POSTED A LETTER RECENTLY? By Ann Evans
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.
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.
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.