Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Avondale's postal history

Since the first days of European settlement in Auckland, the postal system has been a vital connection between what was once one of the furthest corners of the British Empire, and the outside world beyond the waters of the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours.

Prior to 1863, the postal service was represented in the Whau District by a landing place beside the first of the Whau River bridges, approximately where the present-day crossing of the river by the Great North Road. Here, mail for West Auckland was brought in by boat, off-loaded, then taken by track into the bush-clad wilderness.

1863 is the first recorded date for a postal agency in the Whau Township, in a small store and butcher’s shop situated near the corner of the present Rosebank Road and Elm Street, run by a Mrs Myers. The only other buildings of note in the township in those days were at opposite ends of the moral spectrum to the settlers: the Presbyterian Church (now St Ninians) and the Whau Hotel at the corner of Rosebank Road and the Great North Road.

According to researcher Mike Butler, there were four Whau district postmasters in the period from 1865 to 1871: Charles Cooper, L H Holloway, J Holloway, and S McCallum. It is likely that these were also the succeeding proprietors of the general store.

Mail was despatched from the Whau Bridge on a weekly basis by 1866, the river still the main transport route despite a daily run from town and back by the horse bus service of the time. In 1871 the post office was transferred to George Thomas' store at the northern corner of Great North  Road and St Jude Street, with William Morris serving as postmaster there from 1872 to 1877.

Some years later George Thomas (owner of the store) took over the postal duties again from 1877 to 1881. The transport of mails from the city was maintained by a daily wagonette along the still unmetalled Great North Road. Mails for Henderson were made up at Avondale and taken on by a four-wheeler, driven by Miss Jenny Hassell, (later married as Mrs Osborne, of Freemans Bay).

According to M.P. Mr. H.G.R. Mason in his speech at the opening of the Avondale Post Office in August 1938, the two first post office stores were later removed to Elm and Ash Streets, and were converted into dwellings that were still in use in 1938. In 1880, following the completion of the railway to Avondale, the post office was combined with the railway station, and the dual duties were undertaken by Mr. J Leach (1881-1884). From that date onwards the mails were transported by rail.

Eight years later, on May 15, 1888, the first letter carriers’ delivery was made on horseback by Ben Bollard, son of then Chairman of the Avondale Road Board District John Bollard. The delivery extended to the Mental Hospital, to Mount Albert, to the end of Rosebank Road, to a quarter of a mile beyond the Whau Bridge, and to Blockhouse Bay and New Lynn. For some reason, this service was suspended to Blockhouse Bay (Avondale South) and New Lynn from 12th July that year, until settlers had a fairly heated meeting in Avondale on 4 September and petitioned the Chief Postmaster, a Mr. Biss, to resume deliveries.

“The postman received £15 a year,” Mr Mason said, “and had to provide and keep two horses! He was also required to deliver telegrams as a part of his ordinary duties.”

The next postman had been Mr Sam Astley, and shortly afterwards Mr Leach was succeeded as combined stationmaster and postmaster by H F Howard (1884–1885), H Bell (1885–1889), Amos Eyes (1889–1900), and W A Ridgeley (1900–1906). In 1902 Mr Duncan Ingram took over the duties as postman. “In the summer and autumn the inward telegram traffic was heavy,” Mr Mason said “as the local growers received the normal advices as to the trend of priced for their produce. At this time the population consisted mainly of market gardeners, fruit growers and employees of the brick works. There were comparatively few city workers living there, but when workers’ fares were inaugurated on the trains shortly afterwards at a rate of 2/- a week the residential development became more rapid, and the horse bus service was discontinued.”

The last two men who combined the duties of stationmaster and postmaster were Mr Joshua Hutchinson (1906-1907) and Mr Charles Moon (1907-1912). On February 13, 1912 the post office relocated from Avondale railway station to the Avondale Hotel building at the Five-Roads intersection (modern-day Avondale Roundabout).

Telephones were another addition to the services provided by the Post Office in the early 20th century. The manual exchange was housed in the Post office itself from 1912 until 1938. (In 1940, a purpose-built telephone exchange was completed on the corner of Geddes Terrace and St Judes Street. Telecommunication services were split from the Post Office in 1987 as an State Owned Enterprise (SOE), and privatised as Telecom New Zealand in 1990.)

“A remarkable expansion had been recorded in the postal business from 1912 to 1938”, said Mr Mason. The postmaster had been Mr Ernest D Thompson, appointed February 1912. Mr Charles B McIsaac, appointed December 10, 1921, Mr John Brookes, appointed June 10 1924, and Mr John G McGregor, the then postmaster in 1938, who was appointed April 29, 1929.

On the day of general elections, the results as they came through to the post office would be posted up on a sheet hung from the former hotel’s verandah, to be seen by crowds congregating beneath the verandah of the Page’s Building just across the road. The first public toilet was available at the post office (in 1916 the Road Board tried to take this convenience over, but were unsuccessful).

The postal service in May 1926 was “inadequate”, according to the Avondale Borough Council, as box clearance was not completed in time for dispatch to the city. The council urged a clearance by 6.30 a.m. in time for the 7 a.m. train. The next month the postmaster replied, saying that clearances were by 8.30 pm, in time for dispatch on the evening trains.

The moves to get a new, purpose-built post office for Avondale began on September 25, 1935, when Mr C H Speakman started a petition which was signed by 500 Avondale residents, pointing out that the building then in use, was not centrally situated, and that inconvenience was caused to business firms and residents. It was felt, in view of the development of the district, that a new building was necessary. The petition was sent to the then Postmaster-General, the Hon. F Jones, stating that a decision had been made to erect a modern building. The building was completed and opened on 19th August 1938, the architect Mr. S. L. Piper. builder J A Penman & Sons, at a cost of £4295 plus £112 for the tiled roof.

In 1974, the Government recognised the limited space available at the old Post Office Building, taking the land owned by local real estate agent John Stackpole on a site between Crayford Street and St Judes Street under the Public Works Act. In 1977, and again in 1980, the planned closing of the old Post Office for a new one at the other end of the town sparked some controversy, the Avondale Business Association at the time concerned over the competition of one side of Avondale’s shopping centre with the other.

The new building was completed in 1984, with a function for 200 guests entertained by pupils at Avondale Primary School before walking from the school sport’s field along to the new Post Office. This was originally designed to house both the postal and Post Bank branches. But, during the 1990s, the Post Bank branch was moved out and into other premises elsewhere in Avondale, leaving the postal counters for some time a lonely sight in the vastness of the interior until a more recent redesign into the form of the current PostShop format. With the introduction of KiwiBank in mid 2002, the limited space has once more had to be shared with the new operation.

In these times of Internet access and the ease of email over that of the letter, the postal service still remains part of the landscape of Avondale, the current PostShop still a meeting place of sorts for the community, whether stopping for a chat outside the post boxes, or running into your neighbour in the one feature that hasn’t changed over the years: the queue.

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