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Mail was first carried by rail between Liverpool and Manchester in 1830, thus effecting a considerable saving of time. By 1838 it was realised that still more time could be saved if the mail were to be sorted en route. Thus it was that an experiment was carried out between Liverpool and Birmingham in January of that year. This was the birth of the travelling post office.
Postmarks. The interest in Travelling Post Offices is in their postmarks. Marks reading, for example, E/NR in a circle (Evening/Northern Railway) refer to the Grand Northern Railway (London - Preston) and were applied in the Inland Office in London to mail which was too late to be dealt with in the ordinary way and, therefore, sent to the TPO to be sorted. This letter was sent from London on 16 September 1845 to Macclesfield where it arrived the following day. Some of the earliest marks were actually used by the Travelling Post Offices were mis-sent marks.
Shown here is such a mark from the MIDLAND TPO DOWN (Bristol - Newcastle) reading ‘MISSENT-TO/ MIDLAND-R-P-O DOWN’. It was used on an 1856 letter from Bridge of Allan to Dewsbury marked ‘Immediate’. From the date stamps on the back we deduce that the letter left Bridge of Allan on 3rd November, reached Newcastle on the 4th and arrived in Dewsbury on the 5th. TPO vehicles had a letter box to receive mail posted at Railway Stations. Items of mail thus posted received the cancellation peculiar to that TPO.
One of the postmarks most frequently found is that of the Glasgow & Carlisle Sorting Tender. The train left Glasgow Central in the early evening and was a convenient service for the late posting of mail to the South. Shown here is a postcard addressed to a bank in Ashbourne posted on 18 November 1872. The postmark is the duplex with the number 159 for Glasgow.
Mail by Rail Overseas Other countries quickly followed Great Britain by introducing Travelling Post Offices. Here is a cover postmarked 30 April, 1877 on the Italian TPO between Ventimiglia and Genoa. In this case the TPO. postmark is a sorting mark, the stamp having been cancelled by a rectangular grille at the place of origin. The Decline and Fall of the Travelling Post Office
At one time every major country of the world had a comprehensive network of TPO routes. Today there are very few left and, of those which survive, their days are probably numbered. Here is a special cover to mark the last run of the BRISTOL – DERBY TPO on 30 September 1988.