|Dissolved||1 October 1969|
|Headquarters||General Post Office,|
St Martin's le Grand,
|Parent agency||Her Majesty's Government|
The General Post Office (GPO)  was the state postal system and telecommunications carrier of the United Kingdom until 1969. Before the Acts of Union 1707, it was the postal system of the Kingdom of England, established by Charles II in 1660.  Similar General Post Offices were established across the British Empire. In 1969 the GPO was abolished and the assets transferred to The Post Office, changing it from a Department of State to a statutory corporation. In 1980, the telecommunications and postal sides were split prior to British Telecommunications' conversion into a totally separate publicly owned corporation the following year as a result of the British Telecommunications Act 1981. For the more recent history of the postal system in the United Kingdom, see the articles Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd.
Originally, the GPO was a state monopoly covering the dispatch of items from a specific sender to a specific receiver, which was to be of great importance when new forms of communication were invented. The creation of the General Post Office, also then known as the General Letter Office, was legislated for by the Parliament of England after The Restoration, which returned the British Isles to monarchy under the House of Stuart. The postal service was known as the Royal Mail because it was built on the distribution system for royal and government documents. An earlier system had been set up under the republican Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1657 under a Postmaster General, whose office was created anew in 1661 and existed until its abolition, along with the GPO itself, by the Post Office Act 1969.
In the medieval period, a permanent body of messengers was formed within the Royal Household of King Henry I and by the reign of Edward IV a network of post houses was in place (albeit not on a permanent footing) to enable riders to deliver messages around the country on behalf of the king, his ministers and nobles.  Under King Henry VIII there was a concerted effort to maintain a regular system for the conveyance of royal and government despatches, and Henry appointed an official (the 'Master of the Postes') to oversee it. Both state and private couriers made use of the post-house network.
At this time a well-established system for the conveyance of foreign dispatches was being run by Flemish merchants in the City of London, but in 1558, after a dispute arose between Italian, Flemish and English merchants on the matter, the Master of the King's Posts was granted oversight of it instead.
It was not until around a hundred years later that a general or public post was properly established for inland letters, as for foreign ones.  In the meantime the horse post infrastructure was significantly improved: by the end of the reign of Elizabeth I there were a number of post roads in place (including between London and Edinburgh, London and Liverpool, London and Holyhead (from where the packets sailed to Ireland), London and Bristol, and London and Dover (providing access to the continent). Following the Union of the Crowns in 1603 the route between London and Edinburgh became very busy, and the King declared that post-houses between London and Edinburgh were to be staffed and horsed night and day for the purposes of conveying mail, with provision made for the exchange of correspondence at major towns on the way. From 1635 postmasters were obliged to give royal couriers priority in the provision both of horses and of accommodation; and two years later a monopoly was established which was to remain in place for nearly 370 years, preventing (with few exceptions) anyone not employed by the King's Chief Postmaster from carrying and delivering letters on another's behalf.
In 1657 a Commonwealth Act entitled Postage of England, Scotland and Ireland Settled set up a system for the British Isles (which had been unified under Oliver Cromwell as a result of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms), stating that 'there shall be one General Post-Office, and one office stiled the Postmaster-Generall of England and Comptroller of the Post-Office'.  The Act also reasserted the postal monopoly for letter delivery and for post horses. After the Restoration in 1660, a further Act (12 Car II, c.35) confirmed this and the post of Postmaster General (the previous Cromwellian Act being void), while emphasizing the public and economic benefits of a General Post system: 
"Whereas for the maintainance of mutual correspondencies, and prevention of many inconveniences happening by private posts, several public post-offices have been heretofore erected for carrying and recarrying of letters by post to and from all parts and places within England, Scotland, and Ireland, and several posts beyond the seas, the well-ordering whereof is a matter of general concernment, and of great advantage, as well for the preservation of trade and commerce as otherwise".
In due course, the General Post Office created a network of post offices where senders could submit items. All post was transferred from the post office of origination to distribution points called sorting stations, and from there the post was then sent on for delivery to the receiver of the post. Initially it was the recipient of the post who paid the fee, and he had the right to refuse to accept the item if he did not wish to pay. The charge was based on the distance the item had been carried so the GPO had to keep a separate account for each item.
