The London Penny Post

news paper extract from London Penny Post

William Dockwra was born in Coleman Street, London in 1635 and when he was 29 a position was arranged for him as a customs under searcher in the port of LONDON and there he worked for ten years until in 1674 he left to embark on a new venture with Robert Murrey. Murrey was born in 1633 and had had very many jobs of great variety before meeting Dockwra. Murrey was financially a sharp character full of bright ideas and it was he who thought up the basic principles of the very first 1d Post, but it was Dockwra who put the idea into practice.

Dockwra, Murrey and their partners divided LONDON between Westminster and Blackwell and between Hackney and Lambeth into seven districts with a sorting office to each. About 500 receiving houses were also arranged for collection and delivery of mails throughout the London suburbs and it should be clear to the reader that this scheme was a mighty venture and a huge gamble which required great financial support. Setting up the scheme was aided in Parliament by certain interested parties. The whole idea had political undertone was backed by the whigs, however several cases challenging the project were bought against Dockwra but strings seem to have been pulled and these cases came to nothing and so it was on 1st April 1680 that the Dockwra Penny Post was launched. Public notices were placed in several newspapers of the time and many notices and handbills were printed and circulated. I here illustrate in full the complete text of possibly the most famous broad sheet of the time ‘A Penny Well Bestowed’ which describes all the advantages of the new scheme. This broad sheet does go a little overboard in descriptiveness but such as the hard sell – even in those days! I will also illustrate in full and in the next months back page the most important document the 6 page pamphlet ‘The Practical Method of the Penny Post’ which gives the entire layout of this mighty and most admirable of plans to transform the then quite despicable state of posts.

The popularity of the new scheme was quite incredible and very soon profits were being made. However, after only two years, complaints were again raised, the support Dockwra had secured previously now no longer existed and before long Dockwra was fined £100 for contempt and his Penny Post was taken from him and absorbed into the General Post Office. Dockwra appealed for compensation, the fact that he had 8 children to support and no income was strongly pressed but the petition was turned down. Years passed and eventually in 1691 he was given a state pension ‘for his work in the posts’ of £500 a year for 7 years. Dockwra then invested his pension into a new venture – 'Coaches and Carriages of Comfort' but that is a story I must continue another time.