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Posts Tagged ‘Rowland Hill’

A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.


rowland hill portraitSir Rowland Hill is best known as the originator of the Uniform Penny Post. In the 1830s the postal system was mismanaged, wasteful, expensive and slow. Letters were normally paid for by the recipient, not the sender. The recipient could simply refuse delivery. For the working class, a letter could cost more than a day’s wage. In addition, postal rates were complex, depending on the distance and the number of sheets in the letter.

Rowland Hill was born in Kidderminster, Worcestershire on 3 December 1795 into a family of enlightened educators during an age notorious for public school brutality as shown in the books of Charles Dickens. The family ethos was to instill moral training by kindness instead of fear of authority. At the age of 12, Rowland became a student teacher in his father’s school. He taught astronomy and earned extra money fixing scientific instruments. He also worked at the Assay Office in Birmingham and painted landscapes in his spare time

On 27 September 1827, Hill married Caroline Pearson, from nearby Wolverhampton. The couple had one son and three daughters. Hill became frustrated in his role as a schoolmaster and started looking for other avenues to achieve social progress and personal advancement. He worked on all sorts of ideas, inventions and innovations. Hill served from 1833 until 1839 as secretary of the South Australian Colonisation Commission, which worked successfully to establish a settlement in what is today Adelaide. Rowland Hill’s sister and her family emigrated there in 1850.

penny blackIn 1835 Rowland Hill published a pamphlet entitled Post Office Reform. Hill’s Penny Post plan was revolutionary, leading to various reforms and the introduction of the first postage stamp. On 10 January 1840, the Uniform Penny Post was established throughout the UK, facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap conveyance of letters which could be prepaid with the first postage stamp, known as the Penny Black. Since Britain was the first country to use adhesive stamps, she is the only country in the world that does not have to put the name of the country on them. Hill’s ideas were adopted virtually world-wide within a generation.

In 1849, Hill moved to Bartrams House – demolished in 1902 – near Hampstead Green on the corner of Haverstock Hill and Pond Street. He lived there for over 30 years until his death on 27 August 1879. While in Hampstead he served as Secretary to the Postmaster-General from 1846 to 1854 and then Secretary to the Post Office from 1854 to 1864. He received a knighthood in 1860 for his contribution to postal reform. Soon after Hill’s death, his house was incorporated into the North Western Fever Hospital which was replaced by the larger Hampstead General Hospital in 1905 and finally by the vast Royal Free Hospital, completed in 1975. A road behind the hospital bears his name. He was honoured by being buried at Westminster Abbey on 4 September 1879.

rowland hill street hampstead

There are three public statues of Hill; the earliest stands in Birmingham, one is in his hometown of Kidderminster and a third in King Edward Street in the city of London outside what was at one time the General Post Office Headquarters.

rowland hill for blog

On the boundary wall of the present Royal Free Hospital complex, facing down Rowland Hill Street, a chocolate-brown coloured plaque erected by the Society of Arts commemorates the originator of the Penny Post with the words: Sir Rowland Hill KCB originator of the penny post lived here 1849-1879 Born 1795 Died 1879. This is currently obscured by panels whilst a new building is being erected.

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