Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/191

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jointly, the 15th of March 1633.[1] Witherings took the labouring oar, and ranks as the first of many conspicuous postal reformers. Under him one Richard Boole obtained a special post mastership for the service of the court. Among the earliest measures of improvement taken under the newWitherings. patent was an acceleration of the continental mail service. For this purpose the patentees made a contract with the count of Thurn and Taxis, hereditary postmaster of the Empire and of Spain. At this time there was still but one mail weekly between London, Antwerp and Brussels, and the transit occupied from four to five days. By a subsequent contract with Count Thurn two mails weekly were secured and the transit made ordinarily in two days.[2] In June 1635 Witherings submitted to the king a proposal “for settling of staffets or pacquet-posts betwixt London and all parts of His Majesty's dominions, for the carrying and re-carrying of his subjects letters, ” which contains curious notices of the state of internal communications. The net charge to the Crown of the existing posts is stated to be £3400 per annum. Letters, it is said, “being now carried by carriers or foot posts 16 or 18 m. a day, it is full two months before any answer can be received from Scotland or Ireland to London. If any of His Majesty's subjects shall write to Madrid in Spain, he shall receive answer sooner and surer than he shall out of Scotland or Ireland.” By the new plan it was proposed that all letters for the northern road should be put into one “port mantle” and directed to Edinburgh, with separate bags directed to such postmasters as lived upon the road near to any city or town corporate. The journey from London to Edinburgh was to be performed within three days. The scheme was approved on the 31st of July 1635, the proclamation establishing eight main postal lines-namely, the great northern road, to Ireland by Holyhead, to Ireland by Bristol, to the marches of Wales by Shrewsbury, to Plymouth, to Dover, to Harwich and to Yarmouth. The postage of a single letter was fixed at zd. if under 80 m., 4d. if between 80 and 140 m., 6d. if above 140 m., Sd. if to Scotland. It was provided that no other messengers or foot posts should carry letters to any places so provided, except common known carriers, or a particular messenger “sent on purpose with a letter by any man for his own occasions, ” or a letter by a friend, on pain of exemplary punishment.[3] In February 1638 another royal proclamation ratified an agreement between Witherings and De Noveau, postmaster to the French king, for the conveyance of the mails into France by Calais, Boulogne, Abbeville and Amiens.[4]

But in 1640 the active postmaster was accused of divers abuses and misdemeanours, and his office sequestrated into the hands of Philip Burlamachi of London, merchant, who was to execute the same under the inspection of the principal secretary of state.[5] Witherings then assigned his patent to Robert Rich, earl of Warwick, and a long contest ensued in both houses of parliament. The sequestration was declared by a vote in parliament in 1642 to be illegal. Nevertheless the dispute gave repeated occupation to both houses during the period from 1641 to 1647, and was diversified by several affrays, in which violent hands were laid upon the mails. In 1643 the post office yielded only £5000 a year. In 1644 the Lords and Commons by a joint ordinance appointed Edmund Prideaux “ to be master of the posts, messengers and couriers.” In 1646 the opinion of the judges was taken on the validity of Witherings's patent (assigned to Lord Warwick), and they pronounced that “the clauses of restraint in the said patent are void and not good in law; that, notwithstanding these clauses be void, the patent is good for the rest.”[6] It is evident, therefore, that any prohibition to carry letters must be by act of parliament to have force of law.

In 1650 an attempt was made by the common council of London to organize a new postal system on the great roads, to run twice a week. This scheme they temporarily carried into effect as respects Scotland. But Mr Attorney-General Prideaux urged on the councilUnder Cromwell. of state that, if the new enterprise were permitted, besides in trenching on the rights of the parliament, some other means would have to be devised for payment of the postmasters. Both houses resolved (1) that the offices of postmasters, inland and foreign, were, and ought to be, in the sole power and disposal of the parliament, and (2) that it should be referred to the council of state to take into consideration all existing claims in relation thereto. Of these there were five under the various patents which had been granted. Thereupon the Protector was advised that the management of the post office should be entrusted to John Thurloe by patent upon the expiration of John Manley's existing contract. Thurloe was to give security for payment of the existing rent of £10,000 a year. Ultimately the posts, both inland and foreign, were farmed to John Manley for £10,000 a year, by an agreement made in 1653. Meanwhile an attorney at York, named John Hill, placed relays of post horses between that city and London, and undertookJohn Hill’s refroms. the conveyance of letters and parcels at half the former rates. He also formed local and limited partnerships in various parts of the kingdom for the extension of his plan, which aimed to establish eventually a general penny postage for England, a twopenny postage for Scotland and a fourpenny postage for Ireland. But the post office was looked upon by the government of the day as, first, a means of revenue, and secondly, a means of political espionage.[7] The new letter carriers were “ trampled down ” by Cromwell's soldiery. The inventor had a narrow escape from severe punishment. He lived to publish (1659) the details of his plan, at the eve of the Restoration, in a pamphlet entitled A Penny Post: or a Vindication of the Liberty and Birthright of every Englishman in carrying Merchants and other Man's letters, against any Restraint of Farmers, &c. It is probable that this publication[8] helped to prepare the way for those measures of partial but far-reaching reform which were effected during the reign of Charles II. The rates of postage and the rights and duties of postmasters were settled under the Protectorate by an act of parliament of 1657, c. 30. In 1659 the item, “ by postage of letters in farm, £14,000, ” appears in a report on the public revenue.”[9]

The government of the Restoration continued to farm the post office upon conditions similar to those imposed by the act of 1657, but for a larger sum. Henry Bishop, the first postmaster-general in the reign of Charles II., contracted to pay a yearly rent of £21,500, these newUnder Charles II. arrangements being embodied in the Act 12 Charles II. c. 35 (1660), entitled “An Act for Erecting and Establishing a Post Office.” A clause proposing to frank all letters addressed to

or sent by members of parliament during the session was

  1. Minute in “House of Lords' Papers ” (1633), Fourth Report of Hist. MSS. Commission (1874), app. The papers there calendared contain many proofs of Witherings's activity and ability. See also appendix to Fifth Report (1875), and “A proclamation concerning the Postmaster of England for Forraigne Parts” (July 19, 1632), in Rymer's Foedera, xix. 385.
  2. Egerton MS. (Brit. Mus.), No. 2543, fol. 5 seq.
  3. Rymer, Foedera, xix. 649.
  4. Ibid. xx. 192.
  5. Ibid. xx. 429.
  6. 6Journals of the House of Commons, ii. 81, 82, 95, 470, 493, 500, 501, 658 seq.; Journals of the Home of Lords, v. 343, 387, 450, 469-73, 500 seq.; Report from Secret Committee on the Post Office, Appendix, pp. 60–69.
  7. Illustrations of this may be seen (in the state-paper department of the general record office) among the correspondence between Sir John Coke and Lord Conway, and also in many other state letters, as well after the outbreak of the great rebellion as before it. There is in the Bodleian Library (MS. Rawlinson, A. 477) a minute account of the methods alleged to have been pursued in the systematic and periodical examination of letters entrusted to the post office. The paper is not authenticated by any signature, and is undated. But it is an original document of the time of Charles II., addressed to Mr. Bridgman, clerk of the council, and drawn up to recommend the adoption of a like practice, but with greater dexterity than that used by Dr Dorislaus and Samuel Morland, who, according to this narrative, formed the Cromwellian board of examiners for post-office letters, and who read all that were addressed to foreign parts.
  8. There is a copy in the library of the British Museum, from which H. B. Wheatley has given the abstract quoted above.
  9. Journals of the House of Commons, vii. 627.