2016 marks 500 years since Henry VIII knighted first Master of the Posts Brian Tuke, said to be the catalyst for the creation of Royal Mail
Royal Mail is celebrating 500 “great” years of service by commemorating a number of people, including two in Surrey, for the roles they played.
This year marks 500 years since Henry VIII knighted Brian Tuke, the first Master of the Posts, back in 1516.
This move was said to have been the catalyst for the creation of the postal and delivery services we recognise in the UK today.
To celebrate, Royal Mail, together with the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA), are creating an online gallery of 500 objects, people and events telling the story of the postal service – and also of its contribution to social and political development over the last five centenaries.
Included in the line-up is a former Staines resident who was said to have rowed 2,500 miles delivering letters to houseboats along a seven-mile stretch of river in in the town during the early 20th century and also a Haslemere-born architect who designed the hexagonal Penfold postbox.
Moya Greene, Royal Mail’s chief executive officer, said: “We are proud to celebrate the heritage of this great company.
“The history of the postal service in the UK reflects the tremendous societal and political change that has taken us from sixteenth century Tudor England to the United Kingdom today.
“In all its guises, Royal Mail has been responsible for a number of world firsts – the Penny Black stamp and the first ever airmail flight to name just two.
“It has also changed almost beyond recognition, from a small group of King’s Messengers in those early days to a national network connecting consumers, companies and communities across the UK today.
“Against this backdrop of continued change, Royal Mail’s people have been a constant presence. They are the heart of this company. I hope that, through them, we will continue to deliver the Universal Service and play an instrumental role in people’s lives for many years to come.”
16 billion letters
The origins of Royal Mail date back to the 16th century, when Tuke had the “influence and authority” to establish key post towns across the country and build a formal postal network.
Before 1635, the postal service operated only for the King and the Court until it was opened up to the general public by King Charles I.
The Post Office Act, which was sealed in 1660 made it a publicly-owned postal service which later paved the way for a unified postal service across Scottish and English (including Wales) administrations following the 1707 Act of Union. Ireland followed suit in 1808.
From 1800 to 1952, river postmen and women operated on the River Thames, delivering mail to boats moored from London Bridge to below Limehouse.
This included Staines-born Doris Beauman, who was one of these river postwomen working during the First World War delivering letter the houseboats. By 1919, it was said she had rowed some 2,500 miles.
Also doing his part to help in Surrey was Haslemere’s John Penfold, a surveyor and architect best known for designing the hexagonal Penfold postbox in 1866.
He was president of the Architectural Association School of Architecture from 1859 to 1860 and an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects before being made a fellow in 1881.
Penfold was also a founding member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and sat as its honorary secretary from 1868 to 1904 before his death in 1909.
Today, Royal Mail handles more than one billion parcels and more than 16 billion letters a year and has with a workforce of more than 140,000 people.
To find out more, visit www.royalmailgroup.com/500years.