In 1680 William Dockwra and Robert Murray founded the Penny Post in London, which enabled letters and parcels to be sent cheaply to and from destinations in and around London and the surrounding area (within a ten-mile radius). The Penny Post letter-carriers operated from six main offices around London, which were supplemented by 'receiving houses' in all the principal streets in the area, where members of the public could post items. Deliveries were made six or eight times a day in central London (and a minimum of four times a day in the outskirts).  The innovation was a great success, and similar Penny Post arrangements were subsequently established in several of the provincial towns. Within two years, however, a court ruling obliged the London Penny Post to come under the authority of the Postmaster General. Whilst part of the GPO, the London Penny Post (later the 'Two-penny Post') continued to operate independently of the General (or 'Inland') Post until as late as 1854, when the two systems were finally combined.
A Scottish Post Office was established in 1695, under King William II; in 1710 the Scottish and English establishments were united by statute.  By virtue of the same Act of Parliament (the Post Office (Revenues) Act 1710), the functions of the 'general letter office and post office' in the City of London were set out, and the establishment of 'chief letter offices' in Edinburgh, Dublin, New York and the Leeward Islands was enjoined. In 1784 an Act was passed by the Parliament of Ireland providing for the independent operation of the Post Office in Ireland under its own Postmaster General. 
The established post roads in Britain ran to and from London. The use of other roads required government permission (for example, it was only after much lobbying that a 'cross-post' between Bristol and Exeter was authorised, in 1698; previously mail between the two cities had to be sent via London).  In 1720 Ralph Allen took over responsibility for the cross-posts (i.e. postal deliveries and collections aside from those on the main post roads out of London). He greatly expanded the network of post towns served by the General Post, and at the same time did much to reform its workings.
In the 1780s, Britain's General Post network was revolutionised by John Palmer's idea of using mail coaches in place of the longstanding use of post horses. After initial resistance from the postal authorities, a trial took place in 1784, after which the conveyance of letters by mail coach, under armed guard, was approved by Act of Parliament.  In 1830 mail was carried by train for the first time, on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway; over the next decade the railways replaced mail coaches as the principal means of conveyance. The first Travelling Post Office was introduced in 1837, and these began to be widely used enabling mail to be sorted in transit. 
In 1838 the Money Order Office was established, to provide a secure means of transferring money to people in different parts of the country (or world), and to discourage people from sending cash by post.  The money order system had first been introduced as a private enterprise by three Post Office clerks in 1792, with the permission of the Postmaster General. Alongside money orders, postal orders were introduced in 1881, which were cheaper and easier to cash.  Postal orders and money orders were vital at this time for transactions between small businesses, as well as individuals, because bank transfer facilities were only available to major businesses and for larger sums of money. 
In 1840 the Uniform Penny Post was introduced, which incorporated the two key innovations of a uniform postal rate, which cut administrative costs and encouraged use of the system, and adhesive pre-paid stamp. Packets (weighing up to 16 ounces (450 g)) could also be sent by post, the cost of postage varying with the weight.  A book post service was introduced in 1848, and parcel post in 1883. 
The first general post office in London opened in 1643,  just 8 years after King Charles I legalised use of the royal posts for private correspondence.  It was probably on Cloak Lane near Dowgate Hill.  Coffee houses in the City such as Lloyd's and Garraway's organised private transport of mail among their patrons. The Royal Mail (which, following its legalisation, held a nominal monopoly on such delivery services) moved its headquarters to Lombard Street in the City in 1678 to better curtail such practices. 
After purchasing adjacent property in the centre of London's financial district gradually became prohibitively expensive, the General Post Office purchased slums on the east side of St. Martin's Le Grand and cleared them to establish a new headquarters, Britain's first purpose-built mail facility. The new General Post Office building, designed with Grecian ionic porticoes by Sir Robert Smirke, was built between 1825 and 1829, ran 400 feet (120 m) long and 80 feet (24 m) deep, and was lit with a thousand gas burners at night.  Afterwards 'St. Martin's Le Grand' began to be used as a metonym for the General Post Office (a usage which continued well into the 20th century). 
