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Inland Telegram Rates 1870-1982


1969 wedding congratulations telegram paid 9s 1d – 17 chargeable words at 5s for the first 12
+ 2s 1d for the next 5 + 2s for the use of a "de luxe" pictorial form

Electric telegraph systems were in use commercially from the late 1830s, and expanded considerably in scope after they were nationalised under Post Office control from 1870. For the next century the service continued to be offered, although subject to considerable decline as the telephone system became more widespread.

On 1st October 1981, the various telecommunications aspects of the Post Office were split from the postal aspects with the formation of British Telecom as a completely separate public corporation, and this included the telegram service. In early 1982 a "Telemessage" service was introduced (a message dictated by phone or telex, charged in blocks of 50 words, and sent by first class post, guaranteed to arrive the following day), and from October this completely replaced the inland telegram service.

Fees for telegrams were normally paid by means of postage stamps attached to or embossed on the form on which the telegram was written (except in 1876-81 when special telegraph stamps were used). These were supposed to be pulped as security scrap, but significant numbers of fine used stamps were removed from them for the philatelic market, and occasional complete forms (and some large batches of them) have survived and found their way onto the collector market. Hence a listing of the charges may be useful.

Telegrams were charged according to the number of "chargeable words", which could differ from the number of actual words as there were complicated rules for such things as multi-word names that might or might not be counted as one word, and how many digits in a number constituted a word. Fortunately, as the number of chargeable words was written on the form, it should not be necessary to know the rules to interpret a rate. For the details, see the Post Office Guides.

The table below covers UK inland telegrams only (while postal rates to the Republic of Ireland were the same as UK inland in this period, this did not apply to telegrams). There were quite a number of paid services in connection with telegrams, and the columns below cover the following:

  • Ordinary – a standard telegram transmitted to the delivery office and delivered by a telegraph messenger.
  • Sunday – extra fee charged when a telegram was handed in on a Sunday.
  • Priority – extra fee charged for priority treatment at all stages, using a special envelope.
  • Greetings – extra fee for using artistically designed forms of a celebratory nature. There were a wide range of designs, including special types for weddings and Valentines, some described as "deluxe".
  • Overnight – reduced fee for a telegram accepted on condition that its transmission and/or delivery could be deferred, usually until the following morning.

Where no rate is shown, that service was not offered in that period (for example, Greetings telegrams were suspended during the war and not available again until 1950).

There were other fees for services such as reply paid telegrams, business reply telegrams, and telegrams to multiple addresses which are not shown – a line had to be drawn somewhere! Also omitted are a few special rates to offshore islands in the very early years.

Date Ordinary Sunday Priority Greetings Overnight
1870
(5 Feb)
1s - 20 words
3d each extra 5 words
1885
(1 Oct)
6d - 12 words
½d each extra word
1915
(1 Nov)
9d - 12 words
½d each extra word
1920
(1 Sep)
1s - 12 words
1d each extra word
6d extra
1935
(31 May)
6d - 9 words
1d each extra word
6d extra 6d extra
1935
(24 Jul)
6d - 9 words
1d each extra word
6d extra 6d extra 3d extra
1940
(1 Jul)
9d - 9 words
1d each extra word
6d extra 6d extra 3d extra
1943
(1 May)
9d - 9 words
1d each extra word
6d extra 6d extra
1943
(19 Jul)
1s - 9 words
1d each extra word
6d extra 6d extra
1950
(20 Nov)
1s - 9 words
1d each extra word
6d extra 6d extra 2s - 12 words
1d each extra word
1951
(1 Jul)
1s 6d - 12 words
1½d each extra word
9d extra 9d extra 6d extra
1954
(1 Aug)
3s - 12 words
3d each extra word
1s 6d extra 1s extra 6d extra 1s 6d - 12 words
1½d each extra word
1957
(1 Mar)
3s - 12 words
3d each extra word
1s 6d extra 1s extra Standard: 6d extra
Birthday: 6d extra
Wedding: 2s extra
1s 6d - 12 words
1½d each extra word
1959
(14 Feb)
3s - 12 words
3d each extra word
1s 6d extra 1s extra Standard: 6d extra
De luxe: 2s extra
1s 6d - 12 words
1½d each extra word
1963
(29 Apr)
5s - 12 words
5d each extra word
2s 6d extra 2s extra Standard: 6d extra
De luxe: 2s extra
2s 6d - 12 words
2½d each extra word
1971
(15 Feb)
25p - 12 words
2p each extra word
12½p extra 10p extra Standard: 2½p extra
De luxe: 10p extra
12½p - 12 words
1p each extra word
1973
(15 Oct)
40p - 10 words
4p each extra word
25p extra 20p extra 30p - 10 words
1p each extra word
1974
(12 Aug)
60p - 10 words
5p each extra word
35p extra 30p extra 40p - 10 words
2p each extra word
1975
(28 Apr)
30p + 5p per word 45p extra 40p extra 20p + 3p per word
1975
(1 Oct)
70p + 7p per word 45p extra 40p extra 50p + 4p per word
1980
(1 Apr)
£1 + 10p per word 60p extra 50p extra 50p + 5p per word
1981
(1 Apr)
£1.50 + 15p per word 50p extra 75p + 7½p per word
1981
(26 Oct)
£1.50 + 15p per word 50p extra
1982
(1 Apr)
£2.00 + 16p per word 50p extra
1982
(1 Jun)
£1.50 + 15p per word 50p extra
1982
(30 Sep)
Last day of inland telegram service