London, Volume 3

Knight, Charles


LXVIII.-The Post Office.

LXVIII.-The Post Office.




Of all the public departments under the direction and management of the State, the Post Office is at once the most popular and the most interesting in its operation and influence. In consequence of recent changes, it can scarcely be any longer regarded as an engine of taxation, but its vast machinery is put into action almost solely for the advantage of the public. In its social influence, such an institution is only in value and importance to the art of writing. If the millions of letters which it is now employed in transmitting from part of the earth to another--from kingdom to kingdom, from the metropolis to the most obscure hamlet, and from the latter to the antipodes--were suddenly deprived of the means of reaching their destination, and all the resources for accomplishing this end were to be broken up, the whole world would be thrown backward in civilization, and all the springs by which it is urged onward would lose some portion of their elasticity. Such a prospect need not, however, be contemplated.

The Post Office is not a very ancient institution in England. For many centuries a great proportion of the population lived and died near the spot which gave them birth; and long after a change in that state of society, writing was not a very common accomplishment. The business of Government could not,


however, be carried on without some correspondence; and when the King summoned Parliaments, or addressed the sheriffs, or the governors of his castles, officers were employed called


They carried their despatches on horseback, and the payment of sums of money to them for the carriage of letters is mentioned in various rolls, from the days of King John through subsequent reigns. The principal nobles, whose large estates were often at a great distance from each other, also maintained


In the

Paston Letters,

and in the of various families, down to the end of the century,. the practice of transmitting letters from their country-seats to London, or elsewhere, by their own servants, is frequently mentioned. After a day's journey they halted for the night at the ancient hostelry. Before this period, however, there were post-stations on the great roads. Gale states that during the Scottish war, Edward IV. (-) established such stations, at distances of miles from each other. On arriving at of these, the messenger delivered his despatches to another horseman, who conveyed them to the next station; and so they passed from station to another, each messenger travelling only a stage of about miles. By this means letters were expedited about miles in days. Cyrus, the King of Persia, established an exactly similar mode of communication through his dominions. The superscription of

Haste, post haste,

often met with in letters of the and beginning of the centuries, shows that letters were not unfrequently transmitted through horsemen attached to a line of post-houses. In the

Household Book

of the Le Stranges of Hunstanton, Norfolk, there is an entry, in , by Lady Le Strange, of

,for cost of riding up to London with a letter to my son Nycholas.

In this case a servant of the family might ride up to London himself, procuring relays of horses at the different post-houses, or he might place his letter in the hands of an authorised messenger travelling to London with other letters. In these arrangements the rudiments of a regular Post Office begin to appear. persons having each a letter to send to London would be enabled to do so at -half the expense by employing public messenger; persons would do so at -quarter of the expense; and so on. The carriers of goods were also carriers of letters. The rate of hire for post-horses was fixed at a penny a-mile by a statute of ( and Edw. VI. c. ).

The duties of the office of chief Postmaster of England at related rather to the superintendence of the system for facilitating travelling, by the establishment and regulation of post-houses, and had little or no immediate connexion with the collection and distribution of letters. It does not appear certain when he undertook the latter task. In the aliens resident in London appointed their own Postmaster. Letters were committed to his charge, and it devolved upon him to provide the means of forwarding them to their destination. Sometimes the Flemings, at other times the Italians, appointed of their own countrymen to this office; but his nomination was confirmed by the Postmaster of England. At length the aliens of London presumed upon exercising their choice as a matter of right, and in a Spaniard was appointed their Postmaster through the influence of the Spanish ambassador; but the Flemings had at the same time chosen of their own countrymen, who was confirmed in his


office by. the Postmaster for England; and to decide the matter an appeal was made to the Privy Council, the substance of which is given in a paper entitled

,Articles touching the Office of the Post of London.

In this document it was alleged that

The strangers that had been Postmasters of London had always been occasion of many injuries and much damage unto the merchants of England, as well by means of staying and keeping their letters a day, twain, or more, and in the mean time delivering the letters of strangers; and also by staying the ordinary post a day,


, or


, that in the mean time


extraordinary might be despatched by the strangers to prevent the market.

Other abuses were alleged, and the petition concluded by a desire that an Englishman might be placed in the office. The English merchants suggested that,

for quietness' sake,

an agreement should be made between the Postmasters of London and Antwerp, that -half of the


employed should be foreigners, though it was stated that under the former arrangement not Englishman was engaged. How the dispute was settled we do not know; but in letters patent of Charles I., in , it is stated that King James had constituted an office called the Postmaster of England for Foreign Parts. He had

the sole taking up, sending, and conveying of all packets and letters, concerning his service or business, to be despatched to foreign parts, with power to grant moderate salaries;

and no person besides was to take upon himself these duties.

