Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes
Let all things travel faster
Where motor-car is master
Till only Speed remains.
So wrote John Betjeman in his poem Inexpensive progress (c1955) — about the time that Britain got its first motorway. I’m sure he didn’t foresee the congestion and the joys of sitting stationary in freeway traffic jams.
About 25 years ago the mailships between Britain and South Africa were phased out in the name of “progress”. Containerisation had killed them and made then uneconomic, we were told. So overseas surface mail became subject to the erratic and uncertain sailing schedules of container ships, and letters that could previously be guaranteed to arrive within two weeks could take six weeks to two months, or even longer. And now airmail usually takes at least two weeks.
And now Chessalee notes the passing of another milestone in the stalled rush of progress — the British night mail trains.
The ‘Night Mail’, the train that W H Auden and T S Eliot made famous in rhyme, and the 1963 Great Train Robbers made famous in crime, is being replaced by a much less romantic means of getting letters from one end of the country to the other:lorries.
The trains, officially known as travelling post offices (TPOs), had specially-constructed carriages that allowed post to be sorted on the way. They first ran in 1838, but they have gradually been replaced in recent years, and now the last 10 trains are being axed in a cost-cutting plan to save Royal Mail �10m a year. A Royal Mail spokesman said yesterday: ‘Travelling sorting offices were a Victorian solution to a Victorian problem …, before the era of motorways and air travel. Like mail coaches before them, TPOs are now part of the Royal Mail’s history.’