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The Strange Story of 'Sally' Jesson (1777-1852)

The small village of Scalford in Leicestershire lies some four miles north of Melton Mowbray, a distance I might perhaps walk on a good day, but to continue on to nearby Goadby Marwood, a further two miles and with the thought of requiring to return on foot would test most people today.  Not so in the middle of the 19th century when wheeled transport went by way of unpaved tracks and the ubiquitous footpaths which criss-crossed the rural scene through woods and fields and from place to place, served as the most direct routes for the many pedestrians.

So spare a thought for the poor rural postman of the time who did not have the convenience of an urban route in a town, with houses and businesses standing side by side, but who was required to deliver his packets far and wide in all weathers - and not with the little red vans which we see today. Their website, 'Heritage Royal Mail', marking 500 years of serving the country, informs us that:

'In 1516, Henry VIII knighted Brian Tuke, the first Master of the Posts. This act was the catalyst for the creation of the Royal Mail we know today. Tuke had the influence and authority to establish key post towns across the country and build out a formal postal network. From these origins, the postal service has survived 21 monarchs and two World Wars, and employed hundreds of thousands of people. Perhaps its most famous innovation is the Penny Black stamp, introduced in May 1840. As the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black paved the way for the prepaid, one-price-goes-anywhere postage system we use today.
Victorian Pillar Box
In 1852, significant changes were to be made in the national postal service and from that date, rather than travelling to the local post office to deliver a letter or parcel for onward transmission, a contraption known as a 'pillar box' - made of cast-iron and fixed into the ground - was made available for the reception of mail for delivery; they initially appeared in a livery of light green paint. People who needed to travel long distances to a post office in order to send a letter, would now be able to walk perhaps just a few yards and pop it into the box - if it carried the required pre-paid stamp. These permanent containers place at the side of the road were emptied by the postal workers and the contents delivered on such a frequent basis, that a letter posted first thing in the morning could be read and a reply written, then posted by the recipient to be received within the same day.

A Postman of circa 1860
With this brief background of the postman's lot in the market town of Melton Mowbray in the early Victorian era, I would like to tell of an unconventional character who is now apparently absent from the knowledge or memory of local people. An amazing story unfolded for me in local newspapers of the day and I would like to recall and share the story of the odd life and times of long-time Scalford resident, Sarah Jessop which was revealed at the time of her death on the 17th October, 1852.  There are two short newspaper reports, each a little different, which attracted my attention and which can best provide a contemporary account of the amazing life of this 'eccentric' character.

Nottinghamshire Guardian

    'On Saturday last the quiet little village of Scalford was the scene of some excitement caused by an auction sale of the goods and wearing apparel of a noted character named Sarah Jessop, who during a long life had plodded between that village and Melton, as the ‘Scalford Mail,’ wending her weary way in all weathers until old age and infirmities induced fears that she would die on the road.  But the appointment of a Post Office messenger had of late superseded the old lady's self imposed duties, and she had ceased to be seen in Melton, whence, for more than half a century she had fetched letters for Scalford, and her good friends at Goadby Hall [at Goadby Marwood].  The articles sold consisted chiefly of wearing apparel, amongst which were 60 gowns and aprons, 6 bonnets, 30 caps, 6 shawls, 50 handkerchiefs and several cloaks, shoes and slippers.  The sale attracted about 200 persons to see the last of poor old Sally, and pay a kindly tribute of respect to her memory, for with all her oddities she was truly trusty and punctual post-woman, and died at the hale old age of 75.  The auctioneer, Mr. W. Clarke, with his usual jocularity succeeded in realising nearly £20 - a sum far beyond what was expected, for the friends of the deceased refused to furnish her funeral lest the cost of it should exceed the worth of her effects, and therefore placed the matter in the hands of parish officers.'

(Reproduced from the Nottinghamshire Guardian, Thursday, 28th October 1852)


The Leicestershire Mercury

'SCALFORD. - Death of an Eccentric Character.  

    There are few persons who have resided at or within ten miles of Melton Mowbray, during the last half century, but knew the eccentric Sarah Jessop, or, as she was more commonly called “Old Sally,” or the “Scalford and Goadby Walking Post.” She followed up that occupation, indeed daily for nearly 50 years, until recent alterations in the Post-office affairs at Melton when a postman was appointed.  Such was her punctuality, that let come what weather it might, she was true to her time from Scalford at the Melton Post-office, and also to the time of her departure.  For many years no carrier plied between those towns, and Sally has carried immense loads of goods on her head etc. and was regarded as one of the most wonderful women known.  Since she has given up the “Post,” she has lived comparatively retired, at her native village, Scalford, in her own house.  Her mother carried on a similar profession to her death, and various rumours were afloat of her having been a “witch.”  Many anecdotes of her are still prevalent in this neighbourhood among those who lived in her day.  The death of Sarah Jessop took place at Scalford, on Sunday, the 17th inst., after a few days illness at the age of 75 years.  The eccentricity of her character, the willingness of her disposition, her punctuality to all orders entrusted to her care caused her to be universally respected; and her remains were followed to the grave by a very numerous assembly of all classes.  It is estimated that during her public life she had walked more that 110,000 miles.  The disposal of her goods and chattels took place on Saturday last by auction, when upwards of 250 persons were present.  Among the articles sold were 60 gowns and aprons, 6 bonnets, 30 caps, 6 shawls, 50 handkerchiefs and several cloaks, shoes, slippers etc., which realised upwards of £20, a sum far exceeding the expectations of her relatives, who refused to furnish the funeral, lest they should not cover the expense, but left the parish authorities to manage it for them.  She had been a saving woman all her life. and we hear that on removing her things, a few pounds in gold etc. were found.'
Reproduced from The Leicestershire Mercury, Saturday 30th October, 1852

Sadly, to date, I have been unable to discover much of the background of Sally and her family, but I would like to think that the people of Scalford would perhaps one day, be able to provide some form of tribute to one of their 'forgotten' parishioners - perhaps the naming of the next new street in the village to her honour - as a reminder of such an eccentric personality and a gesture of respect to her memory. If any reader does have knowledge of her existence, I would love to hear from them.

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