Glendale, History Society
On November 9, Glendale Local History Society welcomed Tony Walker to Wooler to talk about the history of the post office and the hobby of philately.
At Vindolanda in 1973, a cache of 1,500 letters were discovered.
They had been written on bark about 2000 years ago and had been preserved by compression in anaerobic conditions.
Since Roman times there has been a need for records to be kept and documents transported.
Early letters were written by the few well-educated people, or by scribes, and were delivered by servants on horseback.
Since they had to travel over private land, agreements were made between landowners for the transport of letters over their land free of charge.
In 1430 the Merchant Strangers post was established in Italy to convey mercantile documents between merchants in Venice. This later was made available to the public under the title Merchant Adventurers.
Henry I was the first English monarch known to have officially appointed messengers to carry government documents.
In 1484 Richard III developed this process by appointing horsemen at intervals of about 20 miles to carry letters hand-to-hand at high speed.
By this method a letter could be delivered 200 miles away within two days.
Henry VIII is credited with establishing the first Post Office.
In 1512 he paid Sir Brian Tuke £100 to deliver royal letters, and in 1516 he appointed Sir Brian as Master of the Post.
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Staging posts, usually inns, were established at 20 mile intervals for changing the horses. Tuke established routes from London to Dover and London to Edinburgh, via the Great North Road.
Post boys were often employed to deliver mail, initially for a pittance, but as literacy improved and the number of private letters increased so did the post boys’ wages.
By 1603 post masters had been appointed at various stages along the Great North Road.
Charles I opened the King’s Post for the use of the public on July 31, 1635, with a proclamation setting up a letter office available day and night.
A letter from London to Edinburgh took five days to deliver.
A single letter consisting of one sheet of paper was charged at a rate of 2d (two old pence) for a distance of less than 80 miles, 4d for between 80 and 140 miles, and 6d for greater distances.
A letter to the Borders from London would have cost 8d.
If more sheets were used then the tariff increased according to the ‘bigness of the packet’.
To keep costs down some people resorted to the use of ‘cross-writing’ horizontally and then vertically. For this, clear handwriting was essential.
The first Post Master General was Henry Bishop, appointed at the suggestion of Oliver Cromwell in 1688. He used a post mark then known as the Bishop’s mark.
During times of war postal rates would increase so that posting a letter could cost the average working man a week’s wages. At such times the post was rarely used, except for official business.