Instone Airline

Postcard advertising air parcel post (POST50/36)

Postcard advertising air parcel post (POST50/36)

Although naturally the collections of the BPMA focus overwhelmingly on the historical operations and administration of the Post Office and Royal Mail, we can occasionally offer a glimpse into the history of other companies who have had a past business relationship with the postal service. A good example of this is when we recently had the pleasure of a visit from Mr. Martin Instone. He was hoping to see a notice we hold in our collection dating from 1922, advertising the Parcel Post service to Paris and Brussels operated by Instone Airline (POST 50/36, below). He also very kindly gave us a brief history of his ancestors’ company.

Instone Airline, originally the ‘Aerial Transport Department’ of S. Instone & Co., was owned by the Instone brothers (Samuel, Theodore, Alfred and Gustave). The Instones were ship owners and merchants who had interests in shipping, trading and industries such as coal mining. After World War One, communications between European countries were slow to return to pre-war standards. This led to delays in the delivery of bills of lading and other documents, which in turn meant the unloading of ships was often delayed. To solve this problem, S. Instone & Co. purchased a de Havilland DH4 plane, initially used to transport company documents, goods and employees from Cardiff via London to Brussels – the plane’s first flight was on 13th October 1919.

“The City of London” being loaded up with Royal Mail items and goods for same day delivery to Paris (image copyright © Martin Instone)

“The City of London” being loaded up with Royal Mail items and goods for same day delivery to Paris (image copyright © Martin Instone)

The Instones soon realised they had the opportunity to offer a transport facility for non-company personnel and goods, and, on purchasing two further aircraft in early 1920, formed Instone Airline. It is believed to be the first airline to introduce uniforms for its pilots and staff, and was also the first to transport a racehorse!

Instone Airlines agreed a contract with Royal Mail for the transportation of letters and parcels between London, Paris and Brussels, and also opened routes between these cities and Cologne and Prague. By 1924, the company ran a fleet of eight aircraft from the airport at Croydon.

In 1924, the British government amalgamated Instone Airline with a number of other small airlines to form Imperial Airways, of which Sir Samuel Instone was a director. Imperial became the British Oversees Airways Corporation (BOAC) in 1940, and in 1977 merged with British European Airways Corporation (BEA) to form today’s British Airways.

Instone Air Line service timetable (image copyright © Martin Instone)

Instone Airline service timetable (image copyright © Martin Instone)

As I’ve shown, even if you’re not undertaking direct research into postal history, it may be worth checking out our catalogue which may throw up something of interest. Along with all the postal history records you’d expect us to hold, there is information on BOAC, British Telecom (until BT separated from the Post Office in the 1980s, telecommunications came under the remit of the PO), Unilever, Vodafone, the Co-operative and many other businesses and organisations that had a relationship with the UK’s postal services. Have a look at our catalogue at to see what you can find.

– Robin Sampson, Archives & Records Assistant (with thanks to Martin Instone).

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