Rowland Hill (postal reformer)

Rowland Hill (postal reformer)

Sir Rowland Hill KCB, FRS (December 3, 1795 - August 27, 1879) was a British teacher and social reformer. He campaigned for a comprehensive reform of the postal system, based on the concept of penny postage, and later served as a government postal official. He is usually credited with originating the basic concepts of the modern postal service, including the invention of the postage stamp.

Earlier life

Hill was born in Blackwell Street, Kidderminster, Worcestershire. Rowland's father, Thomas Wright Hill, was an innovator in education and politics, including among his friends Joseph Priestley, Tom Paine and Richard Price. [ "Joseph Priestley and his Influence on Education in Birmingham." Reprinted in Malcolm Dick (ed.) Joseph Priestley and Birmingham. Studley, Brewin Books (2005)] At the age of 11, Rowland became a student-teacher in his father's school. He taught astronomy and earned extra money fixing scientific instruments. He also worked at the Assay Office in Birmingham and painted landscapes in his spare time. [ Sir Rowland Hill, a social reformer]

Educational reform

In 1819,he moved his father's school "Hill Top" from central Birmingham, establishing the Hazelwood School at Edgbaston, an affluent neighbourhood of Birmingham, as an “educational refraction of Priestley's ideas”. [W. H. G. Armytage, “The Lunar Society and its Contribution to Education”, "University of Birmingham Historical Journal," (1967-8) V, 67.] [ W. J. Bartrip, "A Thoroughly Good School": An Examination of the Hazelwood Experiment in Progressive Education. "British Journal of Educational Studies," Vol. 28, No. 1 (Feb., 1980), pp. 46-59] Hazelwood was to provide a model for public education for the emerging middle classes, aiming for useful, pupil-centered education which would give sufficient knowledge, skills and understanding to allow a student to continue self-education through a life “most useful to society and most happy to himself”. [Elie Halévy, "The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism." Faber (1972) pp.153-4, 249-478, 433, 491.] The school, which Hill designed, included such marvels (for its time) as a science lab, a swimming pool, and forced air heating. In his "Plans for the Government and Liberal Instruction of Boys in Large Numbers Drawn from Experience" (1822, often cited as "Public Education") he argued that kindness, instead of caning, and moral influence, rather than fear, should be the predominant forces in school discipline. Science was to be a compulsory subject, and students were to be self-governing. [ Sir Rowland Hill, a social reformer] [ Hill, Sir Rowland] Hazelwood gained international attention when French education leader and editor Marc Antoine Jullien, former secretary to Robespierre, visited and wrote about the school in the June, 1823 issue of his journal "Revue". Jullien even transferred his son there. Hazelwood so impressed Jeremy Bentham that the school was moved to Bruce Castle in Tottenham, London in 1827.

Colonization of South Australia

The colonization of South Australia was a project of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who believed that many of the social problems in Britain were caused by overcrowding and overpopulation. In 1832 Rowland Hill published a tract, entitled "Home colonies : sketch of a plan for the gradual extinction of pauperism, and for the diminution of crime", based on a Dutch model. [ Rowland Hill, "Encyclopedia of World Biography"] Hill then served from 1833 until 1839 as secretary of the South Australian Colonization Commission, which worked successfully to establish a settlement without convicts at what is today Adelaide. The political economist, Robert Torrens was chairman of the Commission. [ Denis P. O'Brien, "The Classical Economists Revisited"] Under the South Australia Act 1834, the colony was to embody the ideals and best qualities of British society, shaped by religious freedom and a commitment to social progress and civil liberties.

