Internal postage & parcel rates

Ever wonder what postage cost at particular times? Here you can find out more and download documents listing internal postage and parcel rates.

Early Postage Rates

In 1635, the early days of the British Post Office, ‘post-stage rates’ for letters carried on the post roads out of London were introduced. This marked the establishment of a state-run postal service for the public’s letters. The rate was based, mainly, on the distance the letter had to travel and on the number of sheets of paper used for the letter.

Above: Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull, dated 1636. Relating to the establishment of the public postal service, by the setting up of new or improved posts on the five principal roads of the kingdom, those to Dover, Edinburgh, Holyhead, Plymouth and Bristol. (POST 23/1)

Penny Posts

Later, Penny Posts were set up for the collection and delivery of local letters. This began in London in 1680 and later extended to other provincial centres. Postage on general mails was normally paid by the person receiving the letter, not by the person sending the letter as we do today. 

  • A handwritten letter from 1681 with a black handstamp showing 'Penny Post Paid'.

    1681 Dockwra Penny Post Letter, (PH(L)3/07).

    This letter is an example from the first local Penny Post in London.

  • ‘Hounslow/ PennyPost’ Handstamp, dating from 1837-1841, (2004-0044)

Postage Rate Reforms

Acts of Parliament, and later Treasury Warrants, gave authority for changes in postage rates and laid down charges for new services as they were introduced. The Act of 1839 was the most significant because it led to the introduction of Rowland Hill’s scheme for a Uniform Penny Postage in 1840. Postage rates were now based on weightnot distance (for inland mail) and were paid for by the sender. The sender could use the newly introduced stamped stationery or the adhesive postage labels. The labels rapidly became the popular choice and soon became known as postage stamps, a name which has stuck to this day.

Examples of pre-paid, stamped stationery (like Mulready 1d envelopes) can be seen on our online catalogue. You can also search the catalogue for other items you are interested in.

  • A handwritten letter dating from 1839, showing a red free frank stamp on it.

    Free Frank, 2 January 1839, (PH(L)4/9b).

    Example of a free frank on a letter sent to the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Horse Guards. The free frank privilege was swept away by postal reform.

  • Franking Letters

    Another major change came in 1840. Up until then, peers and members of parliament could frank their letters and send them through the post free-of-charge. The postal reform of 1840 removed this privilege. Queen Victoria voluntarily gave up her franking privilege too.

  • Further Reforms

    The formation of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in 1874 led to uniformity of postage rates for overseas mail. The UPU continues to this day. 

    Penny Postage within the then British Empire began on Christmas Day 1898. 

    The two-tier postage rates that we use in the UK today were introduced on 16 September 1968. These rates were based on speed and for the first time offered the choice of a higher first-class rate for fast delivery, or a second-class rate for slower service. There have of course been some additional changes since then. However, basing first and secondclass rates on the speed of delivery remains.

  • A poster in colour showing inland and overseas postage rates for 1966.

    ‘Minimum postage rates’, April 1966, (POST 110/1502)

    This poster shows the postage rates two years before the introduction of first and second-class rates in 1968.

Download UK Postage and Parcel Rates

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