In a proclamation was issued

for settling of the letter office of England and Scotland,

which is the attempt to place the Post Office system on its modern footing. It stated that hitherto

there hath been no certain or constant intercourse between the kingdoms of England and Scotland,

and commands

Thomas Witherings, his Majesty's Postmaster of England for foreign parts, to settle a running post or


, to run night and day between Edinburgh and Scotland and the City of London, to go thither and come back in


days ;

and all postmasters are

to have ready in their stables





Bye-posts were to be established with places lying at a distance from the great roads; with Hull, Lincoln, &c., on the road to the north. Similar arrangements were to be carried out on the road to Dublin through Holyhead, and to Plymouth through Exeter; and Oxford, Bristol, Colchester, and Norwich, were to enjoy corresponding advantages with as little delay as possible. The pre-established system set on foot by private parties for the transmission of letters was not summarily put down, the Government contenting itself for the present by enunciating its exclusive title to the business of conveying letters. In , Witherings, the Postmaster, was superseded by the Long Parliament for having interfered with the private adventurers who undertook the transmission of letters, his interference being declared contrary to the liberty and freedom of the subject; and the duties of his successors were to be exercised under the superintendence of the Secretary of State. But when, in , the Common Council of the City of London proceeded to set up an office of their own for the despatch of letters, the Commons passed a resolution asserting their exclusive right to the control of such establishments. A struggle now took place between the Government posts and those carried on by companies of private individuals. The latter not only established more frequent posts than the Government, but carried letters at a cheaper rate.


Prideaux, a member of the Commons, who had been appointed Postmaster, threatened to seize the letters which passed through their hands, but the

New Undertakers,

so far from being deterred, stated that they were resolved,

by the help of God, to continue their management,

and announced that many new places would be included in their arrangements. Besides Tuesday and Saturday, they established an additional post-day on the Thursday, so that they had posts a-week, while the Government had only ; and they charged only threepence where the charge of the Government was sixpence. Prideaux was empowered to reduce the Government rates, and the private carriers were subsequently put down by an order for the seizure of their letters. The revenue derived from the postage on letters soon became of some importance, and during the Protectorate various improvements were introduced calculated to render it more productive.

The authority of the Government posts was fully established by an Act passed in

to settle the postage of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

The preamble showed that

the erecting of


General Post Office for the speedy conveying and re-carrying of letters by post to and from all places within England, Scotland, and Ireland, and into several parts beyond the seas, hath been and is the best means not only to maintain a certain and constant intercourse of trade and commerce between all the said places, to the great benefit of the people of these nations, but also to convey the public despatches, and to discover and prevent many dangerous and wicked designs which have been and are daily contrived against the peace and welfare of this commonwealth, the intelligence whereof cannot well be communicated but by letter of escript.

The Act provides

that there shall be


General Post Office, and


officer styled the Postmaster-General of England and Comptroller of the Post Office.

The horsing of all


posts, and persons

riding in post,

was to be placed under his control. Rates were fixed for English, Scotch, Irish, and foreign letters, and for post-horses. The Post Office had now assumed the character and exercised the functions which it does at present.

When Prideaux was made Postmaster the revenue of the Post Office is supposed scarcely to have exceeded a-year. It was farmed at in , and at in ; at in , at which period it was settled on the Duke of York;--in at ; and in at The Duke was now James II., and an Act was passed granting to him and to his heirs the revenue of the Post Office independent of the control of Parliament. This profligate grant was resumed at the Revolution, though it was settled on the King, but it could not be alienated beyond his life. In the following reigns a certain proportion of this revenue was applied to the purposes of the state; but it was not until the settlement of the Civil List, at the accession of George III., that the claims of the sovereign were finally relinquished. In the net revenue of the Post Office amounted to ; in to ; in to ; in to ; in to ; in to , after which time it remained nearly stationary. The gross revenue from to averaged , and from to ,

The modern history of the Post Office may be divided into distinct


periods: , before ; , from that year to ; and , from to the present time. In the period the mails were conveyed on horseback or in light carts, and the robbery of the mail was of the most common of the higher class of offences. . The service was very inefficiently performed, and the rate of travelling did not often exceed miles an hour. A time-bill for the year has been preserved, addressed

to the several postmasters betwixt London and East Grinstead.

