What is Royal Mail?

Royal Mail is the primary postal service in the United Kingdom. It’s the most popular postal service, providing delivery services to all inhabitants of the British Isles. Royal Mail has a rich history and the service is being credited with being the first to develop and put in practice the postage stamp.

Brief history

Royal Mail has an interesting history, spanning back over 500 years – let’s brush up on our history, so we can understand a bit more about how and why Royal Mail do the things they do and how did they become the No. 1 postal service in the UK.

Today the service might be known as Royal Mail – but they’ve seen lots of changes over the years – It all started back in 1516 when Henry the VIII first appointed a guy to be called “Master of the Post”- this position was renamed later in 1710 to “Postmaster General”.

The Royal Mail service was first made available to the public by Charles the I on 31 July 1635 – with postage being paid by the recipient. The General Post Office was officially established by Charles II of London in 1660 after the restoration of the monarchy.

Between 1719 and 1763 there were a series of contracts signed by Ralph Allen ( the postmaster at Bath at the time) to develop and expand Britain’s postal network.  He organized coaches which were provided by two main companies – Wilson & Company of London and Williams & Company of Bath. These early coaches were similar to ordinary family coaches, the only difference being the Post office livery.

The first-ever mail coach ran in 1784, operating between Bristol and London. The staff received uniforms for the first time in 1793. The first mail train ran in 1830 on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

The next big step in the history of Royal mail was the invention of the postage stamp – called “The Penny Black” which came into use in the UK in 1837. Back then postage prices were very high and people had to pay for postage when they received it – so the Penny Black went into circulation and the postage stamps we know today came into being. As Britain was the first country to issue prepaid postage stamps, they didn’t bear the name of the country of issue on them. By the late 19th century, there were between six and twelve mail deliveries per day in London, meaning that correspondents could exchange multiple letters within a single day.

What about Pillar Boxes?

The first-ever pillar box was built in Jersey in 1852  – pillar boxes were introduced in mainland Britain the following year. British pillar boxes usually have the Latin initials of the reigning monarch at the time of their installation inscribed, for example, VR is for Victoria Regina, GR is for Georgius Rex.

The postal service helped build new infrastructure in communication across Britain: in 1912 it opened a national telephone service, in 1919 it developed the first international airmail service ( developed by Royal Engineers and the Royal Air Force), the London Post Office Railway was opened in 1927.


In 1941 Royal Mail helped to introduce an aigraph service between UK and Egypt, later extending that service to Canada (1941), Burma (1942), India (1942), South Africa (1942), Australia and New Zealand (1943), Ceylon and Italy (1944).

In 1961 the General Post Office was changed from a government department to a statuatory corporation, meaning that the office of Postmaster General was abolished and replaced with the positions of chairman and chief executive in the new company. In 1968 the two-class postal system was introduced, using first class and second class services.

British Telecom was separated from the Post Office Corporation in 1980 – and demerged as an independent business in 1981.

The privatization of Royal Mail began after the general election in 2010 – thanks to privatization, the company has been listed on the stock market and basically any member of the public could start buying shares.  The privatization has had its ups and downs, there are still pending issues between the CWU and Royal Mail executives.

Let’s see a couple of interesting facts about Royal Mail:

  • After the 2012 summer Olympics, over 100 post boxes were painted gold in honour of the United Kingdom’s gold medal winners in both Olympics and Paralympics.
  • From 1927 until 2003, Royal Mail had its underground rail system ( in London) dubbed “Mail Rail”. It operated 19  hours per day for 286 days per year and carried around 4 million letters a day.
  • At one point, mail was delivered 7 times a day and people sent 2 million postcards per day. The frequency of delivery made the postal service timing as close to an email as the turn of the century got. A postcard that you’ve sent in the morning could be delivered by the afternoon.
  • Royal mail uses 342 million rubber bands a year to bundle up letters and packages.
  • After the privatization, profits went up from £39 million to £211 million a year and more cash came into the company than left.