Forty five years ago, shortly after graduating from photography college and starting work as a photojournalist at the Kidderminster Shuttle, I learned grants were available for photographic projects. Lots of ideas came and went until chatting to a friend in my local village, I mentioned my dilemma. Suddenly David disappeared, returned with a book and passed it over, adding it might be the answer to my search. It was.
“Round About the Crooked Steeple”, written by Simon Evans, describes the countryside and people he met during his postal round from the village of Cleobury Mortimer. How he arrived in the village is a story in itself…
Evans left school in Liverpool to become a postman while secretly aspiring to become a writer, but the Great War intervened. He spent four years in the trenches of Flanders and France , where a gas attack left him mentally and physically scarred.
In 1918, he returned to his old job as a postman, but his damaged lungs meant time in convalescence. His doctor suggested a walking holiday before returning to work and Evans found himself in Cleobury Mortimer and feeling at home in the Shropshire countryside, organised an exchange to become a postman there in 1926.
Still harbouring hopes of writing, he began a correspondence course in English with Ruskin College, Oxford. When his short stories caught the attention of the BBC, he became a regular contributor to their programs which in turn brought him to the attention of a publisher. “Round About the Crooked Steeple” was published in 1931.
Evans’ postal round wasn’t set out in the book as such, but I gradually pieced it together with the help of a good map and Evans’ lyrical descriptions…
“At Detton Farm, old Moses Cadwallader gives a shout of welcome from his chair beside an open fire, where huge logs of wood crackle cheerfully. He calls for a jug of cider and while we quaff the sparkling liquid he listens to any news I may have, for a rural postman is expected to bring all the latest tit-bits of news…”
“Then after climbing Prescott Bank I like to lean upon the gate and rest awhile… “What is life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare…” Before me is a view which should make all men stare and wonder…on a clear day one can see the purple heather capping the summit of Abdon Hill…great shoulders of glowing gorse…richly wooded slopes with here and there an open space where tall ferns grow… when the sun shines upon this landscape it is a patchwork of wonder colour…”
“After lunch of home-made bread and half a cheese, with a jug of ‘rough-thorn’ cider I make my way to my hut…a Post Office…from where I am sometimes called upon to sell postage stamps or given an order for a gun licence. Promptly at three o’clock I begin my return walk collecting a few letters with a word or jest as I go, for the Mail leaves that old-world village from where I began my journey even more promptly than it arrives…”
Evans continued to live in Cleobury Mortimer and despite his success, continued to work as a postman until August 1940, when he died from the effects of mustard gas poisoning, the day before his 45th birthday.
My photographs were exhibited at the Ludlow festival in 1976, and further afield. Since then, Evans’ legacy has grown to a walk, called “Simon Evan’s Way”, details here, a wonderful way to enjoy the Shropshire countryside. After which, wander into a local hostelry and order a bottle of locally brewed Hobson’s mild ale appropriately called “Postman’s Knock”, and drink a toast to Simon!