William Dockwra

William Dockwra

William Dockwra was an English entrepreneur who created the first penny post. He was born in the City of London, the son of an armourer, and was baptised on 26 April 1635. He was the uncle of Mary Davies, whose dowry of Mayfair and other lands near London would make the Grosvenor family the richest family in England by the 19th century, and this connection was to prove beneficial to Dockwra's own fortunes.

Dockwra was apprenticed to one of his father's fellows in the Armourers' Company, but his career subsequently took a variety of turns. In the 1660s he obtained a position at the Custom House. By the 1670s he was a merchant in the African slave trade, but he suffered major losses when a ship in which he had a large share was seized for breaching the Royal African Company's licenced monopoly.

In the 1680s Dockwra established the first penny post, which served London and the surrounding area to a distance of ten miles. The service, launched 27 March, 1680 [ [http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~awoodley/Letter2.html Eunice and Ron Shanahan, "Before the Penny Black", articles which originally appeared in "Stamp News"] ] , worked on the basis that "the one penny postage was paid when the letter was accepted" (a key element of Rowland Hill's 1839 reforms of the British postal system). Dockwra obtained a patent for his service, but unfortunately for him the profits from the government operated General Post Office had been granted to the King's brother the Duke of York. Dockwra was required to surrender his patent and pay £2,000 in compensation. His fortunes improved after the Duke, by then King James II, was expelled from the country in 1688. In 1690 Dockwra was granted a pension of £500 a year; then in 1697 he was appointed as comptroller of the penny post. However in 1700 he was dismissed after an investigation into his conduct of the business, including complaints that he had moved the central office from Cornhill to a less convenient location and had opened and detained correspondence.

Meanwhile Dockwra had been appointed as the London agent for the sale of lead from the Grosvenor family's lead mines in Wales, and had become the senior partner in a brass smelting business based in Esher. This project introduced some technical innovations and helped to reduce England's dependence on imports, but it was not a financial success for Dockwra, who lost control of the business. He is believed to have been poor at his death in 1716.


* cite book |last= Staff |first=Frank |authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |title=The Penny Post 1680-1918|year=1993
publisher= [http://www.lutterworth.com/lp/titles/penny.htm The Lutterworth Press] |location= |isbn= 071882878X

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