Dodds Howe Cottage was the first Post Office and the "History of Westmorland" tells of Elizabeth Crosthwaite being the postmistress there. Her daughter Isabella, who was also a dressmaker, took over from her mother.
The Post Office moved to the present building in the late 19th century. The first postmaster on the new site was John Hodgson of Newton in Cartmel with his wife Alice. Later came the Moons and then the Radcliffes.
Dick Gardner took the shop over in the 1920s when it became vacant. He was born in 1886, one of the Spout House family. When he was demobbed from the army after the First World War, he married Kate Abraham, daughter of the schoolmaster. Dick also had a carrier's business running a service on Wednesdays and Saturdays from the Post Office to the Wool Pack Yard in Kendal. In addition he had a field, over the stone bridge, with cows and hens. The Gardners had three children, Jim who died when he was only 18 months old, Richard born in 1922 and John in 1927. Both boys went into farming.
When Mr Prickett died at one of the Tarnside farms, the Gardner family swapped houses with the Prickett family and took over the running of the farm. Mrs Prickett, in turn, became the postmistress, helped by her daughters Miriam and Mary. Mrs Prickett was sister-in-law to James Prickett, the schoolmaster.
The first telegraph machine in the village to send and receive telegrams was sited at the Post Office. The telephone exchange was installed in Town Yeat Smithy and the Post Office took on the first telephone number in Crosthwaite, 201. No doubt it was a wind up machine, where the postmistress could, in the best Ealing Films' tradition, join in the conversations! It moved to a purpose-made building near Guide Post Cottage. The postman walked from Kendal every day with the post. He waited for the local post boxes to be emptied before he returned to Kendal in the afternoon. The first postmen and boys did their rounds on foot or on bicycles. Charlie Keates was one of these. He lived at Greenbank, Rickety Lane. At busy times, such as Christmas, extra delivery people were recruited. May Moffatt (Armstrong) and Mary Hudson (Myers) both did this job. In those early days the telephone kiosk was inside the shop, so that if anyone wanted to use the telephone after closing time, Mrs Prickett would have to open up!
In 1947 Billy Stott married Mary Prickett and came to run the Post Office. Telegrams had to be delivered by foot or bicycle. Annie Shepherd, from North Cottage, used to help him deliver them. Mary had to be on duty to receive telegrams from 9 until 10.30 am every Sunday and Bank Holiday, including Christmas Day. In the 1950s, for four years, Billy had a milk round, as well. He returned from his round one Christmas Day at 1.00pm, only to find that a telegram had come in for someone living in Underbarrow. They had to wait for its delivery until he had finished his Christmas dinner! Telegrams finished in the early 1970s.
In contrast to the earlier delivery of the post by foot and bicycle, the mail was delivered by a van and dumped on the Post Office floor. Three part-time postmen, Bob Hudson, Harry Shepherd and Walter Thornburrow sorted and delivered it.
The Post Office was also a general store, with a wide range of goods for sale. The store was well patronised by the people in the village, a fact much appreciated by Billy. The couple retired in 1985 but Billy continued to help out a couple of days a week.
After the Stotts came Mike Taylor, Tony Cookson and Jenny Glover. Then in November 1990, John and Valerie Harrison moved from Bedfordshire and bought the business. The Post Office was a real change after careers in avionic electronics and catering. Within a year the shop layout was redesigned and an off-licence obtained. In November 1998 it became a trial shop in a Sainsbury's scheme, whereby groceries could be purchased and sold on. This led to a great increase in the variety of goods on sale. Meanwhile the greetings card side of the business was thriving, along with local products and crafts, especially anything made from damsons. Valerie was by now making preserves to be sold in the shop. The couple have taken village photographs for postcards and greetings cards, commissioned damson ice cream from English Lakes Ice Cream and have written a book of guide walks around the district.
In 2000 a huge change took place in the Post Office, when it became computerised, thereby reducing much of the tedious paperwork for John. The variety of services available increases year by year and is now a far cry from the traditional transactions of the last century. Long may the Harrisons remain at the Post Office and be allowed to champion the cause of the rural shop, in the face of current uncertainties over the future of the Nation's sub-post offices.
In the early part of the 20th century Elizabeth Walker owned the hamlet of Bowland Bridge, including the General Stores and Post Office and members of her family, including Richard and Mary Walker, worked in the shop.
Bert Lever bought it from Mrs Parkinson in 1955 and continued her tradition of staying open late at night and stocking just about everything anyone could need, thus sparing them from a trip into Kendal on the Ribble bus, which ran three times a week in those days.
Bert was born in 1901. He first came to Cartmel Fell in the early days of the Second World War. He became a life-long friend of Charlie Holland, who lived at Hartbarrow Cottage. Bert eventually built Hartbarrow Chalet in the field above the cottage, where his family spent many happy holidays. All through the War Bert helped many farmers and the local timber merchant with tyres, petrol and oil, which were in very short supply. No doubt the favours were returned in the form of bacon, eggs and other farm produce.
His wife, Edith, ran the shop at first, whilst Bert continued to work in Farnworth. When the marriage broke up, Bert took over the shop until he finally gave up in his eighties.
In the late 1960s he fought rigorously to stop Manchester Corporation from flooding the Winster Valley. He also helped to keep the old packhorse bridge from being levelled out, ensuring that traffic now flows through the village at a reasonable rate.
Bert was known locally as a character who liked a drink or two and it is a well-known fact that the Post Office was not always open dead on time!
John and Molly Wood bought the Post Office and Stores in 1982. They came from Cleckheaton in Yorkshire. Contrary to rumour, they did not open up as a casino but as a shop, on April Fools' Day 1983 (also Good Friday)! The couple were new to retailing, as Molly worked in computers and John in the joinery trade. In fact John did joinery work for a short while to make ends meet, until the shop found its feet. Petrol sales were reintroduced, shortly after opening.
From the outset John and Mary decided that it was to be a shop for locals and to try to keep a wide range of stock. Hannah was born in 1984, the first baby in Bowland Bridge for many years. The business prospered and in 1992 an extension was built onto one end, to make a bigger shop area. The old part was eventually converted to a coffee shop and the garden at the rear of the new shop became a "tea garden".
Lately, like farming, rural retailing has had its problems. Petrol supply is under threat and rural depopulation has reduced the number of customers. The advent of large town supermarkets and difficulties in ordering small deliveries of stock have added to problems of running small village stores, but the Woods hope to be able to supply everything from jubilee clips to butter for years to come.
The shop has become a dropping-off point, a meeting-up place, an unofficial Tourist Guide Office and Information Centre. As John says, "It all helps to make the world go round!"