It is headed

Haste, haste, post haste!

from which it might be inferred that extraordinary expedition was not only enforced but would be accomplished. The mails, conveyed either on horseback or in a cart, departed

from the letter-office in London,

July 7th, 1717

, at half-an-hour past


in the morning,

and reached East Grinstead, distant miles, at half-an-hour after in the afternoon. There were stoppages of half-an-hour each at Epsom, Dorking, and Reigate, and of a quarter-of-an-hour at Leatherhead, so that the rate of travelling, exclusive of stoppages, was a fraction above miles an hour, But even nearly years afterwards, and on the great roads, miles an hour was considered as quite

going a-head.

Letters are conveyed in so short a time, by night as. well as by day, that every


hours the post goes

one hundred and twenty

miles, and in




days an answer to a letter may be had from a place

three hundred

miles from London.

Letters were despatched from London to all parts of England and Scotland times a-week, and to Wales twice a-week; but

the post goes every day to those places where the court resides, as also to the several stations and rendezvous of his Majesty's fleet, as the Downs and Spithead; and to Tunbridge during the season for drinking the waters.

The mails were not all despatched at the same hour, but were sent off at various intervals between and in the morning, and letters were delivered in London at different times of the day as each post arrived. This careless and lazy state of things existed until Mr. Palmer's plan for extending the efficiency of the Post Office began to be adopted in .

Mr. Palmer's attention was drawn to the singular discrepancy which existed between the speed of the post and of the coaches. Letters which left Bath on Monday night were not delivered in London until or o'clock in the afternoon of Wednesday, and were sometimes even later; but the coach which left Bath on Monday afternoon arrived in London sufficiently early for the delivery of parcels by o'clock the next morning; and though the postage from Bath to London was at that time only threepence, yet despatch was in many cases of such importance that the tradesmen of Bath willingly paid to send their letters to London in the form of a coach parcel, besides requesting. their correspondents to give a gratuity to the porter for the early delivery of the packet, this promise of additional payment forming part of the direction. The slow rate of travelling of the Bath post was not an exception. The post which left London on Monday night, or rather on Tuesday, from to in the morning, did not reach Norwich, Worcester, or Birmingham, until Wednesday morning; and the Exeter post not until Thursday morning, while letters were days in passing from London to Glasgow.

Mr. Palmer submitted his plans to Mr. Pitt. He proposed that the mails


should no longer be transported on horseback or in light carts, but that coaches should be employed, and, as the robbery of the mail was so frequent an occurrence, a man with fire-arms was to travel with each coach. The coaches with the mails were all to start from London at the same hour, and their departure from the country was to be so regulated as to ensure, as far as possible, their simultaneous arrival in town at an early hour in the morning. The mail-coach upon Mr. Palmer's plan left London for Bristol on the evening of the . The improvements suggested by Mr. Palmer met with a good deal of opposition from some of the Post Office authorities. of them, Mr. Hodgson,

did not see why the post should be the swiftest conveyance in England ;

and he conceived that to bring the Bristol mail to London in or eighteen hours was a scheme altogether visionary. Another gentleman, Mr. Draper, declared

that the post cannot travel with the same expedition as chaises and diligences do, on account of the business necessary to be done in each town;

and the quarter-of-an-hour which Mr. Palmer proposed to allow at the different post-towns was insufficient, as half-an-hour would, in Mr. Draper's opinion, be required in many places. The idea of a guard to each coach, so far from affording safety, would only occasion the crime of murder to be added to that of robbery; for,

when desperate fellows had once determined upon a mail robbery, the consequence would be murder in case of resistance.

Timing the arrival and departure of the coaches bearing the mails would

fling the whole commercial correspondence of the country into the utmost confusion.

Even the Postmasters General addressed the Lords of the Treasury after Mr. Palmer's plans had been partially in operation for eighteen months, stating that they felt

perfectly satisfied that the revenue had been very considerably decreased by the plan of mail-coaches.

Happily the minister saw more clearly the advantages of increased safety, and of more frequent, rapid, and certain facilities of communication; and he resolved that the scheme should be carried out in all its most essential features. The results were that by the greater part of the mails were conveyed in -half the previous time; in many cases in -; and in some of the cross posts in - of the previous time. Daily posts were established to above places, which before had only received them thrice a-week. The great commercial towns were thought to be as much entitled to this advantage as the water-drinkers at Tunbridge Wells years before. The revenue of the Post Office increased beyond anticipation; but Mr. Palmer, who had stipulated for a per-centage on the surplus net revenue beyond , received instead an annuity of

