Aged 15, Arthur Ryan was a Post Office Messenger Boy. He rose through the ranks to
become the London Regional Director and received the CBE.
This is his story of study and endeavour.
Marjorie Dee was born at 1.30 pm on 30 January 1898 at 95 Fairholt Road, Stoke Newington.
She was the youngest daughter of councillor and local businessman George Dee and
his wife, Annie.
After attending Oldfield School at Stoke Newington, Marjorie became a pupil teacher.
She then attended Avery Hill College, Eltham, London. This had been established by
the London County Council as a residential teacher training college in 1906.
It appears that she had some difficulties with the College rules. Her father wrote
some encouraging words on 5 March 1918: ‘I am afraid you are having a very bad time
at college...it may be that you think some of the rules are not right, but try to
get them altered without making any bother, for you have to please everyone including
the Head....there is one thing very certain: the girls must obey the rules until
they are altered’.
The Ryans - the mail line
The Ryan family lived at 38 Lavers Road, Stoke Newington which was less than a mile
from one of the Dee’s Stores in Church Street, Booth painted this road pink to indicate
that its inhabitants were ‘fairly comfortable...with good ordinary earnings’. Arthur
James Ryan was born on 10 October 1900.
Arthur’s great grandparents, James and Lucy Ryan were both Catholics, born in Ireland.
His male ancestors were men of letters - they delivered them. His grandfather, Stephen
James Ryan was a Post Office letter carrier in 1881 and a postman ten years later.
His father, also Stephen James, was a telegraph messenger when he was sixteen. In
1901, both Stephen and his brother, William were postmen and their sister, Ada, married
a postman (aptly named Franks).
Arthur’s is a classic story of a boy starting at the bottom and rising to the heady
heights of the award of a CBE. At fifteen, he followed his father’s example and joined
the Post Office as a boy messenger. The next year he passed the examination to become
a Boy Clerk and in 1918 he became an Assistant Clerk following another successful
Towards the end of the Great War, he served in Ireland as a telephone switchboard
operator with the rank of Sapper. In 1919 Arthur attended the School of Accountancy
which levied a fee of ten guineas.
He rejoined the Post Office but spent many of his evenings at the City of London
College where he studied French, Geometry, Chemistry and Shorthand. The fees for
one term were £1 5s 0d. Clearly, Arthur was determined to improve his position in
life and had an appetite for learning.
On a social and sporting level he joined the Brownswood Tennis Club. George Dee was
involved with the Brownswood Bowls Club and his daughter, Marjorie played tennis
there - and that is how they met.
A boy messenger
Marriage and children
Arthur and Marjorie were married on 8 May 1926 at St Marys, Stoke Newington. My mother
and Joyce Saunders, who were Marjorie’s nieces, were among the bridesmaids. Unusually,
there were four witnesses to the marriage who included Arthur’s father, Stephen,
and Marjorie’s mother, Annie Dee.
Arthur was assigned to work at Ipswich (a posting?) as an Assistant Surveyor and
it was while they lived there that Arthur and Marjorie took special delivery of two
daughters in 1930 and 1933.
In 1935, the family were ‘redirected’ to Portsmouth and lived at Festing Grove, Southsea.
This meant that Marjorie could see more of her eldest sister, Eadie, who was also
living in the city.
Later, Arthur was promoted to Assistant Controller and the family moved back to London
to a detached house at 32 Arlow Road, Winchmore Hill (below). Before the war, Arthur
drove a Lanchester car.
In 1939 it was Marjorie’s turn to care for her mother, Annie Dee. The family moved
to 17 Woodville Road, Bexhill to escape the anticipated wartime blitz of London.
During the war, Arthur was seconded to the Ministry of Fuel and Power as Assistant
Secretary - an appointment which brought him within the orbit of the future prime
minister, Harold Wilson.
Arthur’s career continued to progress - 1941, Controller; 1944, Deputy Regional Director;
1949, to his retirement in 1960, Regional Director of London. All the while he fought
running battles with the Union of Postal Workers who many believe were and are a
notoriously ‘bolshie’ group.
At Christmas, during the seasonal avalanche of mail, he would be collected from his
home by a chauffeur driven car and taken to the sorting office at Mount Pleasant
to see how the staff was coping.
32, Arlow Road, Winchmore Hill
Arthur and Marjorie with their two daughters
CBE and retirement
When he retired from the Post Office, he received the CBE. He was also a Freeman
of the City of London. An impressive finale for a boy messenger!
The couple had a passion for golf and after Arthur’s retirement they moved back to
Bexhill at 226 Cooden Drive which was near a golf course. Arthur was driving a second-hand
Daimler (shown left).
Marjorie had a hip replaced and this was to affect her for the rest of her life.
The cement didn’t gel, the joint became loose and the resulting repair operation
was not a success.
As a consequence, she suffered a fall in the kitchen. She also suffered from poor
eyesight due to haemorrhaging of the retina and diabetes, complications from which
resulted in her death on 3 March 1983 at the age of eighty five.
Arthur wrote that Marjorie ‘was really wonderful throughout. She suffered considerably
for a long time particularly in the last twelve months. She did however accept her
afflictions with dignity and fortitude and never complained’. A son-in-law confirms
this: ‘She bore her afflictions with great stoicism and fortitude in spite of botched
Marjorie is remembered with affection. A nephew says that she was his favourite aunt
- she was ‘happy, light-headed and flippant’. A son-in-law described her ‘as easy
to talk to....very nice, kind and pleasant - a much more light-hearted person than
her husband’. She was willing to express herself forcibly if aroused but had a much
lighter touch and a sense of fun. She was ‘a product of her upbringing’ with a sense
of what was right and proper. Her father, George Dee, perhaps somewhat subjectively
said she was always ‘genuine and trustworthy - what I would call a proper English
Arthur continued to live at Bexhill until moving to Abbeyfields Home at Stevenage.
There he had a mishap while bathing. He was moved to a nursing home at Gosmore,
(a village between Hitchin and Luton in Hertfordshire) where he was near his daughter
and her husband. He died there shortly afterwards on 12 January 1990.
As well as his love of golf, Arthur enjoyed bird watching holidays on the Norfolk
Broads. My mother commented on ‘how beautiful the garden was looking ...’ after a
visit in the 1980s - another interest shared by Arthur and Marjorie. He was often
photographed with his pipe.
Arthur apparently sometimes ‘seemed a little aloof’. ‘At first acquaintance he appeared
a little daunting...(but) once one got to know him he was fairly easy to get on with
and quite friendly’. Although he was an avid reader with an eager thirst for facts
which he expressed with erudition, there were some subjects which were taboo. His
views rarely changed and could be expressed strongly. ‘His was an uncomplicated character
with a simple view on life’.