In the 1840s there were four branch offices in London: one in the City at Lombard Street; two in the West End at Charing Cross and Old Cavendish Street near Oxford Street; and one south of the Thames in Borough High Street. 
In 1874, a new headquarters building ('GPO West') was opened on the western side of the street, containing a suite of public rooms and offices for the Postmaster General, the senior officials and all their administrative staff. This left Smirke's building ('GPO East') to function mainly as a sorting office. The upper floors of the new building housed the GPO's newly-acquired telegraph department; but as this fast expanded, more space was needed and in the 1890s a separate new headquarters building was opened ('GPO North'), immediately to the north of the telegraph building. This remained the headquarters of the GPO, and then of the Post Office, until 1984. 
In the early 20th century various different departments of the General Post Office (most of which had begun their days in St Martin's Le Grand) were provided with their own headquarters in different parts of London: the Post Office Savings Bank was in Blythe House, West Kensington; the Postal and Money Order office in Manor Gardens, off Holloway Road; the Stores Department was in Studd Street, Islington and the Telephone Department in Queen Victoria Street (in what became the Faraday Building).  In 1910 the King Edward Building was opened on King Edward Street (immediately to the west of GPO North) to serve as the new 'London Chief Office' in place of Smirke's GPO East; the latter was then demolished two years later.
When new forms of communication came into existence in the 19th and early 20th centuries the GPO claimed monopoly rights on the basis that like the postal service they involved delivery from a sender and to a receiver. The theory was used to expand state control of the mail service into every form of electronic communication possible on the basis that every sender used some form of distribution service.[ citation needed ] These distribution services were considered in law as forms of electronic post offices. This applied to telegraph and telephone switching stations.
In the mid-19th century several private telegraph companies were established in the UK. The Telegraph Act 1868 granted the Postmaster General the right to acquire inland telegraph companies in the United Kingdom and the Telegraph Act 1869 conferred on the Postmaster General a monopoly in telegraphic communication in the UK. The responsibility for the 'electric telegraphs' was officially transferred to the GPO in 1870. Overseas telegraphs did not fall within the monopoly. The private telegraph companies that already existed were bought out. The new combined telegraph service had 1,058 telegraph offices in towns and cities and 1,874 offices at railway stations. 6,830,812 telegrams were transmitted in 1869 producing revenue of £550,000. 
London's Central Office in the first decade of nationalized telegraphy created two levels of service. High-status circuits catering to the state, international trade, sporting life, and imperial business. Low-status circuits directed toward the local and the provincial. These distinct telegraphic orbits were connected to different types of telegraph instruments operated by differently gendered telegraphists. 
The Telegraph Office was slightly damaged by a German bomb in 1917 and in 1940, was set alight during the London Blitz, destroying much of the interior. It reopened in 1943. By the 1950s, the volume of telegraph traffic had declined and the Telegraph Office closed in 1963. In 1984, a new BT Centre was opened on the site. 
The Post Office commenced its telephone business in 1878, however the vast majority of telephones were initially connected to independently run networks. In December 1880, the Post Master General obtained a court judgement that telephone conversations were, technically, within the remit of the Telegraph Act. The General Post Office then licensed all existing telephone networks.
The effective nationalisation of the UK telecommunications industry occurred in 1912 with the takeover of the National Telephone Company which left only a few municipal undertakings independent of the GPO (in particular the Hull Telephones Department (now privatised) and the telephone system of Guernsey). The GPO took over the company on 1 January 1912; transferring 1,565 exchanges and 9,000 employees at a cost of £12,515,264.
The GPO installed several automatic telephone exchanges from several vendors in trials at Darlington on 10 October 1914 and Dudley on 9 September 1916 (rotary system), Fleetwood (relay exchange from Sweden), Grimsby (Siemens), Hereford (Lorimer) and Leeds (Strowger).  The GPO then selected the Strowger system for small and medium cities and towns.
