Archive for February 16, 2015

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In his early life Rowland Hill was an innovative educationalist teaching at his father’s school and later introducing new models for education at a school in Edgbaston Birmingham which formed the basis for a number of other educational initiatives at that time. He became interested in social reform and believed that one way of alleviating the plight of the poor was the foundation of new settlements in the colonies. He served as secretary of the Southern Australia Commission which was responsible for the foundation of Adelaide as a settlement for those who wanted to seek a fresh start in the colonies.

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There is a story that one day he witnessed a distressing scene of a woman being unable to afford to redeem a letter from her fiancée as she could not afford the fee. The postal system at the time was fragmentary, unreliable and open to abuse.The recipient paid for the postage, not the sender, and had to decide whether they were willing to pay the fee before they could access the contents. Hill seeing a need for reform published a pamphlet on postal system reform. It called for the sender to pay a uniform standard rate on posting, with pre-payment proven by the use of adhesive stamps (which were already in use for tax payments). It did not meet with unanimous support, with the then Secretary to the Post Office calling it ‘a preposterous scheme’. But business leaders who saw the need for a better system of postal communication swung their support behind Hill and in 1839 he was given a two year contract by the Post Office to prove his scheme could work.

Initially a letter was to cost 4 pence, but before commencement this was reduced to 1 penny and in May 1840, the worlds first adhesive postage stamp – ‘the penny black’ was produced.

School Boy's Birthday Present for John Irwin
Penny Black
Photo by Phillip Howard (https://www.flickr.com/photos/22326055@N06/)

The scheme was a success but in 1841 after an arguement with the new government Hill resigned. He remained influential in buisness and economic circles and held a number of posts including a sucessfull period at the London and Brighton railway company where he reduced fares and expanded the network.

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British Rail locomotive 47474 subsequently named ‘Sir Rowland Hill’
Photo by Steve Jones (https://www.flickr.com/photos/tutenkhamunsleeping/)

In 1846, Lord Russell the new PM, offered him the post of Postmaster General and later made him Secretary to the Post Office and he reamined in post until 1864. He was knighted for his work in 1860 and he died in 1879 and was buryed in Westminster Abbey. The statue in bronze by Edward Onslow Ford was errected in 1881 and stands outside the King Edward Street building (formerly the major sorting centre in the City of London and now owned by Merrill Lynch).

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