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Rowland Hill's counter-intuitive thinking

Stamp showing Queen's profile above landscape of Tolkien's Rivendell

Rivendell on a postage stamp commemorating Tolkien and Lord of the Rings.

We like to look at innovators on this website. It's amazing the number who had to battle for their ideas.

Rowland Hill was a school teacher and educational reformer who was the first to introduce science labs and a swimming pool to the model school he had founded. He liked receiving letters, and he became fascinated with the postal operations then in operation.

Around 1839 he arrived at the brilliant and counter-intuitive idea that postal costs have little to do with distance and that the whole cumbersome process could be speeded up and the charge for sending mail could be drastically reduced. And profits? Profits increased because the numbers of people who could afford to send a letter increased dramatically.

Under Hill's plan, postage on a letter would not be collected after complicated travel computations which slowed down delivery and were often so high recipients of letters refused to accept them. Instead, those sending mail would simply buy adhesive stamps for a uniform charge at the post office.

The government bureaucrats of the day naturally called Hill's idea wild and visionary - and these were not compliments - but his plan made such obvious sense it swept Britain and, soon after, the world.

The Penny Black, the world's first stamp, which shows a profile of Queen Victoria as an eighteen-year-old princess, was first posted early in May, 1840. For letters over half an ounce, Hill had two-penny blues produced.

Since they were the first stamps in the world, they needed to show no country of origin, a detail British stamps continue to omit today, while always carrying the profile of Britain's reigning monarch. Hill's idea revolutionised postal systems worldwide and put Britain's postal system on a firm financial footing. He is missed today.

Regular and reliable mail deliveries - often twice a day - continued throughout Britain for decades, no small achievement for Middle Earth.

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