London Mail Delivery and Pickup

 

Post Offices

Lombard Street Post Office and five other offices for over a century before 1794.
Then reduced to two offices in 1794, Lombard and Westminster, until the out-dated Lombard Post Office was replaced by the new GPO in 1829.

General Post Office at St Martin's le Grand just north of St. Paul's Cathedral opens September 1829

Westminster Post Office to the west of the GPO in Gerrard Street until closing in 1834.

Transfers

Transfer of mails between the two divisions, which were fifteen minutes apart, were made by horseback six times a day.

Receiving Houses

Receiving houses were usually located in shops. They were open until 5 p.m. After hours, a letter could still be mailed by dropping it through a slot cut in the shutter. There were 148 receiving houses in town and 202 in the country area around London in 1830. Letters were taken to the main post offices from the receiving houses in town as frequently as six times a day, but only twice a day from those in the country. At the main post offices the letters were sorted, taxed, and stamped. Then the carriers delivered them.

Letter Carriers

Londoners received their mail through the District Post by means of carriers. There were 224 carriers in the twopenny region, and 165 more in the country or threepenny area. The carriers in town walked, but in some of the more remote country districts they rode. The routes were carefully laid out. The routes were very unequal in length since no general revision of "walks" had taken place since 1794 when there were only 81 letter carriers and London had seen a great deal of growth over this period.

According to the directions of the Comptroller, "letter carriers are required to pass at a quick pace from house to house, to proceed in like manner throughout, and complete each delivery as early as possible." He "earnestly requested persons receiving letters not to detain the letter carriers at their doors, but dispatch them promptly."

In town or the twopenny region deliveries were made six times a day. The first was made at eight o'clock, the others at ten, noon, two, four, and seven in the evening. The letter carriers, on their return to the main office out of which they worked, brought back bags of letters from the receiving houses on their routes. In busier areas a mail cart performed this pickup.

The carriers seem to have put in eleven hours a day. The delivery was necessarily slow, on account of the need for collecting the postage on unpaid letters. It was estimated that the carriers were able to deliver, on average, only about seventy letters in an hour and a half, the average length of a "walk." Each carrier made three deliveries and three return collections a day.

Bellman

The postman's uniform consisted a beaver hat, with golden band and cockade, scarlet coat (cut away style) with blue lapels and cuffs, brass buttons & blue cloth waiscoat and beige kneebreeches. He carried a leather bag to hold letters and pennies. Two bonds or sureties of 40 pounds were required to begin the job. The postmen earned 14 shillings a week.

After the receiving houses closed at five, the carriers rang their bell along a set route collecting letters with the two pennies payment from houses along the way and calling at countinghouses, coffee houses, and clubs to pick up letters until about half past six. Then the bellmen returned to the Post Offices so that letters could be sorted in time for the general departure of the mail coaches at eight.

Folded not stuffed

The centuries old custom of folding a letter, writing the address on the outer face of the folded sheet, and sealing the corners together with a waxen wafer was not replaced with an envelope until 1839. Before 1839 the envelope would have been charged as an extra sheet; therefore, doubling the cost of the letter. The familiar gummed flap envelope first put a bad taste in the mouth of the consumer in 1850.

Stamps

Cost

  • Penny Post within ten miles of the London Post Office from 1711.
  • Beyond ten miles to eighty miles postage was 3d for a letter.
  • A charge of 2d for letters between London and the suburbs to be paid by either the sender or receiver starting in 1794.
  • Charge for London mail increased to 2d and became the twopenny post in 1801.
  • Mail between London and suburbs increased to 3d in 1801.

Appearance

Triangular date stamp used until 1794.

Replaced by oval stamps with indented frames in 1794.

Chief Post Office at Lombard Street put month before day.

Westminster Post Office stamps had put the day before the month.

Oval shaped stamps with Lombard Street Post Office stamps having a double rim after 1801.

Smaller stamps came into use in 1823.

After the Westminster Post Office was abolished stamps became smaller and ceased to be oval in 1834.

Official name stamps for receiving houses replaced penned initials after 1794.

All franked letters had a special stamp; a circle enclosing "To be delivered Free" surmounted by a crown.

Transit Times

A letter dropped in the twopenney post before 10 a.m. would be sent out for delivery on the noon "walk." If answered promptly, the reply might be received by the seven o'clock evening delivery.

At least twenty-four hours was required for an answer from the suburban threepenney area even if it were near the twopenney area.

Off the Stones

The twopenney area was restricted to London, Westminster, and the Borough of Southwark.

The threepenney suburban area was called by the post office "off the stones" and included Chelsea, Kensington, Paddington, St. Pancras, Hackney, Camberwell, and Battersea.




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