The history of domestic UK parcel delivery

Domestic parcel delivery in the UK has a long, interesting and somewhat confusing history, with organised delivery of parcels and packages dating back as far as the 1600s.

The general post office (GPO) was officially established in England in 1660 by Charles II, with similar GPOs forming in other countries across the British Empire. It was later abolished, with assets transferred to the Post Office, which then monopolised the collection and carriage of letters.

Local Penny Posts were authorised by parliament in 1765 and operated in towns and cities. Typically it was the receiver who paid the fee, meaning each recipient had the option to refuse to accept the item if they didn't wish to pay - which happened a lot! An incredibly complicated system, postage rates were high and based on the distance travelled and the number of sheets of paper sent. This meant people tried to cram as much text on each sheet as they could! 

Hence, this system was amended and in 1840 the Uniform Penny Post was introduced, along with an adhesive pre-paid stamp - simplifying the system and reducing costs. However, this service was only really for letters.

So what about parcels?

Parcel post was first pitched as an idea in 1842. However, it wasn't until 1883 that Parcel Post became an organised entity. Up until this point it had of course been possible to send parcels, it just wasn't as straightforward.

There were several large courier companies operating nationwide services, using stagecoaches to race up and down the country. In fact, the development of the stagecoach had a huge impact on the postal service. It began ferrying mail between 'posts' as early as 1635. The 'postmaster' there would then take the local letters before passing on the remaining letters and any new ones to the next rider.

By 1820 a coach system and better roads had been implemented, reducing delivery times from days to just hours, with coaches racing along at a heady 12 miles an hour. Often, stagecoaches were targeted by highway men, making delivery slow and unreliable. 

The railways companies had a monopoly on the market by the middle of the 1800s, making them a powerful opponent to any post office enterprise. Stagecoaches could just not compete with the speed of the new railways and by the end of the mid 19th Century nearly all post was travelling by rail.

Modern times

The deregulation of the postal service by Postcomm in 2006 was a huge moment for independent parcel delivery services. Previously, only 30% of the £4.5 billion market was open for competition. Restrictions were in place which only allowed non-Royal Mail companies to handle bulk mail in batches of 4,000 letters or more. The change meant new companies were able to compete and opened the way for companies, like ipostparcels, which operate without requiring the customer to sign up a business account.

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Please note if you do not select the “signature required” delivery option, UKMail will not be liable should your items be subsequently lost or damaged after the delivery (see clause 11.7 of the Terms & Conditions). *We define a “Parcel” as a package with dimensions up to 80cm x 80cm x 80cm and a weight of up to 25kg.

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