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This year marks 120 years since Royal Mail first experimented with using motorised vehicles to deliver the mail. These trials changed the face of mail delivery forever and helped form the service that continues to this day.
In 1784, horse-drawn coaches were deployed for the first time to transport the mail. The rollout followed a trial run between Bristol and London. The coaches averaged seven to eight miles per hour in summer and five miles per hour in winter, with fresh horses supplied every 10 to 15 miles. The speed of the four horse-drawn coaches meant that the 400 mile journey time from London to Edinburgh was completed in about 60 hours compared to 96 hours by a postman on horseback.
The trial proved to be a success and in 1785, it led to the launch of new routes from London to Norwich, Liverpool, Leeds, Dover, Portsmouth, Poole, Exeter, Gloucester, Worcester, Holyhead and Carlisle. A service to Edinburgh was added a year later.
From horses to horsepower
Experiments with motorised transport for mail began in 1897 when discussions started around whether it was best to use steam, electric or ‘oil driven’ motors. Each type of engine was tested and in 1904 a second-hand Wallis & Steevens traction engine was purchased - Royal Mail’s first motorised vehicle. The traction engine was a self-propelled steam engine that was primarily used to move heavy loads on roads, plough ground or to provide power.
Three years later, the first motor vehicle entered service - a two and a half tonne lorry called the Maudslay Stores Number 1. The lorry was in operation for 18 years, covering over 300,000 miles.
The largest fleet in the country
Since the introduction of the Maudslay Stores Number 1, Royal Mail’s red vans and lorries have become a familiar sight on roads across the UK. Today, the company operates the largest fleet in the country – more than 47,000 vehicles – from small vans for daily mail deliveries to double deck articulated lorries.
More recent developments include the introduction of in-cab driver behaviour technology and a small-scale trial of electric vehicles, ranging from 3.5 tonne vans up to 7.5 tonne trucks.
To commemorate the anniversary, Royal Mail has launched a special online gallery which showcases how mail has been delivered for five centuries. The gallery can be found at:
Royal Mail press office on 0203 338 1007
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About Royal Mail
Royal Mail plc is the parent company of Royal Mail Group Limited, the leading provider of postal and delivery services in the UK and the UK’s designated universal postal service provider. UK Parcels, International and Letters (“UKPIL”) comprises the company’s UK and international parcels and letters delivery businesses operating under the “Royal Mail” and “Parcelforce Worldwide” brands. Through the Royal Mail Core Network, the company delivers a one-price-goes-anywhere service on a range of parcels and letters products. Royal Mail has the capability to deliver to more than 29 million addresses in the UK, six days a week (excluding UK public holidays). Parcelforce Worldwide operates a separate UK network which collects and delivers express parcels. Royal Mail also owns General Logistics Systems (GLS) which operates one of the largest ground-based, deferred parcel delivery networks in Europe.
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