Computers and the Internet have brought many benefits with them. But, clearing out our mailbox recently, I realised how much I miss handwritten letters in handwritten envelopes, and cards that came through the post. There was a magic and an intimacy about them.
That then got me thinking about the postal system, and post offices, and how these have changed. At one stage, the village post office was a warm and friendly gathering place – where friends would meet, chat, share news about distant family, and discuss local events. Over the years they too have become more functional and less personal.
According to Lucille Davie, the first postal agent in Johannesburg was a man called AB Edgson. He kept a canteen in Ferreira’s Camp, and stored all the mail that arrived in a gin box. Towards the end of 1886 postal services were introduced three times a week. The addressees’ names were read out from an open window and the public claimed their post. At the end of the first year of this service there were 10 000 unclaimed letters (130 being for the Smith family!).
The first pillar boxes appeared in 1889, and postal deliveries started in 1896.These followed on the first post office which was built in Rissik Street in 1888. After 8 years a larger building was required, so it was demolished, and the present building erected in its place. Originally three stories high, a fourth storey was added in 1905, together with the clock tower.
“The clock was built in London by Gillett & Johnston in Croydon and shipped to South Africa early last century. Its largest bell, named “Little Evelyn” weighing in at 1 050 kilograms, was an exact replica of the smallest bell in London’s Big Ben, of which the Rissik Street clock was an exact replica in miniature.”
With the City Hall, opened in 1915, and the Central Library built in 1935, the Rissik Street Post Office reflected the steady march of progress from mining camp to city. It was proclaimed a national monument in 1978. In 1996 the lease between the City and the Post Office was cancelled, and the building was vacated. Since then it has not been occupied. A fire broke out in the middle of this year but, although causing damage inside, it did not harm the exterior.
On Friday 21 August the Johannesburg Property Company issued a request for proposals for the lease and development of the building. The cost of this development may exceed R100 million.
Of course, there are now numerous other post offices scattered around the city. I cannot pretend to have been inside many of them. However, the ones that I have visited have tended to be dreary and unfriendly places, and the only discussion amongst the sad looking people in the queues has related to the length of time that it takes to be served.
However, and take note of this second however, that has changed! I have found a post office that is not only attractive inside, but the staff there are wonderfully cheerful, co-operative and efficient. This has influenced the customers who, it seems to me, look more cheerful and chat about a variety of topics, instead of complaining. And then, when I found that I could not only renew my vehicle licence there, but have it printed and handed to me with a disc in no time at all, my astonishment and delight knew no bounds [well almost!]
Full marks to the planners, and to the men and woman of the Post Office in the Killarney Mall. You have shown what is possible – may others catch the vision. Until then… I will return!
You have the power to make someone smile today – why not use it whilst you can