In England, letters in the early postal system were routed via London and were charged as if two separate journeys – one into London and one out of London. The Post Office staff in the London Office were required simply to check the postal rate from London to the destination town, add it to the incoming rate (already written on the letter) and show in manuscript the total cost. This procedure was called “in-alling”.
Changes to the postal rates which came into effect on 31 August 1784 made the “in-alling” task much more difficult. Inland Office clerks now had to calculate the total distance the letter travelled and base the charge on total mileage. So clerks had to have a good knowledge of the distance between London and all Post towns. Clearly, the provision of mileage marks in the handstamps would be a valuable tool in the calculation of accurate postal rates. So, these were introduced. The earliest English mileage mark recorded to date was struck at Arundel on 1 October 1784 and the mileage in the handstamp is 65 (from London).
However, the 1784 mileage stamps became so inaccurate that after about five years the GPO stopped issuing them. By the end of the 18th century the Postmaster General instructed John Cary, a map-maker, to prepare a survey of all the principal roads in the country under the supervision of the Superintendent of Mail Coaches. This led to the issue of the second series of mileage stamps in 1801. From 1803, other types of mileage stamps began to appear, many of which were circular in design and some of which were dated. In February 1829 the Secretary to the Post Office, Francis Freeling, recommended that, as the distances from London to the Post Towns were frequently altered by changes in the routes of the post, the mileage figures in the stamps should be filed out. By 1830, only a handful of postmasters were using the mileage mark.
Scottish mileage marks were not in general use until 1808. Scotland had its own structure of postal charges distinct from those that applied in England and Wales, and a fixed charge had existed till 1801 between Edinburgh and London. Scottish mileage stamps showed not only the distance from the originating office in Scotland to the Inland Office in London, but also the town through which the mail was routed. Most of the mail was sent via Edinburgh or Glasgow when an “E” or a “G” would be shown in the mileage handstamp used. Dumfries is the one exception to use an English type of mileage mark from 1801 to the time when the Scottish stamps came into being in January 1808.
Irish mileage marks, like the Scottish, were not used until 1808, and the mileages used in the handstamps were all measured to the Dublin Office and not to London. Distances are in Irish miles where each 100 Irish miles are equivalent to 127 English miles. Unlike mileage stamps in the rest of the United Kingdom, the removal of mileage figures in the late 1820s did not apply and usage will be found up to the time of Uniform Penny Postage and beyond.
The PDF link below is a table listing relevant items in The Postal Museum’s Postal History Collection. They have been arranged in alphabetical order of post town.
BCC. – Willcocks and Jay The British County Catalogue Nos. 1 to 5.
Auck. – Auckland, Bruce Postal Markings of Scotland to 1840(2nd edition). Edited by Ron Stables.
FAI – Moxter, Hans G. The Mileage Marks of Ireland 1808-1839
BM = Bishop mark
cds = circular date stamp
CO = Chief Office
CX = Charing Cross
d/s or ds = datestamp
FO = Foreign Office
GP = General Post
h/s or hs = handstamp
MM or mm = mileage mark
octag = octagonal
PP = Penny Post
PPO = Penny Post Office
RH = Receiving House
RO = Receiving Office
s/line = straight line
udc = undated circle