The Penny Post routes operated six days a week and it's rates of a penny were lower than those charged by private carriers, with some charging as high as four pence (4d). Most private posts charged for both letters delivered and those collected for onward transmission by the general post. The official Penny Post charged only for letters delivered, a system which allowed for posting boxes to be set up at various points throughout the City. Letters were delivered to any house on the route and in most villages receiving houses were set up where people in outlying areas could receive their mail. In 1830, the letter rates for the Penny Post were 4d for 15 miles, 5d for 20 miles and thence according to a sliding scale to 1s for a limit of 300 miles. A letter from London to Liverpool cost 11d; to Bristol 10d; to Aberdeen 1s 3d. Letters sent to addresses whithin the same post town were delivered free. In the late 1880's, commercially produced picture postcards became all the rage and the Post Office instituted a half penny fee for their delivery.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, postmasters had also been innkeepers due to the fact that they were responsible for finding post boys and horses, providing stabling, etc. Once recognized mails came into being, this was no longer necessary and it was felt that inns provided little security for the mailbags. By March 1836, only one post town in the entire country had an innkeeper as postmaster. More common were post offices run by druggists, stationers, grocers and booksellers.
Fast mail coaches were introduced in 1784, with recognized mail routes coming into existence soon afterwards. Stage and mail coaches were alike in build, carrying four inside passengers and ten or twelve outsides. Mail bags were piled high on the roof and luggage was stowed in large receptables called "boots" at either end of the vehicle. There was an extra charge for the box seat next to the coachman, as this was considered to be a desirable place, especially for those interested in horseflesh and driving. Mail coaches, which were subsidized by the Post Office, were uniformly painted, the lower part of the body being chocolate or mauve; the upper part, the fore and hind boots painted black; the wheels and under carriage a vivid scarlet. The Royal Arms were emblazoned n the doors, the Royal cipher in gold upon the fore boot and the number of the vehicle on the hind boot.
The departure of the Mails was one of the most exciting sights in London. On its' outward journey, each coach collected passengers from whatever inn the vehicle was horsed at, and then dashed round at 8 p.m. to the post office in St. Martin's le Grand to collect the mail. Coaches were called by name to receive their bags and the crash of the lid of the boot being locked down on the special mails was the signal for each coach to speed away. Fast Stage and Mail coaches made their journeys at about the same speed. It took 5 hours to Brighton, 17 to Exeter and 21 to Liverpool. This worked out to an average speed of ten miles per hour. The change of horses at each fresh stage was made quickly. Hostlers and stable boys were allowed a minute in which to take out the old horses and harness up a fresh team, though some could manage the job in 50 seconds!
Seats on a coach had to be secured ahead of time at the inn from which it started or where it stopped upon the road. The fares by stage coach worked out to about 2 1/2d to 3d a mile outside, 4-5d inside. Mail coaches were dearer, as they were faster, averaging from 4 1/2d to 5 d for outsides, 8-10d for inside passengers. Some people got around paying postal fees by having their letters "franked." A frank was the signature of a Member of either House of Parliament, who did not have to pay postage on letters of government business. As all he had to do was to write both the address and signature in his own hand, this perk was abused and used for personal letters, as well.
This article was graciously supplied by
Kristine Hughes, author of historical research books such as:
Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England and
The A-Z Bibliographical Guide to Researching Historic Great Britain