The Royal posts came into existence in 1516 long before Rowland Hill was born, let alone become the inventor of the world’s first gummed stamp.
Henry the VIII was embroiled in what was to become the hundred year’s war with France, Henry needed a reliable flow of news back from the continent. To establish this he gave a knighthood to Brian Tuke and made him the first ‘Master of the Kings Posts’.
Sir Tuke set up a series of posts every ten to fifteen miles, this was considered the maximum range of a galloping horse, at each post they tethered fresh horses, riders carrying dispatches from the various campaigns could make good speed changing mounts before galloping on to the next post. The sack the letters were carried in from post to post onward to their destination was known as a ‘male’ which at the time was French for ‘travelling bag’.
In this way news could quickly travel across France to Henry in England, and it was using this same method that letters were carried when on the 31st of July 1635 by Royal proclamation of Charles I, the letter office as well as the maintenance of six post roads was authorised.
Each postal road had several ‘posts’ you addressed and sent your mail to the most convenient ‘post’ for the recipient to collect from. In those days postage wasn’t pre paid so the recipient had to pay to collect his letter, it was this method of collecting revenue that gave rise to the problems that Rowland Hill solved and thereby ‘bagged’ his Knighthood, but we’ll come to those in good time.
All the original six postal roads were in London but as letter writing became fashionable and gathered pace so the network branched out to cover more of London it also handled all of the mail coming in to the country.
All of this growth in letter writing and trust in the ‘post’ was to prove fortuitous to Cromwell both perhaps during and most certainly after the civil war.
As the country waged war upon itself the need for communication grew across the land, taking the post out of London and to the smaller towns and shires as the parliamentarians and Royalists needed to send news of their battles, losses and victories to their comrades. It was during this time that Cromwell realised the valuable intelligence that could be gained from intercepted mail, and when he won the day and became Lord Protector, Cromwell wasted little time in making John Thurloe his former head of intelligence, the new postmaster general.
Every evening at 11:00 pm Thurloe would take himself to his private chamber that adjoined the foreign office from then until 4:00 am he would peruse the days mail, opening then resealing the ones of interest. As it was common use to impress one’s own unique emblem into the wax, sealing the letter before it cooled, Thurloe knew which letters would be of interest to him and therefore had his pick of the available intelligence. In this way he brought about the downfall of the ‘sealed Knot’ a royalist group determined to bring back Charles II from exile in Paris and return him to the throne of England.
Despite Thurloe’s spying which eventually led to his arrest for treason in 1660 the ‘General Post Office’ continued to grow however not without competition from private enterprises such as William Dockwra’s London penny post which covered a ten mile radius of the capital and charged the recipient one penny to be served their mail.
Docwra proved to be just as untrustworthy as Thurloe so although the penny post became adopted by King James II and Docwra made comptroller he was dismissed from office on the charge of opening and detaining correspondence.
The growing need to communicate in a safe timely manner drove the setting up in 1711 of a unified postal service that covered England, Scotland and Wales, by 1784 mail coaches were introduced and it now only took 16 hours for a letter to travel from London to Bristol. In 1793 letter carriers were given a uniform this was originally designed to make the ‘mail man’ stand out when he was loitering in inns or ale houses, however over time it was this uniform that gave authority and importance to the mail.
Some of the main problems facing the GPO in the mid 1800’s were the emerging competition from telegraph and the fact that despite mail travelling all over the world in the UK it still relied on the recipient paying for it.
You see the wily working class who travelled the length and breadth of the country looking for work, many of whom could neither read or write had worked out how to get a free message home.
They addressed an envelope home; often there was no letter inside however there was a prearranged secret mark somewhere on the envelope that told the recipient all was well on seeing the mark the addressee simply refused the letter and had nothing to pay. If there was no mark on the envelope, trouble was afoot and the envelope probably contained a message that must be read, on these rare occasions postage was paid.
Enter stage left soon to be ‘Sir’ Rowland Hill with his Penny Black adhesive postage stamp, with the launch of the Penny Black on the 1st of May 1840. Now for the first time ever, anywhere in the world the sender had to prepay the postage on a letter by buying and affixing the postage stamp.
Revenues went through the roof as all the mail now carried was paid for, and as for telegraph the Telegraph Act of 1868 gave the Postmaster general the right to acquire the inland telegraphic companies in the UK. A new building was commissioned and opened in 1870 to house the monopolised telegraph communications division of the General Post office.
That pretty much was the way things remained until the early 1980’s which saw the creation of BT and the Post office as separate entities, and kind of brings us whizzing through time as it were to the Royal Mails Mailmark® which you can read about here
We add a simple barcode to your mail piece; this barcode is scanned by the royal mail as it enters its network, when it is sorted and finally when it is prepared for delivery.
This enables your mailing to be tracked right through the royal mail process, for the first time you can track your whole consignment to the delivery round.
From 10:00 am the day after the royal mail receives your mail we can access real time reporting on where your letters actually are we can even tell you the predicted delivery time of your mail and the percentage of your post that will be delivered in the agreed time frame. This can be a fantastic help if you are planning follow up phone calls, actually knowing your marketing has arrived as opposed to hoping it has can generate real savings in time and money and create a real advantage in knowing you are striking when the iron is definitely hot. Also Mailmark can be cheaper than other types of mail.