Lesson in postal history

Morpeth Antiquarian Society

ON the last evening of November, Rex Clark gave a talk to Morpeth Antiquarian Society on Northumberland’s postal history before the Penny Black.

This was a timely subject as the society begin setting up a display in 1–3 Oldgate, near the Clock Tower, giving ideas for Christmas presents in 1902. Visit our open day on Wednesday to see more of Morpeth’s close-knit community as you have never seen it before.

Mr Clark brought many original documents and maps to show the history of postage.

The Penny Black, the first uniform penny postage stamp in the world, started on May 6, 1840, for post weighing up to half-an-ounce delivered anywhere in Britain.

Postal systems had been set up by King Henry I in 1120. By 1481 there was a Royal Post, but only as and when required.

London Penny Post started in 1682 and remained at one penny until 1801, with up to 12 deliveries each day within the city. Charles II appointed Henry Bishop as first Postmaster General.

He invented a date stamp known as Bishop’s Mark.

We may complain about the cost of postage today, but in the 1650s postage cost 3d (1.25p) when wages were 6d (2.5p) per day. By 1815, the cost of postage had risen to 9d (3.75p) when a daily wage was 1/3d (6.25p). By these comparisons our postage today is not expensive, however, in those days only the very rich could afford to send letters.

Ogilby’s strip map of Postal Roads in 1675 was among the items on display showing Post Towns of Newcastle, Morpeth, Alnwick, Belford and Berwick.

These Post Offices were usually found in the principle coaching inn of the town.

Post Towns in 1785 started using an identity stamp, hand-made from boxwood, using the mileage from London as a code number.

These postal towns remained the same until 1800.

Soon after this, post offices in Blyth, Bedlington, Mitford, Newbiggin, Wheldon Bridge, Whalton and Wooler were opened under Morpeth’s office. By 1855, there were 20 offices registered under Morpeth.

Morpeth Antiquarian Society is the history society for Morpeth. The next meeting will be on Friday, January 25, at 7.15pm in St James’s Community Centre, Wellway. Members will give a series of short talks followed by a pooled supper. Visitors are very welcome.

Don’t forget to visit us near the Clock Tower on December 19.