The Postal Service

The earliest Post Offices were usually housed at Inns. The only duties of the Innkeeper-cum-Postmaster were the acceptance and handing over of letters, the exchange of mailbags and the provision of fresh horses for the Post Boys who carried the mail over the major roads of the country before the establishment of the Mail Coach Service in 1784.

The Pembroke Arms, built in the 1790s to serve the increased traffic on the recently turnpiked Lower Road, currently the A 30, was probably Fovant’s first postal collecting centre. We do not, as yet, know how long it fulfilled this purpose, but it is likely that such a situation remained unchanged until the arrival of the Uniform Penny Postage in 1840. Such was the increased volume of the mail sent and received by the people of remote villages and hamlets, that the Post Office was obliged to open ‘Receiving Houses’ in places hitherto cut off from the general postal network. Fovant benefited early from such provision, for ‘there was a post office in Fovant, Wiltshire, by 1846 and it came under the district control of Salisbury.’ – Royal Mail Archives

The location of our earliest official Post Office is uncertain, but the current garage house, where the outline of the blocked up post box can be seen, was an early venue. It is almost certainly there where, according to the Kelly’s Directory of 1855, our Sub-postmaster at the

‘Post Office. John Lever, receiver. Letters arrive from Salisbury at 10 min. past 6 a.m. & delivered at 7 a.m. & 4 p.m. dispatched 12 noon, and a quarter to 8 p.m. The nearest money order offices are at Salisbury & Hindon.’

There is an implication here that letters were individually delivered, but we have no record, as yet, of a village postman at that time. Thereafter John Lever continued as postmaster until Thomas Lever, probably his son, followed him. Thomas was in post from 1889 until 1903. During this period ‘a telegraph office was opened in Fovant in 1897 and in 1898 a Money Order Savings Bank office was [also] opened’. – Royal Mail Archives. (By clicking on the small image here, you can read a Postal Guide from 1860.)

Who took over from Thomas Lever is yet to be discovered, but Kelly’s gives Mrs. Catherine Parsons Goodfellow in the post in 1907. How long she remained the postmistress is not known, but the village-based position was still in existence until ‘the post office [in Fovant] closed in 1917 but reopened in 1920’. – Royal Mail Archives

The most likely reason for this closure is that a post office associated with the World War I camps under Fovant Downs had been opened just outside the village. Obviously of major benefit to the thousands of soldiers who passed through the camps, it is known that civilians were also permitted to use the military Post Office, so the temporary closure of the village Post Office would have made economic sense.

When the village Post Office reopened, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Austin ran the business from their house at the north end of the High Street. On this house, now a private residence, the blocked-up post box is still clearly visible. Charles was also our first named village postman. According to the British Telecom Archives it was during the Austin tenure, in August 1932, that a telephone exchange was opened in the village.

After Charles Austin’s death in 1961 his daughter Betty Harte took over as Postmistress, still at the Austin house in the High Street and George Harte took over his late father in law’s position as postman. In 1964 Betty and George Harte had their new house, now containing the current Post Office, built at the south end of the High Street. Here Betty continued as Postmistress and George remained village postman until 1987 when Val Wells became our post lady. Rob Hall followed Val after her retirement in 2002 and Betty Harte and her younger daughter Jackie continue to run the Post Office.