Postal reform

Hill interested himself in a reform of the postal system, as well. [ V. Sundaram, "The Founding Father of Postal Reform," "News Today," Chennai, India (December 28, 2005)] . In the 1830's at least 12 1/2% of all British mail was conveyed under the personal frank of Peers, dignitaries and Members of Parliament, while censorship and political espionage were conducted by postal officials. Fundamentally, the postal system was mismanaged, wasteful, expensive and slow. It had become inadequate for the needs of an expanding commercial and industrial nation. [David Allam, "The Social and Economic Importance of Postal Reform in 1840," "Harry Hays Philatelic Pamphlets" No. 4. (1976) ISBN O 905222 17 2] There is a well-known story, probably apocryphal, about how Hill gained an interest in reforming the postal system -- that he noticed a young woman too poor to redeem a letter sent to her by her fiancé. At that time, letters were normally paid for by the recipient, not the sender. The recipient could simply refuse delivery. Frauds were commonplace; for example, coded information could appear on the cover of the letter; the recipient would examine the cover to gain the information, and then refuse delivery to avoid payment. Each individual letter had to be logged. In addition, postal rates were complex, depending on the distance and the number of sheets in the letter. [ Frédéric Bastiat, "Economic Sophisms", Series 2, Chapter 12. See II.12.25.]
Richard Cobden and John Ramsey McCulloch, both advocates of free trade, attacked the policies of privilege and protection of the Tory government. McCulloch, in 1833, advanced the view that "nothing contributes more to facilitate commerce than the safe, speedy and cheap conveyance of letters." [Howard Robinson, "The British Post Office; a History." Princeton, Princeton Univ. Press. (1948)] Hill's famous pamphlet, "Post Office Reform: its Importance and Practicability," was privately circulated in 1837. The report called for "low and uniform rates" according to weight, rather than distance. Hill's study showed that most of the costs in the postal system were not for transport, but rather for laborious handling procedures at the origins and the destinations. Costs could be reduced dramatically if postage were prepaid by the sender, the prepayment to be proven by the use of prepaid letter sheets or adhesive stamps (adhesive stamps had long been used to show payment of taxes -- for example, on documents). Letter sheets were to be used because envelopes were not yet common -- they were not yet mass-produced, and in an era when postage was calculated partly on the basis of the number of sheets of paper used, the same sheet of paper would be folded and serve for both the message and the address. In addition, Hill proposed to lower the postage rate to a penny per half ounce, without regard to distance. [ Rowland Hill (1795-1879):"Post Office Reform, its Importance and Practicability"] He presented his proposal to the Government in 1838.

In the House of Lords the Postmaster, Lord Lichfield, thundered about Hill's "wild and visionary schemes." William Leader Maberly, Secretary to the Post Office, denounced Hill's study: "This plan appears to be a preposterous one, utterly unsupported by facts and resting entirely on assumption". But merchants, traders and bankers viewed the existing system as corrupt and a restraint of trade. They formed a "Mercantile Committee" to advocate for Hill's plan and pushed for its adoption. In 1839, Hill was given a two-year contract to run the new system.

Postal service rates were lowered almost immediately, to fourpence from the 5 December 1839, then to the penny rate on the 10 January 1840, even before stamps or letter sheets could be printed. The volume of paid internal correspondence increased dramatically, by 120%, between November, 1839 and February, 1840. This initial increase resulted from the elimination of "free franking" privileges and smuggling.

Prepaid letter sheets, with a design by William Mulready, were distributed in early 1840. These Mulready envelopes were not popular and were widely satirized. According to a brochure distributed by the National Postal Museum, the Mulready envelopes threatened the livelihoods of stationery manufacturers, who encouraged the satires. They became so unpopular that the government used them on official mail and destroyed many others.

In May, 1840, the world's first adhesive postage stamps were distributed. With an elegant engraving of the young Queen Victoria, the Penny Black was an immediate success. Refinements, such as perforations to ease the separating of the stamps, would be instituted with later issues.

Later life

Rowland Hill continued at the Post Office until the Conservative Party won re-election. Sir Robert Peel returned to office between August 30, 1841 and June 29, 1846. Amid rancorous controversy, Hill was dismissed in July, 1842. However, the London and Brighton Railway named him a director and later chairman of the board, from 1843 to 1846. He lowered the fares from London to Brighton, expanded the routes, offered special excursion trains, and made the commute comfortable for passengers. In 1844
Edwin Chadwick, Rowland Hill, John Stuart Mill, Lyon Playfair, Dr. Neill Arnott, and other friends formed a society called "Friends in Council," which met at each other's houses to discuss questions of political economy. [ Biography of Edwin Chadwick] Hill also became a member of the influential Political Economy Club, founded by David Ricardo and other classical economists, but now including many powerful businessmen and political figures. [ D. P. O'Brien, The Classical Economists Revisited]

In 1846, when the Conservatives left office, Hill became Secretary to the Postmaster General, and then Secretary to the Post Office from 1854 until 1864. For his services Hill was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1860. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society and was given an honorary degree from Oxford.

