Since the dawn of time, people have needed to get things from one place to another. However, over time the job that they once undertook themselves has become something that can be outsourced to another individual or company to courier almost anything to a destination on behalf of the sender.
The history of the precursor of the courier service as we know it today in the UK can easily be traced back to the 1500s when goods were “couriered” from one place to another by carriage. This was a service used only by the rich and powerful.
Today, this is obviously not the case, but to understand how far the courier services have progressed, we give you a potted history of courier services in the UK.
In 1516, The Royal Mail was established by Henry VIII. However, this service was exclusively for Royal use. In 1603, James VI ascended the throne and established a royal postal service that ran between London and Edinburgh. This was followed in 1635 by the creation of a public Royal Mail service by Charles I. Postage for this service was purchased by the recipient, who had to pay for the distance the post had travelled.
The General Post Office was established in 1660 and became fully available to the public. In these early days, letters were delivered from one post to another by hand or on horseback. Highwaymen often set upon postboys, and as a result, many began to package correspondence as parcels for delivery by carriage in order to avoid this.
In 1820, a significant change made a massive difference to the delivery of items. A move to the railway gave rise to significant improvements in the speed at which letters could be delivered. By 1850, all correspondence was being delivered this way, with the carriage as a form of courier vehicle being rendered obsolete. The first postage stamps, paid for by the sender, came into circulation at this time, making the service even more efficient. The suggestion of a parcel post service was made in 1842. However, parcels were still being delivered by stagecoach for many more years.
In 1883 Queen Victoria’s reign gave proper organisation to parcel post. Post offices had parcel scales installed, and a deal was made with the railways for the smoother delivery of parcels. Improvements were made to post routes so that no one was carrying too heavy a load, and postmen were issued with carts to help accommodate the growing number of parcels.
By 1980, it was estimated that around 175 million parcels were being delivered annually, by around 27,000 vehicles and from 30 sorting centres nationwide. In 2006, possibly the most important change in courier services took place. The Royal Mail monopoly on parcel delivery ended, and the market opened up to private courier companies.
It is believed that there are now in excess of 15,695 courier companies operating within the UK. Delivering parcels within city centres and all over the country by van and with faster turnaround times than ever has never been easier.
Plus, with the introduction of technology, it’s now easier than ever to find real-time couriers for almost any load. While it has taken some time for high-tech courier services in the UK to develop, it’s definitely here to stay.