The mail coaches were introduced in the late
eighteenth century, to provide a more speedy and cost effective
system of transport for the post than with the previous system.
That previous system had involved post boys (often elderly) and
others, had depended on convenience and travellers, and often
involved frequent mail thefts and other factors which resulted
in declining postal revenues.
John Palmer (1742-1818) of Bristol suggested the
establishment of a mail coach system, an idea which was taken up
by William Pitt on the suggestion of Lord Camden.
The experiment, begun in August 1784, proved an
immediate success, and generated an increasing revenue for the
government. Scottish and Irish mail coaches followed thereafter.
The coaches fitted in with a range of less glamorous forms of
transport - including wagons and canal boats, as well as boat
services for Ireland (via Holyhead) and the Continent (the Hamburg
and other mails). The various Post Office directories, and other
directories of the time, listed the days for which services were
provided, along with the times and coach names where appropriate,
and the routes of regular services.
The development of the mail coach system depended
in part upon improvements in road building - including macadamisation
 and toll roads . Military factors also played a part in
road development. There was a need for good communications in order
to counter the threat of insurgency and invasion, actual or perceived.
The development of what is now termed the Industrial and Agricultural
Revolutions also played a part, managing to increase trade and improve
materials, which resulted in a need for better communications with
sources and markets.
The coaching networks evolved over time, with routes
being extended or changed to suit demand. They wound down from the
mid-nineteenth century, with the advent of the railways, which were
quicker, more comfortable and could carry more: the transit is noted
piecemeal in the Post Office and other directories. The last to go
were the cross-country routes.
Some of the companies involved in the mail coach
business managed to survive, sometimes through investment in the
railways, or by entering into, and developing a new market, such
as the provision of feeder services to the railways, much as bus
services and taxis have done subsequently.
There were also coaching inns along the way, which
served much the same functions as airport hotels and stations do
today. Given the schedules and any potential delays the coaches
could arrive, or depart, at all hours of the day or night. A number
of former coaching inns can still be identified, such as The George,
Southwark (near London Bridge), a rare survival of an original
layout; Golden Cross House, Charing Cross (next to St Martin's in
the Fields) commemorates the coaching inn that was previously on
the site; and Fleet Street was, at one time, home to a number of
The origin of the term 'Cock and Bull stories' is
said to be in the name of two pubs in St Albans.