He died in Hampstead, London in 1879. Sir Rowland Hill is buried in Westminster Abbey; there is a memorial to him on his family grave in Highgate Cemetery. In Hampstead there is a small street named after him that runs off Haverstock Hill, down the side of The Royal Free Hospital.


Hill's legacies are two-fold: the first was his model for education of the emerging middle classes. The second was his model for an efficient postal system to serve business and the public, including the postage stamp and the system of low and uniform postal rates, which is often take for granted in the modern world. In this, he not only changed the postal services around the world, but also made commerce more efficient and profitable. In fact the Uniform Penny Post continued in the United Kingdom into the 20th century, and at one point, one penny paid for up to four ounces.

There are three public statues of him. The first, sculpted by Sir Thomas Brock and unveiled in 1881, stands in the town of his birthplace, Kidderminster. [ Public Monument and Sculpture Association, National Recording Project] The second, by Edward Onslow Ford stands at King Edward Street, London [ Public Monument and Sculpture Association, National Recording Project] The third, less known, by Peter Hollins, used to stand in Hurst Street, Birmingham but it is currently in the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery store. [ Public Monument and Sculpture Association, National Recording Project] A life size white marble bust by W. D. Keyworth, Jr. may be viewed in St. Paul's Chapel, Westminster Abbey. [ People Buried or Commemorated - Rowland Hill]

At Tottenham there is now a local History Museum at Bruce Castle (where Hill lived during the 1840s) including some relevant exhibits.

The Rowland Hill Awards, [ What Are the Rowland Hill Awards?] started by the Royal Mail and the British Philatelic Trust in 1997 [ Welcome to the British Philatelic Trust ] , are annual awards for philatelic "innovation, initiative and enterprise."

In 1882, the Post Office instituted the Rowland Hill Fund [ Rowland Hill Fund] for postal workers, pensioners and dependants in need.



* Matthew Davenport Hill and Rowland Hill, "Plans for the Government and Liberal Instruction of Boys in Large Numbers Drawn from Experience" (1822); new ed. with additions (1827).
* Rowland Hill, "Home Colonies: a Plan for the Gradual Extinction of Pauperism and the Diminution of Crime." London, Simpkin and Marshall (1832) 52 pages. (New York Public Library SGF p.v.16, no.11.)
* Rowland Hill, "Post Office Reform: its Importance and Practicability" (1837)
* Rowland Hill and Arthur Hill, "A History of Penny Postage" with intro. by George Birkbeck Hill, "The Life of Sir Rowland Hill and the Penny Postage". 2 vols. London, T. De La Rue & Co. (1880)
* David Allam, "The Social and Economic Importance of Postal Reform in 1840." Batley: Harry Hayes, 1976
* R. H. Coase, Rowland Hill and the Penny Post. "Economica," New Series, Vol. 6, No. 24 (Nov., 1939), pp. 423-435.
* H. W. Hill, "Rowland Hill and the Fight for the Penny Post." Frederick Warne, 1940
* M.J. Daunton, Rowland Hill and the Penny Post, "History Today", August, 1985.
* Jean Farrugia, "The Life and Work of Sir Rowland Hill, 1795-1879."

External links

* [ "Sir Rowland Hill, K.G.B.", in American Philatelic Society Hall of Fame, 1941]

NAME=Hill, Rowland
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Educational reformer; social reformer; postal reformer
DATE OF BIRTH= 3 December 1795
PLACE OF BIRTH= Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England
DATE OF DEATH= 27 August 1879
PLACE OF DEATH= Hampstead, London, England

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