The Postman Always Rings

January 28, 2018 at 9:43 am (history, london's landscape, World of Two Teens) (, , )


In the *first* of a series of posts (not necessarily all in a row), culling useful information about the World of Two Teens in the Time of Austen, is a short tidbit on the English Postal System.

So many times the Smiths and Goslings query each other:

  • When did you mail this letter? I received it only today.
  • How long did my letter take to reach you?
  • Should I use the route X rather than Y? Is it faster?
  • This letter took three days to reach me – why?
  • When did you post it?
  • I find, Today is not a post day.
  • The Postman is here, I must finish.

It, of course, is obvious that letters can travel through the hands of relatives – servants – as enclosures – via the family solicitor or banker, etc. etc. Some are franked; others hand-delivered next door or even inside the same house! Imagine yourself without your email…. “Why isn’t so-and-so answering me?” Things have not changed, it’s just the manner of the communication that differs.

(As well, the “historical” trail left behind! I Pity anyone studying the early 21st century 200 years from now…)

The Smiths and Goslings were as eager for news, as happy with a bit of a gossipy chat, as anxious about travelling loved-ones, as YOU are today. I was counting last night, and given the period from 1770s through the 1940s (stray letters at the beginning and the end, in a bell-curve fashion), and even discounting for wrappers alone or free-fronts (ie, NO letter inside) and for those copied from books, I have transcribed over two thousand letters. A *major* feat; though perhaps on par with finding them in the first place! The life stories that roll across the amassed pages is astounding. No wonder it’s taken ten years to come to grips with it all – and to see the materials for myself, when they are scattered from England to Italy, from Canada and the U.S. to Australia.

If I read a letter a day, EVERY day, it would take SIX-and-a-half YEARS to go through them, and that wouldn’t be counting any that are still out there, in someone’s closet or shoebox. And that doesn’t count the family diaries.

bright star_letter

So, what did I find? A schedule for the London Two-Penny Post in the year 1835, information among the printed matter at the front of “The Commercial LedgerAnnual Memorandum Book, used as a daily diary:

REGULATIONS OF THE TWOPENNY POST.

There are Six Collections and Deliveries of the Letters in Town, daily, (Sundays excepted), and there are Two Dispatches from, and Three Deliveries at, most Places in the Country, within the Limits of this Office.

The Hours by which Letters should be put into the Receiving Houses in town, for each Delivery, are as follow [sic]:

For Delivery in TOWN.
Over Night by 8 for the First
Morning ……… 8 …………. Second
                         10 ………… Third
                         12 ………… Fourth
Afternoon ……. 2 …………. Fifth
                          5 ………….. Sixth

For Delivery in the COUNTRY.
The preceding Even. by 5 for the First.
Morning ……………………… 8 …………… Second
Afternoon ……………………. 2 …………… Third.

But Letters, whether for Town or Country, may be put in at either of the Two Principal Offices an Hour later for each Dispatch.

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2 Comments

  1. Alan Godfrey said,

    The details of the London Twopenny Post above are very interesting, but this system operated independently of the General Post which delivered the mail around the whole of Britain and Ireland (including to and from London). The London post was only for local letters in the London area. The ‘Country’ mentioned above is actually the area of the outer suburbs of London. The Twopenny Post was a misnomer as letters into or out of the ‘Country’ cost 3d).

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Hi, Alan — thanks for spelling out the Town & Country dichotomy more clearly. The Smiths & Goslings are so a part of BOTH that I sometimes take for granted that others will realize that (even back then) there rather existed what we think of today as “Greater London”, apart from the rest of the country. Of course, they were also quite tied to the “Town” (and did call it such), that often, for them, the post went from Portland Place to Cavendish Square to Harley Street.

      Thanks also for mentioning the cost for reaching the “country” around the “town” – as always, there’s an exception to every “rule,” including the TWO penny post.

      I used a chart (from a 1798 diary) in an article in Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine; if I’ve not already discussed it here, a next blog might be a good time to mention it. It denotes the costs (per sheet) of a letter as the distance radiates outward and even abroad. REALLY helps to make sense of all those numbers found on pre-stamp letters.

      Thanks for writing; it’s good to hear from you !!

      Kelly

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