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History of the British Post Box!

In 1840 Rowland Hill suggested the idea of roadside letter boxes for Britain. Letter boxes of this kind were already being used in countries such as France, Belgium and Germany. However there were no roadside letter boxes in the British Isles until 1852, when the first pillar boxes were erected at St Hellier in Jersey at the recommendation of Anthony Trollope, who was working as a Surveyor’s Clerk for the Post Office. scot1

In 1853 the first pillar box on the British mainland was erected at Botchergate, Carlise. A similar box from the same year still stands at Barnes Cross, Bishop’s Caundle in Dorset. It is the oldest pillar box still in use on the mainland. Most of the early boxes were similar in design to the Channel Island boxes, but there were some interesting variations. Only photos and a few odd parts remain of London’s first pillar box which was at the corner of Fleet Street and Farringdon Street. In 1856 Richard Redgrave of the Department of Science and Art designed an ornate pillar box for use in London and other large cities. An example of one of these boxes, which would have been painted bronze, is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum. A less ornate version was used in other towns and cities. In 1859 the design was improved by moving the aperture from the top to below the rim and this became the first National Standard pillar box. The one exception to this standard is the Liverpool Special of 1863.

Green was adopted as the standard colour for the early Victorian boxes. Between 1866 and 1879 the hexagonal Penfold became the standard design for pillar boxes and it was during this period that red was first adopted as the standard colour. The first boxes to be painted red were in London in July 1874, although it took 10 years before nearly all the boxes had been repainted.

In 1879 came the cylindrical design of pillar box, which apart from a few recent experiments has changed very little since. The early boxes had no royal cipher and are known as ‘anonymous’ boxes. This oversight was corrected from 1887 when the words POST OFFICE were also placed either side of the aperture.

The cylindrical boxes came in two sizes, ‘A’ (larger) and ‘B’ (smaller). The oval type ‘C’ boxes with separate apertures for town and country first appeared in London in 1899. Lamp boxes, for use in areas where the amount of post is small, first started to be used generally from around 1897. Although designed to be attached to a lamp post they may also be found attached to telegraph poles, their own post or even set in a wall. The first proper roadside wall boxes had been in use from about 1857. Ludlow boxes, named after the Birmingham manufacturer James Ludlow, were made for use at sub-post offices between 1885 and 1965. Manufactured from sheet metal and wood with distinctive enamel plates they were more prone to rot than cast iron boxes.

In 1924 oval signs showing the direction to the nearest post office were used on top of pillar boxes for the first time. It was also in 1924 that the first experimental Telephone Kiosk no. 4 was produced which incorporated a post box and stamp vending machine.

Pillar boxes for airmail letters were introduced in London in 1930. The first of these was sited outside the General Post Office in King Edward Street, London. Originally these were simply a type ‘B’ box painted blue with an oval sign saying AIR MAIL placed on top, but from 1932 they were produced with a double collection plate, one for collection times and one for air mail postage rates. This service lasted until 1938 when the first box to be erected was also the last to go.

During the short reign of Edward VIII in 1936 only a relatively small number letter boxes were made, with the larger type ‘A’ pillar box being much rarer than than the narrower type ‘B’. It is believed that there is only one surviving example of an Edward VIII Ludlow type letter box. In 1935, towards the end of the reign of George V, a new design of lamp box was introduced with a flatter roof. Another design, with a rectangular front, was introduced during the reign of George VI.

In 1954, after it had been pointed out that Elizabeth II of England was only the first Elizabeth to reign over Scotland, the EIIR cipher was not used in Scotland. Letter boxes were made with just a Scottish Crown on instead.

There was very little further change in the design of letter boxes until an experiment in 1968 with rectangular boxes (Type F). These were made from sheet steel and proved not to be very hard wearing and so a cast iron version, the Type G, was introduced.

For their next design in 1979 the Royal Mail went back to the cylindrical shape, this time without the familiar pillar box cap. This box is known as Type K. Finally, on modern postboxes the words POST OFFICE have been replaced by the words ROYAL MAIL.

It is possible to collect real letter boxes but there are many smaller letter box related items that can be acquired. These include:
money boxes – models – fridge magnets – biscuit jars – teapots – sweet boxes – badges – key rings – salt & pepper pots – thimbles – postcards – toys – Christmas and birthday cards – wrapping paper – games – etc.

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