a “living wage”. When
wage settlements gave them improved conditions, men (not surprisingly) no longer
wanted to work overtime.
Not only that, but the Post Office no longer wished them to work overtime, because
of the higher rates. So more and more mail was left, unsorted, in the Sorting Office
at the end of the day. (Somehow, the decrease in quantity did not take care of this.)
It used to seem to us, at the village end of the chain, that the whole backlog was
thrown out on a Saturday morning, so that, just when we would have liked to finish
on time, for a clear weekend ahead, we were until perhaps 11.00 delivering lucky
numbers and offers that couldn’t be turned down.
There were always people in the village who were eager to complain about the postal
service and late delivery was their main complaint. These were not business men who
might, justifiably, be worried about a late arrival (they were always courteous and,
if they felt they had to enquire about a letter, almost apologetic.) Those who “knew”
what time their post should arrive were those who washed dishes at kitchen windows
looking out on the main street of the village and had something sharp to say if Mrs
N got her gas bill before they did.
They also complained, at intervals, if they thought I was not wearing regulation
uniform. For their benefit, it was a delight, one summer, to be able to cycle round
the village wearing a scarlet T Shirt emblazoned in gold across the front “Get the
Most from your Post”, or on colder days, a hooded sweatshirt proclaiming “Post Office
Parcels – We Mean Business”.Apart from these, Post Office uniform was sober enough,
but one wore it – who would want to wear out their own clothes in the service of
the public? The only items I never wore were the wet-weather protective clothing.
Fully clothed in these, I’ll swear I could have helped man a lifeboat – I certainly
couldn’t have walked, let alone, cycled, eight miles round a country post round.
Complaints were never made to me, face to face. The usual way was for someone to
“have a quiet word” with the sub postmaster, which he duly passed on to me in an
off-hand manner. This way friendly relations were, superficially, maintained all
round. My predecessor had advised me that it was unwise to be too closely involved
in village life and I soon realised the truth of this.
Conflict, on any level, was thus in the main avoided. If a complaint, either by phone
or in writing, ever reached the area Head Office, they were naturally bound to follow
it up. The complainer received a written acknowledgment; I received a copy of the
complaint and was invited to make comments. Occasionally, if it was a matter of timing
or, once or twice, someone suggesting I was not following the prescribed route, I
would be informed that an inspector would arrive on such a day and travel the route
with me. This was a formality and I never heard anything further of the matter.
There was one complainer who occasionally went so far as to write a grumbling letter
to the local newspaper. When he accused me of opening his mail, I felt he had gone
too far and was really upset. My husband wanted to pursue him in some sort of (rather
undefined) legal fashion; but it turned out that Mr B and my husband both had the
same solicitor, who refused to handle the matter and the whole thing fizzled out!
The question of routing was more important that it might seem; my timing and, thence,
my scale of pay was allied to it. If new houses were added to the village, it had
to be taken into account. The route was changed little during the time I worked on
the round, but had had a couple of major alterations during my predecessor’s time.
An isolated cottage in the depths of a local wood and one or two far-flung farms
were removed from the round and added to the duties of the little red van, following
a murder in a lonely lane.
Of course, like any married woman undertaking a part-time job, I was not answerable
to myself alone. My husband hated to be forced to acknowledge that I needed to earn
some money for myself: “people will think I can’t support my own wife and family.”
Whether this was a middle class attitude or a hark back to the working class pride
of his dock-labourer father, I don’t know. He realised many wives did work, and enjoy
it – indeed, many of his colleagues were married women – but why did his wife have
Similarly, my mother, who lived with us for many years, was indignant that her daughter
should undertake such a menial task as delivering other people’s mail and tried for
many years to persuade me to give the whole thing up – long after it was quite obvious
that I was having the happiest time of my life! With her, it was quite possible that
there was a lurking class consciousness, as she herself had been a professional person,
a teacher. Perhaps if I had had a profession and was returning to it, she would have
viewed things differently. But I was one of those girls who, though adequately educated,
never trained for a career – the reason being the intervention of the outbreak of
World War II.
The biggest change in the job of being a village postwoman is likely to have already
happened in that village where I was, and probably in many others too – it probably
no longer exists. Since leaving the village, I have lost touch, but while I was there
I was scheduled for redundancy and all the other postwomen in villages in the area
had already been made redundant. In future there will only be the little red vans..
Each time I signed an acknowledgment that I realised I was not entitled to payment
whilst not undertaking official duties. The form I signed – obviously a standard
one used for all employees – included a space for “suggestions for future avoidance
of similar accident” (the Post Office always tried to be fair to all its employees).
I eventually completed this with a suggestion that I look where I put my feet in
future. I’m sure someone at Head Office must have been thinking the same.
But also, during the long Post Office strike, village postwomen, although they had
nothing to do, were paid in full provided they could assure the sub-postmaster that
they were available. As I said, the Post Office made every effort to be fair to employees,
of whatever grade. Village postwomen did not belong to a union and were therefore
not regarded as being on strike. However, we benefited from all pay rises which the
union gained for its members – hence the increased salary I mentioned earlier.
One outcome that was predicted of the Strike was that the volume of mail handled
would never again return to its previous proportions – people would find alternative
satisfactory methods, or simply discover that they could manage without. This did
in fact happen, if our village could be considered typical. Where we used to handle
an average of, say, 6 or 8 bundles of letters daily (average 200 letters to a bundle),
this was halved. 4 bundles soon came to be considered normal; 2 or 3 not unusual.
Increasing postal charges were clearly also partly responsible for this decrease.
I could not pretend that, as a postwoman, I objected to this lessening of the load!
Sorting time was reduced; I had less to carry. Delivery time did not change much,
as one traversed the village anyway. What it did mean, in fact, was that I often
finished at my scheduled time, instead of dragging on after it – which was a good
thing, as the only occasion on which we were permitted to claim overtime was the
2 weeks immediately preceding Christmas. At all other times of the year, it was considered
that a light afternoon delivery compensated for a morning delivery that went on longer
than it should have done.