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Post Office: Maps

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0813 POST 21 Series
Held at: British Postal Museum and Archive: The Royal Mail Archive
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Full title: Post Office: Maps
Date(s): 1757-[1990]
Level of description: Series
Extent: 746 maps
Name of creator(s):

No further information available


Administrative/Biographical history:

The majority of maps in the collection were produced as part of an administrative exercise on the part of the Post Office to establish the boundaries for free mail deliveries after the increase of mail circulation in the nineteenth century (see particularly 'Town Maps: England and Wales and 'Town Maps: Ireland').

The Irish town maps were created during the period 1830-1860. This was a time of change in the Irish postal system, as it was amalgamated with Britain's postal service in 1831. In 1843 the British government laid down the principle: 'All places the letters for which exceed one hundred per week should be entitled to a receiving office and a free delivery of letters.' The boundary of free delivery for individual areas within Ireland was decided by the Postmaster General in consultation with Augustus Godby, Secretary to the Irish Post Office. A set of maps was created to show the boundaries decided for the various towns which qualified for free delivery.

This exercise coincided with the survey of Ireland carried out by Ordnance Survey Ireland between 1829 and 1842; consequently, the majority of these maps consist of annotated sections of Ordnance Survey maps.

Some of the maps in POST 21 were produced as part of official government enquiries into Post Office administration; for example there are maps produced as part of or as a result of: 2nd Report of Committee on postage, 1838 (POST 21/142, POST 21/152, POST 21/156); 20th Report of Commissioners of Revenue Enquiry, February 1830 (POST 21/153); 21st Report of Commissioners of Revenue Enquiry, March 1830 (POST 21/53, POST 21/56 and POST 21/57); Fifth Report from Select Committee on the roads from Holyhead to London, July 1817(POST 21/217), Report of Commissioners on the Post Office, 1838 (POST 21/761).

The increase of mail coach transportation in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries necessitated the production of good maps showing postal roads, distances between coach stops and places of interest along the way. There are several such maps in POST 21, including: 'Bowles' Road Directory through England and Wales (1796) (POST 21/159), 'Cary's 6 sheet map of England and Wales with part of Scotland' (1830) (POST 21/770) and 'General map of the Roads of England and Wales engraved for Moggs' improved edition of Paterson's Roads' (1829) (POST 21/173).

Several of the maps in the collection were officially commissioned by the Post Office; of particular note are the GPO (General Post Office) Circulation maps of England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland produced by the cartographer, Edward Stanford; these show the routes and manner of transportation of the mail across the countries. Other examples are the various maps produced by John Cary, who was commissioned by the Postmaster General to organise the survey of turnpike roads in Great Britain, a task involving nine thousand miles of survey. The maps resulting from this work were included in his 'New Itinerary,' first published in 1798; the work was dedicated to the Postmasters General and provided the official measures for all mail coach routes and for the postage due on letters, which until 1840 were charged by distance carried.

After the establishment of Uniform Penny Post in 1840, followed a few months later by the introduction of the prepaid postage stamp, the Penny Black, there was a huge increase in the amount of mail sent. In 1839 there were 76 million letters posted in the United Kingdom; in 1840 after the introduction of the Penny Post there were 168 million. The mail service was opened up more to the general public, particularly after the introduction of pillar boxes to mainland Britain in 1855. These developments necessitated the increasing production of post office directories which included maps showing the location of the numerous district post offices and subsidiary sorting houses; there are several 'Kelly's Post Office Directory' maps of London in the collection.


Scope and content/abstract:

This is an 'artificial' series, as maps have been removed from other POST classes and added to POST 21 in order to group them together by format; in addition, maps from numerous different depositors, both internal and external have been mixed together so that it is difficult to find any strands of original order. It has been possible to impose a loose order on the maps by grouping them together by subject as follows:

circulation maps, county maps, town maps, district maps, postcode maps and overseas mail maps.

The majority of the series consists of maps that were commissioned by the Post Office or maps that have been adapted for use in the daily routine of various post office departments.

It includes Ordnance Survey maps which have been annotated to indicate changes to postal boundaries as well as printed town maps, post office directory maps, road maps and hand drawn sketch maps. The maps have been produced using a variety of different methods including lithography, engraving and printing; many of the maps have ornamental cartouches and many are coloured.

