In Conversation with Postman Mick Freed

Mick Freed has lived in Chessington for 32 years. He worked for Royal Mail in two periods: from 1995 to 2000 and from 2005 to 2016. He is fairly confident he has delivered at least one letter to every house in Chessington.

Tell me about your work at the Royal Mail, what did it involve?

It involves preparing the mail for delivery - that’s letters, magazines, parcels and packets. Put into a delivery sequence which you take out and deliver as efficiently as you can. A postman with more experience will suggest a route but you adapt as you’re going along. The first five years I used a bike all the time. When I joined again in 2005 I used a van for a brief period, then I was back on the bike again until they were phased out by Royal Mail. I preferred the bike. I like the freedom to go at your own pace. The van involves a lot of jumping up and down and carrying heavier parcels and packets.

And how many letters or packages would you deliver on a typical day?

On a typical day we would deliver to between 5 - 600 houses. Number of letters was in the thousands on a heavy day, maybe 1500 on a fairly light day. On average I cycled between 8 - 10 miles a day as well as walking in between. When subsequently the bikes course replaced with trolleys I was walking about 12, 13 miles a day.

Any specific memories of unusual packages that you’ve had to deliver?

The best one I ever delivered was obviously a boomerang. And they put a sticker on - do not bend. That made my day. There were some funny ones, some dubious items that you don’t want the postman knowing about.

I’ve got to ask - any big dogs?

Dogs was the bane - when I went out the bike I was told that some of these dogs was barking at me because it didn’t like the noise my bike made. A dog owner just doesn’t realise how annoying dogs are. I got bitten once - or twice in fact. 400 post-postal workers are injured each year by dog bites. Or there certainly were when I was working there.

The 500 houses you have to cover was it a case of a different route each day?

Over the years I did get put onto every single round - the walk as they called it in Chessington. But then you’re working 5 days out of 6 - on the sixth day somebody else would fill in and that person was sort called floater, they would do a different walk each day. So if you had that duty you would do 5 different walks each week.

Do you get to know lots of the residents?

There was one day, I remember - there was me, the local bobby and the milkman all standing around in the middle of the road having a chinwag. And a couple of neighbours came out and joined in as well and I thought this is what a community should be like. Everybody knows each other and stand around passing the time of day. I’m not sure you get away with that now because the delivery span is so long. Now you’re rushing to finish by the finish time.

So there’s an increased demand on posties these days?

Definitely. There’s far fewer postmen - in the late 90s there were a 140,000 delivery workers at Royal Mail. I think it’s less than 100,000 now. So it’s gone down by 30, 40% but delivering to the same number of delivery points. And more bulky items as well so more items that involve you knocking on the door.

So what is the reason for that big decline in posties?

Royal Mail - it’s a private company now. It’s profit driven rather than service driven. So if they can't get you to deliver twice as much as you used to... then they get rid of a bloke. That’s what it boils down to.

What can you tell me about the removal of bicycles from Royal Mail delivery?

This was all part of making Royal Mail more streamlined for privatisation. The idea was that the nature of the mail was changing with internet shopping with parcels and bulky packets being delivered by the Royal Mail. The way they addressed that was to replace the bikes with so called high capacity trollies. Most postmen and women liked working with bikes, that was one of the attractions of the job. What really annoyed postmen was when Royal Mail said the reason was for health and safety. I never had any health and safety issues on my bike. Also, Postmen weren’t allowed to maintain their own bicycles because they hadn’t been trained. It had to be sent back to a special person in a special place. Even people like myself who knew about bikes weren’t allowed to - which also annoyed us because when you are on a van duty as a driver, you had to do all the vehicle checks. I hadn’t been trained for that either but I was expected to do it. So when Royal Mail came along and said ‘oh, we want to replace the bikes with trollies’ - I think a lot of us took it personally. 'Cause it was a nice way of working.

What are the main advantages of bicycles for doing the job?

If you realised you’ve missed out a house - it’s just been missorted. You could cycle back down the road and deliver it no problem. If you’ve got to walk back, you tend not to bother. So they’re not gonna get that letter 'til the next day. It doesn’t happen very often but if you can just nip up the road quickly on a bike, no problem.

What happened to all the bicycles?

Years ago they used to send old bikes to small villages in Africa so the children could ride a postman’s bike and get their water. That stopped suddenly and we don’t know why. And we’re thinking well they’re getting rid of hundred and thousands of postman bikes, why can’t they send them to Africa? But it wasn’t happening. In fact they were going around with bolt cutters - on the day. And they would cut the chains on the bikes so that they couldn’t be used - until such time that they could pick them up and take them away and discard them. A so called green organisation. The perfect opportunity to make use of the bikes even you don’t want use to. And that just seemed an unnecessary, destructive waste of resources.

Did you like the bikes themselves?

I wouldn’t have wanted to ride London to Brighton on one. But they were sturdy enough. Only three speeds. Quite heavy. But they had to be sturdy to carry the weight. They were all made by Pashley and it’s a good make. I think TNT when they started delivery they used the same model with their own logo on, also made by Pashley at the time.

Is there a future for cycling in the Royal Mail? Or is it done now do you think?

I think it’s all gone now. It’s five or six years since the last cycle duty in Chessington and beyond. I don’t think they’ll go back. People aren’t suddenly going to start sending out more letters and less parcels and packets now.