Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Ghosts of Post Offices Past - Wickham (2293)

Wickham Post Office- circa 1900 - NLA C4076 
The 27th Febuary 1871 would  have been quite an important day for the proud residents for the small  town of Wickam as on that day they were proclaimed a Municipality, the first in Newcastle. The new Wickham Municipality incorporated the surrounding towns of Maryville, Smedmore (Wickham North), Linwood, Islington and Tighes Hill ... quite a day indeed!

Wickham LPO 
With the industrial expansion of Newcastle in the 1860's more workers were seeking accommodation so residential land  was opened up from Blane Street (Hunter St) to Whytes Paddock on the banks of Throsby Creek with sales commencing in 1868. Due to it's unique siting, with the harbour and railway close by, industries also were also attracted to the area, with a soap and candle factory, abattoirs (Tighes Hill & Wickham), steam sawmill, Hunter River Copper Works (Port Waratah) and the coal mines situated at Bullock Island (Carrington), Tighes Hill (Ferndale Colliery) and the Maryville (located on the current Caltex refinery), all providing a varied working environment for the Wickham Municipality as the area expanded.

The early living conditions were further enhanced by the limitless supply of fresh water from the Islington sand beds, the abundance of fresh fish, eels and estuary prawns that were found in clear waters of Throsby and Styx Creek.

Tighes Hill 1938 - NLA C4076
As more people were attracted to the area the postal needs of the community also grew and one of the first deputations by the newly elected council in 1871 was to ask the Postmaster-General to establish a formal Post Office and so on the 13th September 1872, local store owner Mrs E.Blackie was appointed Wickhams first Postmistress. The Wickham Post Office grew rapidly becoming a Post & Telegraph Office (7/10/1878), a Money Order Office (MOO - 1/1/1880) and a Government Savings Bank agency (GSB -22/5/1884). Then on the 27/8/1892 the new purpose built Post Office on the Cnr Throsby & Hannell St's opened for business. This beautiful two storey building was built in the James Barnet 'country Post Office' Italian Renaissance' style (although it was completed during the time of  James Liberty Vernon tenure as New South Wales Government Architect) and cost £1897 ($1.4 million) to complete. Sadly we only have photo's of this iconic building left as the 1989 Newcastle Earthquake seriously damaged the structural integrity of the building and as a result the building was demolished. Australia Post also decided at this time to convert the Post Office to an LPO (Licenced Post Office) and this happened on the 1st December 1994.Today the current LPO stands on the former site of the Post Office, albeit now combined with a newsagency.
former Tighes Hill PO

It is also interesting to note that Tighes Hill began operations on the 13th September 1872, the same day as the Wickham Post Office with J.Kilgour appointed Postmaster and like Wickham, the Post Office grew as the population expanded. It became a Money Order Office (22/9/1872), Telephone Service (31/1/1890), GSB (15/10/1894) and then eventually became an Official Post Office (3/11/1914). In 1937 the Post Office moved into a new building at 4 Elizabeth St and stayed there until 1997, when Australia Post closed this wonderful example of an Art Deco Post Office for good.
Islington PO - 1951 - NLA C4076
Islington Post Office was promised to the residents by the Postmaster-General for many years prior to its opening on the 1st January 1893 with S.Proctor appointed the Postmaster. Again it quickly grew with a Telephone Service (18/11/1899), MOO & GSB (9/6/1900) and then finally a Official Post Office in 1941. A new Post Office was built in 1974 for $101,520 and housed the postmen for the Wickham/Islington area, as the then PMG began to restructure mail delivery. This building was then eventually sold in the 1990's and the delivery operations were moved to new larger premises in Hudson St  Hamilton (now itself closed and the operations haved now moved to Warabrook). The retail side of the Islington Post Office itself was closed and the licence sold off. As a result Islington became a Licenced Post Office, another LPO located within a newsagency and with that, the town lost some of its rich postal history.

1974 Islington PO site
Islington LPO 

The last of the area's Post Offices was the Wickham North Post Office located in Downie Street Maryville. It was called Wickham North because there was already a Maryville in Victoria and the authorities didn't want any confusion! When the name was proposed a few old time locals preferred the name Smedmore to reflect the original name for the area, however the PMG stuck to their guns and it remained known as Wickham North Post Office. This little Non Official Post Office (NONO) first opened in 1951 with J.G. Power appointed licensee and it closed in 1971. It reopened in 1972, however by 1978 it had once again closed, never to reopen, although the street posting box (SPB) remained in place until it too was relocated to Hannell Street.

Downie St Wickham 
So one day if you are walking through the streets of the former Wickham Municipality and you feel the hair on the back of your neck rise up, don't be afraid, it is probably just the ghost of a Post Office past looking for some proper closure.

I'd like the thank the invaluable assistance given to me by the NCC Library, Newcastle Family History & Historical Society, the National Library of Australia & Doreen Cummins of the Honeysuckle News & Post (Wickham LPO) in putting together this blog. 

As a footnote it should be understood the name Wickham is actually a corruption of the original spelling of the town of  Whickham, which is located a few miles from Newcastle upon Tyne in north east England   

No comments: