History of mail

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What a fascinating time travel treat members of Inverbervie Probus experienced when Club member, Doug Galloway, gave a beautifully illustrated presentation on the history of the Royal Mail and UK postage stamps. Not only that, but he also provided a wonderful display of first-day covers and numerous albums of UK stamps with every monarch from Queen Victoria to the present day.

Doug explained the progress of documentary communication from 15th – 21st century, and how the surge in civilisation, inspired by the revival of learning and literacy during the Reformation which, together with the invention of the printing press, led to a need for more organised distribution of letters and packets. This became referred to as a mail system. Royals and the wealthy relied on the use of their servants to carry and deliver from correspondent to recipient. Other mere mortals had to find someone heading in the right direction such as ecclesiastical traffic or travelling fairs. An option was to use “common carriers” – an extensive system of licensed carriers using carts or pack horses to convey food, goods, letters, packages and, of course, gossip.

He said that following the Spanish Armada, Edward 1 issued a proclamation effectively banning the conveyance of private letters by other than the official post, legitimising the merger of the People’s Post and the Queen’s Post. As the handling of private letters became legitimised more rules were introduced including Post Boys being required to carry a horn and blow it “so oft as he meeteth company or passeth through a town, or at least thrice a mile.”

Doug advised that under Charles 1, Thomas Witherings was directed to control foreign and inland mails. He was very methodical and organised daily running Posts from London to Dover and Edinburgh etc imposing a fixed charge of 2d per single sheet up to 80 miles; 4d up to 140 miles and 6d above 140 miles. (Could this be where the present Royal Mail got its latest idea from – paying by distance carried?). Back in these days postage was collected on delivery. This caused numerous abuses, delays and refusals to accept delivery, resulting in loss of revenue to the Post Office.

On behalf of members, Rolland Neilson proposed thanks. Sending a letter will no longer be taken for granted knowing the history and incredible technology behind the simple postage stamp.