Letters and Packets
Other Classes of Mail
Inland Express/Special Delivery Rates 1891-1993
Express delivery originally meant payments for a messenger sent for the express purpose of carrying a particular letter, although the more modern sense is simply speeded-up mail. The modern system was introduced in 1891; there were a large number of services, rates, and options, for many of which payment was made on a separate form rather than on the actual cover.
1923 - 1½d postage + 6d express delivery after transmission by post
The main ones were:
(Published express rates listings, such as the appendices to the various volumes of the Stanley Gibbons Specialised Catalogue, sometimes do not tally with the archival sources consulted. Under the circumstances I have, for the time being, generally tried to give the best source of each bit of information available to me as a small note next to it, to show whether it derives from primary or secondary sources. "Circular" = Post Office Circular, "Guide" = Post Office Guide, "Leaflet" or "Compendium" = basic or comprehensive PO leaflet of rates from relevant date, "SG Spec" = Stanley Gibbons Specialised Catalogue, "Wellsted" = Hilary Wellsted, Express Service 1891-1971, "Furfie" = Michael Furfie, British Civilian Postage Rates of the 20th Century. Corrections of any errors/typos and copies/scans of missing rates leaflets welcomed!)
By special messenger all the way (Service I)This was the original express service of 1891 and the most fundamental, as the fees for the other services were based on these charges. Packets were delivered by specially despatched messenger and charged by distance from the delivery office (and sometimes also by quantity and weight). Charges were prepaid by stamps on a special form, so letters in this class are generally unstamped. Surviving forms are rare, but the rates are given for reference (and because stamps affixed to the item by the sender could be allowed for, so letters stamped for these rates may occasionally be seen).
There were a wide range of additional services (for example replies, further service by the same messenger, delivery from Chief Office), often charged as a new express service, and additional fees to cover such things as multiple packets to the same addressee, the messenger's waiting time at the address, and the use of a special conveyance (rail, bus, tram, cab), either at sender's request or where it was required for reasons of distance or weight (generally the actual fare in that case). The main fees are given below but there were a large number of rather obscure possible combinations and special cases!
Special delivery after transmission by post at sender's request (Service II)"Under this Service Letters and Parcels are forwarded by Mail in the regular course of post to any Express Delivery Office in the Kingdom, and on arrival there are sent out for delivery by Special Messenger." Most express covers that are seen are from this service, where postage and express fees were paid by the sender in stamps affixed to the cover. Rates were initially per mile, from August 1938 a flat fee.
From 1938 this service was referred to as "Special Delivery", with the term "Express" confined to its original Service I/Service V meaning of a letter sent by messenger all the way. Separate "Special Delivery" labels (originally white on green) were introduced in the 1960s, although not always used in preference to the red Express labels! Upon the introduction of two-tier post on 16th September 1968 it applied only to first class letters, and from 28th July 1980 special delivery became the only service generally available, the service being rebranded with new purple labels. The system eventually merged with the registration system in 1993 as what became known as Priority Services, as in practice the two systems had many similarities of handling.
Special delivery in advance of the ordinary mail at addressee's request (part of Service II originally, later Service III)This service was introduced along with the changes above from 18th July 1893. It allowed persons to apply to have packets addressed to them delivered by special messenger in advance of the ordinary mails. Rates were the same as for standard express delivery (Service I); the charges on at least one packet had to be paid by stamps attached to a special form (examples are known).
Circular 18 Jul 1893
Express Delivery on Sunday (part of Service II originally, Service IV from 1921)While there were regular Sunday deliveries in the provinces until 1921, and express letters were sent out from offices where there were deliveries of ordinary letters, this was not the case in London where most Post Offices were closed on Sundays. In 1899 arrangements were made to deliver Service II express letters on Sunday in London by direct messenger from the London Chief Office of St-Martin's-le-Grand. They had to be specifically endorsed for Sunday delivery and at least half the fees prepaid. The charges were the normal Service I mileage rates, calculated as the distance from the Chief Office to the approximate centre of the postal district in which the address lay, and so were generally high.
In 1921, Sunday deliveries generally were withdrawn, and an extended version of Sunday Express Delivery was introduced. It applied only to (and from) a small number of cities -- Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and Sheffield, with Cork, Leicester, Nottingham and Southampton added later (although some combinations involving Irish Free State offices were not possible). The basis of the fees remained the same for London, although for the other towns there was a flat fee of 1s in addition to the mileage charge. In 1935 the service was revised on the basis of a flat fee for all destinations. It was scrapped along with Express Delivery itself from 28th July 1980.
(1) London fees by district
In the table below, the areas are grouped by main district, with the name of the sub-district and the district number allocated in 1917. In the early years some offices were listed grouped under Battersea, Norwood or Paddington, but in the first two cases these were later grouped under the district letter. In a few cases the names used changed, or new delivery offices were opened after 1899. The 1919 rate increase was due to the doubling of the mileage fee from 3d to 6d, and there were a few revisions to the nominal mileages in 1921.
Circular 7 Feb 1899, Guides 1899-1934
(2) Provincial fees and later uniform fees
Guide, Circular, Leaflets
Express delivery of telephoned messages (originally called Service IV, from 1921 Service V)This service enabled a telephone subscriber to call the delivery office and dictate a letter, which would be sent out by express messenger in a specially printed envelope. In addition to the charges for the call and the express delivery (at Service I rates), there was a 'writing down' fee of 3d for up to 30 words and 1d for every additional 10 words. It was introduced in July 1893 and ceased as of 1st January 1956.
SG Spec vol 1-3
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