The Drama of the London Penny Post

What did the city of London do before people could send private letters through the mail inside the city?

In the mid-17th century, mostly just merchants and traders sent messengers to carry information outside of London. Only one post office existed, and private posts were few and far between.

Then William Dockwra and Robert Murray stepped in to change up the postal system forever. London’s sorely needed inner-city mail system started with Dockwra and Murray’s London Penny Post in 1680.

As the name would suggest, posts through the service cost only a penny. Suddenly, pricier posts through private carriers became unattractive and unnecessary for citizens of London. They took advantage of the Penny Post to send inner-city mail for cheap. Carriers traveled between participating receiving houses throughout the city dispatched letters once an hour for shorter distances and five times a day for longer distances.


The business venture was popular – so popular that it faced opposition. In 1680, Murray was arrested under accusation of distributing “seditious” materials on the Duke of York. Dockwra was left to lead the business himself; during that time he solidly established the business and designed the Post’s triangular postmarks. Because of this, Dockwra continually fought to be recognized as the one who brought major success to the business.

But legal issues continued to get in the way of the Penny Post, and in 1682 the government stepped in to establish the Post as part of the government’s General Post Office. Dockwra continued to petition for recognition and compensation for his creation of the service; he received a management post for four more years but got laid off again under accusations of poor management.

The price of postage gradually increased over time. The London Penny Post eventually inspired a number of other Posts in the UK and the US.

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