On this day in history : 2nd August 1784 – The first purpose scheduled mail coach begins a delivery service between Bristol and London…. It is the brainchild of theatre owner John Palmer….

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John Palmer (aged 75) – Robert Charles Tombs – Public domain

For 150 years, since its introduction in 1635, Britain’s postal service had used mounted riders who had ridden between appointed ‘posts’…. The postmaster would then remove the letters for his local area….remaining letters and any additions would then be handed on to the next rider…. Under this system the riders were vulnerable to frequent robberies….

John Palmer owned theatres in Bristol and Bath – he used stage coaches to move actors, stagehands and props between them….it was a safe and efficient way of doing so…. He was also a regular user of the stage coach to travel to various towns and cities himself…. He pondered that he could travel from Bath to London in a day – but a letter doing the same journey could take up to three days….

In 1782 he made the suggestion to the Post Office in London that perhaps they could use a stage coach instead…. His idea was met with little enthusiasm – their belief being that the existing system could not be improved upon…. However, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Pitt, allowed Palmer to carry out an experimental run between Bristol and London; the existing postal service took around 38 hours….

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Print showing a mail coach in the black and scarlet livery of the Post Office, near to Newmarket, Suffolk, 1827 – G.Reeves – Public domain

The coach left Bristol at 4pm on the 2nd of August 1784 and arrived in London just 16 hours later…. So impressed was Pitt that he authorised other routes to be set up…. Within a month services ran between London and Norwich, Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham…. By the end of 1785 Leeds, Portsmouth, Poole, Dover, Exeter, Gloucester, Worcester, Holyhead and Carlisle had been added….with Edinburgh the following year…. In recognition of his role in the reformation of the postal service Palmer was made Surveyor and Comptroller General of the Post Office….

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