Witney Post Office on the move again

The Post Office in Witney has had several locations over the years (see below); questions continue to be asked about the suitability of a suggested replacement Post Office  after the planned closure of the branch on Hillrise.

First lets take a look at news about closing the current premises before dipping into the past.

Closing the Post office at Hillrise

October 16th 2013
Post Office reveals plan to move services in Witney to WH Smith
CAMPAIGNERS against the closure of Witney’s post office say they are sceptical about plans to move it to the town’s WH Smith branch.

District councillor Duncan Enright, who led a campaign against the closure, said he was worried about the suitability of WH Smith.

Crown network general manager Roger Gale said: “We are committed to keeping a post office branch in Witney and to maintaining the same levels of service for our customers.

Wednesday October 23rd
Post Office names day for Witney consultation event on planned move to WH Smith
WITNEY residents will be asked on Saturday for their views on the proposal to move the town’s post office to WH Smith’s Woolgate Centre shop.

Post Office managers will be at the consultation event at The Blue Boar, in Market Square, between 9.30am and 1pm to discuss the proposals and hear people’s opinions on the idea.

Wednesday October 30th
Witney Post Office move ‘would be disaster’
WITNEY residents say the plans to move the town’s post office to the WH Smith shop in the Woolgate Centre would be a “disaster”. They made their views plain at a public consultation held by Post Office managers in the town on Saturday.

From ‘Letters’ in Witney Gazette

“WH Smith is a decent company that seems to have perfected the enviable trick of boosting profits by relentlessly cutting costs and offering giant chocolate bars with every purchase. No doubt it can sell stamps efficiently enough, but WH Smith is not the Post Office.”

“I’m not at all surprised by the response to the ill-thought-out idea of moving the town’s busy post office services to the back of WH Smith in the Woolgate Centre (last week’s Gazette).”

“I visited the Post Office presentation about the proposed move of services to WH Smith at the Blue Boar Hotel in Witney (last week’s Gazette) and was very unimpressed by the scant factual information available.

“For example, there was no floor plan of the intended combined shop/post office, so it was impossible to make any reasoned assessment of the likely impact in this cramped, overcrowded shop, with its frequent and lengthy queues.” While the floor plan of the proposed post office section was indicated, the rest of the shop was shown simply as white space.

“But, more importantly, the Post Office refused even to discuss the concept of franchising and their whole attitude was that their decision to relocate to WH Smith was effectively a done deal.”

If you did not get the chance to attend the ‘consultation’, comments can be made until November 25th 2013:

Comments, including the reference 006137, can be made:

Online: web site
Email: comments@postoffice.co.uk
Post: addressed to:  Freepost, Your Comments, Post Office Ltd
Telephone: 08457 223344
Textphone: 08457 223355

Into the Past – Postal Services in Witney

According to British History Online, there are records of a postal service in Witney dating from 1695. This first service was set up by an unnamed hatter who was then succeeded by an innkeeper. Unfortunately, it does not say whether the service was located within one of Witney’s Inns at that time. (Two stamps and a pint of bitter please. [!])

The material notes that since the 1840s the Post Office has had numerous locations including Staple Hall Inn, then near the Methodist Hall on High Street, then to Pinnacle House before moving in the 1970s to Hillrise.

British Listed Buildings has this to say about Staple Hall:
Inn. Now nursing home.
Early-/mid C17. Coursed limestone rubble; stucco front.
Gabled stone slate roof; left end stack of stone finished in brick and brick ridge stacks. 2-unit plan.
2 storeys and attic; double-gabled 4-window range.
Late C19 six-panelled (4 glazed) door: late C18 stone porch has open pediment on Tuscan columns.
Late C18 six-pane sashes, and late C19 three-light casements to attic. Rear: early C18 sash window with thick glazing bars; C19 central wing; late C17 two-storey wing of similar materials to left.
Interior: stop-chamfered beams; open fireplace with bressumer. Early C19 dog-leg with landing staircase to rear.
Collar-truss roof with butt purlins.
Said to have been built in 1668 for William Townsend and his wife Ursula Marriott a favourite meeting house of the Company of Blanket Weavers before the Blanket Hall was built in 1721.
(Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, p.850: National Monuments Record K. Steane, “The Public Houses of Witney”, Record of Witney, No.5 (1978), pp.17-18).

According to The Witney Blanket Story:

Staple Hall

The original Staple Hall that stood on this site in Bridge Street is said to have been erected by Sir Roger de Stapleton in the 14th century at the same time as he had ExeterCollege built in Oxford [1]. It is thought that at one time Oxford colleges used the building as a place of refuge from the plague. It presumably acquired its name through being sited close to a wool hall. The stone building that stands there today is mainly 17th century and was almost totally rebuilt as an inn following a fire, by Ursula Marriott (an ancestor of the Marriott blanket making family of Witney) and her husband William Townsend in 1668.

Unfortunately, the references ([1] etc) from the Blanket story page are not shown or linked to sources.

And from Charles Gott:


“The third set of almshouses, near Staple Hall, was founded by William Townsend in 1821 for six aged unmarried women. The Townsend family had been well-known in Witney for many generations, and kept the Staple Hall Inn during the 17th century. At the time he founded the almshouses, William Townsend had left Witney and become a haberdasher in London.”
Page 35 Source

According to British History online:

“A postal service was established by 1695 when a Witney hatter served as salaried postmaster, to be succeeded in 1713 by an innkeeper.”

 And according to Charles Gott:

“The Townsend family had been well-known in Witney for many generations, and kept the Staple Hall Inn during the 17th century.”

One wonders if there was a relationship between the Townsend family and the aformentioned hatter (haberdasher?) and subsequent innkeeper running the postal service?