The British Postal Service in 1731
The following information about the postal service is taken from London in 1731 by Don Manoel Gonzales. The full text is available from Project Gutenberg.
Appended is a description from Daniel Defoe's A Tour Throughout the Whole Island of Great Britain, written around the same time.
The London Post Office
The Post Office is situated on the south side of Lombard Street, near Stocks Market. It was the dwelling-house of Sir Robert Vyner, in the reign of King Charles II. The principal entrance is out of Lombard Street, through a great gate and passage that leads into a handsome paved court, about which are the several offices for receiving and distributing letters, extremely well contrived.
As today, postal charges are a function of weight and distance except the letters of one or two sheets had specific charges.
Members of Parliament; Peers of the Realm; Archbishops and Bishops sitting in the House of Lords; and various government office holders did not pay postal charges and could sign the message to indicate a free frank. The privilege was widely abused but continued until 1840 when the penny post was introduced and the special privilege abolished.
|Letter size||Up to eighty miles||More than eighty miles|
|Per ounce||1s||1s 4d|
Post is despatched on the following days:
|All of England||-||T||-||T||-||S|
|Kent and the Downs||M||T||W||T||F||S|
|Austrian and United Netherlands||-||-||-||F||-||-|
Additionally there is a daily service to wherever the court is residing, the main headquarters of the British fleets and seasonally to places such as Tunbridge when large numbers are taking the waters.
Post is received on the following days:
|All of England||M||-||W||-||F||-|
|Kent and the Downs||M||T||W||T||F||S|
During times of peace the following numbers of packet boats are available:
|Spain||1 per fortnight|
|Portugal||1 per fortnight|
During time of war additional packet ships are made available as required.
From Defoe's A Tour Throughout The Whole Island of Great Britain
The Post Office, a branch of the revenue formerly not much valued, but now, by the additional penny upon the letters, and by the visible increase of business in the nation, is grown very considerable. This office maintains now, pacquet boats to Spain and Portugal, which never was done before: So the merchants letters for Cadiz or Lisbonne, which were before two and twenty days in going over France and Spain to Lisbonne, oftentimes arrive there now, in nine or ten days from Falmouth.
Likewise, they have a pacquet from Marseilles to Port Mahone, in the Mediterranean, for the constant communication of letters with his majesty's garrison and people in the island of Minorca.
They have also a pacquet from England to the West-Indies; but I am not of opinion, that they will keep it up for much time longer, if it be not already let fall.
This office is kept in Lombard-Street, in a large house, formerly Sir Robert Viner's, once a rich goldsmith; but ruined at the shutting up of the Exchequer, as above.
The penny post, a modern contrivance of a private person, one Mr. William Dockraw, is now made a branch of the general revenue by the Post Office; and though, for a time, it was subject to miscarriages and mistakes, yet now it is come also into so exquisite a management, that nothing can be more exact, and 'tis with the utmost safety and dispatch, that letters are delivered at the remotest corners of the town, almost as soon as they could be sent by a messenger, and that from four, five, six, to eight times a day, according as the distance of the place makes it practicable; and you may send a letter from Ratcliff or Limehouse in the East, to the farthest part of Westminster for a penny, and that several times in the same day.
Nor are you tied up to a single piece of paper, as in the General Post-Office, but any packet under a pound weight, goes at the same price.
I mention this the more particularly, because it is so manifest a testimony to the greatness of this city, and to the great extent of business and commerce in it, that this penny conveyance should raise so many thousand pounds in a year, and employ so many poor people in the diligence of it, as this office employs.
We see nothing of this at Paris, at Amsterdam, at Hamburgh, or any other city, that ever I have seen, or heard of.