Several of the maps in the collection are black and white copies of originals which have not been retained. Unfortunately it is not possible to discern the significance of lines which were colour coded on the original map.

Many of the maps centre on London and there is a sub-series of maps relating to the different postal districts in London, including maps depicting the official postal districts after they were put in place during the period 1857-1858 (see particularly POST 21/772: a reproduction of a map of the London postal districts produced by Richard Weller in 1858, which gives information on the division process). There is also a set of maps from 1948 showing the routes taken by postmen on their daily rounds in the west end of London, which include buildings damaged by bombs during World War Two.

Other maps include postcode maps for areas in Sheffield, Lincoln, Manchester and London; several nineteenth century District Surveyors' maps, some of which show 'armed and unarmed rides' in the various districts and include letters to Francis Freeling and several maps from 'Atlas Universel' (1757) produced by the Vaugondy family [Father and son], depicting various European postal routes and including ornamental cartouches engraved by the Haussard sisters.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The collection has been arranged into six sub-sections: circulation maps, county maps, town maps, district maps, postcode maps and overseas mail maps.

Conditions governing access:

Public Record

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information

Finding aids:

There is a hard copy catalogue available in the Search Room.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Maps have been received from a variety of different sources including administrative departments and individual depositors over a long period of time.

The majority of the photostat maps were transferred from The Post Office Records Reference Library, where they were held under the reference Ref 10A Maps: postal.

The Irish town maps (Ref no: P 21/03/03) were received from Robert Heslip of the Ulster Museum in January 1987.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Within the BPMA archive there are maps relating to the postcoding project of the late 1960s and early 1970s in POST 122: SW postal region: POST 122/12396, POST 122/12398; SE postal region: POST 122/12399, 12401; NE postal region: POST 122/12415; NW postal region POST 122/12402; Midlands postal region: POST 122/12419, POST 122/12422, POST 122/12426; Northern Ireland: POST 122/12410.

In addition, there are maps relating to the introduction of the postcoding scheme in Scotland in the early 1970s: POST 17: Dumfries: POST 17/343; Dundee: POST 17/282; Edinburgh: POST 17/344; Falkirk: POST 17/345; Galashiels: POST 17/346; Glasgow: POST 17/347; Inverness: POST 17/348; Kilmarnock: POST 17/349; Kirkcaldy: POST 17/350; Motherwell: POST 17/351; Paisley: POST 17/352-353; Perth: POST 17/354.

Also in POST 17, there are maps relating to London postal districts, particularly in the following files: POST 17/5 (1909), POST 17/9 (1880), POST 17/10 (1899), POST 17/11 (1907), POST 17/12 (1913) and POST 17/146 (1935). In addition POST 17/1 (1797) gives information on London postal divisions prior to the introduction of letter codes denoting postal districts.

POST 17 also contains some mail circulation maps, particularly in the following files relating to reports of the Committee of Cirulation records: POST 17/37 (Oct 1924) and POST 17/38 (Oct 1930). There is also a file in POST 33 relating to the supply and distribution of mail circulation maps during the period 1931-1938 (POST 33/3972).

There are some maps relating to the revision of rural posts in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland during the period 1850 to 1856 in POST 14 (section entitled: 'Revision of rural posts in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, case files').

The British Library Map Library also holds a number of postal maps, including several relating to the London postal service, for example Kellys Post Office London Directory maps 1968-1972, 'The London District Post Office Map' designed and published by W Nicholson, 1857 (shelfmark: Maps 3485.(17.), 'London with its postal subdivisions, reduced from the map prepared by E. Stanford for use in the London and Provincial Post Offices, by command of the Post Master General' [with street directory for 1856] (shelfmark: Maps 2.aa.85.).

In addition, the British Library Map Library also hold several overseas postal maps, including Canadian postal maps, German postal maps, French postal maps and Chinese postal maps. It also holds nineteenth century postal maps of British India, the Transvaal region and Australia. There is also an extensive selection of nineteenth century post route maps of American states designed by W L Nicholson, including maps for Maine, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Michigan and Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Ohio and Indiana and Pennsylvania. There are also postal maps from the early twentieth century for the Phillipine Islands, Porto Rico [Puerto Rico] and the Virgin Islands.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Entry checked by Barbara Ball

Rules or conventions:

Compiled in compliance with General Internation Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G) second edition 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997

Date(s) of descriptions:
Entry checked June 2011

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