Penny Post

The Penny Post — Introduction

      Under the system in operation in the middle of the seventeenth century, there was an 'adequate' service for mail between London and the rest of the country, but if a solicitor wished to send a letter to a client, in London, and he had his office in another part of London, he had to either send one of his clerks, or pay for a porter to deliver it for him. With the growth of trade, and the increase in the population of London (about half a million), there was an increasing demand for a local London post.

      William Dockwra and his partner Robert Murray launched one in 1680, with much publicity, and offered to carry letters, and parcels, within the London area for the sum of one penny. They had a Head Office in Lime Street and 7 sorting offices. In two years it had grown to four to five hundred receiving houses, with messengers who delivered between 5 and 15 times daily.       Dockwra used four types of triangular postmarks, but of the few that survive most are in archives, and only four are known to be in private hands.

Dockwra marks
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In these examples as illustrated in Willocks and Jay catalogue, the letters in the centre identified the office e.g. L = Lime Street and W = Westminster. In the original Dockwra triangular postmarks the words always read PENNY on the left side, POST on the right side and PAID at the bottom, and always facing out.
The system was widely acclaimed, well used, profitable and has never been equalled. The Duke of York complained, claiming it infringed the monopoly of the Post Office, from which he received the profits. As a result Dockwra lost his Penny Post, and it was incorporated into the General Post Office, which had thereby gained an efficient organised postal system.
     So the new Government Penny Post opened on December 11th 1682, with only a few slight amendments from Dockwra's service, including his system of postmarking the mail, with his 'date' and 'time of receipt' stamps.
Dockwra type click here for details. This is an early example of 1725 and although the Penny Post stamp is faint it is legible — it has a 'P' for St. Paul's office and 'TV' for Tuesday. Note also that the word was spelled as PAYD at that time, not PAID.
dockwra stamps
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This example dated 24th November, 1790, addressed to Mr. Hancock, at Andertons Coffee House, Fleet Street, London, has two of these marks, the circular time stamp 2 o'clock T — for the Temple office, and the triangular date stamp, which is very faint, but is MO for Monday and W above it for Westminster. The wording PENNY POST PAID reads inwards so that the word at the bottom is always upside down.
From its inception as a government establishment in 1682, the PENNY POST was under the control of the Postmaster General, but was treated as a separate Department. It had its own premises, officers and staff. The Letter Carriers wore a different uniform, so that they could be distinguished from those of the General Post. This uniform was kept until 1855, even after the TWOPENNY POST had been assimilated into the London DISTRICT POST, following the postal reorganisation of 1844.

Copyright 2002 E. J. Shanahan

By EARS Leisurewrite
Twopenny post

To see another letter with a London Penny Post mark go to Life was no fun in 1791.This has more information, and is a very interesting letter.

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