Penny & Two- Penny Post - Gerrard Street, London, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Master Mariner
N 51° 30.708 W 000° 07.843
30U E 699094 N 5710645
Quick Description: This City of Westminster green plaque is attached to a building on the south east side of Gerrard Street in London's Chinatown.
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 6/29/2014 9:22:14 AM
Waymark Code: WMM0XP
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member bluesnote
Views: 0

Long Description:

The City of Westminster plaque tells us:

City of Westminster

This building
was the site of the
Westminster Office
of the penny post
and then the
two-penny post
1794 - 1834

The Westminster Council website tells us:

39 Gerrard Street forms an important, yet neglected part of Westminster’s  local heritage. Within both the Town and Country areas of the Penny and subsequent Two-penny Post letters were delivered by a “Letter Carrier” now known as a postman.  In addition these letter carriers carried a bell and were also known from time to time as the “Bell Men” and senders of letters could hand their letters to him, together with the necessary payment for delivery.  Prior to April 1801 this was one penny for delivery in the “Town Area” then defined as being that part of London lying within the “Bills of Mortality”. Letters to the “Country Area” were charged at two pence. The charges increased by a penny in April 1801, all letters either put into the receiving house, or handed to the Bell Man had to be prepaid for the London Local Posts.  If the letter was addressed to the provinces then the sender had the choice of either prepaying the cost of delivery outside London in the General Post, or, more normally, leaving that payment to the recipient.

Between 1794 and 1801, the office in Gerrard Street was run, not within a business such as a Stationer, Grocer or other commercial business, but uniquely at this time as the Westminster Office of the Penny and then Two-penny Post.  The office was the location for sorting letters coming in from the letter receiving houses located in Westminster and the base for some 52 postman delivering within the City of Westminster.  Letters for the provinces, the Country Area of the London local post and also the City of London, City of Southwark and the boroughs of the East End were sent to the Chief Office at Lombard Street. This became the Westminster sorting office of the Two-penny Post Office when the charges were altered, and the office remained there until 1834.

The Two-penny Post came into being as a result of an Act of 5th April 1801. This stated that the charge on all letters carried in the district of what was previously called the Penny Post, whether a local letter or one passing to or from the General Post, would now be 2d.(two pence).

There are many different postal markings associated with the Two-penny Post, for example date stamps - paid and unpaid; from the Chief Office, Westminster Office and Country Sorting Offices. Two-Penny Post marks are particularly sought after amongst modern-day collectors.

A large number of people do not know that letters could be sent before postage stamps were invented.  Statistics show that the General Post in 1828 averaged 4000 letters a day inwards and 3000 a day outwards.

The London Two Penny Post was big business — in just one week in 1828 it dealt with 245,384 items: nearly a quarter of a million. To deal with this quantity, there were about 148 Town Receivers and 202 Country Receivers Mail was sent 6 times a day to the General Post office, and collected twice a day for local delivery. There were as many as 6 daily letter carrier walks per day and it was this service that allowed an invitation for Dinner to be sent as late as 10 am and to receive a confirmation accepting by 3 pm on the same day.

The Gerrard Street office was a unique, yet unpleasant place to work. The Post Office comptroller stated that 'I find a difficulty in attempting to describe the inconvenience and the distress that is now felt at the Westminster Office. The Sorting Office, in which from ten to fourteen persons are employed at a time is only 17 feet long by 13 wide. The Letter Carriers Office, in which fifty persons are employed at a time, is but 18 feet by 16. Many of the letter carriers are obliged to wait until others have finished sorting their letters before they can begin to prepare theirs, and the delivery to the public is consequently delayed. The air of this room is so offensive that it is almost impossible to enter it'.

Such problems led to the extension of the rear of the office in 1809 to include a house on Lisle Street.

The coming of the Penny Post and the Two-penny Post not only greatly extended communications between the growing urban areas, but also within them.  By 1834, Gerrard Street and the 400 other Post Receiving Houses in London were inadequate for the increased mail traffic.  The first pillar-box was introduced in London in 1855 on the corner of Fleet Street and Farringdon Street, making it unnecessary to visit a post office in order to send a letter.

Blue Plaque managing agency: City of Westminster

Individual Recognized: Westminster Penny & Two-Penny Postal Office

Physical Address:
39 Gerrard Street
London, United Kingdom

Web Address: [Web Link]

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