Horse-drawn mail

Horses have been used to carry messages from the very early days, when post boys would deliver messages by horse. In the 18th Century horse-drawn mail coaches were introduced, which cut mail delivery times by more than half.

But while efficient, mail coaches suffered many tragic accidents. In a previous blog we recounted the sad tale of a mail coach caught in a snow drift in Southern Scotland. We also found a lantern slide showing a coach in difficulty on a broken bridge. This and other images of horse-drawn mail from the Royal Mail Archive can now be seen on Flickr.

Accident, Lanark. Detail of a lantern slide showing a scene of a broken bridge where there central portion of the span has fallen into the river below. A coach is hanging off the right hand edge with two horses dangling in their harness. (2012-0139/1)

Accident, Lanark. Detail of a lantern slide showing a scene of a broken bridge where there central portion of the span has fallen into the river below. A coach is hanging off the right hand edge with two horses dangling in their harness. (2012-0139/1)

The advent of the railways in the 19th Century further sped-up mail delivery, and mail coaches were withdrawn from use. However there was still work at the Post Office for a good horse, and horses were used to pull carts, carriages and vans until at least the mid-20th Century.

Interestingly, horses were also entitled to sick leave. A note held in the Archives from 1898 states that:

Mr T C Poppleton’s horse of The Post Office is suffering from sore shoulders and unable to perform his official duties.

Horse's sick note, 27 October 1898.

Horse’s sick note, 27 October 1898.

Horses were not employed directly by the Post Office but were provided by contractors. A number of the images we have put on Flickr show scenes from the stables of McNamara and Co, who provided horses for postal duties in London.

Horse in the stables of Messers McNamara and Co., 1949. (POST 118/1988)

Horse in the stables of Messers McNamara and Co., 1949. (POST 118/1988)

By the late 1930s horses had largely been replaced by motorised vehicles, although they were used in remote areas on a limited basis. The last London post horse, Peter, left Post Office headquarters in the City of London on 23 September 1949.

The last horse drawn mail used in London leaves on delivery. (POST 118/1982)

The last horse drawn mail used in London leaves on delivery. (POST 118/1982)

View our images of Horse-drawn Mail on Flickr.

One response to “Horse-drawn mail

  1. Christienne Coutts

    How interesting that horses were entitled to “sick leave”. I enjoyed very much reading through the doctor’s note written for “sore shoulders” for one of the horses. A great piece of ephemera! Thanks for posting.

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