The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post

The old General Post Office in Lombard Street, London

This correspondence, by a meeting between some of the parties, and a separation between the others, could not, to the great detriment of the Post Office revenue, be continued any longer. The Narrator, The Conclusion, Lady Susan

The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and

the Penny-Post At Jane Austen’s World

As the characters in Jane Austen’s epistolary novella Lady Susan send each other a flurry of letters, I was curious how they got to their destinations and how long it would take to send a letter from the Vernon’s residence at Churchill 30 miles to London. Vic (Ms Place) of Jane Austen’s World blog can always answer all my historical questions, and has kindly written about the Postal Service in Britain as a three part series:  1) Letters and the Penny-Post, 2) Post Roads and Post Boys, and 3) John Palmer and the Royal Mail Coach.

You can enjoy the first segement, The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post, and the next two will follow shortly. Thanks Vic for keeping us so well informed about all things Georgian & Regency.

Part 2 – The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Post Roads and Post-Boys

10 thoughts on “The Postal Service in 18th Century Britain: Letters and the Penny-Post

Add yours

  1. What an enterprising and ingenious man William Dockwra was! I’m glad he was at least acknowledged and compensated at the end.

    In relation to Lady Susan, I just had this sudden visual of a pack of Penny-Post messengers running to and from Edward Street, Upper Seymour Street, and Hotel. They must have been furious to know what was being exchanged in those letters! :-P


    1. Yet, consider the narrator’s words in the Conclusion…’This Correspondence,…could not, to the great detriment of the Post office Revenue, be continued longer’… one hopes the Post office wasn’t obliged to lay off messengers when Lady Susan & Mrs Johnson ceased correspondence.
      I like to imagine the missives flying between Edward St and Upper Seymour Street; (Letter 29-33); ‘I arrived last night about five…when Manwaring made his appearance,’
      ‘I am in agonies & know not what to do or what you can do’, ‘ Manwaring has just gone; he brought me the news of his wife’s arrival’.
      Perhaps Lady Susan’s Churchill letters show more energy in style (?) but in London, the penny-post speeds up the correspondence and story.
      So agree with your comment on W. Dockwra. He really deserved compensation for inventing & establishing the penny- post in London – ladies had a reliable service for exchange of gossip, notes of introduction and making quick arrangements- and more important news.
      As Jane Fairfax says, the post office is a wonderful institution !


      1. Yes, Jane Austen is very clever — pacing the story of Lady Susan with the natural rhythm and cadence of letter exchange! It’s like music… slow exposition, rising development, heart-stopping climax, falling denouement.

        Sadly, what Jane Fairfax says is not true anymore to where I live. Thank goodness for sms, email, and twitter! =)


  2. For a study of an C18th novel in letter-format; how appropriate to learn about the Georgian postal service…onto Vic’s blog!


  3. My husband and daughter work for the post office. I will have to show these wonderful articles. How very interesting.
    Thank you so much for the link.


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