Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 125,440 pages of information and 195,554 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

General Post Office

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1870.Siemens Pneumatic Apparatus.

The General Post Office reported to the Post-Master General, a member of the Government. It operated the national postal service in Britain, the Royal Mail

1711 The Post Office Act paved the way for a unified postal service across the Scottish and English (including Wales) administrations following the 1707 Act of Union. Ireland followed in 1808.[1]

1837 Rowland Hill (1795-1879) proposed a universal postal service in the UK based on prepayment of the items on a weight-basis and what eventually became adhesive stamps.

1840 The Uniform Penny Post was approved. The first postage stamps were introduced.

1855 Rowland Hill commissioned two engineers (Messrs Gregory and Cowper) to investigate the feasibility of a pneumatic tube-based package transport system for the General Post Office in London. They reported in 1856 that such a line was possible but at significant capital and running costs, so the Post Office dropped the idea.[2]

1870 On 28 January (under the Telegraph Act, 1868) the privately-owned inland telegraph system was transferred to the British State. About 30 telegraph companies were taken over by the General Post Office. The central telegraph office of the new service would be located at the offices of Electric and International Telegraph Co[3]. Capital stock worth £10,948,173 was created to compensate the owners of these companies. The Post Office took over 1,058 telegraph offices and 1,874 offices at railway stations, 60,000 miles of wire, generating revenue of c.£550,000 per annum. In 1869, 6,830,812 telegrams had been transmitted. R. S. Culley was appointed Engineer-in-Chief (Telegraphs).

1874 The Post Office made several trials of the Pneumatic Despatch Co's underground tube system but did not find it provided substantial time savings so its use was abandoned

1877 William Henry Preece was appointed electrician to the Post Office.

Horse-drawn mail vans carried mail between railway stations and places distant from them, and between sub-post offices and sorting offices.

1880 Acquired the instrument works in Gloucester Road which became the G. P. O. Instrument Factory

1880 First use of tricycles for delivery

1880s the General Post Office began hiring larger enclosed box vans from McNamara and Company (carriers and mail car contractors). These had elliptical spring front suspension, semi-elliptical spring rear suspension, a double driving seat, and mail coach style headlamps. These were frequently called mail coaches, although they carried no passengers. At least six regular long-distance mail van services ran from London in the late 19th century.

1882 Established its own Engineering Department[4]

1887 Introduction of horse-drawn mail service

1890 The assets of the Submarine Telegraph Co were taken over by the General Post Office.

1892 William Preece became Engineer-in-Chief of the General Post Office.

1896 When Guglielmo Marconi arrived in England, Preece encouraged him by obtaining assistance from the Post Office for his work.

1897. Liquid Fuel Engineering Co's vehicle

1897 The General Post Office introduced bicycles for delivery and conducted trials of powered vehicles, one a petrol-powered provided by British Motor Syndicate with a Daimler engine; this was used in London for about 2 weeks; it had capacity for about 6 cwt of load. The other (illustrated) was a steam-powered vehicle which was supplied by the Liquid Fuel Engineering Co; it was used on a route from Mount Pleasant to Redhill, particularly to see if it could reduce the costs otherwise incurred through charges for use of rail; it was modified with asbestos insulation to protect the parcels; a tailboard was added at the rear to bring the capacity up to the required 12 cwt[5]. Further details of the vehicle were given in The Engineer 1897/06/04.

1899 Preece retired from the GPO

1908 The London to Chatham mail van service ended in the summer of 1908

1909 The mail van service from London to Oxford ended

1912 The Post Office acquired full control of the telephone system from the National Telephone Co. Britain’s first public automatic exchange opened in Epsom, Surrey. For the first time customers could make calls without going through the operator – the first step towards automation.

1914 Having previously contracted out the service, the Post Office started planning its own vehicle fleet and purchased a small number of vehicles in order to begin trials.

1919 The first publicly-available overseas airmail service started on 11 November between London and Paris

1921 The Postmaster General purchased the tubes, etc. of the Pneumatic Despatch Co[6].

1922 The Post Office selected an automatic telephone exchange system – a British-made version of the system invented by Kansas City undertaker, Almon Strowger in 1888.

1927 Opened the Tube Railway, connecting major sorting offices in London

1930s The world’s first coaxial telephone cable was laid between London and Birmingham, making it possible for several hundred conversations to be sent at the same time through one cable.

1930s The Post Office's long-wave transmitter at Rugby was among the most powerful in the world. The Post Office supervised all radio communications and broadcasting in the United Kingdom, collected licence-fee income for the BBC as well as managing the allocation of frequencies.

1936 Introduced the Speaking Clock.

WWII A team at the Post Office Research Station led by telecommunications research engineer Tommy Flowers designed and constructed Colossus – the world’s first programmable electronic computer. It contained 1,500 electronic valves and played a crucial part in cracking German codes during the second world war.

1958 Introduction of Subscriber Trunk Dialling, which enabled customers to make their own long distance calls for the first time without the help of the operator.

1969 The Post Office Act of 1969 led to the GPO becoming a public corporation. The department and the office of Engineer-in-Chief changed radically with the engineering work of the new Post Office Corporation divided between the increasingly separate postal and telecommunications businesses.

1975 the Post Office built a Research Laboratory on the site of the decommissioned Martlesham airfield and moved the laboratory there from Dollis Hill.

1980 British Telecommunications, trading as British Telecom, was formed

1981 British Telecom became independent of the Post Office.

1984 British Telecommunications was privatised, becoming British Telecommunications plc.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Royal Mail History [1]
  2. [2]
  3. The Times, 23 October 1869
  4. The State of Freedom: A Social History of the British State Since 1800, By Patrick Joyce
  5. The Engineer 1897/12/24
  6. London Gazette Issue 32525, 22 November 1921
  • Postal Heritage [3]
  • Mail Trucks - Wikipedia [4]
  • A short history of Telecommunications in the UK [5]