The first Woodlesford post office was at the railway station. It was always under the control of the main post office in Leeds and from 1855 had a circular frank. In 1856 Mary Mowatt, the wife of the station master, was authorised to sell postage stamps. In 1863 it became a money order office and a branch of the Post Office Savings Bank.
By 1870 it had become a telegraph office and the census for 1871 lists the station master, Thomas William Turner, as also being the sub-postmaster. He was given the role by the General Post Office which operated the sub offices under a system similar to modern day franchising. The postman was Thomas George Emmett, 29, born at Pilsley in Derbyshire. He lodged in a house on Station Lane and was a retired sergeant with a pension from what was described as “the 15th Regiment.” The post messenger was 60 year old James Holliday who had been born in Hunslet.
Ten years later Kelly’s Directory for the West Riding of Yorkshire for 1881 has this entry: “POST, MONEY ORDER & TELEGRAPH OFFICE, Savings Bank & Government Insurance & Annuity Office, Woodlesford. Alexander Coombs, sub-postmaster. Letters arrive from Leeds at 6.58am & 5.35pm; dispatched at 1.25pm and 6.35pm.”
Alexander Coombs’ grocery shop was between the Two Pointers pub and All Saints’ church. Born in Kent in 1820 Coombs was a “vatman” in the paper making trade and had come to Woodlesford in the early 1840s to work at Oddie’s paper mill. In 1845 he married a widow, Elizabeth Davey, who was 12 years older than him, but by 1881 he too had been widowed and was living at the shop with his second wife, farmer’s daughter Ellen Cleminson. Living with them were errand boy James Watson, 13, and his sister Isabella, 18, who worked as a telegraphist. Their father was a quarryman and lived with his wife and other children on Hobb Lane, now Midland Street. Another resident was post office messenger Joseph Craven, 18. Later he became a barman at the White Hart taking over as landlord after the death of his mother.
The next postmaster was quarry owner Alfred Langstaff who moved the post office round the corner to his home at 12 Station Lane. Alfred lived there with his wife Margaret and his niece Eliza who was a telegraphist. They all had a nasty shock on Thursday 28 May 1889 when the building was struck by lightning during a heavy storm. The lightning bolt struck at the point where the telegraph wires entered the house. The wires and a pole were damaged and the telegraph instrument inside was completely destroyed. A report in the Rothwell Times the following day said Alfred had been left “severely stunned.” There were four other people in the office at the same time who “all may feel thankful that have so narrowly escaped a more serious, even fatal, calamity,” said the paper.
The G.P.O. minutes for 1893 record that Alfred was cautioned for keeping his office in an “unsatisfactory condition” and in 1894 he was forced to resign for “misappropriation of allowances.” Two years later he had moved to live in Armley where he continued as a stone merchant.
The next sub-postmaster is believed to have been Thomas William Sedgwick and he is the older man with the moustache and bowler hat in the photograph above. He was born near Horbury and came with his parents to Oulton where his father was a gardener. One of his first jobs was as an outfitter’s assistant. He then became a travelling salesman for a woollen draper and after his marriage in 1889 to Mary Hannah Myton they lived in one of the houses near the post office on Station Lane. It’s possible therefore that Sedgwick was recruited to replace Langstaff as the sub-postmaster. Mary Hannah is the boyish looking woman with the hat.
The photograph was part of Maurice Hobkinson’s family collection. It was published as a postcard and printed by Warner Gothard of Leeds, Dewsbury and Barnsley, a firm which started by taking portraits, later branching out selling pictures of newsworthy events and disasters.
The three uniformed young men were telegraph boys who were kept busy delivering messages for the local gentry and businesses in the days long before email. Maurice Hobkinson’s uncle, Harry Douglas Webster, is in the middle. It’s not known if the dog had official duties but it looks quite placid to be wearing a muzzle. On the other hand it may have bitten the postmen!
Experts at the British Postal Museum & Archive have dated the photo to be between 1896 and 1904. After that the tunic style jacket was replaced by a jacket with flat lapels similar to the one being worn by the man in the photograph. The “shako” cap was also replaced by double-peaked ones from 1904. The bicycle would have been used by the telegraph boys. Harry Webster was born in 1882 and in the photo he appears to be between 12 and 15 years old which would therefore give a date between 1894 and 1897 for the visit of the Warner Gothard photographer.
In the 1898 electoral register Thomas William Sedgwick is listed with two properties, one on Station Lane and one on Church Street and from the 1901 census it appears he had taken the grocery shop on Church Street occupied by Alexander Coombs 20 years earlier. At some point after he was made sub-postmaster he relocated the post office counter to the Church Street shop. By 1901 he had four children and employed a domestic servant, Mary Knowles, from Kippax.
As with his predecessor Sedgwick also had trouble with the post office bosses. In 1897 irregularities in his accounts were noted and the following year he was cautioned for the same offence. If he was fiddling the books he doesn’t appear to have mended his ways because in 1901 he was in trouble again with the minutes recording: “Failure to despatch mail: Sub-Postmaster finally warned.” The next reference reads: “T.W. Sedgwick, Sub-Postmaster and Auxiliary Postman: Deficiency in accounts. Office declared vacant and services dispensed with.”
This certainly sounds as if Sedgwick was either an inefficient book keeper or had been diverting Post Office funds for his own use! Indeed later that year he was declared bankrupt and by 1911 he had moved to Hunslet where he was working again as a tailor’s traveller. One of his sons was a clerk in a steel works, the other was described as “screwer” in a steam plough works.
The next sub-postmaster was George Frederick Hammond. The 1901 census records he was 24 years old, had been born in Leeds, and had been working in Woodlesford as a postman. He lived in Oakdene Yard with his wife Edith, 21, who came from Normanton, and their one year old son, Herbert. They left Woodlesford and moved to look after Edith’s widowed father in Normanton in about 1908.
When Hammond took over in November 1901 the post office counter was relocated back to 12 Station Lane where it remained until after the First World War. In 1911 it was being run by John Hall who hailed from Bradford. His wife assisted him as well as looking after their 6 month old daughter who had been born in Woodlesford. John also acted as a part time auxiliary post man. Living with them was his wife’s sister, Annie Elizabeth Plumb, who was their general servant.
After the war the post office moved to 18 Highfield Lane where the sub-postmaster was Benjamin Hall. Later it was moved again to a large building called Albert House at the top of Church Street opposite the entrance to Applegarth.
Telegraph boy Harry Webster grew up in Oakdene Yard just round the corner from where he had his first job. His father, Charles Webster, was a miner from Hartwell in Northamptonshire where Harry was born. His mother came from a few miles away at Castlethorpe in Buckinghamshire. Their small house must have been quite crowded because as well as Harry’s two brothers and four sisters also living there were Charles’ cousin, miner David Webster, and his nephew, Charles Malsher from Roade, who worked as a railway labourer.
After his time at the post office Harry worked as a maltster at Bentley’s brewery and then became a miner at Water Haigh colliery. On Christmas Day in 1908 he married farmer’s daughter, Lilian Downing, who was born in Exeter. They had two sons and a daughter. In the 1920s they rented and then bought a grocery shop on Church Street opposite the White Hart pub and in 1932 Harry gave up his mining job to concentrate on the grocery and a milk round. Throughout his life he had a keen interest in pigeons sending his prize birds to take part in long distance races. He was 67 when he died in 1949.