The front of a post office building with a large, multi-paned window above post-boxes which have been set into the masonry.
Cullompton Post Office - detail of window © Historic England
Cullompton Post Office - detail of window © Historic England

Historic Post Office in Cullompton is Listed

Cullompton Post Office has been listed as part of the town's High Streets Heritage Action Zone, a partnership between Historic England and Mid Devon District Council to regenerate this historic Devon market town.

Cullompton Post Office

The Grade II listed 1930s post office is an example from the golden age of post office architecture. It becomes one of only a few listed inter-war post office buildings in the country.

As part of the Cullompton High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ), delivered by Historic England and Mid Devon District Council, Historic England is reviewing and researching the historic buildings within the town centre.

The purpose-built post office and sorting office on Fore Street was built in 1939 and opened in December that year. A local newspaper described it as ‘palatial and, one would think, appropriate to the last degree.’

Cullompton’s post office and sorting office is thought to be by the Office of Works architect H E Seccombe (1879 to 1955). Considered to be one of the most talented and accomplished of the Office of Works post office architects, Seccombe designed numerous post offices in the south-west of England during the 1930s. These include Radway post office in Sidmouth, Devon (Grade II) which is regarded as one of the most sophisticated interpretations of the neo-Georgian style in post office architecture, while the post office in Glastonbury (Grade II) is designed in a vernacular Tudor style to mimic two 15th century buildings on the High Street.

The design of the Cullompton post office successfully combines standard neo-Georgian features, such as panelled doors and sash windows, with local materials and vernacular traditions in a design that is recognisable as a post office but also responsive to its locality. Features such as the rendered finish to the first floor to suggest cob construction give the building local character.

Inter-war post offices that retain their original layout and fixtures and fittings are now rare. Despite some alterations over time, the original layout of the Cullompton building is clear and it retains many of its original features, including windows, a coffered ceiling (recessed square patterns) to the former public office, a concrete staircase, and the parquet flooring and roof lantern to the sorting office.

The building is at 34-36 Fore Street, within the Cullompton Conservation Area, and contributes to its character. It is still a Royal Mail sorting and delivery office, with the post office function in premises nearby.

It is great to see Cullompton’s architecturally significant buildings, such as the post office, are being given a status which allows them to be preserved and protected for generations to come. Steadily our plans to enhance the centre of Cullompton are coming together and this is just one small step to really make a difference to the town centre.

Cllr Richard Chesterton, Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Regeneration, Mid Devon District Council

The history of post office buildings

Until the mid-19th century, the receipt and dispatch of letters was carried out in existing buildings as an additional function. In 1858, the government’s Office of Works became the official provider of the post office service and architects were commissioned to design their buildings.

By the early 20th century the increasing role and importance of the post office service called for its own architectural identity and from 1908 the Post Office began to select its own architects. R J Allison’s appointment as Chief Architect of the Office of Works in 1920 led to the adoption of the neo-Georgian style for post office buildings, a style that was reassuringly traditional and adaptable for modern needs.

Huge numbers of post offices were built during the inter-war years, and this, with the adoption of neo-Georgian as the architectural house style, has led to the inter-war period being considered a golden age for the Post Office. However, very few examples of the period are listed.

The post office plan of a public office with a sorting office attached to the rear remained fundamentally unchanged from the mid-19th century onwards. As the Post Office acquired additional responsibilities, particularly those associated with the telegraph (from 1870) and the telephone service (from the 1880s), additional facilities were required including facilities for women clerks (who formed about a quarter of the workforce), facilities for telegram boys, a telephone instrument room, and sometimes a telephone exchange. There was also usually a rear yard to allow vehicular and cycle access to the sorting office.

Through the town’s High Street Heritage Action Zone, we have identified how important the post office is to the story and character of Cullompton. We’re delighted that its special character has been recognised through Grade II listing, and we’d love people to add their own photos, memories and information to the list entry for this fine building.

Lucy Foster, Listing Adviser, Historic England