i Deputy Editor's Letter: Master of the Posts


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The Independent Online


More than 500 years ago, in the early years of the Tudor monarchy, Henry VIII oversaw the creation of the first “Master of the Posts”. Cardinal Wolsey, who was Chancellor to the young King, appointed Brian Tuke in February 1512. Tuke went on to build up a network of postmasters “in all places most expedient”.

A hundred years passed until Charles I called on Thomas Witherings to establish a public postal system, and on 31 July 1635 the Royal Mail was formed. Later that year the first public “posts” were established in London – in Bishopsgate, Barbican and Charing Cross, from which mounted post-boys collected letters to be delivered.

The system was unchanged until John Palmer organised a rapid carriage service in 1784 and the first uniforms of black hat with gold band, and scarlet coat with blue lapels and gold braids were introduced. Steamboats were used in 1821 in Holyhead and the first stamp – the Penny Black – was issued on 6 May 1840, with 68 million used in its first year. Pillar boxes popped up in 1852, turning red in 1874, and the parcel service began in 1883.

The Post Office bought its first van, a Maudslay “No 1” for £727 in 1907, and the first air mail service was introduced after the Great War. In 1927 an underground railway in London was opened, but the task of coding the whole country was not completed until 1974.

Royal Mail was rebranded Consignia in 2001, but lost its monopoly on the system in 2006, when the market was opened up.

Now, in 2013, it looks set for privatisation. I wonder what Mr Tuke would make of it if he could see the system he spawned.


Twitter.com: @jonesrhodri