Clearing out the attic of my house the other day I came across an unusual newspaper cutting lining an old chest of drawers. It was undated but obviously came from the 19th century. Readers may be interested in it as a curious throw back to times past as it clearly bears little relationship to modern society.
In a move unprecedented since the introduction of the “Penny Post” by Sir Rowland Hill in 1840, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli today responded to the Fenian Riots in our great northern cities by calling for the suspension of the now-familiar Royal Mail letter service.
Mr Disraeli told a crowded House of Commons that chief constables up and down the land were reporting that Fenian troublemakers were writing letters to each other to co-ordinate their nefarious activities.
“The problem,” he said “is that the service with its guarantee of same or next day delivery allows these Irish ‘gentlemen’ in one city to communicate almost instantly with those in other cities where there has been large scale immigration from Ireland. The problem has been exacerbated by the increasing number who are able to read and write and can afford the 1d postage stamp affixed to each letter.”
Reaction from other parts of society has been critical.
The secretary of the London Chamber of Commerce Mr Thomas Gradgrind said “This proposal does not seem to take account of the extent to which our great British industries rely upon swift communication with each other in order to progress the business of Empire. This could be a major blow to many of our members.” Private soundings taken by this newspaper from within government itself affirmed that the Board of Trade amongst others shares the Chamber’s concerns.
The editor of the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post asked “How are we to despatch our daily edition to country subscribers, many of them gentlemen of the cloth, in the event of a suspension of the postal service?”
And Lady Cynthia Garside, doyenne of London high society lamented “This will be an absolute disaster for the social life of the capital. At present one can despatch a letter to any respectable member of society in the morning inviting them to supper that evening, confident that they will have responded by the luncheon hour affirming their attendance or not.”
It is not known at the time of writing if Mr Disraeli intends, in the argot of our military men, to “stick to his guns” or whether like the Grand Old Duke of York he intends to march back down the hill again, having ascended half way to the summit.