General Post Office London – Historic Places
The practice of communication by written documents carried by an intermediary from one person or place to another dates back nearly to the invention of writing.
The first documented use of an organized courier service for the diffusion of written documents is in Egypt, where Pharaohs used couriers for the diffusion of their decrees in the territory of the State (2400 BC).
However, development of formal postal systems occurred much later. The postal history of the United Kingdom is notable in at least two respects; first, for the introduction of postage stamps in 1840, and secondly for the establishment of an efficient postal system throughout the British Empire, laying the foundation of many national systems in existence today.
In 1660, London’s General Post Office was established by Charles II.
In 1661, the office of Postmaster General was created to oversee the GPO.
Originally, the GPO was a monopoly covering the despatch of items from a specific sender to a specific receiver, which was to be of great importance when new forms of communication were invented. The postal service was known as the Royal Mail because it was built on the distribution system for royal and government documents.
It then grew to combine the state system and telecommunications carrier.
Similar General Post Offices were established across the British Empire.
Clerks at work at the post office in London circa 1808.
The GPO created a network of post offices where senders could submit items. All post was transferred from the post office of origination to distribution points called sorting stations, and from there the post was then sent on for delivery to the receiver of the post.
Initially it was the recipient of the post who paid the fee, and he had the right to refuse to accept the item if he did not wish to pay. The charge was based on the distance the item had been carried so the GPO had to keep a separate account for each item.
In 1840 the Penny Post was introduced, which incorporated the two key innovations of a uniform postal rate, which cut administrative costs and encouraged use of the system, and adhesive pre-paid stamps.
In the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, the GPO was based in a succession of locations in the City of London. A new GPO headquarters was built on the eastern side of St Martins-le-Grand in the City of London between 1825 and 1829 to designs by Sir Robert Smirke. It was in the Grecian style with ionic porticoes, and was 400 feet (120 m) long and 80 feet (24 m) deep
The 19th century headquarters of the General Post Office in St Martins-le-Grand in the City of London.
The Inland Letter Office at the General Post Office in 1845.
In the mid-19th century there were four branch offices in London: one in the City at Lombard Street; two in the West End at Charing Cross and Old Cavendish Street near Oxford Street; and one south of the Thames in Borough High Street.
In the 1870s a new building was added on the western side of the street to house the telegraph department, and the General Post Office North was constructed immediately to the north of the Telegraph building in the 1890s as the GPO continued to expand.
When the Central London Railway was constructed in 1900 its nearby station was named Post Office.
Smirke’s building was closed in 1910 and demolished soon afterwards and the current headquarters of BT, a post World War II building, is on the site of the old Telegraph Office.
Telephone Box and Edward VII Pillar Box