Revolution in the Postal Service

58 Million Penny Black Stamps Printed

This was one of the fascinating facts Probus Club members heard from their guest speaker Andrew Goddard, the Commercial Director of TNT Post, who lives in Hatch Warren, when he gave an overview of the history of the postal service in UK. Started as the Royal Mail by King Charles 1 the recipient of the letter had to pay for its delivery and this was changed by Roland Hill in 1840 by the introduction of the prepaid adhesive stamp, the famous Penny Black. In London there were up to four deliveries a day to households and businesses and it was possible within close proximity to have exchanges of several letters on the same day.

The importance of mail reaching its addressee was recognised as a moral boosting element within the British Army and in 1868 the Post Office Rifles was formed to handle the mail to the troops wherever they were in the world. The BFPO today is a much reduced operation as machinery has had such an impact on mail handling that the service has a staff of only 30 service personnel being based at RAF Northolt.

Because of traffic problems in London and the need to get mail to the various sorting offices it was decided to build the Post Office underground railway which was opened in 1927. It ran for over six miles from Whitechapel to Paddington with seven stations between. Closed in 2003, there is very recent news that this long disused line will be reopened to the tourist market.

Since the advent of the telegraph the General Post Office had seen their telephone business expand exponentially and in 1981 was separated into Royal Mail and BT with the telecoms business eventually being privatised. The government retained control of the postal business and has only very recently sold this off with a public share offering being heavily oversubscribed. Those members of the public lucky enough to be allocated shares have seen their value almost double since its flotation.

When the postal market was opened up to full competition in 2006 there were several entries and these days TNT Post is the largest competitor to Royal Mail and yet is also their largest customer. This apparent paradox is due to the fact that the Royal Mail still carries out the final mile to the delivery address. However even this is undergoing change as TNT Post now has its own delivery personnel in two centres in England and wants to grow this aspect of their service offering their business customers proof of delivery of all mail.

Even after the impact of email has been counted today there are still over 13.8 billion letters posted each year in UK. A lot of these are what is known as transactional mail, those utility and credit card bills, direct mail and of course the Christmas card market where UK is the largest sender of these personal greetings.