The era of mail-coaches embraces about half a century. Their origin, maturity, and perfection, and gradual displacement by the railways, all took place within that short period. In there were -horse mails in England, in Ireland, and in Scotland. The number of pair-horse mails in England was . Their average speed in England was miles, all but a furlong, per hour, including stoppages. Starting from London at o'clock in the evening, the mail reached Exeter, miles, in hours minutes; Holyhead, miles, in hours; Glasgow, miles, in hours; Edinburgh, miles, in hours. The number of miles travelled by the mails in England and Scotland, in


, was above millions, equal to a circuit round the globe, every day in the year. The English mail-coach was strongly characteristic of the national energy and spirit, and also of the. national taste. The daily departure of the mail-coaches from the Post Office was always a favourite sight. In the number which left London every night was , travelling in the aggregate above miles before they reached their respective destinations. A short time before the hour of starting, they arrived in the yard round the Post Office from their respective inns, with the passengers already in their places. Through the iron railing, by the light of innumerable gas-lamps, the public could see the process of packing the mail-bags. It was really a fine sight to see of these vehicles drawn up, each occupying the same station night after night, the horses fine and spirited animals, the harness unexceptionably neat, and the coachmen and guards wearing the King's livery. The travellers for such various and distant parts of the kingdom seemed as if they felt the difference between travelling by the mail and by the stage-coach. As the clock struck the Post Office porters dragged out huge bags, of which the guards of the different mails took charge. In a few minutes, each coach, by , passed out of the yard, and the sound of the guard's horn became lost in the noise of the streets. About of the mail-coaches on the south-western, western, and north-western roads, did not take up their bags at the Post Office, but started from the western end of Piccadilly-the bags for those mails being conveyed in light carts in the care of mail-guards. The starting of these mails was a sight for the West-End. About minutes past the mail-carts drove up at great speed, the guards' horns warning passengers of the necessity of getting out of the way. The bags were transferred to the mail-coaches, and each successively took its departure.

The annual procession of the mail-coaches on the King's birthday was also an exhilarating and pleasing sight, which will never again be witnessed.

The gala turn-out of our mail-coaches on the King's birthday,

says a popular writer,[n.279.1] 

I always think must strike foreigners more than anything else in our country with the sterling, solid integrity of the English character.

And here we have some of the impressions of a foreigner after witnessing this sight:--

Such a splendid display of carriages-and-


as these mail-coaches could not be found or got together in all Berlin. It was a real pleasure to see them in all the pride and strength which, in an hour or


later, was to send them in every direction, with incredible rapidity, to every corner of England.

[n.279.2]  The procession proceeded from the City to the West-End, and through ; and usually passed before the residence of the Postmaster-General for the time being.

We now come to a new era, which has had a most important influence on the arrangements of the Post Office. In the stamp-duty on newspapers was reduced from fourpence to penny. The circulation of the London and provincia e papers together has nearly doubled since this change; and a very large proportion of the total number is sent through the Post Office. Here is so much additional work to be got through. The Penny Postage came into operation on the ; and the number of letters passing through the Post Offices of the United Kingdom has risen from per week to ,


being at the rate of above letters per year, instead of about . In the same period the letters passing through the General Post Office, London, have increased from to per week; and in the London District Post (late Twopenny Post) the increase has been from per week to .:

The great lines of railway have been gradually rendered available for the transmission of correspondence as they were successively opened. In the sum paid by the Post Office to Railway Companies amounted to , and in to Most of the great towns in England, with Dublin and Edinburgh, have now a mail twice a-day from London, or times a-week, and a mail to London as often, making communications per week to and from the metropolis. Before the morning mails were established, a letter from Brighton for a town in Yorkshire was stopped hours in London, as it could not be transmitted until o'clock at night; but it now reaches its destination ( miles, perhaps, from London) or hours before it would formerly have left the Post Office. The Liverpool merchant receives his foreign letters on the same day that they reach London, instead of hours afterwards. The effect of expediting the class of letters formerly detained a whole day in London. is a good illustration of the philosophy of the Post Office system: they have increased from to a-day, or -fold.

The gross revenue of the Post Office in , the last year of the old system, was ; of the year under the Penny Postage, /.; of the year (), If the increase should be progressive at the same rate, the gross revenue will be restored to its former amount in about years from the present time. The cost of management, which in was , in amounted to for the whole country. Of this increased cost--namely, in , as compared with --the sum to be attributed to the: Penny Postage plan does not much exceed The morning mails, additional Post Offices, and other additions to the public accommodation, account for the remainder.

