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Shipping and Delivery Industry - Little Known Facts

Shipping and Delivery Industry - Little Known Facts

By Liz Coulson, January 4th 2019

National Trivia Day is a fun day to top up your general knowledge and astound your friends with little-known facts. Here are some interesting facts about the shipping and delivery industry, that might one day save you and your team in the local pub quiz.

Courier Origin

The word "courier" is derived from the Latin word, "currere" which simply means "to run"1. The definition probably isn't appropriate for the couriers we know today, but before transport existed, runners were used to deliver a message, or item, from one person to another.

Quick Fact

"Courier" comes from the Latin word, "currere" which simply means "to run"

One of the most famous examples of a courier, or runner, is Pheidippides2. He ran 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to deliver the message that the Persians were defeated by the Spartans in the Battle of Marathon. It's said that marathons were then created to honour Pheidippides running 26 miles.

The Post Office Railway

Quick Facts
  • It was established in 1927 and shut down in 2003
  • It operated for 19 hours a day, carrying an estimated 4,000,000 letters per day
  • Its only purpose was to move letters and parcels

The Post Office Railway was a train-powered service that worked without any drivers3, conductors and it didn't carry any passengers. The only purpose was to move letters and parcels between 6 sorting offices4 on the 6.5 mile route between Paddington and Whitechapel.

If stops were made at each station, the end-to-end journey would take 26 minutes. This increased the speed of the distribution of the items, allowing the service to be more efficient and frequent than possible with London's road transport.

It was established in 1927 and shut down in 2003 due to the Railway not being cost effective. At its peak, it carried around 4,000,000 letters and operated for 19 hours a day, 286 days a year.

Royal Mail

Royal Mail was established by Henry VIII in 1516. He ordered that every town have a horse to carry mail from his court, creating the first national postal service.

In 1635, Charles I5 made the postal service available to the public. The pricing worked differently during this period, compared to today. The receiver of the letter had to pay to get it rather than the sender paying for the postage.

Quick Facts
  • Henry VIII created the first national postal service in 1516
  • In 1635, Charles I made the postal service available to everybody
  • There was a time when the receiver of letters had to pay for the postage

Postal Cats

Quick Facts
  • 3 cats were hired to combat the Royal Mail's mouse problem
  • Each cat was paid a shilling per week
  • The Royal Mail now use plastic bags, stopping their mouse issue

In 18686, the Royal Mail used cloth sacks that mice loved to chew, so they hired cats to target their mouse problem.

The cats even got paid - a shilling a week. On May 7, 1869, it was reported that 'the cats have done their duty very efficiently'7.

One of the more recent additions to the team, and possibly the most famous, was Tibs the Great. He was employed with the Royal Mail for 14 years and became known as the "number one cat". His popularity even led to a demand for higher wages for him and his fellow feline staffers8.


Due to the increase of London's population in the 19th Century, and the subsequent volume of letters9, postcodes were created to speed up the delivery process10.

London was the first place in Britain to be divided into postcodes. In 185711, Sir Rowland Hill divided London into 10 postcodes. People were then asked to add the initials of the district to the end of the address, helping to improve the speed circulation of London's post. Numbers were introduced to postcodes during the First World War as districts were divided into sub-districts - this process is still used today.

During the 1960s, the rest of the UK was divided into postal districts after a trial run in Norwich in 1959.

Postcodes are now also relied on for other reasons including, directions for sat navs.

Quick Facts
  • Created to speed up London's delivery process
  • London was first divided into 10 postcodes
  • The rest of the UK was divided into postal districts in the 1960s

So there you have it, now you are fully equipped to astound your family and friends with some little-known facts; from ancient Greek runners, to postal cats. Bring on the pub quiz!

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