Maps

The Royal Mail Archive here at The Postal Museum holds over 700 maps, dating from 1757 to the 1990s.

Most of the maps in the collection were either commissioned by the Post Office, or adapted by various post office departments. We have maps showing the circulation of mail in the United Kingdom and some overseas.

Postal Route Maps

The earliest maps in our collection date from 1757. They show the postal routes of England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Spain and Portugal. They also include detailed images of postal carriers on their journeys. 

There are many types of maps in the collection. They include printed town maps, post office directory maps, annotated Ordnance Survey maps, road maps and hand drawn sketch maps.

‘The circulation of letters to and from [England & Wales]’. 1807. Printed and coloured. (POST 21/154)

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.

‘General Post Office Circulation Map for Ireland’. 1907. Printed and coloured. (POST 21/140)

Mail Coach and Riding Maps

The increase of mail coach transportation in the later 18th and early 19th centuries prompted the production of good maps showing postal roads, distances between coach stops and places of interest along the way.

‘Bowles’s road directory through England and Wales being a new & comprehensive display of the roads & distances from town to town and of each remarkable place from London’. 1796. Printed and coloured. (POST 21/159)

  • A printed map, coloured by hand, showing armed and unarmed rides in Northern England.

    ‘Armed and unarmed rides’ [in Mr Hodgson’s district]. 1823. Printed and coloured by hand. (POST 21/130)

  • ‘Armed’ and ‘Unarmed’ Rides

    Several 19th century maps of routes taken by District Surveyors (an early Post Office district manager) show ‘armed’ and ‘unarmed’ rides, indicating routes where postal business was conducted on horseback. Some areas were obviously more dangerous to travellers than others.

Public and Postal Workers' Maps

The introduction of the Uniform Penny Post in 1840 made sending letters affordable for many more people. This led to a huge increase in the amount of mail sent. This in turn led to the increasing production of post office directories, such as ‘Kelly’s Post Office Directory’, which included maps showing the location of district post offices.

Maps showing an individual postman or postwoman’s local delivery route, or ‘walk’, are rare in our collection. However, we do have a set of maps from 1948-1949, showing the routes taken by postal workers on their daily rounds in London’s West End. The maps are hand-drawn and coloured and include buildings damaged by bombs during the Second World War. 

Maps were also used by postal workers sorting the mail.

Two postal workers at Mount Pleasant sorting office. One postal worker is sitting sorting letters, while the other stands beside him and points to a location on a map.

‘Untitled: Postal Staff Sorting Letters at Mount Pleasant’. c. 1903. Black and white photographic lantern slide. (2011-0187/52)

Rail, Air and Sea Route Maps

We also have some maps covering rail, air and sea routes.

‘Circulation Map of Great Britain and Northern Ireland shewing [sic] Travelling Post Office, Mail Steamer & Inland Air Service routes’. 1967. Printed and coloured. (POST 21/175)

They include maps for the Travelling Post Office mail trains, where post was sorted by hand as the train rattled through the night. As well as for Mail Rail, the driver-less, underground railway for transporting post under London. Today, you can ride part of the original Mail Rail route at The Postal Museum.

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