From what has been already stated, it will be seen that the London Post Office has grown up with the development of commercial and intellectual activity. If it were merely an establishment for the collection and distribution of the letters which pass through it, the building required for such a purpose would still rank amongst those of the largest class. Nearly as many letters go through the London Office now as circulated a few years ago through all the Post Offices of the United Kingdom, including London in the number. But the General Post Office is a grand central department for the management of the Post Office business of the United Kingdom, for maintaining the means of intercourse with foreign countries and distant colonies, and therefore apartments are required for a large number of officers who are employed in the general administration of the establishment at home and abroad.

The Post Office appears to have been successively removed, immediately after the commencement of the last century, from , near-Dowgate, to , when the next transfer was made to a mansion in , occupied by Sir Robert Viner, who was Lord Mayor in . It was a


large and substantial brick building, with an entrance from , through a gateway into a court-yard, around which were the various offices. There was a entrance by an inferior gateway into Sherbourne Lane. In houses in were taken, and additional offices erected; and from time to time other additions were made, until the whole became a cumbrous and inconvenient mass of buildings, ill adapted to the great increase which had taken place in the business of the Post Office. It was at length determined to erect a building expressly for affording the conveniences and facilities required; and in an Act was passed authorising certain Commissioners to select a site, and to make the necessary arrangements for this purpose. The situation chosen was at the junction of with , where once stood a monastery which possessed the privileges of sanctuary. Since the dissolution it had been covered with streets, courts, and alleys. Compensation was granted to the parties whom it was necessary to remove: their houses were pulled down; and the stone of the new building was laid in . On the , it was completed and opened for the transaction of business. It is about feet long, wide, and feet high. The front is composed of portions, of the Ionic order, of columns being placed at each end; and of columns, forming the centre, is surmounted by a pediment. The other parts of the building are entirely plain. The public entrances are on the east and west fronts, which open into a hall feet long, by about wide, divided into a centre and aisles by ranges of columns of the Ionic, standing upon pedestals of granite; and on each side of the hall are corresponding pilasters of the same order. There is a tunnel underneath the hall by which the letters are conveyed, by ingenious mechanical means, between the northern and southern divisions of the building.

On entering the hall from the principal front, the offices on the right hand are appropriated to the departments of the Receiver- General, the Accountant-General, the Money-Order Office, and the London District (late Twopenny Post) Office. On the left are the Newspaper, Inland, Ship, and Foreign Letter Offices. A staircase at the eastern end of this aisle leads to the Dead, Mis-sent, and Returned Letter Offices.--The Inland Office, in the northern portion of the building, is feet long, wide, and high; and there is a vestibule in the eastern front where the letter-bags are received, and whence they are despatched from and to the mails. The Letter-Carriers' Office adjoins the Inland Office, and is .feet long, wide, and feet high. The business of assorting the letters and newspapers for delivery and for despatch into the country is carried on in these offices. The whole building is warmed by means of heated air, and the passages and offices are lighted by about a Argand burners.

The business of the General Post Office, independent of the general routine of administration, is directed towards operations, the delivery and the collection and despatch of letters and newspapers. But before giving some explanation of the means by which these objects are effected, we must briefly advert to the London District Post--the local post of the metropolis and its vicinity.

In , a merchant of the name of Dowckra set up an office in London, and undertook the delivery of letters, within certain limits, for a penny each. This


was thought to be an infringement of the right of the Duke of York, already adverted to; and in a suit to try the question, a verdict was given against Mr. Dowckra. He afterwards received a pension for the loss of his office, and at a subsequent period was appointed Comptroller of the Penny Post. In he was dismissed in consequence of various complaints, the nature of which will show the mode in which the office was at that time managed:--

He forbids the taking in any band-boxes (except very small), and all parcels above a pound, which, when they were taken, did bring in considerable advantage to the office, they being now at great charge sent by porters in the City, and coaches and watermen into the country, which formerly went by Penny-Post messengers, much cheaper and more satisfactorily. He stops, under specious pretences, most parcels that are taken in, which is great damage to tradesmen, by losing their customers or spoiling their goods, and many times hazard the life of the patient, when physic is sent by a doctor or by an apothecary.

He was also charged with opening and detaining letters, and removing the office from to a less central situation. The Penny Post was therefore at similar in its operations to the Parcels' Delivery Company of the present day. In , Mr. Povey set up a private post under the name of the

Halfpenny Carriage,

and appointed receiving-houses and persons to collect and deliver letters in London, , and ; but this undertaking was put down by the Post Office authorities. The conveyance of parcels by the Government Penny Post continued down to , when the weight was limited to ounces, unless the packet had passed, or was intended to pass, through the General Post. The postage was' paid in advance down to the year . In the Penny Post became a Twopenny Post. In the same year the postage was advanced to threepence for letters delivered beyond the limits of London, , and . In the limits of the Twopenny Post were extended to all places within miles of the General Post Office; and in the boundaries of the Threepenny Post were enlarged so as to comprise all places not exceeding miles from the same point. These are the present limits of the London District Post, which is in no respect distinguished from other parts of the country, except by the frequency of collection and delivery of letters, the service connected with which is administered by a distinct department of the General Post Office.

