Fairlight General Stores and the Post Office

The Fairlight General Stores and Post Office, normally known as The Post Office

By Paul Draper

(The following article was written on 25th July 2016, immediately before Graeme and Leonie Gambrell took over the Fairlight General Stores and Post Office.)

With his permission, I quote the Village Voice article from the Rye Observer of 22nd July 2016, written by Keith Pollard:-

“Under new management: Our Post Office and General Store has been run by Ken and Pam Dixon since July 2003, although it appeared a year ago that changes would happen with Community involvement being foremost and paramount. Despite successive assessors declaring Fairlight to be ideal for such a step, somewhere along the way the government guidelines flattered to deceive, (now there’s a surprise!) and the whole enterprise fell by the wayside. With Ken and Pam keen to retire, we now that Mr and Mrs Gambrell will be taking over the business on Monday, August 1st.

They are new to the business, and have agreed to the Post Office section becoming a “Local Plus” operation, which means that they will still offer all the services that are obtainable at present and these will now be offered all the while the shop is open (early to late, and through lunch too!)

In addition to the four major staples – bread, milk, papers and bacon – the Post Office and General Stores has sold countless tickets for countless events in the village, an absolutely invaluable village resource, without which a number of organisations would have been struggling. We thank Ken and Pam for their input into the life of our village over the past thirteen years, and wish them a happy retirement. In turn, we welcome the Gambrells – and wish them all the best!”

Keith Pollard.

At this important time, we thought it would be interesting to have a brief look back at the General Stores since it started in about 1924.

We do not know the precise date when the business started, but following the 1917 sale of the Waites Farm lands and some interim owners, new properties started to be built in Fairlight Cove from about 1923.

The Fairlight Land Tax returns for the year 1923-24 reveal the following entry :-

“General Stores, Waits Lane, house and shop, occupier A J Lee and owner R G Philp.”

(nb. Note misspelling of Waites Lane. Also, the garage next door is given as being in ‘Stonelynk Lane’, the early name for Battery Hill. The two road names are the wrong way round. Also note the name R G Philp – he was the principal landowner who controlled the early development of Fairlight Cove).

The 1924 Kelly’s directory does not list it and directs business to Ore Post Office, however the 1930 Kelly’s shows ‘Lea Archbld, Jn. shopkpr & post off’. So from this, we know that the business was started by one Archibald Lee (Lea?). Does anyone know what happened to him?

We have an early photograph (see above). The clues in the photograph suggest it was taken about 1926 or a little later. You will notice the edge of Fairlight garage to the extreme left, the front of a delivery bike to the extreme right and a matching set of five tin baths for sale in the foreground. Also to the left, next to the postbox is the earliest type of telephone box – a K1, the model that preceded the iconic red K2 box that was only introduced from 1926. Over the door the already faded sign starts ‘Fairlight Post…..’. We can also see a cap over a well, a common feature of early Fairlight. Finally you will notice that the building stands alone. The two houses that now stand either side were added in the 1950s when the owner decided to build them on his land for his children.

Adverts have often appeared in village magazines and newsletters. I attach a small sample, including one from 1953, in the Coronation brochure, a directory from 1989 and another from 2006. You will notice that the services on offer have increased over the years. It is also interesting to notice the early telephone number ‘Pett 3221’. For many years, all Fairlight telephone numbers started ‘Pett…..’ as the telephone exchange for the whole area was located in Pett.

Not much information is available for the interim years, but the 1990 Women’s Institute album held by the FRA contains a photograph with a brief explanation. (see attached). Rachel and Derek Bliss were the owners immediately before Ken and Pam.

There are many anecdotes to remember but the Hastings and St. Leonards Observer reports on an attempted ram-raid in their issue of 8th July 2004. Not what we want or expect in our quiet and peaceful village!

So we must protect and enjoy the centre of our local community. The General Store and Post Office has been with us from the beginning of Fairlight Cove. During it’s time, many small businesses, shops, cafes, tea-rooms have appeared and served our community, but they have nearly all gone. Who remembers the Circle Shop, the Corner Shop, the Woolpack, Crossways Restaurant, Aunt Lavinia’s Tea-room, Windy Ridge Tea-room, etc., etc.?

If anyone has any old photographs or details of the Post Office that they are happy to share, can they please contact us and we will try and print them in later issues of Fairlight News.

By Paul Draper







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