Thursday, 30 October 2014

Bussey Woodrow

My second great granduncle Bussey Woodrow was born in Fulham, county Middlesex in 1842. He was the first born son of my three times great-grandparents, Bussey Woodrow and Louisa Powell.

Bussey is a unique name, and one I had not heard of in my family history until I received my two times great-grandmother's birth certificate in the post. My first thought on reading the father's name was that it said "Bufsey". Of course, I now realise the written meaning of the double S in transcripts. According to the Ancestry website Bussey means:
English (of Norman origin): habitational name from any of several places in Normandy, France: Boucé in Orne, from which came Robert de Buci mentioned in Domesday Book, Bouce (Manche), or Bucy-le-Long (Aisne). All are named with a Latin personal name Buccius (presumably a derivative of bucca ‘mouth’) + the locative suffix -acum.Altered spelling of German Busse.
I am yet to determine where the name originated from to be used in my family.

Bussey Woodrow was a Letter Carrier, and he lived in various places within the London area including Belgravia, Hanover Square and then later, in Battersea. During his life time he was married three times and had at least five known children. His first wife, Mary Ann, died after they were married for two-and-a-half years. Perhaps she died in childbirth? She was just 25 years old. Around six months later, Bussey married Susannah Catchpole with whom he had five known children, all boys: Harry, Bertie, Walter, Frank and Ernest. Susannah died in 1896, aged 48. The following year Bussey married Emma Chapman.

Bussey joined the British Postal Service on 12 February 1866 as a Letter Carrier. The occupation title was changed to Postman in 1883. This is reflected in the census returns where Bussey's occupation before 1891 was recorded as Letter Carrier and from 1891 onwards, Postman.

The Illustrated London News, 1860

Today we have airplanes, trains, ferries, motorcycles and motorised vans to deliver all of our mail items across the world. We have a raft of express delivery services, airmail and seamail choices, and vending machines that supply stamps. Before Bussey became a Letter Carrier in the 1860s, horses and coaches were the main method of delivering mail. This was an idea first formed by John Palmer, a theatre owner in Bath, who used carriage services to transport props and actors around the countryside. In 1782 Palmer took his idea of using carriages to transport mail around the country, to London where the Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Pitt, accepted the idea and in 1784 an experimental mail coach journey succeeded in paving the way for a faster, more efficient postal delivery service. The development of the railway saw the demise of the mail coaches, with trains first used for delivering mail in 1830. Later in the 19th century, London would also undergo a massive change with the introduction of the Underground rail system.

In Bussey's time as a Letter Carrier he would have walked the congested London streets hand-delivering mail to businesses and residences in his designated area. He would have walked in all elements of weather, including thick fog and snow. His mail bag would have been made of cloth, which attracted mice so most Post Offices had to employ cats to catch and kill the mice. Horses and ponies were used to deliver mail up and down the country even after the demise of the mail coaches as they pulled the mail carts and vans until the 1930s when motorised vehicles replaced a great many horse-drawn vans (except, of course, for the more remote areas). The last horse-drawn mail van was seen in London in 1949. Bicycles did not become fully popular until the 20th century.

Horse-drawn Mail Cart, 1887

Bussey Woodrow died in May 1905, aged 68. He was buried at West Norwood Cemetery in Lambeth. Among the notable burials there are Isabella Beeton, Sir Henry Tate and Dr William Marsden. In 1911 Bussey's widow, Emma Woodrow, was living with her sister Sarah in Kentish Town, St Pancras. It is believed that Emma Woodrow died in 1913 (Wandsworth area) but she could have died in 1928 in St Pancras. Bussey's brother, Frederick John Powell Woodrow, lived in Putney which is an area most familiar to my maternal family history. My two times great-grandmother Louisa Woodrow, who was Bussey and Frederick's sister, also lived there as a married woman.

If you have any Postal Service ancestors, I urge you to visit The British Postal Museum & Archive at There is so much to see there, and it includes just about everything you would ever want to know about the postal service. It has sections for family history, school and further education and provides an extensive history of the Royal Mail dating back to the 1600s.


  1. Many of my family are also buried in West Norwood. It is really interesting to read about the development of the postal service and how your ancestor was involved in that.

    1. Thanks very much Liz, the postal heritage website was my major source. Such a great website.

  2. G'day, I really enjoyed this post which I have included in this weeks GAGs - GeniAus Gems at

    1. Thanks very much indeed Jill, I'm really touched. Isn't it a beaut name?! I love it too x