1902 Encyclopedia > England > Post and Telegraphs.

(Part 8)


Part 8. Post and Telegraphs.

It is one of the main arguments of the advocates of the purchase of all the railways by the state, that vast undertakings, in which the whole nation is deeply interested ought not to be left top private enterprise, aiming at gain chiefly; and that such concerns not only can be, but mostly are, better managed by the Government. the argument rests on the post-office. On all sides it is admitted that the creation and maintenance of the post-office as it now exists, burthened with an immense amount of work besides the mere carrying of correspondence, is a striking instance of the successful interference of Government in commercial affairs; while it is difficult to imagine how the same result could have been achieved by private persons. So general is this belief that all the states not only of Europe, but of the civilized world, have made the English post-office their model, closely imitating its whole organization.

In its present form, the post-office is an entirely modern creation, though the first regular arrangements for dispatching letters to all parts of the kingdom date back to the year 1635, when the "letter office for England and Scotland" was established. But the system thus inaugurated, also based upon a Government monopoly, existing as such to the present time, remained long practically a private enterprise , the right of conveying letters and packets being let by contract to privileged individuals, whole sole aim was to make the greatest profit out of the undertaking. The first radical reform of the system, which laid the foundation of the present organization, was made by the Act I Vict. c. 32, confirmed July 12, 1837, which repealed all the old enactments relating to the post-office in favour of an entirely new legislation. This important Act was followed by another, 2 and 3 Vict. c. 52, confirmed August 17, 1839, which established a uniform rate of postage of one penny on inland letters, repealing at the same time the old and much abused system of "franking" letters, exercised by members of parliament and others since 1660. The Act came into operation on the 10th of January 1840.

The vast increase in correspondence following upon the new organization is shown in the subjoined table, which gives the estimated number of letters in 1839 and 1840, and the ascertained number in quinquennial periods from 1841 to 1870, and for each of the six years from 1971 to 1876 in England and in the United Kingdom, together with the average number of the letters of each persons, according to the returns of the postmaster-general:—


The following table gives the number of letters, the number of post-cards, and numbers of book-packets and newspapers, distributed by the post-office in each of the three divisions of the United Kingdom in the year 1876:—


The average number of letters for each individual of the population in the year 1876 was 35 in England and Wales, 26 in Scotland, and 13 in Ireland.

The estimated number of newspapers delivered in 1876 was 125,065,800. Halfpenny postal cards came into use from the 1st of October 1870, and foreign post-cards were first issued in 1875, under the International Postal Treaty of Bern, to which the adhesion of the British Government was given on the 30th September 1874.

Money Orders.—With the increase of the work of the post office, and the success with which it was performed, more and more duties were laid upon it by the Government. The first of these was the money-order system, under which persons were enabled to hand the money in at one post-office for payment at another office. After the system had been tried from the tried from the year 1839 in the United Kingdom, it was extended to the colonies in 1856, and to foreign countries in 1869. The following table gives the total number and amount of money orders, inland, colonial, and foreign, issued by the post-office in each of the years, ending December 31, from 1871 to 1875, and in the financial year ended March 31, 1877:—


The enormous increase in the money-order business of post-office since its establishment in 1839 is shown in the subjoined table, which gives the amount of money orders issued in England and in the United Kingdom, and the number issued to each 100 of the population:—


The money-order business transacted with the British colonies and with foreign countries is about equal in importance, but the latter showed a far greater expansion in the years 1870 to 1876. The total number of colonial orders in 1870 was 143,211, transmitting £600,981; and in 1876 the number had risen to 145,838, but the amount of foreign money orders rose from 47,431, transmitting £172,983, in 1870 to 211,163, transmitting £612,925, in 1876. In the case of both colonial and foreign money orders, the number and amount arriving from abroad are far greater than those sent away.

