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Post Office


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Before the 17th cent., royal ministers had their own king's messengers, but private persons sent letters through servants or friends. Henry VIII had a master of the posts in 1512 but he served only the government. The first attempt at a public system was in 1635 when a service was established to important towns, carrying letters at 2 pence per sheet per 80 miles. In 1680 a London penny post was started and soon taken over by the government; penny posts were established in large provincial towns in the later 18th cent. Two 18th‐cent. developments were Ralph Allen's scheme of cross‐country services, followed by John Palmer's introduction of scheduled mail coaches. Rowland Hill's plan of penny postage was adopted in 1840 in the teeth of powerful opposition: prepayment through stamps was introduced and there was no extra charge for mileage. It was followed in the 1850s by the introduction of pillar boxes (a suggestion of Anthony Trollope). The services offered by post offices proliferated—the introduction of telegrams delivered by messenger boys; the establishment by Gladstone in 1861 of the Post Office Savings Bank; and the beginning of parcel post in 1883. The start of the use of post offices for a variety of welfare payments was the decision in 1908 to deliver old‐age pensions through them. In the 21st cent., competition and rising administrative costs threatened many small post offices with closure.

Subjects: British History.


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