Royal Mail is delivering a return to the dark ages

THE final failure of the judicial review to save our local Belsize post offices – and many others countrywide – brings to mind the famous saying: History first enacts itself as tragedy and then repeats itself as farce . The tragedy has been the sheer i

THE final failure of the judicial review to save our local Belsize post offices - and many others countrywide - brings to mind the famous saying: "History first enacts itself as tragedy and then repeats itself as farce".

The "tragedy" has been the sheer inconvenience, and sometimes the genuine suffering, caused by these arbitrary closures, which have accelerated the deliberate run-down of this great public service. That has been followed by the farce of the complete inability of our elected Parliament and the efforts of two London mayors to render the clowns in charge of Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd the strength of public feeling on this matter.

The whole sorry episode sends us back to the resistance encountered by Sir Rowland Hill, a Belsize Park resident in 1840, when he was inventor of the marvellous Penny Post, in the teeth of opposition from both Parliament and the Post Office of his day.

A description of his achievement runs: "We can hardly conceive now the state of England when letters were paid for by the persons who received them... there were areas as big as a good-sized county in 19th century England where postmen were unknown, and towns of 10,000 people without a post office.


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"Indeed posting letters was so complicated, slow and costly, that nobody used the post if he could find any other way of sending a letter... the greatest enemy to reform was the Post Office itself. It was a secret service made expensive by innumerable inside processes which nobody outside understood, but which it regarded as sacred. When Rowland Hill set himself the task of studying the letter business, he was refused admission to the Post Office and had to gather his information from a close examination of the reports and accounts."

Have we come full circle when Post Office Ltd refuses to disclose the accounts of local sub-post offices which they are closing despite five years of continuous and vociferous protest from angry customers - and call that "consultation with the public"?

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Rowland Hill won, however, because he had the backing of the public and he did the maths. His achievement of the first-in-the-world cheap, standard rate, prepaid postage was lauded for a century as "an immense success, not only a solace to myriads of hearts and an ever-ready aid to business but also one of the most urgent spurs to education, for which it provided an immediate test - the reading and writing of a letter".

Hill eventually got his knighthood, also. Where is today's tenacious and principled figure who will rescue us from the chaos into which the apathy of Westminster and the secretive manoevres of Old Street have dropped us?

GENE ADAMS, ALAN BROWNJOHN,

DR ROBERT ILSON

Belsize Post Office Action Group, NW3

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