10th January 1840.

The radical poet William Wordsworth, patronised by the Earl of Lonsdale gained the sinecure as Distributor of Stamps for Westmoreland between 1813-1843.(1)

1d (penny black).

1d (penny black).


Between Today January 1840, when the penny post was introduced by Rowland Hill, and May 6th the official day of issue of the ‘Penny Black’, only local hand-written cancellation was available. These early stamps, the 1d black and 2d blue needed to be cut out with scissors.(2)



Mulready Letterhead, pre-gummed envelope. May 1840.

Mulready Letterhead, pre-gummed envelope. May 1840.

The ‘Mulready’ sheet, named after the Irish designer, introduced on May 6th, had a short life as  a competitor for stamps, as Hill noted in his Journal on the 12th May: ‘I fear we shall have to substitute some other stamp for that design by Mulready…the public have shown their disregard and even distaste for beauty’.

Hill had expected the Mulready to be more popular than the postage stamps, but they were soon replaced as Hill was now convinced that the future lay with stamps, and by the 2nd April was showing the Chancellor a proof sheet of the Penny Black.(3)

Hill a Kidderminster schoolmaster-turned minor civil-servant, had proposed a pre-paid uniform, inland penny post, with the cost paid by sender instead of recipient. He was one of the adjudicators in the competition to produce the Penny Black which resulted in 2,600 designs.

It was not until 1853 that adhesive (called cement) stamps were made compulsory one year before the first perforated stamps appeared. Chained scissors were now no longer required in post offices.

The stamps had postage at the top and One Penny at the bottom, no country was mentioned and as a precaution against forgery, ornamental stars were put in the top corner and the letters AA and TL were put in the bottom corners depending, where they came in the sheet.

Higher value stamps came with the fourpenny (4d) carmine, and the first lilac (6d) stamp, along with a shilling (1s) green in 1856. Stamps of these higher values were embossed under high security by the Inland Revenue at Somerset House.

1880 saw the ½d green,, though the post office resisted mounting pressure for a ½d post in times of falling prices. Stamps of the 1880’s and printed ‘Postage’ were known as ‘Provisional Issue’ and resulted from the contract which was awarded to De La Rue who produced the stamp below.

All have the Imperial Crown watermark.


From 12th July 1881, resulting from the Customs and Inland Revenue Act, came the penny lilac used for over 20 years and printed ‘Postage and Inland Revenue’. Other lilac and green stamps were printed ‘Postage and Revenue’, still to be seen on old wills as well as on envelopes.(4)


1d Lilac.

An 1887 issue reflected a garish change in taste, in that it was pink, blue and yellow.

The youthful Queen’s head remained the same down the decades, though coins had changed in 1895 showing her in a diadem and veil.

(1) Wordsworth lived at Rydal Mount, Westmoreland, now Cumbria.

(2) 1d was part of the pre-decimalization (1971) ‘L s d’-pounds shillings and pence.

(3) During the 1840’s the artist Mulready was commissioned to design illustrations for the Royal Mail. They came into 2 types: lozenge shapes folded into envelope and were fixed at the top; and letter sheets cut into rectangles which could likewise be folded.

(4) The penny lilac was the basic stamp to the end of Victoria’s reign. It had been preceded by the short-lived 1880 Penny Venetian Red, which had superseded the 1841 Penny Red.

The Venetian Red was replaced owing to the 1881 Revenue Act and the creation of Revenue Stamps.

Ref: wikipedia.org/penny_lilac.

Ref: joyofstamps.co.uk/stamps. Pic Ref: Provisional issue.

Ref: philatelic.co.uk/stamps/mulready.

Ref: wikipedia.org. queen_victoria_lilac_green.

Ref: wikipedia/mulready_stationery. Also Pic Ref.

Ref: Stanley Gibbons GB Stamp Catalogue. Vol Queen Victoria.


The contract for the first adhesive postage stamps in the world was granted to Perkins, Bacon and Petch, the Government’s security printers.

One of the early printers of bank notes was De La Rue. Thomas had started as a straw-hat maker having arrived from Guernsey at the end of the Napoleonic Wars and moved into stationery and playing cards. They were awarded their first contract for postage stamps in April 1853 using surface printing.

Outside Kidderminster Town Hall is a marble figure of Hill. A time-capsule was buried beneath it in 1881 and includes a set of British stamps and a mite (half a farthing).



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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