THE CAMPAIGN FOR BETTER LETTER WRITING

The Mail Slip of Great Glee

In Post in the World on March 6, 2009 at 10:09 am

Today I am thinking about mail boxes and mail slots in doors.

On the night of  January 10 1840 – when the uniform Penny Post came into being –  112,000 letters were written by our forefather letter writers in the UK, each eager to test and use the new communication network. Imagine! But having a slot in your door to receive post was still very new, unheard of – post having been the privilege of the poets and the Members of Parliament. So a mass door cutting exercise must have taken place! Here’s 19th century writer Harriet Martineau from her autobiography:

We are all putting our letter-boxes on our hall-doors with great glee, anticipating the hearing from brothers and sisters, – a line or two almost every day. The slips in the doors are to save the postmen’s time… So all who wish well to the plan are having slips in their doors. It is proved that poor people do write, or get letters written, wherever a franking privilege exists. When January comes round, do give your sympathy to all the poor pastors’ and tradesmen’s and artisans’ families, who can at last write to one another as if they were all M.P.’s.

The sheer technological advance of having a hole in your door must have been a revolution in itself. Imagine the time saved by the postman! Here’s Rowland Hill in his pamphlet which radicalised the British postal system, setting in place his plans for the universal Penny Post in 1837:

There would not only be no stopping to collect the postage, but probably it would soon be unnecessary even to await the opening of the door, as every house might be provided with a letter box into which the Letter Carrier would drop the letters, and, having knocked, he would pass on as fast as he could walk.

Even to this day, of course, it seems our Letter Carriers can’t walk fast enough (sic).

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