Online Exhibition: Famous Victorians

Communication Reformers

Sir Rowland Hill (1795-1879)

Sir Rowland Hill is famous for inventing the penny black stamp and the post box, ensuring that there was a cheap efficient postal service in Great Britain. The son of a headmaster in Birmingham, he helped teach at the school while he was still a pupil, and became very interested in improving education. He did not approve of physical punishment for children, and thought that they should spend half a day each week learning sports. He also thought that all children should be taught science. His ideas became widely known. He was interested in improving conditions for the poor and was influenced by the ideas of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham. In those days postage was often paid by a person when they received a letter. How much was paid depended on how many sheets of paper were sent and how far they were going. The service was expensive and usually cost more than 4d. One day Hill noticed a poor girl who received letters from her fiance but could never afford to pay the postage, and who used the unopened letters to receive coded signals from the man she loved. Hill thought that it was not fair that the poor could not even afford to send letters to each other. In 1837 he wrote a pamphlet called Post Office Reform, its Importance

© Saffron Walden Town Library Society, 2004 & 2015

and Practicability.

It was important that the new system ensured that letters were paid for before they were posted, and that they cost the same amount of money no matter how far they had to travel within the country. In 1840 the penny black stamp was introduced.

Sir Rowland Hill. From Portraits of Men of Eminence, Vol 6 p5

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