The Victorian Post Office: The Growth of a Bureaucracy

The Victorian Post Office: The Growth of a Bureaucracy

The Victorian Post Office: The Growth of a Bureaucracy

The Victorian Post Office: The Growth of a Bureaucracy


Among 19th-century government departments the Post Office was a bureaucratic giant. By the eve of the First World War it managed a complex set of responsibilities, from the conveyance of mail around the Royal Historical Societyaccounted for one third of the entire civil service. Perry's book examines the important process by which the Post Office grew and evolved, took on new tasks such as the promotion of savings banks, and participated in the first two cases of nationalisation in British history -the 1870 purchase of the telegraphs, and the 1912 take-over of the telephone. Other topics explored include the Post Office's relations with politicians and the press, its approach to staff issues and labour difficulties, and itscontractual negotiations with two private industries, steamship lines and railways. Throughout Perry places the Post Office firmly within the context of the emergence of the modern corporate state and the creation of a mixed economy. C.R. PERRY is Associate Professor of History and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.


'Nobody ever notices postmen, somehow,' he said thoughtfully; 'yet they have passions like other men'. - G. K. Chesterton, The Invisible Man

I began this study convinced that at least as far as historians were concerned Chesterton was correct. the Post Office had not been noticed. To be sure Howard Robinson had investigated the department. But his work, as valuable as it was, appeared before the explosion of scholarly interest in the nineteenth-century revolution in government and the emergence of the modern corporate state, and inevitably it did not address the questions raised by these topics. As a result any mention of the Post Office in general histories — when the department was mentioned at all — was usually limited to a few vague words about improvements in communications. Fortunately this neglect has begun to be redressed, as the work of several individuals mentioned in this preface demonstrates. What this book proposes to do is to continue this process by moving the expansion of the Post Office closer to the centre of our understanding of the role of the Victorian state and the origins of a mixed economy in Britain.

During the course of writing this book I have incurred a large number of debts. I wish to thank the archivists and librarians who maintained the records on which this study is based. These include the staffs at Widener Library, Harvard University, Wilson Library, the University of North Carolina, Heard Library, Vanderbilt University, and Dupont Library, the University of the South. in England the British Library, the Public Record Office, the Bodleian Library, the archives of University College, London, the Union of Communication Workers Library, and the House of Lords Record Office, whose clerk gave permission to consult the Samuel Papers, should be mentioned. But above all I am indebted to the staff at St Martin's le Grand, especially Celia Constantinides, for their generous help during my extended research trips there.

Many others have also contributed to the evolution of this book. H. J. Hanham continued to encourage and admonish long after he was under any statutory obligation to do so, while the late John Clive kindly, but firmly asked me to raise my intellectual horizons.

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