The Royal Mail is one of the oldest organisations in the world and throughout the past 500 years they’ve created a public postal service, launched the first postage stamp and introduced postcodes. Here we take a brief look at the history of one of Britain’s most iconic services.
Where it all began
The Royal Mail can be traced all the way back to 1516. It was in this year that Sir Brian Tuke, the first Master of the Posts was knighted by Henry VIII. He established the postal service for exclusive use by the Royals and the Court, until 1635 when it was finally opened up to the rest of the public.
The official name, The Royal Mail, was accredited to the service in 1784 when the use of mail coaches across the country increased. It wasn’t until almost 50 years later that trains began to be used to carry mail with the Liverpool-Manchester line being the first route.
The biggest increase in mail came after 1840 when the world’s very first postage stamp was launched. The Penny Black featured Queen Victoria and dramatically decreased the cost of sending mail whilst greatly increasing the amount of letters sent. In fact, for the first time in history, the sender had to pay the postage instead of the receiver. By 1844, the volume of mail circulating was at 242 million letters per year.
Motor vehicles and postcodes
1907 saw the use of the first motor vehicle to transport post and the lorry covered 300,000 in its 18 years. Although this made the logistics of delivering mail much smoother, it wasn’t until after 1965 that postcodes were fully introduced nationally, allowing automatic sorting. The postal service was divided into first and second class in 1968, the first time in the world that this had been done.
The organisation was split into three separate businesses in 1986 – Royal Mail Letters, Parcels (later changed to Parcelforce) and Counters.
Modern day Royal Mail
The Royal Mail continues to deliver post through Britain’s mailboxes everyday but the 21st century has seen an increase in digital innovations and modern solutions.
Royal Mail’s SmartStamp, aimed at businesses, was launched in 2004. This software enabled users to pay and print for large volumes of mail from home. This was later replaced with their click and drop service with added international territories.
2009 saw Sustainable Mail which offered low-cost, environmentally friendly, bulk postage. And, in another first, a year later the Royal Mail appointed their first female CEO in their 500-year history, Moya Greene.
More recent years have seen Royal Mail commit to a sustainable future with the purchase of electric vans and heavy goods vehicles to add to their fleet. In 2020 and 2021, their employees became key workers as they continued to deliver mail alongside test kits throughout the pandemic.
With such a long, rich history, the Royal Mail organisation are well-acquainted with adapting to the times and it will be interesting to see how they continue to evolve in the coming years.