Canon Roger Dedman was today’s Speaker and treated the 28 members present to a seemingly unending catalogue of communication products and services provided by the Post Office during the past 100 years.
Back in the 1900’s postal services very much depended on the railways for moving mail around the country. There are lots of stories and pictures of Travelling Post Office trains collecting and distributing letters. All immortalised by WH Auden in his poem “Night Mail”. Telegrams were also popular as the Post Office linked up with the National Telephone Company to transmit messages.
The First World War precipitated moves to improve the speed of delivery for letters between families in the UK and Troops stationed abroad. It was eventually possible to post a letter in the morning and have it delivered to a loved one on a European battlefield the following day. After the 1st World war Airmail was gradually introduced to carry mail relatively short distances by air and it was this mail that financed the flights. By the mid-1930’s the advent of the Dakota DC3 enabled passengers to be carried and scheduled services were introduced to carry mail with more reliability.
Post Offices were established in every UK city, town and village and enabled them to expand the services they offered. Through the ages, they have facilitated driving licences, road tax licences, dog licences, radio and TV licences, banking services, savings, travel money, family allowances, pensions, broadcasting, electronic communications, etc etc
To keep pace with these developments, in 1957, the Post Office introduced machinery to sort mail by reading phosphorous lines on first and second class stamps. In addition, special stamps were introduced to commemorate occasions such as Christmas and the World Cup. This attracted stamp collectors to buy up the new editions without using the postal service and provide a lucrative cash addition to the service.
Post Codes had first been assigned to geographical segments of London in 1856. They were next expanded to include major UK cities and, in the 1950s, further expanded to allocate a postcode for every location in the UK. After extensive trials in Norwich, the postcode system was put in place in 1964. Apart from defining every house location, it is now the basis of other systems such as route planning, town planning, insurance premiums, marketing etc.
The Post Office Ltd, as it is known in its current form, came into existence in 2001. Ten years later the Postal Services Act 2011 led to the Post Office Ltd divesting the Royal Mail Group which became a public limited company. Royal Mail became the company that delivers parcels and letters – the provider of the universal postal service. The Post Office became the nationwide network of branches offering a range of postal, Government and financial services.
Internet services are presently having a significant impact on both these entities. The Post Office has lost much of its business issuing licences, pensions, allowances and banking to direct transactions made through the web. It has had to downsize.
Royal Mail has seen a decrease in letters and circulars counter-balanced by a large increase in parcel and courier services helped by the pandemic. The business also operates in the United States and looks to be in better shape.
New Member Bernard Higgins made his debut with a vote of thanks to Roger for a fascinating insight into the development and inner workings of one of our National Institutions.
Next week see the return of Prof. Martin Curzon to engage us with “Sugar, Honey and all things nice”
Recorded by RICHARD WRIGHT