The gross revenue of the Penny Post before did not exceed In it was , and in it had reached , the cost of management in the latter year being The gross revenue under the last complete year before the adoption of the uniform rate was ; and for , the complete year under the new system, it amounted to , being equal to the gross amount collected in . The number of letters has since gradually advanced until the gross revenue has now become restored to its former amount.

The limits of the London District Post, extending miles in every direction from the General Post Office, comprise an area of and- square miles, being, within miles, equal in extent to the county of Hertford. Within this boundary there are, besides the principal office, sub-offices or receiving-houses, including principal branch-offices


centrically situated. A few years ago the receiving offices of the General and Twopenny Post were quite distinct, and a letter for the country dropped inadvertently into the latter was subject to a charge of twopence in addition to the General Post rate. The consolidation of these offices was a most satisfactory improvement, and they now receive indiscriminately letters intended for the General Post as well as those for the London district. Formerly the stranger might wander a long time in search of a receiving-house, and he might be compelled to pass intended only for the reception of letters for the country, but during the present year the situation of the receiving-houses has been indicated by a plate of tin affixed to the nearest lamp-post, on which is shown the street number of such house, a crown being conspicuously placed at the top of the lamp. The keepers of the receiving-houses are shopkeepers, who were formerly paid according to the number of letters they received, but they have now fixed salaries, usually varying from to , `though a few, where the duties are heavier, receive considerably more.

At above receiving-houses, situated within miles of the General Post Office, the letters are collected times a-day-every hours from in the morning to at night; and there are as many deliveries within these limits. At above other offices, situated beyond this circle, and within of miles, the collection and deliveries of letters vary from to daily, in proportion to the wants and importance of each district. Thus the communications between the sub-offices and the central office amount, on the aggregate, to or per day. For this purpose horse-posts, mail-carts, and letter-carriers are employed. A few years ago there were classes of letter-carriers, the Foreign, General, and Twopenny, but the former are no longer a distinct class, and the latter are now extensively employed in delivering the letters which arrive by the day-mails, and also foreign and ship letters. The General. Post letter-carriers are employed only within the -mile district to deliver the letters which reach town by the mails in the morning; but a few of them are engaged within a circle, comprising chiefly the heart of the city, in delivering those which are brought by the day-mails arriving before o'clock in the afternoon; but others which arrive somewhat later are sent out by the letter-carriers in the London District department. The practical tendency is to consolidate the services so fat as concerns the delivery of letters. The number of General Post Letter-carriers in was , and in , only ; but there has been a very large addition to the other class, whose number at the latter date was , with assistants, making in all ;:and if the others be added, we have a total of persons engaged in the delivery of letters. In the General Post Office employed letter-carriers, and the Penny Post ; but the number of receiving-houses was very large, amounting, it is said, to about , each of which exhibited at the door or window a printed placard with the words,

Penny Post Letters and Parcels taken in here.

In the number of General Post receiving-houses in the -mile district was only , and of those for the Twopenny Post .

