Wednesday, 13 January 2016

POSTED A LETTER RECENTLY? By Ann Evans


William Faulkner
These days most of our correspondence comes via email, but it's still nice to receive a letter in the post - unless it's a bill! But we do take the good old Royal Mail for granted but that's not surprising seeing as it has been around for 500 years.

It was back in 1516 that King Henry VII established a 'Master of the Posts' which was a position that evolved into the office of the Postmaster General. It was another 19 years however before the postal service was available to the general public. And then the cost of postage was paid by the recipient. I somehow don't think that would work these days with all the junk mail we receive.

The policy of having the receiver pay for the letter ended in 1840 when Sir Rowland Hill introduced the Penny Black stamp. However, MPs were able to send mail for free so long as they stamped their 'frank' or mark on the letter.

Uniformed postmen first appeared on the streets in 1792 but it was almost another 60 years before post boxes were common place.

Anthony Trollop
A little research has just thrown up a few famous names who were postmen for a time. They include novelist Anthony Trollop who worked as a Surveyor's Clerk for the Post Office in the 1850s but it wasn't a job he enjoyed. He was however involved with setting up the early post boxes in the Channel Isles.

William Faulkner, novelist and playwright who received the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature was a mail man in the United States. Again, not a very good one as it seems that he liked to read magazines before delivering them and throwing away people's mail that he considered 'insignificant'!

Even Walt Disney was a mail man – or mail boy, as he used to collect and deliver mail when he was a youngster of 16.


Then there's been books and films written with a link to postmen, such as the 1934 crime novel The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain later adapted for film. Oddly enough there's no mention of a postman at all in the book and the title has a very different meaning.

There have been songs to do with the mail. Who could forget Please Mr Postman, first recorded by The Marvelettes in 1961 then later by The Beatles. And one of my favourites – being an Elvis fan, Return to Sender.

But probably the most famous postman, who we all love is Postman Pat – and his black and white cat, Jess. 


And actually this has a place in the Royal Mail history too as back in the 19th Century, postal carriers used cloth sacks to deliver mail which mice were quite partial to. The little creatures would chew holes in the sacks. 

To overcome this problem, in 1868 the Royal Mail hired three cats to work at their headquarters and paid each cat a shilling per week. The last cat to work there, Blackie, died in 1984 and the RMG have since switched to plastic bags which don’t have the same mouse-attracting problem. Postman Pat is clearly not taking any chances!





So next time you pop a letter in the post box you might like to think of all its inspired over the years.


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6 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

There's a sort of nostalgia about receiving letters now, isn't there Ann? OK, they've been replaced by emails but the instant gratification provided by the latter doesn't compare with the slow anticipation of, for example, sending off a manuscript and waiting for the response. There's also the fact that, back then, once the postman had been, you knew there was no chance of anything arriving until his next visit. Nowadays, the 24 hour email delivery service has robbed us of the delicious Waiting for Godot experience - because Godot sometimes DID come.

Ann Evans said...

Yes, absolutely, Bill. And there's something really nice about getting a proper letter in the post. It was through getting a real letter in the post the other day that had a message stamped on it, saying the 'Royal Mail's 500th anniversary' that gave me the idea for this blog.

Reb MacRath said...

The things that we forget, eh, Ann? A long time ago I corresponded with a Tokyo lady to whom I'd been introduced by my Japanese teacher. It would be a while before I could afford to fly there. But falling in love and then courting her by mail--with weeks sometimes elapsing from my letter to her received response--was like nothing else on earth. Letters were joyous and sometimes confusing--up to two weeks for clarification. And the worry when the mail ran more slowly! Regrettably, the courtship had an unhappy ending--a marriage that might have been avoided if email had existed then. Still, I can't regret regret the whirlwind of emotions that came with the writing and receiving of those letters.

Umberto Tosi said...

Right wingers in Congress have been trying to kill off the US Postal Service (formerly the US Post Office established by Ben Franklin) for as long as I can remember (as a favor to FedEx and other corporate carriers). Miraculously, it continues and improves, despite the bad rap. My daughters and several dear friends still send me handwritten cards and letters, and I them -- although less often than I should. Your thoughtful post inspires me to sit right down and write one now. Thanks.

Lydia Bennet said...

Lovely nostalgic post Ann, though I'd much rather have email or facebook msg or skype! Also I've noticed a lot of people seem to have lost the ability to handwrite anything legibly, the few letters I've had or sometimes cards often remain a mystery either re the sender or re the subject due to insane scrawls. I feel my handwriting too has suffered, from doing nothing but shopping lists or scribbled notes to myself. Another lovely book connected with postal services is the semi-autobiographical novel, in fact originally a trilogy of novels, Lark Rise to Candleford, by Flora Thompson, in which the young protagonist becomes a post-girl in the countryside under a then rare postmistress, and has to cope with cheeky gamekeepers, curious cows etc. I've always loved those books which is one reason I didn't watch the tv series.

Enid Richemont said...

Erm... well, long, long ago, the Post actually functioned, and postmen (and women) were our friends. Locally, we had a very talented artist/postman who regularly showed his work in exhibitions. To say that this is no longer so is an understatement. My post frequently ends up elsewhere. A couple of weeks before Christmas, a friend in Paris sent me a present, which never arrived. When she made enquiries, she was told that it had been refused (presumably by the people to whom it was erroneously delivered). I may get it in time for Easter (or not).

The Postal service most certainly has an interesting and fascinating history, but in its present state I love it not, and avoid using it whenever possible.