The Low Down on the English Post

First things first – here are all those elusive postal details you’ve been seeking: Before the introduction of the prepaid penny post (Post Office Act of 1765) and adhesive stamps (6 May 1840), postage was usually collected from the recipient. Rather than paying in advance, one paid on delivery. In order to save their correspondents paying postage, some people had their letters “franked.” A frank was the signature of a Member of either House of Parliament, who had to write both the address on the envelope as well as his signature in his own hand. Thus postage was free.

Envelopes had been developed in the 1830’s, but did not catch on until the Great Exhibition of 1851, when Jeremiah Smith displayed his gummed envelopes. Still, the use of envelopes in correspondence was not general until well into the 1860’s, most people preferring the old fashion of folding over the sheet of paper and fastening the flaps with a wafer -a little disc of gum and flour which was moistened and pressed down with a seal. Quill pens were used long after steel nibs had been introduced. Quills soon lost their point and needed cutting with a sharp “pen knife,” so the art of cutting a nib was one of the first things taught at school.

The penny post routes operated six days a week in most cases. Rates of postage at a uniform penny were lower than those charged by most private carriers, some of whom charged fees as high as 4d to take letters from the nearest post town. Many private posts charged for both letters delivered and those collected for onward transmission by the general post. The official penny post charged only for letters delivered, a system which allowed for posting boxes to be provided at certain points. Letters were delivered to any house on the penny post route and in most villages receiving houses were set up where people in outlying areas could collect their mail. In 1830 the letter rates for the penny post were 4d for 15 miles, 5d for 20 miles and thence according to a sliding scale to 1s for a limit of 300 miles. A letter from London to Liverpool cost 11d; to Bristol 10d; to Aberdeen 1s 3d; to Glasgow 1s 2d. Packages weighing an ounce paid four times the ordinary rate, and for every quarter of an ounce in excess an additional sum was charged. Letters sent to addresses within the same post town were delivered free of charge. In the late 1880’s, commercially produced picture post cards became all the rage and the Post Office instituted a half penny fee for the handling of these.

A late posting fee was sometimes charged and was meant to deter letters from being posted at times inconvenient to official duties, this usually being a penny. Private postal boxes were available, but not in widespread use, at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1837, the Bromley postmaster had six subscribers from whom he received a guinea each. The use of such boxes was explained in The Second Report on Postage (1838): Persons having Private Boxes enjoy generally the advantage of receiving their letters as soon as the window is open and the letter-carriers despatched, but which means, those Subscribers who reside at any distance from the post office obtain their letters so much earlier than they would do by the ordinary Delivery; they have also the opportunity of ascertaining at once whether there are any letters for them, and are usually allowed credit by the Postmaster, accounts being kept of their postage.

The Postmaster could also realize extra revenue by the sale of money orders. From 1798 on, the Money Order Office was run by three partners, including Daniel Stow, Superintendent President of the Inland Office. Originally, money orders were offered in order to enable soldiers and sailors to send funds home to their families. In 1861, the Post Office Savings Bank was opened, with millions opening small savings accounts over the next forty years.

The Twopenny Post served London and its suburbs. There were six collections and deliveries daily in London and three in the suburbs, letters being posted at various receiving offices during the daytime while the last collection was made by a postman who went through the streets ringing a bell. There were two kinds of postmen in London, the General who delivered the post from all parts of the country, and the Twopenny Postman, who had only to do with local mail. Both wore much the same style of uniform – a scarlet coat and shining top-hat adorned with a gold band.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, postmasters had also been innkeepers due to the fact that they were responsible for finding post boys and horses, providing stabling etc. Once recognized mails came into being, this was no longer necessary and it was felt that inns provided little security for the mail bags. In October 1792 the Post Office declared itself against the appointment of innkeepers, as separate rooms for postal business were rarely provided and business might be conducted in the bar. By March 1836, only one post town in the entire country had an innkeeper as postmaster. More common were post offices run by druggists, stationers, grocers, news agents and booksellers. Women could be appointed postmistresses or allowed to take over the concern upon the death of their husbands. Of the 29 Kentish post towns in March 1836, four had postmistresses. One of these was the bustling Ramsgate office, the salary of which was roughly 178 pounds per annum. When a postmistress married, it was the ruling of the Post Office that she must give up the appointment, but it could be transferred to her husband. At Faversham, the widow of Mr. Plowman, the late postmaster, took over upon his death, but in 1800 she married Andrew Hill, who became postmaster in her place. After Mr. Hill died in July of the same year, Sara was reappointed.

by Kristine Hughes
Part Two: Mail Coaches coming soon.

Waterloo Bridge

At the time of its completion in 1816, and for many years afterwards, Waterloo Bridge was unquestionably the noblest bridge in Europe, and one can appreciate the opinion of that great artist Canova, who in his enthusiasm exclaimed that to see this bridge alone was worth a journey from Rome to London.

