Railway Letter Rates 1891-1971

30th May 1952: 4d third step postage for 4-6oz + 2x10d old GWR railway parcel stamps paying 1s 8d maximum rate for 4oz-1lb, collected from Birkenhead station (Mark Samwell collection)

A "railway letter" is a letter handed to a railway company at a station, to be conveyed by the first available train(s) to a destination station. From there, it could be collected from the station, put in the normal post (often fast enough in the days of multiple daily deliveries in towns) or sent on as an express letter. They were authorised by an agreement between the railway companies and the Post Office that came in force on 1st February 1891.

At first, this applied only to inland letters at the minimum weight step ("single post letters"), which meant that the maximum weight allowed varied with the changes in letter post. In 1938 the system was extended to heavier letters with fixed weight steps unconnected to the letter rate steps. Letters to overseas were allowed from 1909.

Railway letters had to have the normal postage paid, plus a railway company stamp for their fee. The original idea was that this should be twice the basic letter rate, although from 1918 rates were often out of step, and from 1928-38 letters carried on a railway in Northern Ireland at any point had a higher rate than ones carried only within Great Britain.

The 1891 railway letter stamps were supposed to conform to a standard design set by the Post Office. Most did (although naturally some companies "did their own thing"). From about 1925 the railways seem to have been allowed to use their standard parcel stamps instead, and these rapidly replaced letter stamps, which did not reappear until the spread of private "heritage" railways from the 1950s onwards. This allowed letters posted on these railways to be sent to any station on the nationalised British Railways network (although rates were set by BR).

Yet to be tracked down: At some point between 1945 and 1959, differing rates for Northern Ireland (and the Isle of Man) were reintroduced. National railway letter rates continued into the decimal currency period, until BR withdrew from the agreement in 1984. These rates will be added when possible.

Date Rates Date Rates Date Rates Date Rates
(1 Feb)
2d - 1oz 1897
(22 Jun)
2d - 4oz 1915
(1 Nov)
2d - 1oz 1918
(3 Jun)
2d - 4oz
(15 Jan)
3d - 4oz 1920
(1 Jun)
3d - 3oz 1920
(1 Sep)
4d - 3oz 1922
(29 May)
4d - 1oz
(14 May)
4d - 2oz 1928
(1 Jan)
GB: 3d - 2oz

NI:  4d - 2oz

(1 Mar)
3d - 2oz
6d - 4oz
9d - 1lb
(1 May)
3d - 2oz
7d - 4oz
10d - 1lb
(1 Dec)
4d - 2oz
7d - 4oz
11d - 1lb
(1 Jul)
4d - 2oz
8d - 4oz
1s - 1lb
(1 Oct)
5d - 2oz
9d - 4oz
1s 2d - 1lb
(15 May)
6d - 2oz
11d - 4oz
1s 4d - 1lb
(16 Apr)
7d - 2oz
1s - 4oz
1s 6d - 1lb
(31 Dec)
8d - 2oz
1s 1d - 4oz
1s 8d - 1lb
(1 Dec)
8d - 2oz
1s 2d - 4oz
1s 9d - 1lb
(1 Mar)
9d - 2oz
1s 3d - 4oz
1s 11d - 1lb
(5 Jun)
10d - 2oz
1s 5d - 4oz
2s 2d - 1lb
(23 Apr)
11d - 2oz
1s 6d - 4oz
2s 4d - 1lb
(1 Feb)
1s - 2oz
1s 8d - 4oz
2s 7d - 1lb
(1 Feb)
1s - 2oz
1s 9d - 4oz
2s 8d - 1lb
(30 Jan)
1s 1d - 2oz
1s 10d - 4oz
2s 10d - 1lb
(1 Jul)
1s 2d - 2oz
1s 10d - 4oz
2s 10d - 1lb
(26 May)
1s 3d - 2oz
2s 2d - 4oz
3s 4d - 1lb
(6 Sep)
2s - 2oz
3s - 4oz
4s - 1lb