‘Happy over the hills’
When the media began focusing on the recent strains the business has been under due to Peak pressure and Covid-19-related absences, one customer in Oxfordshire thought it relevant to dig into the local history books and shine a light on two former colleagues from Wantage.
The first was Alfred Gauntlett, who first came to Wantage around 1860 as a servant to the postmaster Joseph Lewis.
Born in Southall, Middlesex, Alfred married a local girl who bore him three children Arthur, Selina and Alice. He was appointed a town postman in Wantage on 12 August 1864 and remained in the role for the next 38 years, retiring in 1902.
A newspaper report of his retirement noted that Alfred had earned ‘six good conduct stripes’ and ‘by his attention to detail, his urbanity, and care in the execution of his work he has enjoyed the respect and esteem of the inhabitants.’
The second postie was Frank Waight, who succeeded Alfred as the main postie in Wantage in 1902. Frank had previously been a rural postman ‘footing it’ around East Challow, Childrey, Westcot Sparsholt and Kingston Lisle. All his deliveries around Wantage were done on foot as records show he couldn’t ride a bicycle.
In an interview in 1933, Frank said: ‘I did start to ride one once – that was at the top of Chain Hill, but I got thrown off, so I gave it up and never took to it again.'
Frank was from Dublin and had been a boy messenger before joining the army aged 14 in 1889, serving in the Scots Guards for the next 12 years including during the South African War of 1899-1902.
He was also a keen musician having served as a bandsman in the army, so when living in Wantage, Frank was the drummer for the Wantage Orchestra Band.
On Frank’s retirement in 1933, the then postmaster Mr McInnes referred to Frank's first duties on the rural routes saying he ‘was happy over the hills walking and whistling and has done more footslogging than any other member of staff.’
Records show that Frank had had only six-and-a-half days off sick throughout his career and had never been late for work.
During his time with us, he had delivered 5,500,000 letters, 200 tons of parcels, walked 100,000 miles and had never once been late on duty. I wonder if any of our current colleagues has a record to match?
Photo by Oxford Mail shows Wantage Post Office staff photographed in 1910, during the era Frank Waight was the main postman serving the town.