The English postal reformer Rowland Hill was born in 1795 in Kidderminster (Worcestershire). His father managed a school in Birmingham. In 1807 Rowland Hill became a student-teacher at his father's school. As a sideline Rowland was an inventor, although most of his ideas were never used.
In 1827 the Hill family opened a school at Bruce Castle (now a museum) in North London. In 1833 he began to relinquish his duties as a teacher at Bruce Castle. He needed a new challenge and became interested in a project for the colonisation of South Australia. From 1834 till 1839 he was Secretary for the South Australian Commission, but he kept his interest in science and mechanics.
Postal system was in need of reform
In Britain at this time, sending letters was expensive. Postage fees were based on weight and the distance involved. Therefore postage had to be calculated for each letter, which had to be paid by the addressee and often receivers refused to pay. The postal system was in need of reform.
Rowland Hill wrote his piece "Postal Reform; its Importance and Practibility" in 1837 and gave it to Lord Melbourne. Hill wrote in his reform plan about the need for pre-printed envelopes and adhesive postage stamps. The Reform also called for a uniform low rate of one penny per half-ounce a letter. The basic plan of Rowland Hill was that sending a letter should be cheap. More letters would be sent and because of this and the uniform tariffs the sending costs per letter should drop dramatically. As the sender of a letter had to pay the postage the "refusal problem" was solved at the same time.
Adviser to the Treasury
After an appearance before a committee and further editions of his reform plan in 1839 his plans were accepted. A bill passed Government and was granted by Queen Victoria on 17 August 1839.
Rowland Hill was appointed as adviser to the Treasury to introduce the postal reforms. A competition brought more than 2600 suggestions and 250 design entries for "stamped covers and adhesive postage labels... for the security of such items against forgery, and convenience of their use".
None of the designs were accepted.
Queen Victoria on first postage stamp
Queen Victoria's portrait for the first postage stamp was taken from a medal designed by William Wyon. The pre-paid envelope was designed by Mulready.
Rowland Hill served at the Post Office from 1840-1842 and was made Secretary to the Postmaster General in 1846. In 1854 he became Secretary to the Post Office. Queen Victoria knighted Rowland Hill for his service to the Empire in 1860.
Sir Rowland Hill retired in 1864, in poor health. He died at his home in Hampstead in 1879 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
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