Bath played a key role in the development of the modern postal system. On World Post Day, we celebrate three Bath figures who helped to shape the postal system as we know it today…
Born in 1693, Ralph Allen was an entrepreneur and philanthropist who is renowned for his reforms to the British postal system. Aged just 19, Allen became the Postmaster of Bath, and he went on to work with the General Post Office to reform the postal service with great success.
Allen produced a signed-for system to address the issue of profit being lost from undeclared mail, and improved efficiency by stopping mail from going via London. It’s estimated that over a 40-year period, Allen saved the Post Office £1,500,000!
As well as transforming the postal system, Ralph Allen was heavily involved in the development of much of Georgian Bath, including the commission of Prior Park.
John Palmer, the only son of a prosperous tradesman, was born in Bath in 1742. In 1784, Palmer worked with William Pitt, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, to deliver the first trial mail coach run along the Bristol to London road, via Bath. Palmer hired a coach and arranged the many changes of horses from drivers and innkeepers. In 1785, Palmer travelled 5,000 miles in just four months and established 11 mail coach routes.
Of Palmer's work, the Bath Chronicle exclaimed, ‘it is with so much pleasure to see so great a change in the conveyance of our mails, not only in its speed and safety but in its present respectable appearance’.
Following his retirement in 1792, Palmer twice served as Mayor of Bath and was an MP for the city for six years. As a tribute to his work for the Post Office, Bath minted four half-penny tokens in Palmer’s honour.
Thomas Moore Musgrave
Born in London in 1774, Thomas Moore Musgrave is most well-known for mailing the first stamp in the world, from the Bath Post Office. Musgrave became the Postmaster of Bath in 1833, and held the role for 21 years, until his death.
On 2nd May 1840, four days prior to the official first day of posting, an item of mail left Bath Post Office with a stamp featuring an engraved image of Queen Victoria on a black background. Now known as a Penny Black, this was the first stamp to ever be mailed.
Four days later, on the official first day of posting, Musgrave also mailed a printed postal stationery item designed by William Mulready. This very rare item, one of only three blue twopenny Mulready envelopes marked 6th May 1840, is now available to view at Bath Postal Museum.
You can find out more about Bath’s role in the development of the modern postal system at Bath Postal Museum. Play interactive games and quizzes, take a close look at models and collectables, learn from historic ‘talking head’ video characters and find a large range of postcards and gifts at the museum shop.