The telephone systems of Jersey and the Isle of Man, obtained from the NTC were offered for sale to the respective governments of the islands. Both initially refused, but the States of Jersey did eventually take control of their island's telephones in 1923.
On 27 July 1896, Guglielmo Marconi gave the first demonstration of wireless telegraphy from the roof of the Telegraph Office in St. Martin's Le Grand.
The development of radio links for sending telegraphs led to the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1904, which granted control of radio waves to the General Post Office, who licensed all senders and receivers. This placed the Post Office in a position of control over radio and television broadcasting as those technologies were developed.
In 1922 a group of radio manufacturers formed the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), which was the sole organisation granted a broadcasting licence by the GPO. In 1927, the original BBC was dissolved and reformed by royal charter as the British Broadcasting Corporation.
From the start the GPO had trouble with competitive pirate radio broadcasters who found ways to deliver electronic messages to British receivers without first obtaining a GPO licence. These competitors were well aware of the fact that the GPO would never grant them such a licence. To police these unlicensed stations the GPO evolved its own force of detectives and "detector vans".
The radio regulation functions were transferred to the Independent Broadcasting Authority and later Ofcom. Due to its regulatory role, as well as its expertise in developing long-distance communication networks, the GPO was contracted by the BBC, and the ITA in the 1950s and 60s, to develop and extend their television networks. A network of transmitters was built, connected at first by cable, and later by microwave radio links. The Post Office also took responsibility for the issuing of television licence fees (and radio, until 1971), and the prosecution of evaders until 1991.
The GPO wished to standardise on the Strowger switch (also called SXS or step-by step) but the basic SXS exchange was not suitable for a large city like London until the Director telephone system was developed by the Automatic Telephone Manufacturing Company in the 1920s. The first London Director exchange, HOLborn, cutover on 12 November 1927, BIShopgate and SLOane exchanges were to follow in six weeks, followed by WEStern and MONument exchanges. The London area contained 80 exchanges, and full conversion would take many years. 
All London customers were given seven-digit numbers, with the first three digits spelling out the (local) exchange name. In March 1966 after all London (and other Director) exchanges were automatic, all-figure dialling was introduced.
The Director system enabled the London network to operate with both automatic and manual exchanges in the local network until the 1960s and it was subsequently installed in other large British cities; starting with Manchester (1930), then Birmingham (1931), Glasgow (1937), Liverpool (1941), and Edinburgh (1950). 
After the Second World War, there began to be an unprecedented demand for telephone services. In addition, there was the need to make comprehensive repairs, and upgrades to a network which had been severely degraded by war, and lack of investment. Waiting lists for new telephone lines quickly emerged, and persisted for several decades. To alleviate the situation, the Post Office began to provide shared service residential lines, each known as a party line , which could share a cable pair. Most of the line was shared between two subscribers usually splitting off to each within sight of the houses, and both lines attracted a small discount; however, this arrangement had its disadvantages.
At this time, the majority of lines in rural, and regional areas (particularly in Scotland and Wales) were still manually switched. This inhibited growth, and caused bottlenecks in the network, as well as being labour and cost-intensive. The Post Office began to introduce automatic switching, and replaced all of its 6,000 exchanges. Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) was also added from 1958, which allowed subscribers to dial their own long-distance calls.
Telecommunications services in the United Kingdom were reorganised as Post Office Telecommunications in October 1969; and then as British Telecom in 1980, although remaining part of the GPO until 1981.
The Post Office Savings Bank was introduced in 1861, when there were few banks outside major towns. By 1863, 2,500 post offices were offering a savings service. Gradually more financial services were offered by post offices, including government stocks and bonds in 1880, insurance and annuities in 1888, and war savings certificates in 1916. In 1909 old age pensions were introduced, payable at post offices.  In 1956 a lottery bond called the Premium Bond was introduced.
In the mid-1960s the GPO was asked by the government to expand into banking services which resulted in the creation of the National Giro. 
In 1969, the Post Office Savings Bank was transferred to the Treasury, and renamed National Savings. 
