Lost in the Regency Mail by Susanna Ives

Today, Susanna Ives, author of Rakes and Radishes, shares the research she did on the British mail delivery system while writing that book. She includes excerpts from several historical works on the subject, as well as some from books published during the period known as the "long Regency." Do you need to know the price of postage for a letter delivered within the British Isles? Or, is you fictional missive to be sent abroad for delivery in a foreign land? Susanna provides postage tables in her article for convenient reference. In her article, you will also find details on which coaches served which cities and the business hours of the London Post Office, among other details of the British postal system.

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When I wrote my first book RAKES AND RADISHES, I had to do a great deal of research on the exciting details of British mail delivery. Not only did I need to learn how a person retrieves her mail, but also the timing of communications. That was years ago, and, like everything I learn, I quickly forgot it. Now I’m storing my research on my shiny blog in the server sky! So the information is organized and available anytime I may need it (and illustrated with lots of pretty pictures.)

Image of a Regency lady next to a small writing table.

From The Picture of London, for 1803: being a correct guide to all the curiosities, amusements, exhibitions, public establishments, and remarkable objects, in and near London; with a collection of appropriate tables. For the use of strangers, foreigners, and all persons who are not intimately acquainted with British metropolis, by John Feltham.

General Post-Office.

This edifice, important as its concerns are to the nation, deserves no praise as a building. It stands behind Lombard-street, from which, on the south side of the street, there is a passage leading to it, under an arched gate-way. It is a national reproach when buildings of this kind, which naturally afford occasions for public architecture, and embellishment of the metropolis, are lost to those purposes.

The Post-office system is, however, one of the most perfect regulations of finance, existing under any government. It has gradually been brought to its present perfection, being at first in the hands of individuals, and replete with abuse. In its present form, it not only supplies the government with a great revenue, but accomplishes that by means beneficial to the persons contributing, since prodigious sums are saved to individuals by this mode of conveying letters, and commerce derives from it a facility of correspondence it could not have from any less engine. When this source of public revenue is contrasted with State Lotteries, then only is its purity wholly comprehended.

The present Post-office was erected in 1660, but has been a great part of it rebuilt last year.

Engraving of a mail coach pulling in to an inn-yard.
From “Stage-coach and mail in days of yore” by Charles George Harper, published 1903.

The mode of conveying letters by the General Post was greatly improved a few years since, by a most admirable plan, invented by Mr. Palmer. Previous to its adoption, letters were conveyed by carts, without protection from robbery, and subject to delays. At present they are carried (on Mr. Palmer’s plan) by stage-coaches, distinguished by the name of mail-coaches, provided with a guard, well armed, and forwarded at the rate of eight miles an hour, including stoppages.

Government contracts with coach-keepers merely for carrying the mail, the coach-owner making a profitable business besides, of carrying passengers and parcels. It is not easy to imagine a combination of different interests to one purpose, more complete than this. The wretched situation, however, of the horses, on account of the length of the stages which they are frequently driven, is a disgrace to the character of the British nation, and requires the interference of the legislature. No stage should exceed ten miles in length.

The rapidity of this mode of conveyance is unequalled in any country; an armed guard travels always with this coach. The present rate of charge is about six-pence per mile.

Mail advertisement from a period newspaper

Mileage for some of the mail coaches.
From Coaching Day and Coaching Way, by William Outram Tristam

Houses, or boxes, for receiving letters before four o’clock, at the west-end of the town, and five o’clock in the city, are open in every part of the metropolis; after that hour bell-men collect the letters during another hour, receiving a fee of one penny for each letter; but, at the General Post-office, in Lombard-street, letters are received till seven o’clock; after that hour, till half an hour after seven, a fee of six-pence must be paid; and from half after seven till a quarter before eight, the postage must be paid, as well as the fee of six-pence. Persons, till lately, were, if well known, permitted to have back any letter put in, if required; but by an order of June, 1802, the masters of the receiving-houses are ordered not to return letters on any pretence whatever.

Rates of Postage of Single Letters.

    From any post-office in England or Wales, to any place not exceeding 15 miles from such office – -3 pence
    For any distance above 15, and not exceeding 30 miles – – 4 pence
    For any distance above 30, and not exceeding 50 miles – – 5 pence
    For any distance above so, and not exceeding 80 miles – – 6 pence
    For any distance above 80, and not exceeding 120 miles – – 7 pence
    For any distance above r 20, and net exceeding 170 miles – – 8 pence
    For any distance above 170, and not exceeding 230 miles – -9 pence
    For any distance above 230, and not exceeding 300 miles – – 10 pence
    For any distance above 300, and not exceeding 400 miles – – 11 pence
    For any distance above 400, and not exceeding 500 miles — 12 pence

And so in proportion; the postage increasing progressively one penny for a single letter for every like excess of distance of 100 miles.

