£500k bequest saves oldest post office

SUFFOLK'S oldest post office has been saved from closure, thanks a £500,000 bequest from a wealthy solicitor.

John Howard

SUFFOLK'S oldest post office has been saved from closure, thanks a £500,000 bequest from a wealthy solicitor.

Maxwell Charnley has left the astonishing amount to the parochial church council at Haughley, which will use the money to safeguard its 160-year-old village post office for future generations.

Details of the bequest have only just been revealed, even though Mr Charnley, who never married, died at the age 63 around 18 months ago.

It is believed he grew up in the picturesque village before moving to Hertfordshire, but he still had a home and family in the area at the time of his death.

Last night, Howard Stephens, treasurer for the parochial church council at St Mary's in Haughley, said: “We have had some good fortune and we do not want to waste that money, we want to put it back into the community. This is really fantastic.”

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Until sub-postmistress Maureen Edwards retired last September, the Haughley branch had continuously served the community since 1848 - making it what is believed to be the oldest in the UK.

Since then it has been closed, and the Post Office has been looking for suitable new premises to relocate to.

But the parochial church council has stepped in and is set to buy the former premises from Mrs Edwards.

This would then be rented to the Post Office, allowing it to find a replacement sub-postmaster or postmistress.

Mr Stephens said: “Mr Charnley left us at least £500,000, although the exact amount will not be known until his properties are sold, as well as a further £1 million split between his local church, and Papworth Hospital, and some other specific bequests.”

He said they had now exchanged contracts and should complete the purchase of the post office branch in three weeks.

“The Post Office has indicated that Haughley is 99.9% likely to remain open. With several local post offices closing, we think our best chance [to find a sub-postmaster] is to find someone from that list to run ours,” said Mr Stephens.

Kieron Palmer, whose family runs Palmers Baker in the village, was one of those serving on a committee fighting to save the post office.

Mr Palmer, whose great great grandfather Alfred Woods ran the post office for 40 years from 1896, said: “This is a vital service for the community, it's a lifeline, especially for the elderly.

“It's part of village life and helps keep communities alive. The church should be commended for coming forward and doing something so positive. The search is now on for a new postmaster or mistress.”

Carole Read, honorary secretary for the Bishop's Stortford Musical Theatre Company - of which Mr Charnley was a member - said he loved drama and cared about other people.

She said: “I performed with him in the late 1990s in Sweet Charity, he took his dramatics very, very seriously, and was always very much a gentleman.

“He was a very nice man and left our group about £5,000 which we are using to establish a yearly bursary to send people to summer school to improve their production skills.

“He was the sort of man that if he could not do you a good turn he would not do you a bad one. I am not surprised by his generosity.”

A spokesman for the Post Office said the Haughley branch is only temporarily closed and there are no current plans to shut it.

MAXWELL CHARNLEY

Lawyer Mr Charnley was a regular church-goer and amateur dramatics enthusiast, who according to friends was a complete gentleman.

He had been schooled at Bishop's Stortford College, and he went on to gain a place at Southampton University. On graduating he joined Nockolds, a long established law firm in Bishop's Stortford.

After qualifying as a solicitor he worked for a firm of solicitors in Cambridge before, in the mid 70s, establishing his own practice back in Bishop's Stortford. He worked there as a sole practitioner.

Mr Charnley, who never married, was a prominent member of the local community and had been very active in amateur dramatics before his death, aged 63, after a short illness in November 2006.

His funeral, which was well attended, was held at St Michael's Church, Bishop's Stortford, where he was a regular worshipper.

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