In 1831 the office of Postmaster General of Ireland was amalgamated with the equivalent office for Great Britain. The GPO thereafter operated throughout Great Britain and Ireland for the next 90 years. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, responsibility for posts and telegraphs in most of Ireland (but not in Northern Ireland) transferred to the new Provisional Government and then, upon the formal establishment of the Irish Free State in December 1922, to the Free State Government. A Postmaster General was initially appointed by the Free State Government, being replaced by the office of Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in 1924. An early visible manifestation was the repainting of all post boxes in the new Free State in green instead of red. In 1984 the Department of Posts and Telegraphs was replaced by the separate Irish state-owned companies An Post and Telecom Éireann.
The Bridgeman Committee, chaired by Lord Bridgeman, was set up in 1932 to investigate criticisms of the General Post Office and reported the same year.  It highlighted defects in the structure of the organisation. The Gardiner Committee, chaired by Sir Thomas Gardiner, was set up to investigate improvements in efficiency and reported in 1936. The report recommended the setting up of eight provincial regions outside London, [notes 1] and the introduction of the London Postal Region and London Telecommunications Region for the capital and surrounding area. The changes were implemented between 1936 and 1940.
Under the Post Office Act 1969, the assets of the Post Office were transferred from a government department with a royal charter to a statutory corporation. Responsibility for telecommunications was given to Post Office Telecommunications, the successor of the GPO Telegraph and Telephones department, with its own separate budget and management. A rebranding exercise also took place, with the word 'General' being dropped from the name. In 1975, the familiar striped 'Post Office' lettering was introduced, which continues to be in use by Royal Mail.
Jersey Post and Guernsey Post became independent in 1969, followed by Guernsey and Jersey Telecom in 1973. Isle of Man Post also commenced operation on 5 July 1973.
The British Telecommunications Act 1981 split off the telecommunications business to form the British Telecommunications corporation, leaving the Post Office corporation with the Royal Mail, parcels, Post Office Counters and National Giro businesses. British Telecommunications was converted to British Telecommunications plc in 1984, and was privatised. Girobank was divested to Alliance & Leicester in 1990.
As part of the Postal Services Act 2000, the businesses of the Post Office were transferred in 2001 to a public limited company, Consignia plc, which was quickly renamed Royal Mail Holdings plc. The government became the sole shareholder in Royal Mail Holdings plc and its subsidiary Post Office Ltd.
Finally, on 5 April 2007, the government published the Dissolution of the Post Office Order 2007, under which the old Post Office statutory corporation was formally abolished with effect from 1 May 2007.
During the Second World War, and for some years after, a department called the GPO Special Investigations Unit was responsible for intercepting letters ("postal interception") as part of British intelligence service operations. The unit had branches in every major sorting office in the UK and in St Martin's Le Grand GPO, near St Paul's Cathedral. Letters targeted for interception by the Special Investigations Unit were steamed open and the contents photographed, and the photographs were then sent in unmarked green vans to MI5. 
In 1868, as part of the Volunteer Movement, John Lowther du Plat Taylor, Private Secretary to the Postmaster General, raised the 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers Corps (Post Office Rifles) from GPO employees, who had been either members of the 21st Middlesex Rifles Volunteer Corps (Civil Service Rifles) or special constables enrolled to combat against Fenian attacks on London in 1867/68. 
The regiment was restyled 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers Corps (Post Office Rifles) in 1880 as part of the Cardwell Reforms.
‘M' Company, 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers Corps, was formed by royal warrant in 1882 as the Army Post Office Corps (APOC). This newly formed Army Reservist company saw active service providing a postal service to the British military expeditions to Egypt (1882), Suakin (1885) and the Anglo Boer War (1899–1902).  The APOC was eventually subsumed by the Royal Engineers in 1913 to re-emerge as the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) Special Reserve. The Postal Section provided the Army Postal Service (now British Forces Post Office) in the First and Second World Wars and in 1993 became the Postal & Courier Service Royal Logistic Corps.