Susanna’s note: To see letters and postmarks between the years 1785 — 1833, please visit the Bath Postal Museum.

Foreign Letters.

The following sums must be paid upon all letters to the several places mentioned, when put into the Post Office, and if not paid, the letters are not forwarded.

    For the North of Europe, Germany, and Turkey – 16 pence
    For France, Flanders, and Holland — 10 pence
    For Spain and Minorca – 22 pence
    For Italy, by way of France – 19 pence
    For Italy, by Hamburgh — 16 pence
    For Lisbon – – 26 pence
    For America and the West-Indies — 22 pence

Letters for the East-Indies must be delivered at the India-house, where a letter-box is provided for their reception.

Those for the Coast of Africa, or at single settlements, in particular parts of the world, may be sent, either through the ship letter-office, or by the bags which await the sailing of ships, and which are kept at the respective coffee-houses near the Royal Exchange.

From The Complete Servant, by Samuel Adams and Sarah Adams, published 1825


Letters, to go the same day, must be put into the Post offices at the west end of the town before five, and at the General Post Office, in Lombard Street, before seven o’clock; but those put into the General Post Office before half-past seven, will go that evening, paying 6d. with each.

    The West-India and America packet is made up the first Wednesday in every month; and the Leeward-Island packet, the first and third Wednesday in every month.
    The packet for Calais is made up every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
    For Ostend, Holland, and Cuxhaven, every Tuesday and Friday. For Sweden, every Friday. For Lisbon, every Tuesday. For the Mediterranean and the Brazils, first Tuesday in every month.
    For Gibraltar, Malta, and Corfu, the first Tuesday of each month. For Madeira and Brazils, ditto.

All foreign letters must be paid for, except those for the British West Indies.

A clerk regularly attends at the Money Order Office from nine o’clock in the morning till six in the evening, and guarantees the safe conveyance of any sum, payable at sight by the Deputy Post Masters in the country, Edinburgh, or Dublin ; who will also receive any money, and give an order at sight on the Money Order Office in London.

Allowances made for Surcharges from eleven to five o’clock.

N.B. Any person sending or conveying Letters, other wise than by Post, incurs a penalty of five pounds for every offence.

MaIl coach being loaded in an inn yard
From Coaching Day and Coaching Way, by William Outram Tristam.


Which set out on the Week-days at Eight, and on Sundays at Six o’Clock in the Evening.

    Bath and Bristol, continued to Exeter, from Swan, Lad Lane.
    Barton, from Golden Cross, Charing Cross, and Spread Eagle, Gracechurch Street.
    Boston, from Bell and Crown, Holborn.
    Brighton, from Golden Cross, Charing Cross.
    Cambridge, every night, and on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, to St. Ives and Wisbeach, from Golden Cross, Charing Cross, and White Horse, Fetter Lane.
    Carlisle, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, from Bull and Mouth, Bull and Mouth Street.
    Chester and Holyhead, from Golden Cross, Charing Cross.
    Carmarthen, Milford Haven, and Huberstone, from Swan, Lad Lane.
    Dover, from Angel, behind St. Clement’s.
    Exeter and Falmouth, from Swan, Lad Lane.
    Edinburgh, from Bull and Mouth, Bull and Mouth Street.
    Gloucester, Carmarthen, and Milford, from the Angel, behind St. Clement’s Church, and Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly.
    Holyhead, from the Bull and Mouth, through BirMingham and Shrewsbury.
    Harwich, from Spread Eagle, Gracechurch Street.
    Hull, from Spread Eagle, Gracechurch Street.
    Leeds, from Bull and Mouth.
    Liverpool, from Swan, Lad Lane.
    Manchester and Carlisle, from Swan, Lad Lane.
    Norwich, by Ipswich, from Swan, Lad Lane.
    Norwich, by Newmarket, from Swan, Lad Lane, and Golden Cross, Charing Cross.
    Oxford, from Golden Cross, Charing Cross, and Angel, behind St. Clement’s.
    Portsmouth, from Angel, behind St. Clement’s.
    Plymouth and Falmouth, from Swan, Lad Lane.
    Southampton and Poole, from Bell and Crown, Ilolborn.
    Shrewsbury, Birmingham, Kidderminster, and Bewdley, from Bull and Mouth.
    Swansea and Neath, from Swan, Lad Lane.
    Worcester and Ludlow, from Golden Cross, Charing Cross, and Bull and Mouth, Bull and Mouth Street.
    Yarmouth, from White Horse, Fetter Lane.
    York, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness, from Bull and Mouth.

Page from a book listing the regular mail coach routes.


Susanna’s note: The Penny Post delivered mail within London and its immediate environs.

