Campaigners pay tribute to godfather of UK postal service as Belsize Park gets new post office
PUBLISHED: 07:00 20 May 2012
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.
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.”