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The Secret Room

Episode 1 of 15

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 05 December 2011

As Royal Mail faces an uncertain future, Dominic Sandbrook explores the social history of the post office.

Throughout its history, the Post Office has been a consistently progressive and democratising force in society. Launched in 1516 by Henry VIII, the Royal Mail was intended to support official communications and bolster intelligence. It was only a rise in literacy, trade and interest that stimulated a demand for a public service.

It became a vehicle for literacy, free speech, commerce and communications in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, before evolving into a kind of prototypical welfare state in the early twentieth century, when it was the largest employer in the world. The Post Office has become a cherished social institution, linking people together and extending their vision outward into the wider world.

It's called Royal Mail but it should be known as the People's Post

In the paranoid era of the English Civil War the postal network became an important instrument of state control. In a secret room deep in the post office building, agents opened and copied letters from suspected dissidents on a grand scale.

Writer and Presenter: Dominic Sandbrook

Historical Consultant: Susan Whyman

Musicians: Sam Lee, Bella Hardy, Mick Sands, Nick Hart

Actors:Morgan George, John Sessions, Simon Tcherniak,
Malcolm Tierney, Jane Whittenshaw

Producer: Joby Waldman
A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4.

  • Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull

    Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull

    Letter from Thomas Witherings to the Mayor of Hull relating to the establishment of the public postal service, by the setting up of new or improved posts on the five principal roads of the kingdom, those to Dover, Edinburgh, Holyhead, Plymouth and Bristol.

    © Royal Mail Group Ltd 2011 / The British Postal Museum & Archive


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