The earliest known instance of 'post' is from ancient Egypt. The Postal Museum has a clay letter thought to date from around 2000BC and Egyptian papyrus dating around 1200BC. When Britain was absorbed into the Roman Empire it was connected to the imperial postal system known as CURSUS PUBLICUS. This was a network of messengers and later of relay posts where the same messenger could change his horses and carry on his journey. Around 800AD Charlemagne, King of the French and Emperor of the west, revived key Roman posts. They helped him govern a vast empire that stretched from Denmark to the Danube and Spain. After he died, his empire disintegrated and the posts fell into disuse – his successors were not strong enough to overcome Europe's divisive feudal loyalties. In medieval England, Kings posts had been set up in wartime or during the monarchs progress around the country, to keep him in contact with his court and ministers. These were only temporary arrangements. The foundations of a permanent postal system were laid down by Henry VIII around 1512 when he appointed Sir Brian Tuke his 'Master of the Posts' and began to maintain relays of horses and messengers on important routes. Officially only the court could use them, but increasing numbers of private letters were carried as the Tudor era progressed.
In 1700, our postal network was still largely based on the six royal messenger routes set up in Tudor times. These were inadequate for business, government and private correspondence. Many important towns were not directly linked. Instead, mail between them went via London. As a result delivery times were unnecessarily long, and the postal system was too dependant on the ''London Inland Letter Office'. Ever since the seventeenth century, the post boys who carried the mail were often slow, dishonest, unreliable and vulnerable to robbery. Cautions were issued to post boys in the form of posters put up along postal routes. In 1784 the Post Office replaced them with fast, efficient, well guarded mail coaches. John Palmer, a Bath businessman and theatrical manager, initiated the change by organising the first experimental run from Bath. Britain was the first country to introduce mail-coaches. Europe and the New World later followed the example.
A problem still remained: postage – its great expense and the method of charging. Postage was charged by distance and the number of sheets in a letter. One cause of the expense was the governments view of postage as a tax to be raided. Then there was the cost of the Free Frank – the privilege allowing Members of Parliament to send free mail if it bore their 'Frank' – their signature. The Frank was greatly abused. MP's sold it to businesses and franked the mail of their supporters and families. The public had to bear the cost of this. Reform of these abuses was long advocated by businessmen, teachers and supporters of democracy. Rowland Hill brought many of their wishes to fruition in 1840 with his system of uniform penny postage. Franking was ended, and our modern system of postage was introduced. Letters were charged by weight at a flat rate, regardless of distance. Under Hill's system the sender paid; in the past it had usually been the recipient. Methods of indicating pre payment had to be found, the most popular and convenient proved to be the adhesive postage stamp. The first of these was the famous Penny Black, which officially came in to use on 6th May 1840.
Payment in advance meant that the postman – or Letter Carrier as he was called then – no longer had to collect payment for postage from each recipient. As a result , slots began to be fitted to the fronts of doors. Although the penny black seems cheap to us it was relatively the same cost as today. A 4lb. Loaf cost 3d, 1 pint of beer cost 2d, 1 pint of milk cost 1d and the letter carriers earned 6 shillings a week (mail sorters made 16 shillings). The museum is almost entirely accessible to wheelchair users and those with impaired mobility. They have a stair lift and most of the museum is on one level. They also have a T-loop fitted to the sound-led interactives and the History of Writing video has subtitles. They also provide print copies of sound-led interactives. They can provide large print copies of all the literature and the museum is mainly on one level. Assistance dogs are welcome
Location : 27 Northgate Street, (on the corner of Green St.) Bath BA1 1AJ
Transport: Bath Spa (West Somerset Rail) 9 minutes. Bus Routes : 2, 7, 20C, 600, 601 and 701 stop nearby.
Opening Times : Monday/Tuesday 11:00 - 17:00; Thursday to Saturday 14:00 - 17:00
Tickets : Adults £4.50; Concessions £3.50; Children (6+) £1.50
Tel: 01225 460333