A fortuitous chain of events has led to the discovery and proposed restoration of the actual handcart used by the Post Office in Dulwich Village in 1883 to deliver parcels. The first Dulwich Society members to alert the Executive Committee to the cart's whereabouts were Kenneth and Gillian Wolfe, who saw it being used as an advertisement for an antique shop near Tower Bridge. Other members later saw it and the Society decided to pursue the matter.
Patrick Spencer and Brian Green duly went to the antique shop and negotiated the purchase, having first secured the permission of Mr Patel, the Postmaster at the present Dulwich Village Post Office to allow the Dulwich Society to install the cart beneath his shop's canopy. Mr Patel also obtained the ready agreement of the Dulwich Estate to placing of the cart there. The sum paid by the Society was around £750.
Following the purchase, a visit was made to the Royal Mail archives at Mount Pleasant. It was discovered that in Liverpool in 1883, representation was made by postmen that the load they were carrying on the six daily deliveries was often too heavy and the Post Master of Liverpool sought permission to obtain handcarts for delivering parcels. The GPO parcels office in London took up the matter on a national basis and submitted a request for an order of carts for all its districts to the Treasury. This was accepted and all the national postal districts were requested to obtain tenders from local coachbuilders for manufacture. The estimates varied over the country but in November 1883 the Treasury instructed the GPO to place orders in their districts for a total of 1079 handcarts at a total cost of agreed expenditure of £8610. It is hoped that further research will reveal which London based company built the Dulwich Village handcart.
According to the antique shop, the Dulwich Village cart came to them from Liverpool. What its history is after if was replaced by the GPO with a nationally standardised cart built with a wicker top in 1915 is not known. This rare or possibly unique cart has therefore returned to its place of origin after an odyssey of some 123 years. Miraculously it still retains all its original fittings; a metal rack on the roof, an inner shelf, the original waterproofed roof cover, a removable sliding tray beneath and a hinged flap.
The cart is in great need of restoration and Dulwich Society member Willis Walker, an experienced restorer has agreed to head a team to this end. Graham Nash is assisting Willis in this project. Ian Bristow, an expert on paint finishes will advise on the original colour scheme and materials.
Willis writes "The first step is to find out as much as we can about its original design and appearance, and the materials used in its construction. More easily said than done! The paintwork is in very poor condition, and only one panel contains much detail. The present intention is to conserve this panel and not restore it. Volunteers are needed to assist with the project and a number of specialist skills are required. In particular we need a wheelwright, someone with metal working skills and equipment, a sign writer and someone to design the painted decoration using whatever information we gather." Willis may be contacted at: Tel. 020 7274 3276.