Saving Banks.—The post-office, besides issuing and paying money orders, fulfills the duties of a national savings bank, and also of an insurance institution, granting life insurance policies and annuities. The post-office savings banks established by Act of Parliament in 1861, held a total amount of £26,996,550, standing in the names of 1,702,374 depositors at the end of 1876. the proportion of depositors to population at that date was one to 15 in England and Wales, one to 71 in Scotland, and one to 87 in Ireland. In the whole of the United Kingdom it was one to 19. The average daily number of deposits in the year 1876 was 10,347, and the average amount standing to the credit of depositors, £15, 17s. 1d. It is a notable fact that, although the majority of depositors undoubtedly belong to the laboring classes, including servants, the transactions of the post-office savings bank are much larger in winter than in summer. The greatest number of deposits in the year 1876 occurred on the 31st January, when it reached 25,063, considerably more than double the average daily number. There were 5448 post-offices open as savings banks at the end of 1876. (See page 256 below.)

Life Insurance.—While the post-office savings banks proved a great success, ever growing, and evidently much appreciated by the public, the same cannot be said about the life insurance and annuity department. It showed some vitality in the first few years after its establishment, from 1865 to 1872, but after this date both the insurance and annuity contracts greatly declined. In 1872 the number of life policies granted was 757, insuring £55,982; while in 1876 the number had fallen to 270, insuring £22,875. During the same period the number of annuity contracts fell from 1057 in 1872 to 758 in 1876, the total receipts in the latter year, both for immediate and deferred annuities, not amounting to more than £111,775. The almost insignificant amount of the transactions seem to show that this department of the post-office has no vitality, the field being already fully occupied by private enterprises.

Telegraphs.—Subsequent to the establishment of the money order, the savings banks, and the insurance departments, a business of immense importance was added to the functions of the post-office in the control and management of all the telegraphs of the kingdom. It was not without much doubt and misgiving that parliament consented to add to the Government monopoly of conveyi9ng letters that of sending messages by electric wires; but after long discussions in 1866 and 1867, the system was approved of by the legislature the year after. An Act, 31 and 32 Vict. c. 100, authorizing the purchase of all the telegraphs by the Government, fort he purpose of being added to the machinery of the post-office, was passed in the session of 1868, receiving the royal assent on the 31st of July. It was followed by another statute, 32 and 33 Vict. c. 73, establishing the monopoly. The chief reasons for passing the Act of 1868 were given in the preamble, which declared that "it would be attended with great advantage to the state, as well as to merchants and traders, and to the public generally, if a cheaper, more widely extended, and more expeditious system of telegraphy were established, and to that end [it is recommended that] the postmaster-general be empowered to work telegraphs in connection with the administration of the post-office." It was stated in parliament during the debates on the Act that, under the then existing system of private telegraph companies, severely completing with each other for the most remunerative business, there were 700 towns in the kingdom having a surplus service, each being attended to by two, three, or more companies, with offices close together, in the central parts; while, on the other hand, there existed 486 towns with no telegraphic facilities, except, perhaps, that offered by the nearest railway station. It was this fact which weighed, more than any other, in giving the future control of the telegraphs to the post-office, to be worked as state monopoly.

There were, when the Act of 1868 was passed, 13 telegraph companies in existence within the United Kingdom, including several which owned submarine cables for international service. There were, besides, 83 railway companies possessing electric telegraphs, for the use of the public as well as their own service. Altogether these 83 railway companies had constructed for themselves 5157 miles of lines, comprising 16,191 miles of wire, with 1226 stations for public use; while the 13 telegraph companies possessed 16,879 miles of land lines, made up of 79,646 miles of wire, besides 4688 miles of submarine cable, containing 8122 miles of wire imbedded, with 2155 stations. Under the Act of Parliament, only 3 telegraph companies, the Electric, the British and Irish Magnetic, and the United Kingdom Telegraphic, had specified sums allowed to them for their property, and with all the rest the purchase money had to be settled by agreement, if requisite through an arbitrator appointed by the Board of Trade. It necessarily took some time to settle these matters, which involved payment of over six millions sterling; but the task was accomplished, on the whole, with remarkable rapidity; and on the 5th of February 1870, the post-office commenced the working of all the telegraph lines of the United Kingdom.