In the second week of December 1869 the War Office declared that 22nd Company RE, commanded by Capt Charles Edmund Webber RE, was to be seconded to the GPO on telegraph duties. The first draft took up their appointments with the GPO in June 1870; Webber as South East District divisional engineer based in New Cross, London, his subalterns as district superintendents of the divisional engineer and the NCOs and sappers as inspectors and linesmen/signallers respectively. They received training at both the School of Military Engineering and the London School of Telegraphy and were for a time billeted at St John’s Woods Barracks, London. The following year the Chatham based 34th Company RE joined 22nd at the GPO. It deployed detachments to GPO offices in Inverness, Ipswich and Bristol. The Company HQ was principally based in Ipswich, but later moved to Bristol. The two companies operated the telegraph services in their respective districts. Exploiting the ‘wayleave’ agreements, struck for the laying of rail tracks forty years earlier, they further developed the national telegraph network by laying new lines to the more remote parts of the British Isles 
In 1883 the regiment raised 'L’ Company as a Telegraph Corps, a year later it was redesignated as the Telegraph Reserve Royal Engineers. Its role was to supplement the Regular Army's telegraph services operated by the Royal Engineers. 
After the Haldane Reforms the regiment kept its association with the Post Office and continued to recruit postal workers into the Territorial Force under its new title '8th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Post Office Rifles)' in 1908. It served as an infantry regiment in the First World War (1914–18). Sergeant Alfred Joseph Knight was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the Capture of Wurst Farm (20 September 1917). The regiment was disbanded in 1921.
During World War II the generation of engineers trained by the GPO for its telecommunications operations were to have important roles in the British development of radar and in code breaking. The Colossus computers used by Bletchley Park were designed and built by GPO engineer Tommy Flowers and his team at the Post Office Research Station in Dollis Hill.
In 1916, during World War I, the General Post Office, Dublin was a focus of the Easter Rising, during which the GPO served as the headquarters of the uprising's leaders. It was from outside this building on the 24th of April 1916, that Patrick Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.  The building was destroyed by fire in the course of the rebellion, save for the granite facade, and not rebuilt until 1929, by the Irish Free State government.
BT Group plc is a British multinational telecommunications holding company headquartered in London, England. It has operations in around 180 countries and is the largest provider of fixed-line, broadband and mobile services in the UK, and also provides subscription television and IT services.
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A post office is a public facility and a retailer that provides mail services, such as accepting letters and parcels, providing post office boxes, and selling postage stamps, packaging, and stationery. Post offices may offer additional services, which vary by country. These include providing and accepting government forms, and processing government services and fees. The chief administrator of a post office is called a postmaster.
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Mercury Communications was a national telephone company in the United Kingdom, formed in 1981 as a subsidiary of Cable & Wireless, to challenge the then-monopoly of British Telecom (BT). Although it proved only moderately successful at challenging BT's dominance, it led the way for new communication companies to attempt the same.
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St. Martin's Le Grand is a former liberty within the City of London, and is the name of a street north of Newgate Street and Cheapside and south of Aldersgate Street. It forms the southernmost section of the A1 road. For many years St. Martin's Le Grand was "often used as a synonym for the chief postal authorities, as Scotland Yard is used to designate the police", the headquarters of the General Post Office having been there from 1829-1984.
The Department of Posts, functioning under the brand name Sri Lanka Post, is a government operated postal system in Sri Lanka. The postal headquarters is the General Post Office which is located in Colombo. The department itself comes under the purview of the Ministry of Information and Mass Media. It was formerly known as the Ceylon Post and Telecommunications Department and is one of the oldest Government departments in existence today.
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The Orange Post Office is a heritage-listed post office located at 221 Summer Street, Orange, City of Orange, New South Wales, Australia. It was designed by Designed by the Colonial Architect’s Office under James Barnet and built by J. Douglas. The property is owned by Australia Post. It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 22 December 2000.
Old Wollongong East Post Office is a heritage-listed former post office, telegraph office and telephone exchange at 91 Crown Street, Wollongong, City of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. It was designed by the NSW Colonial Architect's Office and built from 1890 to 1892 by Messrs Banks and Whitehouse. Prior to 1968, it was also known as Wollongong Post and Telegraph Office or Wollongong Post Office. It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 24 January 2003.
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