One of the oldest organisations in the world, Royal Mail Group can trace its origins back over 500 years to 1516.
Royal Mail and its forerunner organisations are responsible for a number of global firsts, ranging from the Penny Black stamp to the world’s first ‘one-price-goes-anywhere’ Universal Service.
That proud tradition of innovation continues today as we introduce new technology and digital services and expand our services at home and abroad.
The Early History:
Henry VIII knights Brian Tuke, the first Master of the Posts. Tuke establishes key post towns across the country and builds a formal postal network. Although for the next 119 years the postal service operates only for the King and the Court.
The postal service is opened up to the general public by Charles I. A Letter Office is established in London and six post roads are formalised to carry mail across the country.
The Post Office Act creates the publically owned postal service. A year later, the world’s first postmark is used. It’s called the Bishop mark after the Postmaster General, Henry Bishop. It shows the date of dispatch and is designed to give confidence in the speed and reliability of the mail.
The Post Office Act paves the way for a unified postal service across Scotland, England and Wales. Ireland follows in 1808.
The name Royal Mail is given to the service when mail coaches become a familiar sight across the country.
Steam-driven packet ships are introduced to deliver mail across the British Empire and the Commonwealth.
Mail starts being carried by train. The first route is between Liverpool and Manchester thanks to an agreement between the General Post Office and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
Uniform postage rates are introduced, replacing a complicated, confusing and expensive system of tariffs. For the first time, the sender pays the postage instead of the recipient.
1840: The World’s First Stamp
The world’s first adhesive postal stamp, the Penny Black, is launched. Queen Victoria appears on the stamp and 68 million are used in the first year. As the inventor of the postage stamp, the UK is the only country in the world that doesn’t have its name on its stamps.
The introduction of the Penny Post leads to a great increase in the popularity of mail. Mail volumes rise from 67 million in 1839 to 242 million by 1844. They jump to more than 1 billion letters a year by 1875.
Postboxes are introduced to the British mainland, following a trial on the Channel Islands the previous year. They are green to start with and feature the insignia of the monarch at the time.
Parcel Post is launched, reflecting a need for personal and business customers to send more than just a letter. The growth in parcel deliveries sees the title ‘Letter Carrier’ replaced with the more familiar ‘postman’.
The 20th Century:
The Association of Post Office Women Clerks is founded. It’s the first association in the UK civil service to represent female clerical workers.
The first motor vehicle enters the postal service. The two-and-half tonne lorry covers 300,000 miles in its 18 years of service.
The world’s first scheduled airmail service begins, as part of the celebrations of the Coronation of George V. British aviation pioneer Gustav Hamel flew from the London Aerodome in Hendon to the Postmaster General’s office in Windsor.
1914-1918: The Great War
12,000 postal workers serve in The Post Office Rifles during the First World War. 1,800 are killed and over 4,000 wounded during the war. The Post Office Rifles received 145 awards for gallantry, and three General Post Office employees were awarded the Victoria Cross.
The war also sees a huge rise in letters and parcels being sent to loved ones fighting abroad. At its peak, 2,500 staff handle 12 million letters and a million parcels in a week.
Postcodes are introduced in a trial in Norwich. They are rolled out nationally from 1965-1974, giving a postcode to every British address. Postcodes allow mail to be sorted automatically by machine. The combination of letters and numbers allows for over 48 million unique combinations, making it one of the most precise postcode systems in the world.
Queen Elizabeth II approves Arnold Machin’s design of her to be used on postage stamps. Her Majesty’s image has since appeared on more than 180 billion copies of the stamps.
First and Second Class letter services are introduced – the first in the world.
The British Telecommunications Act splits the General Post Office into two separate organisations – postal and telecoms. This ends the Post Office’s control of the national telephone service which it took over in 1912.
The Post Office is organised into three separate businesses – Royal Mail Letters, Parcels, and Counters. The Parcels business forms the foundations of Parcelforce.
GLS is founded as German Parcel when 24 German carriers join together to offer services nationwide. Rico Back, now Group Chief Executive Officer of Royal Mail, was a founding member of the company.
Royal Mail Parcels is rebranded as Parcelforce. The change of name is accompanied by a massive investment in IT and infrastructure, introducing online tracking and the construction of national and international sorting hubs. In 1998 it was rebranded again to become Parcelforce Worldwide.
Franked mail letter boxes are introduced in business parks, industrial estates and some high streets.
1999: Royal Mail acquires German Parcel
Royal Mail acquires German Parcel, one of the largest parcel delivery service providers in Germany. Later in the year the company is rebranded GLS (General Logistics Systems).
GLS succeeded in establishing a stable European parcel network in just a few years. Today it covers 42 European countries and eight U.S. states.
The 21st Century
Royal Mail launches the UK’s first digital stamp with an online postage system called SmartStamp®. It is aimed mainly at small businesses.
Online postage launches, allowing the general public to pay for, download and print their own stamps.
The GLS Group launches the ThinkGreen initiative to strengthen European environmental protection activities. The main aims: lower emissions, reduction in the use of resources, use of alternatives and the optimisation of waste disposal.
Royal Mail launches Sustainable Mail®. A new bulk mail service, it offers lower costs while meeting environmental standards.
Moya Greene is appointed as CEO of Royal Mail Group Ltd. She is the first woman to lead Royal Mail in its 500-year history.
The Postal Services Act is passed, allowing private buyers to own up to 90% of Royal Mail, with staff entitled to 10% of the company’s shares. The same legislation enshrines in law the Universal Service, protecting six days a week collection and delivery at a uniform price. The act also separates the Post Office business from Royal Mail.
2012: Celebrating London 2012
Royal Mail celebrates the London 2012 Olympics by issuing 29 stamps celebrating Team GB’s Gold Medal winning athletes. The stamps are issued the day after the win and available to buy in Post Offices by lunchtime. Another 34 stamps are issued for Gold Medals won in the Paralympics, the first time that a host country issues stamps to celebrate Paralympics gold medallists. Royal Mail also paints over 90 post boxes gold to celebrate our athletes’ success in both games.
Parcelforce launches a £75 million expansion programme to meet growing demands for parcel delivery. A new parcel centre is opened in Chorley, joining the existing centre in Coventry and depots in Cornwall and Hampshire.
On October 15 Royal Mail becomes a listed company with shares traded on the London Stock Exchange. Its market capitalisation at entry is £3.3billion and the first shares trade at 478.00p. At the time 99 per cent of the company’s 150,000 UK employees hold shares in the company.
Royal Mail launches Click & Drop – an online postage and label solution, making it easier to ship parcels using Royal Mail. International services are added later in the year offering shipping to 200 countries and territories worldwide.
Royal Mail expands its national same-day network with the acquisition of eCourier, which operates mainly in the Greater London area and also offers nationwide distribution. The acquisition supports Royal Mail’s strategic objective to enhance its parcel delivery services, expand its network and capture more of the UK parcels market.
GLS expands into the US market, acquiring Golden State Overnight Delivery Service Inc, a next day parcel service based primarily in California.
Royal Mail celebrates 500 years of history
2017: The future is electric
Royal Mail purchases 100 plug-in electric vans for their UK fleet, deployed to Delivery Offices around the UK. Nine electric heavy goods vehicles have also been commissioned for testing at the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre in London.
Mr Rico Back takes up the role of Chief Executive Officer of Royal Mail Group.
GLS acquires Canadian Parcel Delivery Company Dicom Canada. It operates a network of 28 depots and works with partner carriers across Canada to provide pan-Canadian logistics services