Sir Rowland Hill  (1795-1879)

Founder of the Penny Post system

Perhaps one of the most famous people from Tottenham's' history is that of Sir Rowland Hill who is world famous for the development of the Penny Post System and the introduction of the postage stamp.

Born in Kidderminster in Worcestershire on the 3rd December 1795, Rowland was the third son of Thomas Wright Hill. At the age of seven his father took charge of a boarding school in Birmingham and this is where Rowland was educated. Even at a very young age Rowland would help in the work of the school, and In 1807 Rowland Hill became a student-teacher at his father's school. As a sideline Rowland was also an inventor, although most of his ideas were never used. He was to take a very early interest in mechanical engineering and ,following lengthy experimentation, he was responsible for improved methods of machine printing. 

Bruce Castle School, perhaps the most famous of the many private schools in Tottenham, was opened in 1827 and began as a branch establishment of the Hill family school at Hazelwood near Birmingham. Rowland Hill was the first headmaster of Bruce Castle School and, on leaving the school in 1833, handed over to his brother Arthur Hill who retired in 1866. 

Among two innovative features of schooling at Bruce Castle was the use of tokens as a reward for good work. These were forfeited in the event of misdemeanours and served as a medium of exchange. They formed a transferable currency system within the school and were considered to introduce the boys to economics and to facilitate mental arithmetic. The second innovation was the introduction of a school magazine which provided the pupils with information on the running of the school and its leisure time activities.

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Sir Rowland Hill

Originator of the Penny postage system

Rowland Hill decided he needed a new challenge and became interested in a project for the colonisation of South Australia. From 1834 till 1839 he was Secretary for the South Australian Commission, but he kept his interest in science and mechanics.

In the mid 1800's there was increasing public concern about the shortcomings of the Post-Office, which prompted both parliamentary inquiries and royal commissions to address the matter but they failed to suggest an effective method of resolving the difficulties. After carefully studying the matter himself, Rowland Hill issued his now famous booklet entitled 'Post Office Reform: It's importance and Practicability'. In his paper he suggested changes that were seen to be so simple and effective that people wondered why nobody had ever thought of them before.

The enormous amount of time and labour involved in the collection, making out the charges, delivery and obtaining payment for letters under the old system of paying according to distance was bureaucratic and inefficient. So Rowland Hill's answer was that a uniform charge be introduced that would sweep away the bureaocracy and vast amounts of useless labour thus cheapening the whole operation, which would enable the Post Office to fix the postage rate as low as 'One Penny'

But no doubt the most innovative of his proposals was the introduction of prepayment of the postage charge by means of an affixed stamp, which of course has now been adopted by every country in the world and a method that is still used to this day.

Despite initial opposition to the scheme and obstructive measures from official quarters, the General Public were fully in favour of the scheme and poured in so many petitions of support that in 1840 the Penny Post was introduced under the supervison of Rowland Hill himself.


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Collection of Historic Post Boxes in the grounds

of Bruce Castle Park


In an article published in 'The British Workman' it was reported "In his walks in the beautiful grounds of Bruce Castle,Tottenham, which may be called the family home of the Hill's, Sir Rowland pondered over and matured some of his most important postal plans"  

After a few years service in the management of the Brighton Railway Company, in 1846 he was appointed secretary to the Postmaster General. Then in 1854 he became Chief Secretary and practical Director of the Post Office.

Queen Victoria knighted Rowland Hill for his service to the Empire in 1860 and he received the honour K.C.B . 

Following 4 more years of successful service he was to retire from the Post Office. Sir Rowland Hill retired in 1864, in poor health.

Sir Rowland Hill died at his home in Hampstead at the age of 84 on the 27th August 1879. His remains were laid in Westminster Abbey, London on the 4th September 1880 following a service in his honour which was attended by a number of distinguished people of the day. Among the many compliments paid to him was as follows

" Our country may be grateful for a man of such keen intellect and desire to be useful. The only matter for regret is that his invaluable services and administrative powers were not more extensively employed by Government for the benefit of the nation"

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Commemorative Stamp issued in honour

of Sir Rowland Hill - 2004

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Rowland Hill Statue

Westminster Abbey

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