The 1797 Enclosure Act map shows the corner now occupied by Hanley Swan village stores and post office as a gravel pit. Sometime during the early part of the 19th century, a coaching inn was built on the site, for the 1841 census shows that it was occupied by the coach proprietor Joseph Pratt and his family, his wife Mary being the publican. Nine years later Kelly’s directory identifies the building as the Coach & Horses, Hanley Green, owned by a William Pratt, probably Joseph’s eldest son. The inn is also mentioned in Casey’s directory of 1860, but in August of that year, it was changed to the Hanley Working Man’s Institute, which was established by Sir Edmund Lechmere to provide accommodation for single men as lodgers, and for the improvement and recreation of the labouring classes of the neighbourhood.
According to a local newspaper cutting, ‘The exterior of the building presents, at first sight, rather a deceptive appearance to the traveller, for there is still the old swinging sign-board and much the look of the old road-side inn, but on closer inspection, the sign-board is found to be inscribed with the words “Hanley Working Man’s Institute”. A mixed school was held on the premises until St Gabriel’s chapel-of-ease and school was constructed in 1862.
Despite its good intentions, the Institute did not last long, being converted to a grocer’s shop, which may have opened on October 20th, 1867, as this was the date shown above the entrance in a photograph taken in 1954 when it had a porch. The 1871 census shows that William Tolley, a grocer and provisions dealer, occupied the site with his family. Ten years later, two grocers, Edwin Gregory and John King, each with a family of six, were in business there, but by 1891 only John King and his family remained.
The site had housed a letterbox since the 1850s and in the mid-1890s the Royal Mail finally opened a postal branch, Kelly’s 1896 directory listing John King as sub-postmaster, as well as grocer and assistant overseer. The last census available for inspection, 1901, shows John King, 57, running a shop and Post Office at what is now called St Gabriel’s House. He must have died within the next 4 years, as the 1905 Littlebury directory shows Mrs Elizabeth King as the sub-postmistress, while the grocers are E King & Son; in 1908 her son, William is assistant overseer. By 1912 Bertie Payne was sub-postmaster and grocer and in 1917 the Brown family took over – first Edward, then his son, Edward George, who is listed at The Stores in the last county directory to be published by Kelly’s in 1950.
Edward George’s son, Norman, remembers doing his homework at St Gabriel’s House by paraffin lamp in the 1940s. While he and his school friends would construct crystal sets using the iron bed frame as an aerial, his parents listened to a radio powered by a large wet-cell battery. Once a week a man would come from Worcester to replace the battery with a newly charged one.
Before the war, the present shop was used as a village hall, but in 1940 the War Ministry commandeered it for use as a platoon HQ of the Hanley Home Guard and the Browns opened a temporary shop in the front room of St Gabriel’s House with the post office located not far away at Gothic Cottage. It moved back to being an enlarged village stores after the war.