One has just been sent out as a biblical dove, has found nothing green, and slips back
into the darkness of the ark -- Kafka

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mr. Palmer and the English Mail Coach

Mail Coach

In Great Britain, the mail coach or post coach was a horse-drawn carriage that carried mail deliveries, from 1784. In Ireland, the first mail coach began service from Dublin in 1789. The coach was drawn by four horses and had seating for four passengers inside. Further passengers were later allowed to sit outside with the driver. The mail was held in a box to the rear, where a Royal Mail post office guard stood.

The mail coach was faster than the stage coach as it only stopped for delivery of mail and generally not for the comfort of the passengers. They were slowly phased out during the 1840s and 1850s, their role being replaced by trains as the railway network expanded.


History in Britain

The postal delivery service in Britain had existed in the same form for about 150 years - from its introduction in 1635, mounted carriers had ridden between "posts" where the postmaster would remove the letters for the local area before handing the remaining letters and any additions to the next rider. The riders were frequent targets for robbers, and the system was inefficient.[1]

John Palmer, a theatre owner from Bath, believed that the coach service he had previously run for transporting actors and materials between theatres could be utilised for a countrywide mail delivery service, so in 1782, he suggested to the Post Office in London that they take up the idea. He met resistance from officials who believed that the existing system could not be improved, but eventually the Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Pitt, allowed him to carry out an experimental run between Bristol and London. Under the old system the journey had taken up to 38 hours. The coach, funded by Palmer, left Bristol at 4pm on 2 August 1784 and arrived in London just 16 hours later.[1]

Impressed by the trial run, Pitt authorised the creation of new routes. By the end of 1785 there were services from London to Norwich, Liverpool, Leeds, Dover, Portsmouth, Poole, Exeter, Gloucester, Worcester, Holyhead and Carlisle. A service to Edinburgh was added the next year and Palmer was rewarded by being made Surveyor and Comptroller General of the Post Office.[1]

Initially the coach, horses and driver were all supplied by contractors. There was strong competition for the contracts as they provided a fixed regular income on top of which the companies could charge fares for the passengers. By the beginning of the 19th century the Post Office had their own fleet of coaches with black and scarlet livery.[2] The early coaches were poorly built, but in 1787 the Post Office adopted John Besant's improved and patented design, after which Besant, with his partner John Vidler, enjoyed a monopoly on the supply of coaches, and a virtual monopoly on their upkeep and servicing.[1]

The mail coaches continued unchallenged until the 1830s but the development of railways spelt the end for the service. The first rail delivery between Liverpool and Manchester took place on 11 November 1830. By the early 1840s other rail lines had been constructed and many London-based mail coaches were starting to be withdrawn from service; the final service from London (to Norwich) was shut down in 1846. Regional mail coaches continued into the 1850s, but these too were eventually replaced by rail services.


[From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mail_coach]
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