Tag Archives: Post Boys

Post Office Notices: Inside 200+ years of Post Office history

Archivist (Cataloguing) Anna Flood talks about our collection of 4988 Post Office notices, dating from 1768 to c.2000. They reveal a lot about the services the Post Office provided, and the society in which it operated.

The notices can be seen as a precursor to the posters displayed in post offices and on mail vans after the establishment of the Post Office Public Relations Department in 1934. You may be more familiar with images such as the ‘Post Early for Christmas’ poster below; much more visually appealing than its predecessor. Under the direction of the Public Relations Officer, Stephen Tallents, the organisation employed posters as a means of advising the public, and staff, on services whilst simultaneously constructing a modern and exciting corporate image. Hence, monochrome and purely instructional public notices declined sharply in number from the 1930s onwards.

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Left: POST 107/982 (1934); Right: POST 110/1160

Some of the early posters reflect a more brutal and unforgiving society, where you could be hanged for stealing letters from the mail, or risk attack or even death whilst driving a mail coach.

POST 107/284 (1831)

POST 107/284 (1831)

POST 107/999 (c. 1792)

POST 107/999 (c. 1792)

 

In a world without telephones or the Internet, the efficiency of the mail was paramount. Hence, post-boys could be punished by committal to a house of correction for a month’s hard labour for loitering and delaying the arrival of mails at the next post town. Such a punishment was obviously no deterrent to those mail guards caught drunk on duty (POST 107/284).

Whilst overland communication was still by mail coach until the mid-nineteenth century, the list of exotic oversees places to which mails were carried from Britain was extensive and growing. In 1845 packet ships sailed to Beirut, Bombay, Panama and Canada, amongst numerous other destinations.

The notices are not solely indicative of postal operations, but inform on significant historical events, such as the 1875-76 British Arctic Expedition, which gathered large amounts of data on Greenland, and previously unexplored territories. The notice below indicates the vital, but uncertain, mail communication by HMS Pandora to Smith Sound, an uninhabited Arctic sea passage.

POST 107/971

POST 107/971 (1876)

POST 107/866 outlines the reasons behind the refinement of the postcode into sub-districts and serial numbers (e.g. EC1), including wartime depletion of staff and creation of new Departments of State. This necessitated a more specific means of addressing mail to assist female sorters taking over from the men who had gone to war, and who did not have the knowledge and experience these men had acquired over the years.

POST 107/866 (1917)

POST 107/866 (1917)

First World War notices are of particular significance as we remember the centenary of its commencement. They give a very succinct impression of how the public were permitted to communicate with those at the Front, including the sending of foodstuffs, and photographs, postcards and plans according to censorship regulations.

POST 107/866 (1918)

POST 107/866 (1918)

POST 107/865 (1916)

POST 107/865 (1916)

The collection of notices are now available to search on our catalogue and consult in our Search Room.

-Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)

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