General Post Office

General Post Office
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Royal Arms as used by Her Majesty's Government
Agency overview
Formed1660
Dissolved1 October 1969
Superseding agency
Jurisdiction
  • 1660–1707  England & Wales
  • 1707–1800  Great Britain
  • 1800–1969  United Kingdom
HeadquartersGeneral Post Office,
St Martin's le Grand,
London EC2
Agency executives
Parent agencyHer Majesty's Government

The General Post Office (GPO)[1] was officially established in England in 1660[2] by Charles II and it eventually grew to combine the functions of state postal system and telecommunications carrier. Similar General Post Offices were established across the British Empire. In 1969 the GPO was abolished and the assets transferred to The Post Office, changing it from a Department of State to a statutory corporation. In 1980, the telecommunications and postal sides were split prior to British Telecommunications' conversion into a totally separate publicly owned corporation the following year as a result of the British Telecommunications Act 1981. For the more recent history of the postal system in the United Kingdom, see the articles Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd.

Originally, the GPO was a monopoly covering the despatch of items from a specific sender to a specific receiver, which was to be of great importance when new forms of communication were invented. The postal service was known as the Royal Mail because it was built on the distribution system for royal and government documents. In 1661 the office of Postmaster General was created to oversee the GPO.

Early postal services

Clerks at work at the post office in London circa 1808

The GPO created a network of post offices where senders could submit items. All post was transferred from the post office of origination to distribution points called sorting stations, and from there the post was then sent on for delivery to the receiver of the post. Initially it was the recipient of the post who paid the fee, and he had the right to refuse to accept the item if he did not wish to pay. The charge was based on the distance the item had been carried so the GPO had to keep a separate account for each item. In 1840 the Uniform Penny Post was introduced, which incorporated the two key innovations of a uniform postal rate, which cut administrative costs and encouraged use of the system, and adhesive pre-paid stamp.