Rates on Anglo-Scottish Mail 1660-1801


Postal Acts of Parliament (and other earlier authorities) set different schedules of rates for England and Wales and for Scotland before 1801, together with a charge for letters between London and Edinburgh. Other letters that crossed the border were typically subject to separate English and Scottish charges, although the method of charging was rarely stated clearly! Anglo-Scottish rates can thus sometimes be obscure.

Post Office provision within Scotland was very limited until the 18th century, with mail generally carried by the town letter carriers ("Burgh Posts").

Letters whose journey included both London and Edinburgh

These rates apply to letters between the two capitals, and for many country letters that were sent from and/or to a provincial town in England or Scotland, as the normal routing was via the appropriate capital city. Such country letters were charged two or three different rates – the London-Edinburgh rate plus the rates to and/or from the capitals. So for example a letter from Edinburgh to Dover would be charged the Edinburgh-London and London-Dover rates, whereas one from Dover to Aberdeen would be charged the Dover-London rate, the London-Edinburgh rate, and the Edinburgh-Aberdeen rate.

As with the internal country rates, this was straightforward (if potentially expensive) until the Acts of 1784 and 1797. The wording of these was ambiguous, adding an extra 1d or 2d to existing rates but without specifying what to do with letters subject to more than one charge – was the extra to be applied once (to the total charge for the whole journey), or two or three times (separately to the charges to and/or from the capitals)? From 1784 to 1797 rates seem to have been worked out on the latter basis, but from 1797 to 1801 on the former.

This resulted in a rather odd method of charging for Anglo-Scottish letters in 1797-1801. Since the extra penny was added to the London-Edinburgh charge by the Act, this meant that the rates for the provincial legs of the journey stayed the same – and were thus charged on the 1784 scale not the 1797 one. Scottish provincial rates were simply increased by 1d throughout with the same mileage bands, so in Scotland this simply means 1d less than the current rate between the town and Edinburgh. The mileage bands in England and Wales were changed, however, so the provincial rate on Anglo-Scottish letters was not necessarily 1d less than the rate between the town and London, which can be confusing!

Date Auth. Single Double Treble Ounce +ea.
Other rates to be added where relevant Notes
12 Cha 2 c.35 3d 6d 9d 1s +3d To/from Berwick "Packets of greater bulke" (apparently refers to writs etc) at 1s 6d per oz
(1 Jun)
9 Anne c.10 6d 1s 1s 6d 2s +6d To/from
London and Edinburgh
Packet (of writs etc) rate equal to oz rate from now on
(31 Aug)
24 Geo 3 s.2 c.37 7d 1s 2d 1s 9d 2s 4d +7d To/from
London and Edinburgh
(5 Jan)
37 Geo 3 c.18 8d 1s 4d 2s 2s 8d +8d To/from London and Edinburgh on 1784 scale See discussion for more detailed explanation

Letters whose journey did not include both capitals

1711-1801: approximate(!) map of Scottish mail routes

(Border areas) Rates the same as Edinburgh, whether sent via Carlisle or Berwick, if not passing through Edinburgh (1711-1801)
(Galloway, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire) Letters via Carlisle not to pay more than to Glasgow by way of Edinburgh (1784-1801)
The general principle here was, as usual, that letters paid English and Scottish charges for each leg of the journey, but there were a number of special rules to ensure that mail was not penalised for travelling by certain routes.

Dumfries acted as a forwarding office for letters routed directly from London, with those passing beyond paying an extra rate calculated from Dumfries not Edinburgh. Some mail from north-west England was sent via Carlisle and Glasgow in the early to mid 18th century, and from 1788 most letters for the West of Scotland were sent by this route.

For letters not handled by London, charges before 1784 were the sum of the charges to and from the border, with letters mostly routed via Berwick and Edinburgh.

Special rules

The 1711 Post Office Act contained a provision that charges to the towns lying between Dumfries or Cockburnspath and Edinburgh were to be the same as the rate from London to Edinburgh (this appears to have been codifying previous practice). This meant that most towns on or east of the Dumfries to Edinburgh road paid the same rates as Edinburgh, except for a few towns close to the capital whose letters were routed through it.

The 1784 charge from London to Edinburgh (or Dumfries, etc) was actually lower than the separate English and Scottish rates, so the Act had a clause that letters to and from the intermediate places should not pay more than letters between the capitals. Some places close to the Border paid lower charges, but generally the effect of this clause was that most English towns whose Scots mail did not pass through London paid the same rates as London from 1784 to 1801.

The 1784 Act also laid down a condition that letters via Carlisle for Glasgow and intermediate places should not pay more than for Glasgow by way of Edinburgh. This seems to have been interpreted as covering all towns in south-west Scotland where sent by this route (but if sent beyond Glasgow, they were rated as if via Edinburgh).

See map for an approximate explanation of the areas covered (based on an original by David Robinson).