Moving the Mail: From Horses to Horsepower

You’ve probably noticed the feed from our Flickr account on the right side of this blog. We’re using Flickr as a way of enabling more people to see our exhibitions, such as Moving the Mail: Horses to Horsepower.

Moving the Mail explores the history of road transport and the Post Office, showing how technology and innovation, from Mail Coaches to motorised transport, enabled Royal Mail to increase the speed of mail delivery.

Royal Mail Coach circa 1800

Royal Mail Coach circa 1800

Prior to the introduction of Mail Coaches, Post Boys delivered mail by horse. Post Boys were vulnerable to adverse weather conditions and attacks from highwaymen, and the system was considered slow.

In the late 18th Century, John Palmer, a theatre manager from Bath, proposed an alternative system whereby horse-drawn Coaches would be used. To ensure the maximum speed was maintain the horses would be swiftly changed every 10 miles. When this system was trialled in 1784 it took just 16 hours for the Coach to travel from Bristol to London: a speed considered remarkable at the time. By the end of 1785 Mail Coaches were in use all over England.

Mail Coach Guards carried a blunderbuss and a brace of pistols to protect them from attack. The first recorded hold-up of a Mail Coach took place in 1786; it was unsuccessful as the Guard shot the highwayman dead. This action by the Guard appears to have deterred other highwaymen as no further hold-ups were recorded (unless you count the on a Mail Coach by a lioness, as mentioned previously on this blog).

With the coming of the railways in the 19th Century and other technological advances, Royal Mail began to use vans, motorcycles, push bikes and other vehicles to deliver mail. A range of these are on display at the venues below or can be viewed on Flickr. For more information on road transport and the Post Office see the Moving the Mail: Horses to Horsepower Online Exhibition.

Exhibition Tour Dates

Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton, until 27th September 2009

Grampion Transport Museum, until end October 2009

Bradford Industrial Museum, 18th July – 12th September 2009

3 responses to “Moving the Mail: From Horses to Horsepower

  1. I enjoyed this online version of the exhibition.
    My husband informs me that the post buses in Scotland are to be discontinued. Do you know why, and is this to be the fate of all post buses?

  2. Pingback: The Travelling Post Office « The British Postal Museum & Archive

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