New Years Day 1858, London was divided into ten postal districts—part of an ongoing effort to improve postal service in England.
Before 1840, postal service in England was complex, to put it kindly. The cost of receiving a letter depended partially on the number of pages. People often cross-wrote their letters to cut down the number of pages. The distance the letter traveled affected the cost. The sender’s and the recipient’s addresses also mattered because while some metropolitan areas set a common charge anywhere in the area, many local services charged another penny for letters coming from outside the area. Tolls were added for crossing certain bridges. (Were those bridges so rickety that the toll was hazardous duty pay?)
Yet some things went by post absolutely free. Newspapers, for example, even sent overseas, as long as they were mailed within seven days of publication, were wrapped in a cover open at both ends, and that there was nothing inserted or written on it. Members of both Houses of Parliament received and sent letters without charge. And they could frank letters and even parcels for friends—that is, apply their official mark to indicate that postage need not be paid or had been paid.
Rowland Hill was the hero of the hour. Proposals to improve the postal system abounded, but no action was taken until January 1837 when he published his pamphlet Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability. He suggested a uniform rate and prepaid postage, one penny per ounce, and gave testimony at an official inquiry. In 1838 a private Mercantile Committee was established to organize petitions for reform and publish The Post Circular, a propaganda sheet for reform.
The new uniform postage allowed Frances to write many more letters, two to three times a week to her friend Charlotte Rogers alone. And she certainly wasn’t the only one. The 76 million chargeable letters in 1839 increased to 350 million by 1850. Not that the changes solved all problems. Returning from a journey, Frances wrote, “This is a most uncivilized place for the post,—I got here before my letter.”
Uniform postage enabled easier circulation of petitions and propaganda. During the anti-slavery efforts, difficulties about postage had seemed insuperable. The new system was a definite help in the social reforms and charitable efforts Frances took on.