The vast increase of telegraphic communication immediately after the new state organization, and its subsequent progress, is shown in the subjoined table, which gives the total number of messages forwarded from the year 1870—commencing February 5—to the 31st of March 1877, the last period comprising fifteen months, to bring, as previously explained, the postal accounts into uniformity with the general financial accounts of the kingdom;—


More than one-half of the whole number of messages of England and Wales forwarded by post-office telegraphs are metropolitan. The number of London messages was 2,462,039 in 1870, and rose to 4,398,262 in 1872, to 5,577,724 in 1874, and to 8,188,107 in the 15 months ended the 31st March 1877. The number of post-offices open for the transaction of telegraph business in the United Kingdom on the 31st of March 1877 was 3734, in addition to which messages were received at and delivered from 1636 railway stations. The staff exclusively engaged on telegraph duties numbered 11,654, comprising 21 superior officers, 6656 clerks, and 4977 messengers.

By the terms of the Act of 1868, establishing the system of postal telegraphs, all the railway companies retain the privilege of transmitting messages relating to their own service free of charge, on the wires running along their lines. To the public a uniform rate of transmission is charged, irrespective of distance. The charge was fixed, provisionally, at one shilling for every twenty words, and threepence for every additional word, the names and addresses of senders and receivers not being included in the number. The payments were originally made in postage stamps; but on the 1st of April 1876, distinctive telegraph stamps for the prepayment of messages were introduced. Forms of receipts for messages were brought into use on the 1st of February of the same year, but it was stated in the twenty-third report of the postmaster-general, dated August 4, 1877, that up to that time "very little use had been made" of this innovation by the public.

The subjoined table gives the total receipts and the net revenue of the postal telegraphs, from their establishment, on the 5th of February 1870, to the end of the financial year 1876-77;—


The total gross receipts of the post-office , from postage, money orders, and other sources, exclusive of telegraphs, in the financial year ending March 31, 1877, amounted to £4,070,006, leaving a net revenue of £1,947,066. In the year 1840, the date of the introduction of the "penny post" and the establishment of the post-office on its present organization, the total gross receipts were £1,359,466, while the net revenue was £500,789. The gross receipts increased at a much larger rate within the period from 1840 to 1877 than the net receipts, which latter fell fro some years, notably form 1867 to 1871, through great and costly improvements being made in the service. The chief branches of expenditure in the year ended March 31, 1877m were £2,046,065 for salaries, wages, and pensions; £779,632, for conveyance of letters and packets by mail boats and private ships; £684,464 for conveyance of letters by railways; and £171,370 for the same service done by coaches, carts, and other vehicles. The total expenditure of the money-order department in the year ended March 31, 1877, resulted, according to the report of the post-master-general before cited, in a loss of £10,000, which deficit was expected to be greater in future years, owing to "the large increase in the number of inland money orders for small amounts, on which the commission is insufficient to cover the cost of the service."

Staff.—The total staff of officers and servants employed by the post-office at the end at the end of 1876 was 45,024, inclusive of 11,654 persons attendingly solely to telegraph duties. Of post-office clerks there were at the date 3380; of postmasters, 13,447; and of letter carriers, sorters, and post-office messengers, 16,327. In London alone, the staff of the post-office comprised 10,380 persons, of which number 5500 were attached to the chief offices in St Martin’s-le-Grand. In 1840 the total number of post-offices in the United Kingdom was 4500; and at the end of 1876 they had increased to 13,447, besides which there were 10,724 road letter-boxes. It is now an established fact that not any other Government department of modern times has succeeded like the post-office in the double task of augmenting the welfare of the nation and at the same time increasing the public revenue.

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