The British postal system was the Royal Mail because it was originally used only for sending royal and government communications. In 1635 Charles I made the service available to the general public, but 200 years later the system was an archaic, expensive mess, from which it was rescued by schoolteacher, Rowland Hill. In 1835, Hill published a pamphlet entitled ‘Post Office Reform’ which led to various reforms and the introduction of the first postage stamp. On 10 January 1840, the ‘Uniform Penny Post’ was established throughout the UK and Ireland, facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap conveyance of letters, and from 6 May could be prepaid with the first postage stamp, known as the Penny Black, writes JIM REES.
A good idea often springs from asking ‘what if’? Take something as straight-forward as posting a letter. How could such a simple task be made more efficient and profitable? Answer: you just turn it on its head so that the person who pays for the delivery of the letter is not the addressee, but the sender.
That means that the service gets the money up front and it really doesn’t matter if the addressee accepts it or not.
That’s the way it works now, but it wasn’t always like that. Originally, the charge was paid by the receiver, but what if he or she didn’t want it (might be a bill!) and refused to pay for it? Then the service was out of pocket.
If the sender really wants something delivered then the sender should pay. Simple.
The English General Post Office was established by Charles I in 1643, but it was only one of several systems. Private enterprises and individual contractors had preceded it and they continued to operate after its introduction.
In the 1650s, Oliver Cromwell’s administration gave the state postal system official sanction in an effort to give it a greater coherence. Cromwell died in 1658 and his son Richard succeeded him as Lord Protector, a king in all but name.
But many people wanted the ‘real’ monarchy back and when Charles II was crowned king in 1660, in what is known in England as the Restoration of the Monarchy, one of his first acts was to take a more than passing interest in the postal service.
Charles and his followers were paranoid. They were suspicious of everything they did not control. They knew that letters were ripe for sedition – they knew it because they had used it to great effect in getting the monarchy restored!
What had been a useful weapon in their intrigues would be equally dangerous to them now that they were back in power.
The General Post Office was more or less turned into a monopoly.
Now that it was an arm of government, letters, packages and parcels entrusted to it were, for the duration of transit, the Royal Mail – and, by definition, the property of the monarch.