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Stamps and postal history of the United Kingdom

The story of the postage stamps and postal history of the United Kingdom (universally referred to by philatelists as "Great Britain") begins in the 12th century with King Henry I, who appointed messengers to carry letters for the government. At this time, private individuals had to make their own arrangements.

Early history

Henry III provided uniforms for the messengers, and Edward I instituted posting houses where the messengers could change horses. The reign of Edward II saw the first postal marking; handwritten notations saying "Haste, post haste".

Henry VIII created the Royal Mail in 1516, appointing Brian Tuke as "Master of the Postes", while Elizabeth I appointed Thomas Randolph as "Chief Postmaster". Under Thomas Witherings, chief postmaster under Charles I of England, the Royal Mail was made available to the public (1635), with a regular system of post roads, houses, and staff. The recipient paid the postage.

In 1661, Charles II made Henry Bishop the first Postmaster General (PMG). In answer to customer complaints about delayed letters, Bishop introduced the Bishop mark, a small circle with month and day inside, applied at London. In subsequent years, the postal system expanded from six roads to a network covering the country, and post offices were set up in both large and small towns, each of which had its own postmark.

Postage stamps

The Great Post Office Reform of 1839 and 1840 was championed by Rowland Hill as a way to reverse the steady financial losses of the Post Office. Hill convinced Parliament to adopt a flat 4d per 1/2 oz. rate regardless of distance, which went into effect 5 December 1839. This was immediately successful, and on 10 January 1840 the Penny Postage started, charging only 1d for prepaid letters and 2d if collected from the recipient. Fixed rates meant that it was practical to avoid handling money to send a letter by using an "adhesive label", and accordingly, on May 6, the Penny Black became the world's first postage stamp in use.

Victorian era

Early 20th century

Abdication and war

Modern era

Oversea offices and colonies