Fairseat Post Office

Note: This article is partly based on research carried out by Adrien Sturgeon on the retirement of Kay and Len Pointon in October 1997 when Post Office provision in Fairseat ceased.

Sevenoaks was the main postal town in the district from the earliest days, it being a stop on the main mail coach route between London and the Continent via Rye. Wrotham was also on a stagecoach route (London – Hythe) and had a Branch Post Office at the Bull Hotel from 1786. Long before there were officially recognised post offices outside of the main coach routes there were places where letters could be left or accepted, sorted or passed on. Prior to 1800, these places were mostly public houses.

The post was the only available means of communication until 1871 when the Telegraph was introduced and it was not until 1912 locally that the telephone was introduced. Both the Telegraph and telephone were introduced by the post office. Telephone call boxes were introduced in Fairseat in 1923 and in Stansted in 1930.

Before 1840 there were 13 post offices in the Sevenoaks district and between 1841 and 1920 a further 27 local post offices were opened including Fairseat in 1871 and Stansted in 1897.
Prior to these dates post had been delivered to and collected from the villages from Sevenoaks post office via Wrotham branch office. In 1846 the Wrotham messenger to Fairseat, Stansted, Kingsdown and Ash was paid 12 shillings a week and in 1910 the route from Wrotham to Fairseat and Stansted was upgraded from foot post to cycle post.

Subpostmasters were contractors to the Post Office and not employees. Also, they were not necessarily the person behind the counter – William Webb in Stansted for instance was a wheelwright so could not attend to postal business all the time the office was open. So often it might be a spouse, a relative or an employee (full or part-time) who handled the counter work.

Fairseat Post Office (1871-1930)
Fairseat Cottage, the site of the original Post Office (1871-1930). Image courtesy of stanstedandfairseat.blogspot.com

Fairseat Post Office opened in 1871 as a Receiving House in what is now called Fairseat Cottage. Over the next 34 years, it gradually increased the scope of its services to include the selling of Postal Orders, Money Orders, acted as a Savings Bank and became a Telegraph Office.

The first known Sub-Postmaster was Mrs Charlotte Smith (1874-77) followed by Mrs Frances Jacques (1877- 82). After a break of a few months, the well known Edwin Turville (known also as Edward Turbille) took over and held this office for around 50 years from 27 April 1883 to about 1927/33 (it seems he died in 1933/1934). He was also Clerk to the Parish Council for much of this time and had a relation, Miss Stella Henden, to assist him in his Post Office work from about 1916. Stella Henden seems to have been Sub-Postmaster from about 1927/33 and certainly up to 1966. This included running the manual Telephone Exchange in Fairseat for 24 years from its opening on 9 December 1925 until it was automated in 1959.

When Fairseat Post Office opened in 1871 the building was owned by Major-General John Kemball of Fairseat House and was used as a coachman’s cottage. After Major-General Kemball died, the ownership passed to Colonel William Pitt when he bought Fairseat House at auction on 16 June 1914.

It seems that functions of the Post Office moved to The Old Post House (behind Fairseat Pond) in about 1930/31, around the time of the financial slump and not long before Colonel Pitt died.

The Old Post House, Fairseat’s second Post Office (1931-1966). Image courtesy of stanstedandfairseat.blogspot.com

It seems likely that the new Post Office building had just been bought by Edwin Turville and the freehold passed from him on his death to Stella Henden as she owned it when she died. An alternative recollection is that the Waterlow family owned the building and when Sir Philip died it was sold to Colonel Anderson.

The pond in front of the entrance still exists but is now within the garden of the house.
Courtesy: stanstedandfairseat.blogspot.com

Fairseat Post Office stayed at what is now The Old Post House for about 35 years in Stella Henden’s care and during this time she also ran a small shop alongside the post office and telephone exchange.

Long term resident of Fairseat, Grisell Pasteur, recalls “When I came to live in Fairseat [in the 1930s]: Miss Henden’s shop was basic. It had string, bootlaces, sweets, tins of Golden Syrup, and packets of sugar, but not very much else. As so often happens in village shops, you should never be in a hurry when you go there because it always takes longer than you expect, and Miss Henden’s shop was no exception. It had a very high counter and the children couldn’t see over it until they were about 7 or 8. The children would be lined up, Mum would be there but not necessarily served at once. The residents of the larger houses might well be there too and they would be served first according to Miss Henden’s feelings for precedence.”

Stella Hendren in her shop, post office, and telephone exchange in the early 1960s. Image Courtesy of the Fairseat Archive

Grisell Pasteur continues “The telephone exchange was only about 10 feet across and 5 or 6 feet high. I suppose that she [Stella Henden] sat on a little stool in front of it and pulled the plugs in and out. Our number when we first came here was 79, so there must have been 79 subscribers. Then it became 279, and then it became 822279 and so on. She was very chatty on the telephone. She knew practically the whole of the Fairseat exchange by heart. She never had to look it up in the book. One just said “I want Mrs Bloggs, please and she would put you through. Sometimes she would be in the shop and you would wait for 10 minutes at the end of the phone till she had finished her transactions in the shop and came and attended to the exchange. Through Miss Henden you could get through to Sevenoaks or to Australia if necessary, if you waited long enough, or you gave notice that you wanted to.”

Sadly Stella Hendren fell ill and died in 1966. There is a plaque in the boundary wall of The Old Post House which reads
During her illness, the Post Office and shop had continued to operate through a team effort by Betty Paul (Fairlight Lodge), Kay Pointon and others. Kay’s husband, Len, was a herdsman looking after Col. Anderson’s dairy cows at Fairseat Farm and he and his wife had been living in Daisy Cottage (now Court House Farm).

After Stella’s death, on 21 February 1967 Kay Pointon became Sub-Postmaster and she and Len moved to Fairseat Farmhouse (the house opposite Fairseat Manor and next to the access road to the Recreation Ground).

Len converted the building to a post office and shop and gave up other work to set up and run the shop within a couple of years. From 1968 to 1997 the ground floor was a Village Shop and Post Office. It was known locally for many years as the Pink House and Fairseat Post Office. It was a lovely, old-fashioned shop and was run for almost 30 years by Kay and Len assisted by their daughter Melita Gandolfo. It reverted to its former name when the post office closed in 1995.

The Pointons continued to live there and moved out in 2012 or early 2013. The house was sold and in 2019, the building was extensively remodelled and enlarged.

The following video footage was kindly filmed by Julie Sheldon to record the last day of the Fairseat PO which was on Saturday 14th October 1995.  The video features Kay and Len Pointon, Melita Gandolfo and her two children, Flora and Marco. Also in the film are Julie’s daughters Mimi and Georgie together with Mike Pallent.

Author: Dick Hogbin
Editor: Tony Piper
Contributors: Tom Sheldon
Acknowledgements: stanstedandfairseat.blogspot.com; Adrien Sturgeon, The Posts of Sevenoaks
Last Updated: 02 March 2024