I can’t remember now what prompted me to start writing about the postal service, other than the fact that Royal Mail remains a lifeline of contact for many elderly people who have not and never will, master e-mail.
(See earlier posts by clicking on “SMILE POST” in the TAG CLOUD)
It seems that on this occasion I was ahead of the newspapers. On 3rd December, there was an excellent centre page essay in the Daily Mail by Dominic Sandbrook and this will be followed by a series of lunchtime broadcasts on Radio 4 entitled “The Peoples’ Post”. Should be well worth listening to.
I am grateful to Mr Sandbrook for the following bits of post history:-
- A public postal service started in 1635
- In 1680 the London Penny Post was introduced
- By the late 1700’s, William Pitt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, agreed to the use of mail coaches. Scarlet coated guards driving stagecoaches at 10 miles an hour! Seems like a good branding idea for Postman Pat buggies:-). I wonder if that is where red post boxes came from?
- In 1840 Rowland Hill came up with “stamps” so that senders could pre-pay their letters. I didn’t realise that before that, you paid for your letters when you received them. That system today would certainly put an end to junk mail 🙂
- In 1861 William Gladstone introduced the post office savings bank. Village sub-post offices sprang up all over Britain. A service that goes way beyond a mail delivery and is the lifeline of many small rural communities
- In the First World War, 12½ million letters were sent to Flanders every week ! After the war the Post Office became a leading employer of disabled veterans
- By World War II the Royal Mail was the biggest employer in the land with ½ million employees
- The advent of e-mail signalled a major shift – between 2005 and 2009 the volume of letters fell from 84 million a day to 75 million
I am grateful to Dominic Sandbrook for outlining the interesting way in which the development of the postal service and the improvement in communication changed British social history and helped make us one nation, benefitting from the knowledge and experiences of each other. We are now in an era where the internet has the potential to do that globally. So it is a sad twist of fate that e-mail threatens the very future of the postman on our doorstep.
Mr Sandbrook’s article ends on a rather forlorn note about foreseeing the continued decline of the Royal Mail. But need it be this way? Why not re-build on the experience of hundreds of years of proud history?
Put postmen or postwomen Pats back in scarlet uniforms; give them low-carbon emission buggies or better still an even more environmentally friendly horse and cart. Support them with a volunteer army of elderly postal assistants and start a wholly new enhanced delivery service providing milk, fresh bread, organically and locally grown fruit and veg and of course POST. Add to this a hop on and off bus service and a mobile crèche.
It’s a daft idea but it might just work.
I GUESS THAT’S WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT THE PENNY POST IN 1680
As I was writing this blog on holiday in Florida, an item came on the news saying that the universal postal service in America was considering dropping from a next day delivery to a two-day service. Maybe this will be the next cutback in the UK