With this digression we shall now be prepared to understand the machinery by


which the Post Office performs various of its important functions. On a Saturday the number of letters despatched into the country is above a , and there are as many newspapers. Each of the receiving-houses contributes its proportion, those from the greatest distance being received by horse-posts and mail-carts, which call at each office along their respective lines of road, and arrive at the central office between and o'clock. At o'clock the receiving-houses in the -mile district close, and at o'clock the principal branch-offices are closed for the evening's despatch. Within this district also the General Post letter-carriers go through their respective walks with a bell, and, for a penny each, collect the letters which were too late for the receiving-houses, calling also in many cases daily at the counting-houses and shops of merchants and tradesmen, for which extra service they are remunerated by a Christmas gratuity. At o'clock they hurry with their bags to the chief office, or to the nearest branch office. The letter-boxes at the central office close at , but a very large number of letters are received until , on payment of an additional penny. There is a box appropriated to these late letters, where, if an extra penny stamp be affixed to the letter, they may be deposited without the trouble of paying the penny to the window-man. A small number of letters are received from until half-past for a fee of sixpence. Newspapers are received until o'clock, and, to expedite the business of sorting, the Post Office porters call at the different newsvenders before that hour, and carry to the office the sacks of newspapers already prepared for the post. This is, comparatively, a recent innovation, and but for the reduction of the stamp duty would never have been necessary. From until half-past newspapers are also received on payment of a half-penny fee. A minute or before the boxes are closed for the receipt of newspapers, the late editions of the evening papers, with an account of the proceedings in Parliament, and of other events which have transpired before o'clock, are brought on horseback in bags; and it often happens that intelligence reaches Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and other great towns, as far north as Lancaster, distant miles from the metropolis, which the merchant or tradesman who has retired to his house at Hampstead, Highgate, or Norwood, does not hear of until a later period on the following morning. The great exertions for effecting the despatch of the mails are crowded into the or preceding hours. The appearance of the large hall a few minutes before is very striking. Men and boys with sacks of newspapers pour in in a continued stream; the newspaper window is raised for their reception, and or porters inside empty the contents into large baskets, which are wheeled forward for sorting, and pitch the bags outside to their owners. Within or minutes of the time for closing, the discharge of bags into the office-window, and the hurling of those which are emptied, take place as fast as it is possible for the or porters inside to perform the operation. When the clock has finished the stroke the window descends as if it were impelled by a powerful spring. At the same instant all the letter-boxes close as if by some similar means. The scene there is as animated as at the newspaper window. Crowds of persons arrive by each of the entrances into the hall, and if their letters are


stamped there is no further trouble than that of depositing them in the letterbox. But there are hundreds who carelessly neglect this convenience, and yet detain their clerks and servants to the latest possible moment. To receive the penny and mark the letter is but the work of an instant, but, though several windows are open, the arrivals accumulate faster than they can be despatched; and each person fearing to lose the opportunity of handing in his letters, a struggle ensues, which it is disgraceful to permit, the strong putting on side the weak, and the young clerk, anxious to serve his employer, thrust from the window just when his turn had come. All this confusion might be avoided by simply using a stamp; but where the remedy is so easy, the Post Office authorities can scarcely be expected to interfere further than stationing several of their servants in the hall to keep the approaches to the letter-boxes as clear as possible.

Before an attempt is made to assort the letters they are placed with the address uppermost, and stamped at the rate of a-minute. They are then assorted in about great divisions, all those letters which are intended for a particular series of roads constituting division. While this process is going on, the letters already placed in their proper division are taken to other tables, where other sorters are employed; they are then classed according to the separate roads, and next according to the different post-towns for which bags are made up, and which are about in number. The newspapers merely require to be faced and sorted. Every letter and newspaper passes more than once through the hands of the sorters, and about persons are engaged as sorters, including a considerable number of letter-carriers. An account is taken of the unpaid letters to be sent to the postmaster of each town, and the bags are then sealed up.

As the clock strikes the sacks with the letters and newspapers are dragged into the Post Office yard, and put into the mails, mail-carts, and omnibuses. The old Edinburgh, the Glasgow, Holyhead, and other -rate mails, are gone, and omnibuses for conveying the letter-bags to the railway stations occupy their places. At present there are only mails which take their bags from the yard, and these can never rival the celebrity of the old mails, being merely intended to maintain a communication with a few places which are not yet connected with London by railways, or are useful to intermediate districts rather than to the metropolis. The present mails are the Hull, the Louth, the Melton Mowbray, the Lynn, the Norwich, the Ipswich, and the Brighton, Dover, and Hastings mails; and the latter will probably be superseded at no distant time. In place of or mail-carts dashing with rapidity to the White Horse Cellar, , there are only , for the Worcester and the other for the Exeter mail, the latter of which makes a part of its journey on a railway truck. The total weight of the newspapers and letters despatched on a Saturday night, including the bags, is above tons, and out of the are, probably, transmitted by the railways.

of the omnibuses, or accelerators, proceed to the station of the London and Birmingham Railway; to that of the Great Western Railway; and to the South-Western Railway station. On the latter railways the letter-bags


