‘The Postman Wears Out Fast’: Retiring Sick in London’s Victorian Post Office

David Green, Douglas Brown, Kathleen McIlvenna, Nicola Shelton

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1 Citation (Scopus)


The Post Office was an extremely important institution and London was the focal point of its operations. Throughout the nineteenth century, London was the main sorting centre and accounted for a third of the mail delivered in Britain. However, London postal workers were relatively unhealthy and the majority retired before they reached 60, mainly because of ill health. Using new evidence drawn from pension records, this article explores the extent of ill health in the London workforce, comparing it to that in the Metropolitan Police. For postmen, orthopaedic conditions were the main problem, relating to the ability to walk long distances. This was similar to the problems encountered in the police. For other postal workers, notably letter sorters, mental illness and poor vision were the main problems, relating to the pressure of having to work irregular hours, often at night-time and in poorly designed and overcrowded workspaces. These problems were exacerbated by the increasing frequency of mail deliveries and the constant shortage of space in the main headquarters building. In response to these issues and workers’ concerns, the Post Office introduced a range of measures including a medical service and generous sickness pay, more offices, new technologies to speed the flow of mail, better lighting, and changed working practices to ease pressures on the workforce.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-205
Number of pages26
JournalLondon Journal
Issue number3
Early online date26 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Ill Health
  • London
  • Metropolitan Police
  • Occupational Health
  • Post Office
  • Retirement
  • Victorian

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