There are Two Principal Post Offices, one in the General Post-Office Yard, Lombard-street, and the other in Gerrard Street, Soho. There are, besides, numerous Receiving Houses for Letters, both in Town and Country.

There are SIX Collections and Deliveries of 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 follows:

Delivery Schedule for Two Penny Post in London

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

Letters put in on Saturday Evening are delivered in the Country on Sunday Morning.

The date Stamp, or, if there are Two, that having the latest Hour, shews also the Time of Day by which the Letters were dispatched for Delivery from the Principal Offices.

The Postage of a Letter from one part of the Town to another, both being within the Delivery of the General Post Office, is Two pence; and to and from parts beyond that Delivery, Three pence; and the Postage of this Office on each Letter passing to or from the General or Foreign Post-Offices, is Two pence.

The Two-penny Postage of all Letters, such as are for Parts out of His Majesty’s Dominions excepted, may or may not be paid at putting in, at the option of the senders.

No-Two-penny Post Letter must weigh more than Four Ounces.

The Delivery of this Office extends to the following and intermediate Places; viz.:—

    In KENT— Woolwich; Plumstead; Shooter’s Hill; Eltham; Mottingham; South End; Lewisham; Beckenham; and Sydenham.
    In SURREY— Croydon; Beddington; Carshalton; Mitcham; Morden; Merton; Wimbledon; Ham; Petersham; and Richmond.
    In MIDDLESEX and HERTS—Twickenham; Teddington; Hampton; Hampton-Court; Hampton-Wick; Sunbury; Whitton; Isleworth; Brentford; Ealing; Hanwell; Wembly; Willsdon; Kingshury; The Hyde; Mill – Hill ; Highwood – Hill; Totteridge; Whetstone; Friern-Barnet; East-Barnet ; Southgate; Winchmore Hill; and Enfield.
    In ESSEX—Chingford; Sewardstone; High-Beach; Loughton; Chigwell and Row; Wanstead; Ilford; and Barking.

Cash, in Gold or Silver, or other articles of Value enclosed in Letters (Notes or Drafts for Money excepted) to be mentioned to the Office-keeper at putting in; but it is recommended that Bank Notes, or others payable to Bearer, be cut in half and sent at twice, the Second Part not to be sent till the Receipt of the First is acknowledged. This Office however is not liable to make good the loss of any Property sent by Post.

It is earnestly requested that Persons receiving Letters will not detain the Letter-Carriers at their doors longer than can be avoided

Letters for this Delivery are frequently by mistake put into the General Post, by which they are unavoidably delayed; It is therefore recommended that they be put into the Twopenny Post Offices or Receiving Houses, in order that they may be regularly forwarded by their proper conveyance.

Bye-post. A Bye Post is established on each Road within the Country-Delivery of this Office, by which Letter are transmitted from one part to another of the same district, direct, and without coming to London.

Any irregularity in the Delivery of Letters, communicated to the Comptroller, will be duly attended to, and if the Covers bearing the date Stamp are produced they will assist materially in discovering where the fault lies.

Mail coach with horses in full gallop
From The World in Miniature, by William Henry Pyne, published 1827

What would our forefathers have thought, could it have been foretold, that newspapers, published in London on a Saturday night, would be conveyed to subscribers, one hundred and seventy miles, by Sunday at noon.

The excellent regulations for the secure, expeditious, and economical conveyance of a great proportion of the correspondence by letters, by mail-coaches, as before observed, are owing to the system established by the late W. Palmer. These mail-coaches travel about 13,000 miles a day, for which the contractors receive upon an average one penny-halfpenny per mile. The number of mail coaches out of London, are twenty-two, and those which are engaged in the cross road communication are forty-five. The first of these carriages started for Bath and Bristol, on the 2nd of August, 1784; mail coaches became in general use in 1786.

Previously to the establishment of this plan of conveying letters, they were sent to various parts by mail carts, small carriages in the shape of a dog kennel, on two wheels, and driven by a post boy. The frequent robberies, however, to which the post-bags were subjected, caused the mail coaches to be hailed with universal satisfaction, as the coachman and guard, being armed with each a brace of pistols, and the guard with the addition of a blunderbuss, has justified the motto adopted on their first starting, “Persons and property protected,” for from the commencement of their travelling, we believe no instance has occurred in England, at least, of a mail coach being stopped by robbers on the road.

The coachmen and guards wear the king’s livery, scarlet, faced with blue and gold lace; and are an intrepid and fearless class. The appearance of the mail coaches, men and horse, proudly prancing in cavalcade, annually on the birth-day of the sovereign, is one of the gratifying sights peculiar to this country.

Lady giving a letter to a Regency postman

Post Man

On the present establishment of the general post office, the number of officers are 175; messengers and porters, 35; letter carriers, 203; mail guards, 270.