are conveyed in a mail tender under the care of a guard; but on the Birmingham line there is a different arrangement. On the arrival of the accelerators at the station, the servants of the Company carry the bags to a large vehicle, feet long, and a half wide, and and a half feet high, fitted up as a sorting room, with counters and desks, and neatly labelled pigeon-holes. This is the Railway Post Office. It travels on the northern chain of railroads to Lancaster. While the train is proceeding at a speed of or miles an hour, a couple of clerks are engaged in sorting letters and arranging the bags for the different towns. By an ingenious contrivance of Mr. Ramsey's, of the General Post Office, letter-bags are taken up while the train is at full speed. They are suspended from a cross-post close to the line, and as the train passes the bag is caught by a projecting apparatus, which drops it into a net hung from the exterior of the Railway Post Office. Bags for delivery are simply dropped as' the train passes. The bag taken up is examined, and the letters for places northward are put into the proper bags, which are left during the passing of the train. At Rugby the correspondence for Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Leeds, Hull, York, and Darlington, and for Edinburgh and the east of Scotland, and all the districts adjacent to the above places, is detached, and conveyed by different lines of railway in the care of mail-guards. The Railway Post Office continues its course, leaving at place the mails for Ireland, and reaches Lancaster before half-past in the morning, the clerks being occupied the whole of the night in taking up and delivering bags, and in sorting their contents. They make up bags for above different towns. The same process goes on in the day-mail, and the services of eighteen clerks are required for the day and night work. The gross number of bags taken up in the hours by the day-mail and the night-mail together is about . In , and for above half a century afterwards, a week would have elapsed before a reply could be received in London to a letter addressed to a person at Lancaster. Now a letter may be written to the latter place on day, and an answer received to it on the nextday. It is not only the internal means of communication which have been accelerated, but the change has been complete. Letters are conveyed in days from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to London; and from London to Bombay in days. There are lines of steam-boats from England to Halifax and Boston; to the West India Islands; and to India by the Mediterranean and Red Seas. The post has become the safest and quickest of all modes of conveyance.

The business of the General Post Office commences at o'clock in the morning, by which time all the mails have arrived. There are about bags to be opened, and as many accounts of unpaid letters to be checked. It is said that expert persons will open a bag and check the account in a minute and a half. The letters are then sorted into districts, and afterwards into


corresponding to the districts of actual delivery. A bill is made out against each letter-carrier, and the whole number start at the same time. The letter-carriers whose walks are farthest from the office are conveyed by the accelerators or omnibuses, which were used when the was opened. of these vehicles are used at present, which convey a


letter-carriers as near as possible to the scene of their duties, dropping them by in rapid succession. The effect of this excellent arrangement is to give the most distant parts of the town nearly the same advantages as those in the immediate vicinity of the Post Office. The work is so subdivided that the deliveries are finished in from hour and a half to hours. The despatch of letters to the suburbs, and villages and towns not included within the limits of the General Post delivery, but comprised within the -mile boundary, is effected by the horse-posts and mail-carts, which leave the bags at different offices, where letter-carriers are in waiting to deliver the letters, or to take the bags to the respective receiving-houses to which they are subordinate, and which are in many cases situated at a distance from the line of road traversed by the mail-cart or horse-post.

There is department of the General Post Office to which we have not alluded, which has lately become of great importance. This is the Money-Order Office. A few years ago the business was transacted in apartments at a house in , a little distance east of , and subsequently it was transferred to offices in the present building, but it was again removed. Entering by the principal front, this office is now on the right hand of the hall; and a wooden construction has been put up, which projects into the hall, for those who wish to obtain orders, or to receive payment for them. About years ago, the cost of transmitting a few shillings to a place miles distant was , the order being on a separate paper, which rendered the enclosure liable to double postage. The necessity of double postage was avoided by the order being given on a sheet of letter-paper. Since the reduction of the commission to for sums between and , and to for all sums not exceeding , which took place in the year that the Penny Postage was adopted, the facilities of the office have become available to an extraordinary extent. At present the number of money-orders issued and paid is at the rate of upwards of a-year, instead of . Twice as much is paid on orders from the country as is issued for payment at the country offices. In the quarter ending , the number of each per day averaged : namely, paid, and issued. A large proportion of the former are paid to tradesmen for articles to be sent into the country by post, or other means. Innumerable are the objects procured in this way, without any other intervention than that of a Post Office order. The appearance of others who present their orders tells of exhausted resources recruited by appeals to early friends, or of profligacy recklessly wearing out their patience. On the whole, the air of those who apply for orders to be sent into the country is more cheerful. This class comprises servants who are sending a portion of their earnings to aged parents, workmen who can spare something out of their large wages for the wants of others; and here also is to be found the Irish labourer, and others of the same class. The total number of Post Office orders issued and paid at the present time, in England and Wales, is at the rate of a-year, involving the circulation of about This return does not include Ireland.

We cannot conclude without a tribute to the admirable management of the


Post Office in this country. It has in a great measure ceased to be an engine of taxation; and, within the last few years, a series of improvements have been adopted which renders the institution a most valuable auxiliary in the diffusion, both directly and indirectly, of most important moral advantages.


[n.279.1] Sir F. Head.

[n.279.2] Von Raumer, England in 1835 .