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Post Office Acts and Warrants

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0813 POST 114 Series
Held at: British Postal Museum and Archive: The Royal Mail Archive
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Full title: Post Office Acts and Warrants
Date(s): 1657-1986
Level of description: Series
Extent: 220 files
Name of creator(s):


Administrative/Biographical history:

In the following passage of writing, a selection of the major Acts of Parliament that have affected the Post Office over the centuries, and that can be found within this class of records, are described in a little more detail.

An Act for the Settling of the Postage of England, Scotland and Ireland 1657 (POST 114/1):

In 1635, Charles I made the Royal Posts officially available for public use for the first time. Unlike Charles, this service survived the Civil War and in 1657, Oliver Cromwell's parliament passed an Act that established a number of important principles that would guide the early Post Office during its subsequent expansion. On the second page of the Act is the following passage: 'Be it enacted by his highness the Lord Protector and the parliament… that from henceforth there be one general office to be called and known by the name of the Post Office of England'. And so the General Post Office (GPO) came into being. The Act established the position of Postmaster General (which remained the head Post Office position until the role was eventually abolished with the Post Office Act of 1969) and rates of postage were also set forth. To send one letter anywhere within 80 miles of London cost two pence; to Scotland, four pence; and to send a letter as far as towns in France, or even to Constantinople, cost one shilling. Finally, the Act claimed for the Crown the sole right to offer a postal service within the British Isles, establishing a state monopoly that would survive until the new millennium. Any person or organisation found to be offering postal services without the proper authority could be fined £1000 for each month the service was active (p.10). There have been numerous subsequent Acts of parliament that have modified the terms of this monopoly, such as the 1837 Post Office Management Act and Post Office Offences Act (POST 114/5).

Conveyance of Mail Acts: Mail Coaches (1790) and Railways (1838) (POST 114/52 and 53):

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the Post Office introduced a new method of conveying letters and parcels across Britain that greatly contributed to a growth and improvement of postal services and an expansion of the organisation. A system of mail coaches was developed that became the principal method of conveyance of mails until trains came to dominate from the 1840s onwards. The Stage Coach Act of 1790 laid down rules for the new system. Turnpike charges, the number of horses per carriage, the number of passengers per carriage, fines for mail guards who unnecessarily fired their issued guns and other details were set forth. The champion of the new mail coaches was John Palmer who was the first to see that armed mail coaches travelling on improved roads according to a precise timetable could make postal communications more efficient. This it did, and it was the first of a number of significant transportation changes that would facilitate great leaps in the growth of mail volumes that could be effectively handled by the Post Office. The mail coach system eventually passed away as the trains of the industrial revolution became the prime method of transporting the mails over distance. The Conveyance of Mails by railways Act of 1838 gave the Postmaster General the authority to require railway companies to carry mails at the direction of the Post Office in return for suitable payment, with fines imposed upon companies who refused. The Royal Arms were to be painted on these carriages and from the early 1840s, Travelling Post Offices (TPO) - trains that would carry the mails and staff to sort them whilst in transit - began to run, with over 100 in operation by the end of the century. Further Railway Acts with various amendments were passed in 1844 and 1868.

Superannuation Act 1859 (Post 114/105)

State pensions could be claimed at the age of 70 from 1908 and this marked the beginning of improved welfare provisions in Britain aimed at tackling the poverty and hardships that had been perennially associated with old age. For much of the nineteenth century, those who became too old to work had to rely on the meagre provisions of family, charity and the Poor Law to survive and in this respect, the Superannuation Act of 19 April 1859 meant that working for the Post Office as an established employee became a vocation coveted for the financial securities it offered later in life. From this date, pensions were paid to employees after at least ten years service at one-sixtieth of retirement pay, rising to a maximum of four-sixths. Those who retired earlier than age 60 for health reasons could expect to receive one month's pay for each year of service. Further pensions acts were passed by parliament through the nineteenth century (also reproduced in this volume; see also POST 114/106), which expanded upon the provisions of the landmark 1859 act and added various adjustments to pension and gratuity entitlement. From 1909, standard pension entitlement was slightly reduced, but a lump sum to the value of one-thirtieth of retirement pay was added, in addition to other entitlements such as a gratuity worth one year's wages paid to the family of an employee who died in service.

