MR. HAMPSHIRE OF EYTHORNE
With nearly 50 years of service to the Post Office behind him, Mr. Leonard Richard Hampshire, sub-postmaster at Eythorne since 1902, handed over the sub-postmaster post to his son on Tuesday morning, and at 74, decided to concentrate on his other business interests-running his fleet of taxis and pleasure coaches.
Still as spry and active as he has been for years, Mr. Hampshire frowned when his retirement was announced, and then told his family “I don’t believe in giving up work.”
Mr. Hampshire’s story is one of development, for he has watched the village grow from a small agricultural community to the mining district which it is to-day, and he has seen the pits themselves spring up from the first boreholes which were made in the outlying fields.
Although he first lived in the village as a child, Mr. Hampshire, who was born in Canterbury, left the district and started his business career in London with such firms as Harrods, and the Army and Navy Stores. By January 1902, he was back, and, with the experience he had gained, opened a small grocery store and sub-post office where Vyes shop now stands.
Life then, was very calm and unhurried. The collieries had not opened, there was no neighbouring village of Elvington, and when he wanted to watch a football match he had to make the journey into Dover. The postage rate was 1d. for a letter and 1/2d. for a post card, no insurance stamps or old-age pensions troubled the sub-postmaster in those early years of the century, and the mail was collected by a smartly-painted horse-drawn van. By 1909 Mr. Hampshire had given up his grocery business and re-established himself as newsagent stationer and sub-postmaster on his present site at the top of Chapel Hill.
Just after the first World War he found himself cycling from Shepherdswell with over a hundredweight of newspapers, and decided the time had come for progress. Buying up an old Ford, he soon took out a Hackney Carriages licence, and before long had to give up newspapers and concentrate on hire work, which quickly put the two chaises which plied in the district, out of business. From that first old model, his hire business grew to two and then three cars, then a fourteen-seater bus, until his sleek green and cream coaches were known throughout the county.
Another business venture was born when Mr. Hampshire decided to supply himself with electric light, another innovation for a rural district in those days. No sooner had he installed equipment, than his next-door neighbour, suitably impressed, requested similar service, and over the years Mr. Hampshire built up a steady clientele. At one time he was sending out over thirty 100 volt batteries to his customers, who had merely to connect them to their own circuits, and nearly half that number enjoyed “cut-free” lightening. When the question of lighting the village by electric came up Mr. Hampshire submitted his tender for the job, and proudly claimed to have saved the area quite a sum of money. “When the light was finally installed” he said, “the quotation had to undercut mine considerably. I was rather glad I didn’t get the job though, it would have been quite a worry.”
For over thirty years Mr. Hampshire was retained by the former East Kent Coroner, the late Mr. Rutley Mowll, to drive him to the various villages in which he was conducting inquests. Although he drove for thousands of miles in that capacity, Mr. Hampshire recalled “I never got round to attending an inquest, I can claim a unique knowledge of village churches, because whenever I had a couple of hours to wait I used to go into the local church and have a look round.”
“I never got tired of driving,” says Mr. Hampshire, “for there was always something new just round the corner. I hope to go on driving, but of course my sons will see to it that I don’t do too much.”
Yet another aspect of his life was over 26 years as the local Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths, a position which he had to relinquish in 1940 when it was made into a full-time job. No-one could have been more pleased then Mr. Hampshire, who was covering an area including Eythorne, Waldershare, Barfreston, Nonington, Aylesham and Tilmanstone. “I can recall working 21 hours a day more than once “he said,” and I’m sure that if some of the youngsters of to-day had a bit of the spirit that carried my generation through, the country wouldn’t be in the state it is.”
Mr. Hampshire’s family is carrying on his tradition of post office services. Douglas, who succeeds him as sub-postmaster at Eythorne, formerly held that position at Elvington and then at Wingham, Leonard another son, is the present sub-postmaster at Elvington, while Mr. Ken Whiteman, Shepherdswell’s sub-postmaster, is married to Mr. Hampshire’s only daughter. Another son, Reginald, operates the coach and taxi service with his father, while a fourth son is head of the Drawing Office, Metropolitan Water Board.
Asked about the present service to the public given by the postal authorities, Mr. Hampshire agrees that it has improved “in some respects.” In his day, he said, the Eythorne sub-post office used to deal with about 30 bags of parcels alone, on Christmas Day, and the postmen worked from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. clearing the mail. “Now, of course,” he explained, “people have to post early, and it’s all spread over.”
One improvement which brings Mr. Hampshire’s whole-hearted approval, however, is the matter of salary. Sub-postmasters are no longer paid quarterly, he says, and what, they now get in a week, would, in the early days, have been payment for a quarter.