SE District Sorting Office

Px01455_800x500_Av-HDR - 12 Mar 2015

Above: The building remains in Borough High Street but it is no longer the main Post Office anymore.

“Reminiscing the Past”

In the decades following the Second World War, posting a letter was what everybody did all the time. If you posted it on one day it would be delivered the following day. Now that we have ‘moved on’ and become computerised, we are lucky if a letter is delivered within four days of being posted and, to boost confidence in the system, we now have a two-tier postal system – First Class and Second Class.

I was a student in the 1960s and I got a job during some of the long summer breaks as a porter at Guy’s Hospital. As well as the normal things that porters do – like pushing patients in their beds or wheel-chairs from their ward to the X-ray Department; delivering bunches of flowers that were brought to the Front Lodge by couriers; and bringing a replacement oxygen cylinder from the store to a ward for a patient in an intensive care bed – there were other duties that needed to be done.

In the mid-1960s it was possible to take a letter to the SE District Sorting Office behind the main Post Office (at 239 Borough High Street), near St George the Martyr as late as 10.00 pm at night and still catch the day’s post.

I was on late duty one evening, sitting in the Porters’ Lodge, when a doctor came along with a letter at about 9.30 pm. He said the letter was very urgent and that it had to go out that night. I was detailed to walk down Borough High Street, cross Great Dover Street and walk round the back of the Post Office – to the entrance that the Post Office vans used, in Swan Street. All you had to do was to find a Post Office worker and hand him the letter. Because the Post Office counter had closed at 5.30 pm and all the letter boxes had already been emptied, this was a method of ‘catching the last of the day’s mail’ and having the letter put into a sack bound for the town to which the letter was addressed.

SE District Sorting Office Map_800x600_labelled

Above: Ordnance Survey map showing the Post Office (labelled ‘PO’ and shaded pink) and the ‘SE District Sorting Office’ and its yard which was entered from Swan Street.

As I think back to the simplicity of the way an urgent letter could be handed in, with the certain knowledge that it would be delivered in less than 12 hours to its intended destination, I marvel at how efficient the Post Office was in those times. Since then we have put a man on the moon but the system does not seem to be able to deliver a letter within less than four days!

You may not be surprised to learn that the main Post Office in Borough High Street has been closed for some years now. The building stands empty. All the delivery vans and sorting facilities round the back of that Post Office have also been closed down and blocks of up-market apartments have been built on the land.


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