Royal Mail Coaches

1984: The Bicentennial of the first Royal Mail Coach - Royal Mail Stamp Issue

The roads with ‘turnpikes’ had been set up in the first half of the 18th Century but the Post Office clung onto their original system of using post-boys on horseback. This method was slow and very insecure, robberies were common. An outsider, John Palmer, persuaded William Pitt (Chancellor then Prime Minister), that the mail would be better served if carried by fast coach, guarded by an armed man. And so the first mail coach left Bristol for London on 2nd August 1784 travelling overnight. It had right of way over any other traffic and free pass through the turnpikes. The Bristol run was covered in 15 hours. Success led to many more routes.

With the improvements in building and repairing turnpike roads (introduced by John Macadam) led to a near doubling of coach speeds to 10 mph in the 1820’s. Redesigned coaches with improved features also increased reliability so the Royal Mail service was very punctual and safe. Blunderbuss and pistols and three large lanterns to shine the way. They were allowed to take four passengers inside and three riding atop.

In 1837 on the eve of the railway era there were 28 mail coaches leaving London daily at 8pm, the total number of mail coach services were 109 requiring some 700 individual coaches. This was the artery for dissemination of battles and victories. The number of horses required for this operation was vast, estimated at 150,000 to cover needs for all forms of coaching in 1835.

Services were quickly transferred to the train when the routes became available. In some instances the Royal Mail Coach was carried on flat truck for part of its journey. However the writing was on the wall and this way of life quickly vanished.

‘The Victorian Railway’ by Jack Simmons.
‘The Archaeology of the Transport Revolution’ by P J Ransom.

Related pages:
Coaches from Deal

Researched by Alan Buckman