The world’s oldest Post Office has been saved by a long-lost descendant who was living in Florida when she heard it was up for sale.
Barry and Mary Ford are to take over the branch in Sanquhar, in Dumfries and Galloway, following a years-long search for a new postmaster.
The Post Office has been in continuous operation since 1712, with the Fords becoming only its 17th operator in its 311-year history.
The branch, a local tourist attraction, had faced an uncertain future after the previous postmaster, the postal historian Dr Manzoor Alam, announced his intention to retire in 2019.
Mr Alam, who took it over in 2015, died last November. His wife, Nazra, had kept it running but had wanted to return to live with her family in the Midlands.
Mr Ford, a 60-year-old former RAF serviceman, was living in Florida running an aircraft restoration business when he read about the search for a new postmaster.
The couple later learned that Mrs Ford, who was born in Motherwell, had family ties to the nearby town of Muirkirk.
The 57-year-old made the discovery after sorting through her late mother’s possessions, and researched her family tree after finding a pair of knitted gloves in the distinctive Sanquhar knitting pattern.
Mr Ford, who is from Lincolnshire and lived in Florida for two decades, said: “I was an avid stamp collector as a child and to discover that Mary’s ancestors were from the local area was fate.”
“Mary and I are very excited and humbled to be serving this community and we also look forward to welcoming tourists from both near and far who come to Sanquhar to sample the delights this vibrant community has to offer.
“I am also proud to be this Post Office’s 17th Postmaster, which isn’t that many considering its long history.”
The pair first bid to take over the branch three years ago, while they were still living in the US but looking to return to the UK.
They were beaten by another bid but were approached again earlier this year, having since moved back to Motherwell, after the previous deal fell through.
When the Post Office first opened, messages would be delivered from Sanquhar on horseback between members of the landed gentry across the Scotland-England border.
Robert Burns was a regular visitor to the town and became close friends with a previous Sanquhar postmaster.
The Post Office is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest still in operation, being eight years older than its closest rival in Stockholm.
Tourists visit to have their letters marked with a special handstamp stating “The World’s Oldest Post Office”.
Nick Read, the Post Office chief executive, paid tribute to Ms Alam for continuing to run the business during the Covid pandemic and after the passing of her husband.
She said that the “banter” and kindness of locals had kept her going.
“Nazra has been a remarkable Postmistress and I hope she enjoys a happy retirement surrounded by her children and grandchildren,” Mr Read said.