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The beginnings of Royal Mail

2016 commemorates 500 years since Henry VIII knighted Brian Tuke, the first Master of the Posts, in 1516.

As you would expect from any institution that has been around for 500 years, there are a number of significant dates in our history. The knighting of Brian Tuke was the catalyst for the creation of the Royal Mail we know today. Tuke had the influence and authority to establish key post towns across the country and build out a formal postal network.

In this section you can find out about our transition from an exclusive band of King’s Messengers to today’s national network, which connects consumers, companies and communities across the UK. You can also track the development of transportation of the mail, from horseback messengers to rail, ship and plane.

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World firsts

People have consistently been at the heart of our service for 500 years. But the postal service has also delivered a number of world firsts that are now part of the way we live today. In this section, you can discover the history of the postmark, the world-famous Penny Black stamp and the first scheduled airmail service. More importantly, you can learn about the beginnings of the Universal Service, through which we can still send a letter or a parcel, anywhere in the UK for a uniform price.

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The introduction of the Penny Black – which celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2015 – signalled the start of a communications revolution. About 67 million letters were posted in 1839 rising to 242 million by 1844 after the introduction of the Penny Post. By 1875, the number had risen to over a billion. More recently, stamps have become a marker of important cultural events, important people and anniversaries – from Winston Churchill to Star Wars. Take a look through our collection of some of the rarest, and most popular, stamps ever issued – as well as designs that never saw the light of day.

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Our people have been at the heart of our business from day one. Spend a few moments learning about Charles Garland, who campaigned for more sanitary working conditions during the consumption crisis, or the five brave souls (American postal workers Oscar Scott Woody, John Starr March, and William Logan Gwinn and British postal workers James Bertram Williamson and John Richard Jago Smith) who perished on the Titanic after refusing to desert their posts. Read about Jean Cameron, the 19 year old who made it possible for postwomen to wear trousers at work. Among our hundreds of thousands of employees across the years, you will find a wealth of stories that celebrate the dedication, innovation and drive of the individuals who have made the postal service what it is today.

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Moments in history

Royal Mail has played a key role in many of the country’s defining moments, including the First and Second World Wars. Royal Mail’s own battalion, 8th Battalion, The London Regiment (The Post Office Rifles), was made up almost entirely of employees. You can find out about the four former postal workers who were awarded the Victoria Cross - Sgt Albert Gill from Birmingham, Sgt Alfred Knight from Nottingham, Major Henry Kelly from Manchester and Sgt John Hogan, a postman from Oldham. See General Dwight D Eisenhower’s letter to the Postmaster General, thanking staff for keeping the network of communications open across the country in the run up to D-Day. You can also read about the tremendous effort on the home front to keep the postal service working throughout the conflicts. Also in this section, you can discover how the postal service has helped shape how we live, kept information flowing across the Commonwealth, played an important role in improving literacy and transformed the way in which we talk to each other. In this collection, you will discover the power of letters, parcels, the postal service and the impact they have had on key moments in history.

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Royal Mail red – which features on our vans, uniforms and especially our postboxes - is part of the fabric of UK life. In this section, you can find out more about the designs that have defined a national institution: nationwide campaigns using some of the finest international illustrators; the definitive stamp design that has become the world’s most reproduced artwork; and iconic vehicles – from mail coach to motorbike. You can explore the highlights of the brand’s 500 years, from the first outing of the Royal Mail uniform to the extensive poster campaign highlighting the rollout of the national postcode scheme.

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In times of conflict

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