The Library of the Society is privileged to hold an original historic document, printed in 1657, relating to the establishment of the Post Office in Great Britain. This 9 page, Act of Cromwell's Parliament on 17th September 1656 and deals with the rules, rates and routes within England, Scotland and Ireland, plus Europe. It establishes the Post Office and the role of Post-Master under the title "An Act for the Setling (sic) of the Postage of England, Scotland and Ireland". The front page is shown below, slightly reduced.
The writing style and font of the original makes reading it difficult, and so it is transcribed here in its entirety. The original concerns with "dangerous and Wicked designs", and "loose and uncertain hands" are perhaps signs of the times in which is was enacted.
While the original is not available for lending, copies
are available upon request from the Office, and the complete document is
available for viewing below.
Title page (above)
Whereas it has been found by experience, that the erecting and settling of one General Post-Office for the speedy Conveying, Carrying and Re-carrying of Letters by Post, to and from all Places within England, Scotland and Ireland, and to several parts beyond the Seas, has been, and is the best means, not only to maintain a certain and constant Intercourse of Trade and Commerce between all the said Places, to the great benefit of the People of these Nations, but also to Convey the Public Dispatches, and to discover and prevent many dangerous and wicked Designs, which have been, and are daily contrived against the Peace and the Welfare of this Commonwealth, the Intelligence whereof cannot well be Communicated, but by Letter of Script.
Be it Enacted by His Highness the Lord Protector and the Parliament, and it is Enacted and Ordained by Authority thereof, that from henceforth there be one General Office, to be called and known by the name of the Post-Office of England: And one Officer from time to time to be nominated and appointed by His Highness the Lord Protector, and His Successors, and to be constituted by Letters Patents under the Great Seal of England, under the Name and Style of Post-Master General of England, and Comptroller of the Post-Office; which said Officer, and his Deputies by him thereunto sufficiently Authorised, and no other, shall have the Receiving, Taking up, Ordering, Sending Forward, and Delivering of all Letters and Packets, which shall from time to time come and go to and from all Parts and Places of England, Scotland and Ireland, where he shall settle Posts, and from all the said Parts and Places beyond the Seas (excepting such letters as shall be sent by common known Carriers, and by them Conveyed along with their Carts, Wagons, and Pack-horses, and Letters of Advice of Merchants, which shall be sent by Masters of any Ship, Barque, or other Vessel of Merchandise, or any of their Company or Passengers therein, immediately from any Port-town of England, Scotland and Ireland, by them to be Conveyed along with such Ship, Barque or other Vessel to any other Port-town within any of the same, or into the Parts beyond the Seas, or from the Parts beyond the Seas to any Port-town of England, Scotland and Ireland, or any members thereof, and no further.
And excepting a Letter or more sent by a Messenger for his or their own Affairs, who is, or are the Sender or Senders thereof, or by any Friend to any Place or Places within the said Nations of England, Scotland or Ireland. And also that the said Post-master-General of England and Comptroller of the Post-Office, and his said Deputies only, and no other shall have the Horsing of all through-posts, and persons Riding in Post by Commission or without, to and from all Places, upon any of the Post-Roads within England, Scotland and Ireland.
And be it further Ordained by Authority aforesaid, that the said Officer, by himself, or his Deputy or Deputies, by him thereunto sufficiently Authorised, shall, or may Demand, Have, Receive, and take for the Postage and Conveyance of all or any Letters, which he shall so Convey, Carry and Re-carry as aforesaid, or for the Horsing of any Through-Post, or perform Riding in Post as aforesaid, the several Rates of Postage hereafter mentioned, and no other, viz.
For every Letter to or from any Place within Fourscore Miles distance from London, if a single Letter, two Pence, and if a Double Letter, four Pence, and so proportionally for every Packet of Letters, and for every Packet of a greater Bulk, Eight pence the Ounce; And for every Letter at a farther Distance than fourscore Miles, if a single Letter, Three pence, and if a double Letter, Six pence, and so proportionally; And for every Packet of a greater Bulk, One shilling the Ounce: And for every Letter to or from Scotland, if a single Letter, Four pence, if a Double Letter, Eight pence, and so proportionally; and if a Packet of a greater Bulk, One shilling six pence the Ounce; And for every Letter to or from Ireland, for every single Letter, Six pence, for every Double Letter, One shilling, and so proportionally; and for every Packet of greater Bulk, Two shillings the Ounce: And for such Letters or Packets as shall be Conveyed or Carried within Ireland, the Rates thereof to be as followeth, viz. For every Letter to or from any Place within forty Miles distance from Dublin, if a single Letter, Two pence, if a double Letter, Four pence, and so proportionally, and if a Packet of greater Bulk, Eight pence the Ounce; And for every Letter at a farther distance than forty Miles, if a single Letter, Four pence, if a double Letter, Eight pence, and so proportionally, and if a Packet of greater Bulk, One shilling the Ounce. For every Letter that shall be directed to Legorne, Genoa, Florence, Lyons, Marseilles, Smyrna, Aleppo and Constantinople, One shilling the single Letter, Two shillings the double Letter, and Three shillings Nine pence the Ounce Weight: For every Letter to Bordeaux, Rochel, Nantes, Byonne, Cadize and Madrid, Nine pence the single Letter, One shilling six pence the double, and Two shillings the Ounce Weight; For every Letter to Saint Mallo, Morlaix, and Newhaven, Six pence the single Letter, One shilling the Double, and One shilling six pence the Ounce Weight: For every Letter to Hambrough, Frankfort and Colloyne, Eight pence the single Letter, One shilling four pence the double, and Two shillings the Ounce Weight: And for every Letter to Dantzicke, Lipiwich, Lubecke, Stockholme, Copenhaven, Elfnore and Queenesbrough, Twelve pence the single Letter, Two shillings the double and Four shillings the Ounce Weight: And of every through Port, or Persons Riding in Post as aforesaid, Two pence half penny the Mile for each Horse, beside the Guide Groat for every Stage.
