The Beatles. Cream Teas. Test Match Special. Great Britain is an amalgam of universal cultural touchstones and remarkable history.
The origins of Great Britain can be traced back to the time of Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan, Alfred the Great’s grandson, who in the early 10th century secured the obedience of neighbouring Celtic tribes and became, “The first to rule what previously many kings shared between them,” in the words of a contemporary chronicle.
Over the following centuries, through subsequent conquest, further lands came under English rule. Wales, a cluster of kingdoms to the southwest, was united with England by the Acts of Union of 1536 and 1542. Scotland, under the rule of English monarchy since 1603, similarly joined with England (and Wales) in 1707 to form the United Kingdom. And Ireland joined too, during the 1600s and was united with Great Britain through the Act of Union of 1800. In 1922, the republic of Ireland gained its independence but six of Ulster’s nine counties remained part of the United Kingdom, as Northern Ireland.
The story of the stamp begins in the 12th century with Henry I, who appointed sharp and sartorial messengers to carry messages for the government. In 1516, Henry VIII created the exclusive and elitist Royal Mail and it wasn’t until the reign of Charles I that the Royal Mail became available to the public with a system of post roads, houses, and staff. In subsequent years, the postal system expanded to a network covering the entire country, with post offices assembled in both considerable and less important towns, each boasting its own postmark. The Great Post Office Reform and the introduction of sticky postage stamps in 1840, championed by Sir Rowland Hill, and the establishment of an efficient postal system throughout the British Empire, laid the foundation for many national postal systems still in existence today.
The postal history of Great Britain then is also the history of the various territories found across the globe – and it’s equally responsible for the face and shape of postage and stamps as we know it today, both at home and abroad.