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Sir Rowland Hill and a mail service under attack


Sir Rowland Hill knew the difference between a good idea and a government directive. Cat writes -

In 1840 Rowland Hill introduced the idea of drastically reducing the charge for mail sent anywhere in Britain, and having the charge paid with a stamp purchased when the mail was sent rather than when it was delivered. These common sense ideas were not obvious to the government which declared his ideas were "preposterous" and "wild and visionary". The last term was not intended to be complimentary.

Hill, who makes an appearance in the science timeline as an innovator, realized that the cost of sending mail had little to do with distance and a great deal to do with the time involved in computing travel costs and delivering the letters. Often they were refused because the charge could equal a day's pay for a poor man. Naturally the government, which controlled postal revenues, was squeezing as much money as it could from the service.


The Penny Black, the first adhesive stamp used in a public postal system, was issued 1 May and used from 6 May 1840.

With the establishment of the penny post in 1840, the inequities, expenses, and inconveniences of the post were all rapidly resolved, and three times as many letters were posted. Government revenues increased, too. Government has yet to understand these fruitful paradoxes.


Image: Icons

Today the BBC reports that the "liberalisation of the UK postal service has produced 'no significant benefits' for either households or small businesses". However, big business has benefitted.

Liberalisation? True liberals recoil at such a blatant misuse of the word. That the EU compelled the government to allow private carriers to deliver the mail was a misbegotten attempt to destroy a legitimate function of national government.

The initial findings of the independent review "warned there was now a threat to the Royal Mail's financial stability" and a "substantial threat" to the collection and delivery to all United Kingdom addresses. Bryan Smalley made the same point on this blog on April 14. It's a pity that a government unable to get much right cannot leave well enough alone.

Thanks to John Kelly and Idris Francis for bringing this to our attention.