Savings Bank Act 1861 (POST 114/89)

By the mid-nineteenth century the debate about the role the state should play in the country's personal banking had grown in importance. The old Trustee Savings Banks handed their takings to the government for investment and received a fixed yearly dividend in return. This system did not facilitate small savings and depositors often had to travel a great distance to use such services. Although Rowland Hill, who was still secretary of the Post Office at the end of the 1850s, opposed further state (Post Office) intervention into financial services, others such as Frank Scudamore and John Tilley favoured the introduction of a set of reforms that would see the department take primary responsibility in administrating a personal savings facility. In 1861, having been introduced by Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone, the Savings Bank Act was passed by the Palmerston Government and business began on 16 September. What was new about the service was that it was state-run and therefore enjoyed high security; deposits and withdrawals could be made at different post offices for one account by using a 'depositor's book'; small sums under one pound could be deposited; and account holders received a dividend equivalent to the value of interest accrued by state investment of their money, rather than a fixed rate. This meant that poorer people could now more easily use such services and the Post Office Savings Bank grew rapidly. In 1862, 178,000 accounts held £1.7m and by the turn of the century these figures had risen to 8.5m accounts and £136m in deposits (note that many people, as well as clubs and societies, held numerous accounts). Banking services remained an important part of the Post Office. In 1969, the service became known as National Savings.

Post Office Act 1969 (POST 114/14)

The Post Office Act of 1969 is one of the landmark events in the history of the organisation during the twentieth century. By this time, the Post Office, still a department of government, had acquired full responsibility for running an array of national services including postal communications, the ever-growing telephone system, a national savings bank (including National GIRO, introduced in 1968), pensions and much else besides. When the 1969 legislation came into effect on 1 October, it made a number of significant changes. Firstly, the Post Office ceased to be a government department and became a public corporation with all of its shares owned by the government. Organisational changes to this effect had been underway since the beginning of the decade and by 1969 it had been generally accepted that the new corporate status was necessary for the organisation to become a profitable entity in the post-war economy. This meant that the historic position of Postmaster General was abolished and a new Post Office Board reported to the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, a newly established ministerial position. Secondly, this legislation effectively divided the organisation into two distinct businesses: posts and telecommunications. It was felt that this would ensure a more efficient service for both and facilitate the ongoing modernisation that it was hoped would improve the profit margins of the Post Office as a whole. In reality, the Post Office Act of 1969 paved the way for the telecommunications side of the business to be separated from Post Office management entirely and it was eventually privatised in the early 1980s. The Act itself is 264 pages long and addresses other issues such as finance, banking, pensions, stamps and the status of the Post Office's postal and telecommunications monopoly.


Scope and content/abstract:

POST 114 comprises Acts of Parliament relating to Post Office business covering the years 1657-1986. Parliamentary warrants, treasury warrants, details of parliamentary debates, memoranda and related reports can also be found within this class. The class is thematically separated into 24 Sub-Series' (which in turn are organised chronologically) covering a wide range of legislature, from major Post Office Acts that established such historic privileges as the state monopoly of postal communications, to numerous acts of a less celebrated nature, such as Road Repair Acts or Electric Lighting Acts. A number of important Acts can be found in Sub-Series 1 'The Establishment of the Post Office and Postage Rates', including the Post Office Acts of 1657 and 1969. Reports, policy reviews, various bills and other papers of a similar nature are gathered in Sub-Series 2 'Growth and Expansion of the Modern Post Office'. These records cover the years 1951-1986. All of the major branches of business that have been under the control of the Post Office during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are represented in this class, including: telegraphs and telephones (Sub-Series 7); savings banks (Sub-Series 12); pensions (Sub-Series 15); and National Insurance (Sub-Series 16), amongst much else.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

This POST class has been arranged in subject order for ease of use and chronologically within each sub-series.

Conditions governing access:

Public Record

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

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Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

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Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International 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:
EAD transfer validated May 2011

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