The principal offices under the postmaster general are those of the secretary, the foreign, inland, the accountant-generals, the receiver-generals, and various subordinate departments. Besides the chief offices, there are upwards of sixty receiving houses open in different parts of the town for general post letters.

In the district of the two-penny post, which extends above ten miles round London, there are 140 receiving houses: the number of officer is 487, and of carriers, 359.

By a regulation of late years, the postman, who delivers letters from house to house, according to their superscriptions, is dressed in the royal livery. General post letters are delivered in the morning, somewhat earlier in the City of London, and particularly in parts contiguous to the general post office, than in Westminster, and the north-west parts of the metropolis.

Newspaper notice about the new post office
From “ The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle,” October 1829

Regency man at desk with paper and a quill pen in an ink pot

Letters sent from London. Will you have the goodness to trace a letter from its being put into a receiving house in London to its being delivered in the country ?—If it is put in at any distant receiving-house, it is there stamped and put up into a bag, that bag not being accessible to any individual until it comes to the Post office. Those bags are called for by the letter-carriers, who deposit some of them in 300 sacks, which are put into carts employed for the purpose of saving time, in order to bring them to the office so much the earlier; others are brought in great sacks by the letter-carriers on foot. The bags are opened by persons appointed for the purpose, and the letters are then thrown out into great baskets, in which they are brought to the places where they are to be stamped. The stamping is done by messengers, or by letter-carriers; and, as they are stamped, one letter is put into a sort of box, which is to go for 100; and so it is that we arrive at something like the number of letters that are put into the Post-office of an evening.

There are four or five stamping-tables; and sometimes three or four, sometimes more persons, are employed at each table. As soon as the letters are stamped, they are taken away to be assorted into 18 or 20 divisions, upon tables which correspond with what we call the roads, from which those letters are to be sent; the individual at No. 1, or 5, or 10, as the case may be, comes exactly to his table, and takes from the corresponding number the letters which have been assorted in the manner I have described. This is done by a higher gradation of sorters. There are a certain number of individuals assigned to a road; they take the letters to the road, and there they are assorted for the different places along the line of that road. When the individual has got the letters to his proper road, he begins with marking them with the rates of postage ; after that they are put up into the box which bears the name of the post town to which they are to be conveyed. When all the letters are assorted, it is his duty to tell up the whole in each box, in order to ascertain what sum the postmaster in the country is to be debited with : after that comes the process of tying them up in bundles, and putting them into bags and sealing them. The bags are then put, according to a certain order, into large sacks belonging to the roads ; for instance, the Carlisle bag would be put at the bottom of what we should call the Carlisle sack, next to that Penrith, then Appleby, and then Brough, and so on. The sacks are then delivered to the guard, and he becomes from that moment responsible for their security. As he comes to each place, the bag belonging to the place is taken out; he delivers it to the postmaster, with all the bye-bags he may have to deliver, and takes up the bags which it is necessary he should have from that town for the different towns through which the mail-coach passes.

Drawing of a Regency lady putting letters into a postman's bag.

Letters from the Country. Will you have the goodness to trace a letter, put in the country, to its delivery in London ?—It is dropped into the receiving-box at the Post-office of the town from which it is intended to be sent; it is stamped and taxed there by the Postmaster or the persons employed by him, all of whom take the oath of office; it is entered in his bill exactly in the same manner as is done in London ; it is enclosed in a bag, which is scaled, delivered to the guard, put into his sack, and conveyed by the mail-coach to London. Having got to London, the bags are opened, the letters are told over, and more particularly the paid letters, because the Postmaster in the country receiving so much money for paid letters, it is very necessary that we should see that he has put down the right amount. After the letters have been examined and stamped, they are distributed into fourteen divisions, twelve for the inland letter-carriers, one for the window or alphabet, and one for the two-penny post. Each of these twelve divisions is then subdivided into walks (118 or 119 in number). They are then placed before six clerks, called tellers, who charge the amounts against the respective letter-carriers. The amount against each walk is entered in a book, and stated on a docket, which is delivered to another clerk, called the check clerk, who also enters it in his book. The letter-carriers then tell the letters, and report the amount they make to the check clerk. If it agrees with the amount of the docket he has received from the telling clerk, the docket is handed to the letter-carrier for signature, and returned again to the check-clerk, and the amount is thus established against the letter-carrier. If it disagree, after a second telling by the letter-carrier, the President selects a clerk from another, part of the office to re-tell the letters, and decide which is right. The President frequently retells the letters himself. The telling-clerks, to prevent collusion with the letter-carriers, are changed almost every day.

Engraving of the main London post office building

© 2012 – 2013 Susanna Ives
Originally posted at Susanna Ives — Writer of Reckless Abandon
Posted at The Beau Monde by permission of the author.

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