Written by Marie Kreft
The name Simon Evans isn’t a household one, but the author, poet and broadcaster would have been well known in his day. Before World War I, Simon worked as a messenger boy and postman for the General Post Office (GPO) in Merseyside. Like many of his generation, he was prematurely aged by his experiences in the trenches; in his own words in The Countryman (1938): ‘my legs were smashed and my lungs were scarred’. While convalescing on a walking holiday he met a postman who wished to exchange his rural round in Cleobury Mortimer for an urban round. Simon moved to Cleobury towards the end of 1926 and that’s where this story really begins…
My daily walk was a daily pilgrimage; as I grew stronger I felt that I was escaping from the prison my life had been, back to the sun and air I loved, back to a freedom and a quiet happiness which I had longed for.
Now Simon had peace and time in Shropshire to indulge his true loves: reading and writing. At that time GPO provided rural postmen with shelter huts at the farthest points on their rounds. Simon filled his with books, calling it his ‘little place in the country’. In 1928 he won a scholarship to study a correspondence course in English run by Ruskin College, Oxford. This was a turning point. Simon wrote short articles at first, usually about life as rural postman, which led to him contributing regularly to programmes on the BBC’s Midland Service (and meeting his future wife, singer Doris Aldridge, who wrote to ask whether he was genuine postman). He went on to publish five books including one novel, Applegarth. His output did not include much poetry, but he often quoted the poems of others and so the ‘Postman Poet’ epitaph has stuck. Simon died in 1940, too young at 45, essentially of tuberculosis. His ashes were scattered on Abdon Burf.
Simon’s books are currently out of print but he’s immortalised in Cleobury Mortimer’s Simon Evans Close (beyond New Inn Row) and Simon Evans Way, an 18-mile roughly figure-of-eight walk which takes you from Cleobury Mortimer deep into South Shropshire (see www.cmfa.co.uk/simonevansway.html from the Cleobury Mortimer Footpath Association). And if ever you need an excuse to try a new beer, Hobsons Brewery makes an excellent 4.8% ruby porter called Postman’s Knock . . .