The earliest postmarks in use in England were introduced in 1661 by Colonel Henry Bishop who was created Postmaster General following the restoration of Charles II. He announced "A stamp is invented that is putt upon every letter shoving the day of the moneth that every letter comes to this office, so that no letter carryer lay dare to detayne a letter from post to post, which before was usual". These marks were small circular handstamps the upper half indicating the month (e.g. 'Oc' for October) and lower half the day of the month or visa versa. These remained in use until phased out after 1787.
The postal system in most of the country throughout the second half of the Seventeenth Century remained disorganised and haphazard. However, in 1720 the Postmaster of Bath, Ralph Allen, persuaded the Postmaster General to give him control of the provincial posts. He required Postmasters to keep records and return details of postal traffic and to stamp postmarks showing the name of the despatching office. At this the letters were carried by post "boys" from stage to stage, on roads which were little more than muddy tracks. Alcester's first postmark was used at this time - the earliest recorded being the two line "AULCESTER" in black, used from 1759 to 1787.
At this the most post towns were situated on one of the six post roads running from London:
Kent Road (to Dover )
Essex Road (to Yarmouth)
West Road (to Plymouth)
Chester Road (Via Holyhead to Ireland)
North Road (To Edinburgh)
or on one of the cross-post roads which joined together towns on the six main roads. Alcester did not lie on a main post road or cross post road and probably became a post town owing to the influence of the Marquis of Hertford.
The second half of the Eighteenth Century saw the rapid increase in the setting up of turnpikes to maintain Britain's road system, so that with the improvement in roads, the brainchild of John Palmer of Bath became reality. He realised that "The post at present, instead of being the swiftest is almost the slowest conveyance in the country". His proposal was to use lightweight coaches and horses to replace the postboys and their laden horses. Despite opposition by the Post Office, a trial was arranged in 1784 for a "diligence" drawn by four horses to run from Bristol to London with the mail and four passengers arriving on schedule and achieving a record time of 16 hours. For the next fifty years the mail coaches covered the length and breadth of the country. Alcester now exchanged postmarks and began to use a straight line "ALCESTER" with underneath the mileage mark "105" .This represents the distance in Miles from London, since most letters were carried through London and the cost of postage was based on the number of miles travelled and the number of pages.
Showing the distance from London on the postmark enabled post clerks to easily calculate the cost of postage to be collected on delivery. However, they often became out of date as routes changed.
Mileage marks were phased out in the 1820's, when clerks were issued with directories which provided distances between the post towns and London. By 1829, Alcester was using a straight line "ALCESTER" mark in red. Studley began using a similar straight line mark in red from about 1832.
They remained in use until the next change - the advent of the undated circular mark for the less important post towns from 1829.
Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4
Spring 1993 Index