How efficient was the postal service in England in the 1830s?

For example, is it possible to estimate how long it would have taken for a letter to arrive if sent by a standard service from London to Nottingham in the 1830s?

2 Answers 2


I don't know about London to Nottingham in particular, but the fastest mail was transported on dedicated mail coaches. These saw improvements in speed thanks to better roads...

The following is from Her Majesty's Mails, William Lewins, (London, 1865), pg 145

Most of the post-roads were macadamized before the year 1820, and it was then that the service was in its highest state of efficiency. Accelerations in the speed of the coaches were made as soon as any road was finished on the new principle. From this time the average speed, including stoppages, was nine miles an hour, all but a furlong.

In terms of example travelling times, it goes on to list the following...

The fastest coaches (known as the "crack coaches" from this circumstance, as also from travelling on the best roads) were those, in 1836, running between London and Brighton, London and Shrewsbury (accomplishing 154 miles in 15 hours), London and Exeter (171 miles in 17 hours), London and Manchester (187 miles in 19 hours) and London and Holyhead (261 miles in 27 hours). On one occasion, the Devonport mail, travelling with foreign and colonial letters, accomplished the journey of 216 miles, including stoppages, in 21 hours and 14 minutes.

  • 2
    I don't live in England, but this doesn't sound any slower than I imagine it takes today. Unless the postal service back then took more than a day to process the mail before sending it.
    – Jack M
    Nov 29, 2015 at 23:56
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    @JackM: First class UK mail is generally delivered overnight, although sometimes items are delayed and no doubt there are some exceptions in the harder-to-reach parts of the country (by which I mean "Scottish Islands" rather than "anything north of Watford Gap"). So London-Brighton might well be about the same now as it was then, but London-Holyhead is probably faster now. And the last few miles are done differently now: I'd guess that the worst-case is better and the best-case is worse (because almost nobody gets more than one delivery a day now). Nov 30, 2015 at 12:37
  • A Top Gear (UK) episode had a letter posted from one end of the British Isles to the other and the presenters racing to beat its journey. You can see the story here. Implying that the speed of mail is indeed faster than in the days of horse drawn mail carriages. Nov 30, 2015 at 14:16

"Early-to-middle 19s century" is a bad time interval for this question, because it is evident that dramatic changes occured DURING this period, with the introduction of trains.

It is not surprising that the speed of delivery depended on the destination. Within (greater) London it was possible to exchange several messages in one day.

For delivery times to other destinations (in the middle of the 19th century) see this:


EDIT: In the very end of this text one can read for example:

Letters, however posted in London and sub-districts between the hours of 7 and 9 p.m. on Saturday, are forwarded to the travelling post-offics, and reach their several destinations in time for delivery on Monday morning.

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    Maybe I'm being stupid or some Javascript isn't working, but I can't find information about travel times outside London on that page you link to. It contains a lot of text, if I've just overlooked the relevant part perhaps you could indicate what to search for on it? Nov 30, 2015 at 12:34
  • @Steve Jessop: just read the text carefully.
    – Alex
    Nov 30, 2015 at 14:36

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