Rowland Hill was a former schoolmaster, whose only experience of the Post Office in the 1830s was as a disgruntled user.

Nobody had asked him to come up with detailed proposals for completely revamping it. He did the research in his spare time, wrote up his analysis, and sent it off privately to the chancellor of the exchequer, naively confident that “a right understanding of my plan must secure its adoption”.

He felt his outsider status was a positive benefit. “In few departments,” he wrote, “have important reforms been effected by those trained up in practical familiarity with their details.

“The men to detect blemishes and defects are among those who have not, by long familiarity, been made insensible to them.”

But Hill was

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