Cool Cards use Royal Mail every day, but we know little about it's history. It's one of those taken-for-granted givens of every day life...
Current UK population: 58,789,194
Royal Mail delivers 84 million items every working day.
The Royal Mail traces its history back to 1516, when Henry VIII established a "Master of the Posts", a post which eventually evolved into the office of the Postmaster General. The Royal Mail service was first made available to the public by Charles I on 31 July, 1635, with postage being paid by the recipient, and the General Post Office (GPO) was officially established by Charles II in 1660.
Between 1719 and 1763, Ralph Allen, Postmaster at Bath, signed a series of contracts with the post office to develop and expand Britain's postal network. He organised mail coaches which were provided by both Wilson & Company of London and Williams & Company of Bath. The early Royal Mail Coaches were similar to ordinary family mail coaches but with Post Office livery.
"The postal delivery service in Britain had existed in the same form for about 150 years - from its introduction in 1635, mounted carriers had ridden between "posts" where the postmaster would remove the letters for the local area before handing the remaining letters and any additions to the next rider. The riders were frequent targets for robbers, and the system was inefficient.
John Palmer, a theatre owner from Bath, believed that the coach service he had previously run for transporting actors and materials between theatres could be utilised for a countrywide mail delivery service, so in 1782, he suggested to the Post Office in London that they take up the idea. He met resistance from officials who believed that the existing system could not be improved, but eventually the Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Pitt, allowed him to carry out an experimental run between Bristol and London. Under the old system the journey had taken up to 38 hours. The coach, funded by Palmer, left Bristol at 4pm on 2 August 1784 and arrived in London just 16 hours later.
Impressed by the trial run, Pitt authorised the creation of new routes. By the end of 1785 there were services from London to Norwich, Liverpool, Leeds, Dover, Portsmouth, Poole, Exeter, Gloucester, Worcester, Holyhead and Carlisle. A service to Edinburgh was added the next year and Palmer was rewarded by being made Surveyor and Comptroller General of the Post Office.
Initially the coach, horses and driver were all supplied by contractors. There was strong competition for the contracts as they provided a fixed regular income on top of which the companies could charge fares for the passengers. By the beginning of the 19th century the Post Office had their own fleet of coaches with black and scarlet livery. The early coaches were poorly built, but in 1787 the Post Office adopted John Besant's improved and patented design, after which Besant, with his partner John Vidler, enjoyed a monopoly on the supply of coaches, and a virtual monopoly on their upkeep and servicing.
The mail coaches continued unchallenged until the 1830s but the development of railways spelt the end for the service. The first rail delivery between Liverpool and Manchester took place on 11 November 1830. By the early 1840s other rail lines had been constructed and many London-based mail coaches were starting to be withdrawn from service; the final service from London (to Norwich) was shut down in 1846. Regional mail coaches continued into the 1850s, but these too were eventually replaced by rail services.
Richard Cobden and John Ramsey McCulloch, both advocates of free trade, attacked the Conservative government's policies of privilege and protection, including the archaic postal system. McCulloch, in 1833, advanced the view that "nothing contributes more to facilitate commerce than the safe, speedy and cheap conveyance of letters.
By the late 1800's, there were between six and twelve mail deliveries per day in London, permitting correspondents to exchange multiple letters within a single day.
The mail underwent substantial reforms in order to combat abuse and corruption when the Uniform Penny Post was introduced on 10 January, 1840 whereby a single rate for delivery (one penny for carriage and delivery between any two places anywhere in the UK) was pre-paid by the sender - the postal service then became a government monopoly. A few months later, in order to certify that postage had been paid on a letter, the sender could affix the first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black that was available for use from May 6 of the same year - 1840.
As the first country to issue stamps, British stamps are the only stamps that do not bear the name of the country of issue on them, nor the currency in which they are issued.