Campaigners pay tribute to godfather of UK postal service as Belsize Park gets new post office

Last week marked the turning point of an eight-year campaign for a fully fledged post office in Belsize Park – the one-time home of the godfather of the modern postal service.

Budgens in Haverstock Hill has put a new enlarged post office at the centre of its newly refurbished shop.

But without the area’s affiliation to Sir Rowland Hill – the inventor of the postage stamp – Belsize might have lost the service forever.

When a sub-post office was closed down in 2004, campaigners – backed by Sir Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter and Patrick Caulfield – hit the streets.

But others headed down to Camden’s archives in Holborn to mount a less obvious line of opposition by drawing on the area’s postal heritage.

Late local historian Mary Shenai discovered that Sir Rowland lived in Bartram House on Hampstead Green – now the back of the Royal Free Hospital – for the last 30 years of his life until 1879.

Though his plans for pre-paid postage were mocked as “wild” and “preposterous” in the House of Lords, pressure from merchants, traders and bankers saw the first adhesive stamps distributed in 1840.

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Gene Adams, of the former Post Office Action Group, said: “Sir Rowland was part of our protest, our pressure on Camden Council and our MPs to do something about it.

“Our point was that Belsize has a distinguished history of Post Office innovation, so it would be a terrible shame if we were left without one.

“Not everyone in Belsize Park is a millionaire or can use a computer, and there are a lot of people here who still rely on letters to communicate with people abroad.

“There is a lot being said about the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ [the nickname used by opponents of government plans to track communications over the Internet] at the moment, so to some extent the letter is sacred.”

A single Post Office till was opened at Budgens in 2010, but demand quickly necessitated a second as the number of customers grew.

Now the supermarket is offering a full service, including driving licence and passport applications.

Store owner Andrew Thornton said: “Everyone was so pleased to have something after the closures, even though we only had a limited range of services.

“But now we can do everything and we have had a great response so far.”

Neil Ennis, Post Office programme director, said: “If we can get more post offices like this, and communities like this to use them and support them, then we will never close another post office.”