And whereas upon the Arrival of Ships from parts beyond the Seas, to the Out-ports here, Letters directed to several Merchants in London, have been heretofore frequently delivered by the bringers thereof to loose and uncertain hands, to be Conveyed forwards, whereby great Prejudice has accrued to the Affairs, as well as by miscarrying of many of the said Letters, as often times by the opening of the same, to the discovery of the Correspondence and secrets of said Merchants.
Be it further Ordained and Enacted by Authority aforesaid, That all Letters and packets, that by any Master of any Ship or Vessel, or any of this Company, or any Passengers therein, shall be brought to any Port-town of England, or Members thereof, and there delivered to be sent forwards to the City of London, or any other place in any of the Post-Roads from thence towards the said City, (other than such Letters as are before excepted, and may be sent by common known Carriers as aforesaid) shall by such Master, Passenger, or other person be delivered to the Deputy, or Deputies only of the said Officer above Ordained, by him appointed for the said Port-towns, and to none other, by him to be sent forward according to the Direction hereof.
And that no person or persons whatsoever, other than such Officer as shall be so nominated and appointed by His Highness the Lord Protector or His Successors, and constituted by Letters Patents under the Great Seal of England as aforesaid, and his Deputies shall presume to set up or employ and Foot-Posts, Horse-Posts, or Packet-Boats for the common Conveying, Carrying and Recarrying or any Letters or Packets by Land within England, Scotland and Ireland, or from, or to any of the Ports of the same by Sea, or for the Horsing of any Through-Post, or perform Riding in Post as aforesaid, upon pain of forfeiting the sum of One thousand pounds for every Month that he or they shall so employ and continue the same, or any of them, the said forfeiture to be sued for, and recovered by Action of Debt, Plaint, or Information in any of His Highnesses Courts of Record, wherein no Assign, Privilege, Protection, or Wager of Law to be admitted, and the said forfeiture so recovered, to be one Moiety thereof to His Highness the Lord Protector and His Successors, and other Moiety to such person or persons who shall or will inform and sue for the same.
And for the better management of the said Office, and that the people of these Nations may have their intercourse of Commerce and Trade the better maintained, and their Letters and Advices Conveyed, carried and Recarried with greatest Speed, Security, and Convenience that may be,
Be it further Enacted and Ordained by Authority aforesaid, That the said Post-Master General of England, and Comptroller of the Post-Office so Nominated, Appointed, and Constituted as aforesaid, and his Deputies shall from time to time observe and follow such further Order, Rules, Directions and Instructions, for and concerning the Settlement of convenient Posts and Stages upon the several Roads in England, Scotland and Ireland, and the providing and keeping of a sufficient number of Horses, and Packet-Boats, as well for the Carrying and Conveying of the said Letters and Packets, as for the Horsing of all Through-Posts, and persons Riding in Post, by Warrant or otherwise, as aforesaid, as his said Highness the Lord Protector; and His Successors shall from time to time in that behalf Make and Ordain.
And that his said Highness the Lord Protector and his Successors, may grant to said Office, together with the several Rate of Postage above mentioned, and all Profits, Privileges, Fees, Perquisites and Emoluments thereunto belonging, or to belong, either for life, or for any term of years, not exceeding Eleven years, to such person or persons, and under such Covenants, Conditions, and yearly Rent to his Highness and his Successors Reserved, as his said Highness and His Successors, with Advice of the Council, shall from time to time think fit, for the best Advantage and benefit of the Common-wealth.
Provided always, and be it Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, that no person shall have Power to take, use, or else seize any Horses for the Service mentioned in this Act, without the consent of the Owners, any usage or pretence, or any thing in this Act contained to the contrary hereof notwithstanding.
Printed by Henry Hills and John Field, Printers
To His Highness, 1657.