Ten years before the introduction on the first postage stamp, the first mail was carried on a train running from Manchester to Liverpool. The date was 11 November 1830 and at this stage the mail was not sorted on the train. However, when the mail had been carried on horse-drawn mailcoaches, there were regular stops to permit a change of horses, and some of these stops were long enough for the sorting and exchange of mail. But using the train to convey the mail meant that no sorting was possible, and this upset the carefully derived timetables for the conveyance of the mails.
The first proper travelling post office (a converted horse box), in which the mail could be sorted, ran between Birmingham and Warrington on the Grand Junction Railway in January 1838. This was so successful that specially-designed railway wagons were produced, and the system expanded rapdily and by 1939 there were over 70 day and night TPOs running on the national network. In the late 19th century the TPOs were specially timed to coincide with the ships which carried foreign mail, the 'Irish Mail' running from London to Holyhead, which also carried mail for the USA from 1895, and the 'Continental' TPO from London to Dover. The South Western TPO ran to Southampton and the Portsmouth Sorting Carriage was particularly important for conveying mail to Queen Victoria when she was at Osborne on the Isle of Wight.
Whilst early TPOs consisted of one or two carriages added to ordinary passenger service trains, in 1855 'Special Mails' were introduced. These consisted of trains solely devoted to the carriage and sorting of mail, and were easily identified later by the bright red and yellow livery. Although most ran at night they could often be seen during the day in the sidings outside their terminus station awaiting the evening run. Even in the 1980s there were 42 TPOs employing 650 staff and sorting up to 1.25 million letters a night - 5% of all first class mail. The TPO crews were a special breed, many of them having worked on the system for virtually their whole employment with Royal Mail.
Despite the construction of a new road/rail interchange northwest of London, industrial action by railway workers, accidents, and the deterioration of the rail network (with enforced slow running and safety closures) combined to make the railways an unreliable service during the 1990s, forcing Royal Mail to rely increasingly on its road and inland air network. The South East, South Wales and East Anglian TPOs ran for the last time on 25 July 2003. Over the 8/9th January 2004 the North West, North East, Bristol-Penzance, Great Western, and Midland TPOs had their last runs in both directions, the final one to run being the Bristol-Penzance.Centenary of the first British stamp booklet
Pane 1: as shown below, contains Scotland 68p & 2nd class stamps, the page illustration showing a steam train.
Pane 2: This pane is illustrated with an old picture of the interior of a TPO, with the 28p, 'E' and 42p stamps from the Classic Locomotives set issued in January.
The book is printed by De La Rue with all panes in gravure except pane 2 (Classic Locomotives) which is in lithography. The Scotland country stamps are in the revised 2003 style with white borders.
All images are taken from Royal Mail's Philatelic Bulletin and Postmark Bulletin, and are Copyright 2003 by Royal Mail.
These postmarks were available for the date of issue and all should be available on first day covers. However some will be more plentiful than others, and some may only be available on specific 'official covers', with a very few on PO fdcs in collections. It may be many years before these appear on the resale market.
| Ref FD411
Philatelic Bureau Official postmark Stamp Book Centenary
| Ref FD412
London NW10 official postmark
| Ref N8971
The Night Mail - The Travelling Post Office, York
| Ref M8991
Letters by Night, New Street, Birmingham
| Ref S8993
Royal Scot Class, LMS 6128 Meteor, Glasgow
| Ref W9000
Letters by Night Bristol (wrongly captioned 'Final Journey of the TPO': this was in January)
| Ref W9001
Letters by Night, Bristol
| Ref N9019
The Travelling Post Office, Letters by Night Newcastle
| Ref N9020
The Travelling Post Office, Letters by Night Crewe
| Ref N9021
The Travelling Post Office, Letters by Night Carlisle
The Travelling Post Office, Letters by Night Edinburgh
The Travelling Post Office, Letters by Night, Euston, London NW1
This page updated 8 March 2004 [17.1.05]
|13 January Classic Steam Locomotives||30 January Hong Kong Stamp Expo 2004 Smilers Sheet||3 February Occasions/Greetings stamps and Smilers sheet||26 February Lord of the Rings||16 March A British Journey - Northern Ireland
Letters by Night Prestige Book (TPOs)
|1 April New definitives, including airmail postcard book of stamps||6 April Centenary of the Entente Cordiale||13 April Ocean Liners||11 May 40p Country definitives||25 May Royal Horticultural Society|
|15 June British Journey - Wales||29 July Rule Britannia Smilers Sheet||10 August Royal Society of Arts||16 September Woodland Animals||5 October Scottish Parliament Building|
|12 October Crimean War||2 November Father Christmas|