H.W. Gutsell (1844-1931)

From Historical Hastings

H. W. Gutsell
Died10 April 1931


Mr Henry W. Gutsell was a postman who had a round in the Hastings area during the 1880s; being initially employed as a messenger on the Hastings to Hollington area between 1864 and 1869[1] , and an article summing up his memoirs was published in the Hastings Observer dated 20th June 1931. His round reportedly involved a daily walk of some 30 miles.

He wrote as follows:-

"These reminiscences are by one who has spent practically the whole of his eighty odd years in Hastings or its immediate vicinity, and who naturally thinks that no other place can compare with it in interest or in the beauty of its surroundings. I have been keenly interested in the growth and well being of the town all my life. I often recall the time when it possessed only one bank, and when Warrior Square was a brickfield. Perhaps an acount of what I remember will enable some of the younger generation to realise better the changes that have taken place in the span of one man's life, and those of my own age will be pleased to have their memories refreshed by it."

Mr Gutsell continues:-


"In my young days there were no trams or buses on the streets; taxis, motor cars, aeroplanes, telephones and wireless sets were not even dreamed of, and the roads were not lit by gas or electricity. There was no pier, no Town Hall, no hospital, no large shops and no fine parade. When we travelled by train we had to sit on uncomfortable hard seats, and to begin with the carriages were without roofs. When, however, I did make a journey to Brighton in a carriage that was roofed over, I found the draught to be worse than in the open-air trucks because the sides were open. In place of the Alexandra Railway Bridge there was a long tunnel, and from there to Ore Valley there were only two houses - a farmhouse and one in which Dr. Fearing lived. The first house, built near the Cemetery was occupied by Mr G.A. Thorpe who was several times Mayor of the town. The ground between St Marys Terrace and Stonefield Road, then known as The Steeples was used as a pasture ground for donkeys and goats, of which there were a number plying for hire on the sands.

West Hill, Mount Pleasant & Bohemia

Save for a few old shanties,Dr Wyatt[a] had the only house in Mount Pleasant Road. There were three windmills on the West Hill. Mr Feaist, who was a great temperance reformer, gave up his position as head grinder and opened a business on Old London Road, where by steady perseverance, he built up a successful bakery. Daily he used to travel up to Tower Road in order to deliver one loaf of bread, always leaving his pony and cart at the Prince of Wales Hotel in order to avoid paying the tax at the toll-gate.

Close to what is now the busy Bohemia Road were the Shornden and Newgate Woods. The North Star was the first house to be built in the Newgate Wood which had up to then included only three old thatched cottages. There was also another wood extending down London Road as far as Warrior Square and known as Primrose Vale.


The Rapid growth of the town is further shown by the number of new churches and chapels that have been built in my time. The only places of worship existing in my youth were St. Mary in the Castle, St Leonards Old Church, St Clements Church, All Saints Church, St Mary Magdalen Church, Croft Chapel and the Norman Road Wesleyan Chapel, so that among others, I have seen erected in my time Christ Church, St John's Church, Holy Trinity Church, St Pauls Church, St Peters Church Christ Church Blacklands, the Fishermans Church, London Road Congregational Church and the Central Wesleyan Chapel.

There have been great changes also in the business quarters of the town. In my youth, Robertson Street was in its infancy, Silchester Road started with only two or three shops, and Kings Road and Queen's Road were entirely undeveloped."

Further information

Ian Shiner in the Historical Hastings Facebook group kindly provided the following:

There was and is now some scepticism that Henry Gutsell, the subject of Roy Penfolds’ post of his memoirs in the H&SLO would have walked 30 miles a day as a postman. So I have looked further into his life and claims.

He was a post office messenger and letter carrier between 1865 and somewhere between 1876 and 1880, that is between the ages of 21 and 36. But for the majority of his life he was a greengrocer.

Henry Westgate Gutsell was born in Westfield in 1844.

1861 Agricultural labourer, living in Westfield with parents.

!865 Obtained position of Post Office messenger Hastings to Hollington.

1868 Married Elizabeth Woods, from Hailsham, daughter of a marsh looker (shepherd).

1869 Officially confirmed in the role of Post Office messenger Hastings to Hollington.

1871 Letter carrier, address No. 3 Trinity place, Hastings. Wife Elizabeth, d Louisa 6 months

1874 Death of Ellen Maria, daughter of Henry Gutsell, letter carrier.

1876 Living in Trinity place

1881 Greengrocer, address No. 20 Silchester road, St Leonards-on-Sea, 3 children and mother-in-law

1891 Greengrocer, No. 20 Silchester road, St Leonards-on-Sea, 5 children, including Frederick who runs the business after his father’s retirement.

1900 Death of wife Elizabeth

1901 Greengrocer, No. 20 Silchester road, St Leonards-on-Sea, widower, his sons Charles and Frederick living at home are piano tuners.

1902 Remarried to Lucy Scott, boarding house keeper of Station Road, Hastings

1911 Retired fruiterer, Westfield Villa, Beauport road, St. Leonards-on-Sea. New son Stanley Scott Gutsell.

1931 Died April 10 leaving estate of £2,505 15s 8d.

So, what of the 30 miles per day claim? The average motivated adult walking speed is reckoned to be 3 miles per hour. So we are looking at 10 hours per day. This would not involve parcels as the post office did not take over parcel delivery until 1883 and it was then that letter carriers became titled postmen. The distance from the then Hastings post office to Hollington was 3 miles so 30 miles would involve several round trips.

The town was divided into two districts for postal purposes. Mail for delivery west of Hastings pier had to be addressed as St Leonards. The Chief Post Office was open 7 days a week in the late 1800s. Monday to Saturday 7:00 am to 10:00 pm, and Sunday 7:00 am to 10:00 am. The first despatch of mail was at 5:00 am and the last of 13 despatches was at 8:45 pm., of which seven were local delivery. There were 49 posting points, wall boxes, pillar boxes and receiving offices from which the mail was collected up to 7 times per day. You could then send an invitation to tea by morning post and get a reply in the afternoon of the same day. In summary, while I think that 30 miles is something of an exaggeration there is no doubt that the letter carriers worked long hours and walked considerable distances to deliver the mail.


  1. A later correspondent states that the nominal of Dr. is incorrect and the occupier was merely Mr. Wyatt

References & Notes

  1. British Postal Service Appointment Books