The year 1809 was especially distinguished for the prevalence of one of those gambling fevers that seem to have periodically seized the inhabitants of these isles for many centuries, and the idea of a bridge from the Strand, near Somerset House, to the Surrey side of the Thames at Lambeth appears to have originated in the brain of an investor who had been infected with this fever. A company was formed with a capital of £100,000 and sanction was sought from Parliament to build a temporary wooden bridge : the idea of the promoters being that a permanent stone bridge could be built later out of the large profits to be obtained from the tolls on persons and vehicles passing over.
Owing to the opposition of the representatives of the City Of London, who opposed the plan for three successive sessions in Parliament; the company was finally compelled to abandon the project of a wooden bridge and undertake the construction of a stone one. It is interesting to note here that in order to do this the promoters were compelled to increase their capital by an additional £400,000, but so sanguine were they of the ample remuneration to be derived from the toll that this large sum was immediately raised among themselves, and the shares were at a guinea premium the next day.
The first plan for the bridge was prepared by Mr. George Dodds, a well-known engineer of the day, but the managing committee were apparently not satisfied with his design, and referred it to Mr. John Rennie and Mr. jessop for their opinion. These gentlemen reported that for the most part it was a copy of M. Peyronnet’s celebrated bridge at Neuilly, with modifications rendered necessary by the difference of situation, and the greater width of the river to be spanned. They also pointed out several objections to Mr. Dodd’s design, as well as to the plan he proposed for founding the piers, and as a result of their reprt Mr. Dodds’s plan was abandoned.

When eventually an Act was passed in 1809 authorising the “Strand Bridge Company ” to build a stone bridge from ” some part of the precinct of the Savoy, to the opposite shoreat Cupar’s Bridge in Lambeth,” the committee again applied to Mr. Rennie, and this time they requested him to furnish them with the design of a suitable structure. John Rennie was the son of a farmer of Phantassie, in Haddingtonshire (Scotland), and appears to have obtained his taste for mechanics from Andrew Meikle, a tenant on his father’s estate. This Andrew Meikle, according to the authority of Smiles, was the inventor of the threshing-machine and numerous other inventions. John Rennie became successively a country schoolmaster and master millwright. He then joined Messrs. Watt and Boulton as a confidential assistant. Rennie was now rapidly rising to the front rank in his profession, and his services were continually in demand, and numerous bridges, canals, and docks scattered over the country still give evidence of his industry and ability, for, like Wren and other great engineers, he built for posterity.
Rennie prepared two designs for the Strand Bridge, one of seven equal river to be spanned. They also arches and the other of nine; the pointed out several objections to Mr. latter being eventually chosen by the Dodds’s design, as well as to the committee as the less costly.
The first stone of the bridge was laid on October 11, 1811. One interesting story concerning the construction of the bridge is well worth recording, and it is given here practically as it occurs in Smiles’ “Lives of the Engineers.” Most of the stone required during the construction of the bridge was hewn m some fields adjacent to the erection on the Surrey side. It was transported on to the work upon trucks drawn along railways, in the first instance over temporary bridges of wood; and it is a remarkable circumstance that nearly the whole of the material was drawn by one horse, known as ” Old Jack,” a most sensible animal and a great favourite. His driver was, generally speaking, a steady and trustworthy man, though he had a weakness for a dram before breakfast. As the railway along which the trucks were drawn passed in front of a public-house door, the horse and truck were usually pulled up while Tom entered for his morning dram. On one occasion the driver stayed so long that await the next anniversary of the ” Old Jack,” becoming impatient, oked his head into the open door, and taking his master’s coat-collar between his teeth (Smiles tells us this that year we find the following account was done in a “gentle sort of manner”), pulled him out from the midst of his companions and thus forced him to resume the day’s work.
As the work neared completion, its name was changed from Strand to Waterloo Bridge for reasons which are thus expressed in the Act of Parliament of 1816, which relates to the matter: “Whereas the said bridge, when completed, will be a work of great stability and magnificence, and such works are adapted to transmit to posterity the remembrance of great and glorious achievements, and whereas the company of proprietors are desirous that a designation should be given to the said bridge, which shall be a lasting record of the brilliant and decisive victory (Waterloo), achieved by his Majesty’s forces, in conjunction with those of his allies, on the 18th day of June, 1815.”
The bridge was completed soon after this, but the same patriotic reason that had influenced Parliament in changing its name caused them to await the next anniversary of the victory at Waterloo, and so the bridge was not opened until June 18, 1817. In the “Gentleman’s Magazine” of that year we find the following account of the opening ceremoniy: “June 18, 1817 – This day . . the magnificent new bridge which crosses the Thames from the Strand was opened with appropriate ceremonies. In the forenoon a dtetachment of the Horse Guards posted themselves on the bridge, and about three o’clock a discharge of two hundred and two guns, in commemoration of the number of cannon taken from the enemy, an nounced the arrival of the Prince Regent, and other illustrious person ages, who came in barges from the Earl of Liverpool’s at Whitehall. The royal party passed through the central arch, and landed on the Surrey side, a where the procession formed. It was lasting rheaded by the Prince Regent; with the Duke of York on his right and the Duke of Wellington on his left, in the uniform of field-marshals; followed by a train of noblemen, gentlemen, ministers and members of both Houses of Parliament. On reaching the Middlesex side of the bridge, the company re-embarked and retured to Whitehall. Every spot commanding a view of the bridge was crowded with spectators.”