Postal History Collection
Provincial Penny Posts
By the third quarter of the 17th century, the General Post was working well, mail being distributed between Post Towns via the Chief Office in London with a fair degree of reliability. But to send letters within London, or any other city, was impossible. No local post existed.
Nearly a century later, in 1773, a local private penny post was established in Edinburgh by a man named Peter Williamson. Like the London penny post of 1682, Williamson’s post was also suppressed, then taken over by the Post Office in 1793. Francis Freeling, new to Post Office headquarters, visited Edinburgh during this period and was responsible for organising the takeover.
The London, and in particular, the Edinburgh Penny Post were influential in establishing the pattern for the Provincial English Penny Posts that followed.
Provincial Penny PostsIn an Act of Parliament of 1765 provision was made for setting up local penny posts to deliver letters to the surrounding neighbourhood of cities or towns. In the following years, only a handful of large cities such as Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester established local penny posts; and these not until the year 1793. One of the problems experienced was the reluctance of the Post Office to proceed with the establishment of any post unless they believed there was no financial risk.
The first positive move towards the expansion of penny posts came at the beginning of the 19th century. In April 1801 all postage rates were increased by Act of Parliament. The 5th and 8th clauses of this Act were important and made possible the local penny posts that were to follow. The 5th Clause allowed the Postmaster General to collect and deliver letters to and from towns and villages surrounding a Post Town at such charges as were agreed with the inhabitants, whilst the 8th Clause allowed the individuals within a village (or the whole of the inhabitants) to indemnify the Post Office against financial losses. The most prominent person, (the one who lived in the big house), was often the one to give this guarantee. After all, he probably gained most from a local post.
Many of the early local posts established under the 1801 Act were known as 5th Clause Posts, having their own designated handstamps. Unfortunately, it was found that the local charge (usually a penny) could not be made on free letters or newspapers as before. As a result, from 1808 there was a move from 5th Clause posts to Penny Posts to counteract this anomaly, and from that time the local penny posts grew rapidly till the advent of Uniform Penny Postage in January 1840 rendered them obsolete.
Penny Post Handstamps
In England and Wales, there were five basic types of named penny post handstamp in use between 1811 and 1840 when they were superseded by the new stamps of the Uniform Penny Post. In practice, they continued in use until well into the 1850s albeit they had little use except as town or village namestamps.
Handstamps with a few exceptions were standardised throughout England and Wales and when a new penny post was established, the Office was sent the stamp that was currently being produced and issued from the Chief Office. The 5 basic types of stamp and the years that they were issued are as follows:-
|Type of handstamp.|
BPMA ref No.
|Period of issue from|
The pdf links below are searchable tables listing relevant items in the Postal History Collection. They have been arranged in alphabetical order of town (Provincial Penny Post table) and 5th Clause town (5th Clause table).
Use the search box to enter your search term. The first instance will then be highlighted in the table.
Provincial Penny Postage (PDF, 1.2 MB)
5th Clause (PDF, 61 KB)
Numbering system: 42/1, 43/4, 44/3, 45/2, 47/5
These are BPMA numbers combining two different cataloguing systems: 42/ etc from the British County Catalogue by Willcocks & Jay; and /1 etc from Oxley “The English Provincial Local Posts”.
Auck. – Auckland, Bruce “Postal Markings of Scotland to 1840” 2nd edition. Edited by Ron Stables
Meredith – Meredith, R.W. “Old Irish Postage Stamps and Franks”
Oxley – Oxley, G.F. “The English Provincial Local Posts 1765-1840”
W & J – Willcocks & Jay “The Postal History of Great Britain and Ireland”
BM Bishop mark
cds circular date stamp
CX Charing Cross
MX Maltese Cross
mm mileage mark
PP Penny Post
RH Receiving House
sl. straight line
TP Twopenny Post
udc undated circle
UPP Uniform Penny Post