I recently came across the best picture I have seen of the old post office in Kenton. Most of the pictures I have seen have come from old postcards and are part of group scenes of The Triangle, but this picture is a photograph of just the one building. It probably dates from the early 1920s. Its clarity enables a close examination of the architectural detail in a way that most pictures do not. In this photograph it is the subject rather than being the backdrop to The Triangle. The photograph is included in A E Richardson and C Lovett Gill’s Regional Architecture of the West of England (1924)[i]. That photograph is, I believe, still subject to copyright so unfortunately I will not be including it here. Instead I am inluding a scene of The Triangle, which has a good and reasonably detailed view of the Old Post Office. This is taken from a postcard of around 1910.
The building occupied by the old post office adjoined what is now The Rodean Restaurant. It was demolished in 1965.
The building is thought to have dated from around 1810. A newspaper report suggests 1817.[ii] As can be seen, it was of classic Georgian proportions, symmetrically double fronted, two-storied and with a centrally placed porticoed doorway. There were flat, segmented sashed bow windows either side of the door and a central attic dormer. Tall elegantly proportioned chimneys are prominent features, as they are with many of Kenton’s period buildings. Regional Architecture of the West of England described it as a “good specimen of the treatment of flat segmental bows to a house of small size”.[iii]
By the time it was demolished it had become neglected and dilapidated. It had operated as the post office from the earliest time that a post office was established in the village. But in 1963 the building and the business were purchased by Mr Johnson, who had a grocery business very close by. He transferred the post office business to his grocery store, where it remains to this day. The building itself was left empty. Although he tried to sell the building as a residence, there were no bidders, despite it already being listed of architectural and historical interest.
Then Devon County Council purchased the building with a view to demolishing it for road widening, although a Council spokesman was reported to have said that various points of view were being considered and that its fate had not been decided.[iv] Opinion was divided, with some thinking that the removal of the building was essential to make the road safe for traffic. Others thought that the road was, paradoxically so dangerous as to be already safe and that if the road were widened motorists would be tempted to drive faster through the village.
Local residents organised a petition calling for the building to be saved stating that the post office had been scheduled as a building of architectural interest. The Georgian Group had also protested to the County Council about the demolition scheme. Local protests also claimed that demolition would be a waste of ratepayers’ money when a by-pass was already in the County’s plan, which would turn the village into a rural backwater. A local councillor claimed that “In five or six years’ time there will be a by-pass around the village, so why waste money and spoil the beauty of the village for what amounts to a temporary road improvement?”[v]
The protests were to no avail, and the Old Post Office was subsequently demolished. At the same time part of the village green The Triangle, was sacrificed to the road widening, and the horse trough, place to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was dismantled and moved. The horse trough is now used as a planter for the village flower displays.
So what does hindsight tell us about this event? The most obvious is that because the road had been widened, the much talked about by-pass was never built, presumably because it was felt to be no longer a priority. Traffic still flows through the village on the now much busier A379 and although the one tightest pinch point was removed others remain. Traffic speeds through the village to the point that traffic calming measures have had to be implemented, and the pavement widened elsewhere to slow traffic. And a building recognised as being of great historical and architectural merit was lost forever and can now only be appreciated from period photographs.
[i] A E Richardson and C Lovett Gill (1924 facsimile edition 2001) Regional Architecture of the West of England p112
[ii] Express and Echo 4 January 1965
[iii] A E Richardson and C Lovett Gill (1924 facsimile edition 2001) Regional Architecture of the West of England p115
[iv] Express and Echo Express and Echo 4 January 1965
[v] Express and Echo 1 February 1965