Tag Archives: pillar box

The Great British (Letter Box) Bake Off

The recent series of The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) has been something of a talking point around the BPMA offices: our staff are known for their love of cake so understandably Tuesday evenings have become sacred TV nights for a lot of us, as I’m sure they have been for you. Cake, in my opinion, forms a vital part of any museum – just think of all those museum cafes offering everything from scones to chocolate cake to fuel your visit around the galleries.

This does not mean that I was expecting to find a cake on the shelf in our Museum Store…but that’s exactly what I did find within a few months of my starting at BPMA, whilst working on the Wilkinson Collection. The Wilkinson Collection is a collection of letter box related items and this cake fitted that description as it was a Swiss roll iced and decorated in the form of a letter box.

Letter Box Cake found in the Wilkinson Collection.

Letter Box Cake found in the Wilkinson Collection.

Food of any sort, whilst welcome to feed the staff, is less welcome as part of the collection. Food encourages pests which can damage other parts of the collection, particularly the archive and textile collections which is why eating and drinking is limited to a specific area of our offices and not allowed in our Search Room. Add to this the fact that the cake was 20 years old (admittedly still in its packaging) and this one object was immediately a threat to the rest of the collection. As a result, we made the decision to dispose of this item.

However, in addition to the cake, we also found the recipe for it which you can find below! I’ve often been tempted to make this, the basic instruction of ‘Make a Swiss Roll in the usual way’ would fit nicely into any technical challenge on the GBBO, whilst the final result would, I’m sure, be a showstopper. If anyone out there would like to take up the challenge of making this letter box cake do send us your photos!

Letter Box Cake

Ingredients:
Swiss Roll
Apricot jam
Red colouring
Almond icing
Chocolate butter icing

Recipe:
Make a Swiss Roll in usual way* and brush sides with warmed jam.
Add red colouring to all but a small quantity of the almond icing and roll out thinly to a strip long enough to cover the roll, making join at back.
Mould some almond icing to form top and flap of box, and attach these with jam and butter icing.
Cut a square of the uncoloured almond icing and stick it on to the front.
Using chocolate butter cream and a plain writing nozzle, make marks to represent times of collection, etc.

*There are several on the BBC website, including a chocolate roulade by GBBO’s Mary Berry.

– Emma Harper, Curator

If you’ve been inspired to bake the cake, here are some pictures of pillar boxes to inspire you as you ice it.

Museums at Night – Stories from the Store

Venture off the beaten track on Thursday 16th May and explore the treasures of the British Postal Museum and Archive (BPMA) Museum Store at a special after-hours event.

Behind its unassuming façade, the Museum Store houses a wonderful collection of the BPMA’s larger exhibits – each with a story to tell. As part of Museums at Night 2013, come and find out about some of these stories as they are brought to life by The Big Wheel Theatre Company!

Morris van at the Museum Store.

Morris van at the Museum Store.

What can you do on the night?

Big Wheel Theatre Company

Stories will be revealed by some fascinating characters from our postal past! Through some exciting interactive performances and activities find out about the Suffragette ‘human letters’ fighting for the right to vote and see how the Post Office had to adapt to the demands of war with new services. Mingle with these characters from history to truly understand all that they went through and achieved. (You can find out more about the ‘human letters’ by listening to episode #3 of our podcast.)

Anti Suffragette postcard. (2011-0365)

Anti Suffragette postcard. (2011-0365)

Craft Guerrilla

Show your support for our resident Suffragette for the evening by making your own rosette, reminiscent of those worn by the campaigners who fought for Women’s rights. East London craft company, Craft Guerrilla, will be running the activity. All materials provided for free, just bring your creativity and enthusiasm!

Discover how the post office went to war

Explore our Second World War handling box. Dress up like a wartime post man, and write a telegram to a loved one.

Write your own Post Office Telegram.

Write your own Post Office Telegram.

Postal fun at the Museum Store!

Postal fun at the Museum Store!

Have a browse

Take a walk down ‘letter box alley’ or take a look at our fleet of postal service vehicles illustrating the long history of moving the mail in a self led exploration of the collection. BPMA staff will also be on hand to answer questions about the collection. When you leave you will be able to recognize a hen and chicks bike, a K2 telephone kiosk and an Edward VIII pillar box!

Hen and chicks cigarette card.

Hen and chicks cigarette card.

Refreshments

At an event celebrating stories from our past it only seemed right to have a vintage themed refreshment stand! Help yourself to a selection of home made cakes and finger sandwiches, cloudy lemonade or a hot drink - all absolutely free.

Date and Time

Thursday 16th May, 6.00pm-9.00pm.

Cost and Booking

Free - no booking necessary

Visit our website to find out more about our Museums at Night event.

Pillar Box Perfection – Open Day at the Museum Store

Here at the British Postal Museum and Archive we are firm believers in hugging pillar boxes. Why, you ask? Because not only does it show your love for their intriguing history and vast variation in design of course, but it can reveal something very important about their story…

Join us on Saturday 6th April, 10am-4pm as we open the doors of our museum store to reveal some of these fascinating tales. There will be a range of activities for all ages to celebrate this British icon – the pillar box.

Pillar boxes at the Museum Store.

Pillar boxes at the Museum Store.

What can you do on the day?

Talks

We will be running a series of ‘spotlight’ talks, where you can hear about the stories behind some of our favourite pillar boxes. Highlights include one of the earliest boxes trialled on the Channel Islands and the ‘Penfold’. Why did Liverpool request a ‘special’ box? What indeed will you learn from hugging a pillar box? Come and find out more, with our staff on hand to introduce you to the wonderful world of pillar boxes!

Our curators will give you a quick introduction to pillar boxes.

Our curators will give you a quick introduction to pillar boxes.

Have a browse

Take a walk down ‘pillar box alley’ or take a look at our fleet of postal service vehicles illustrating the long history of moving the mail in a self led exploration of the collection. BPMA staff will also be on hand to answer questions.

Postal vehicles at the Museum Store.

Postal vehicles at the Museum Store.

Especially for families….

Trail

Past and present, the pillar box has played an important role in a process which has had a remarkable impact on the lives of many – communicating through letters! But what journey does a letter take from it leaving the hands of the sender to it being popped on the door mat of the receiver? Find out by having a go at our trail around the store! Hunt for objects and solve puzzles to reveal this amazing journey.

Here is a teaser from the trail – but you’ll have to come to the store to find out the mystery object!

Can you identify the mystery object?

Can you identify the mystery object?

Craft Activity

Get creative by designing and making your own pillar box! Celebrate the important role it played in the letter sending journey by designing it to hold your important letters – maybe it could store your post cards or letters from pen pals!

What will your pillar box hold? What about your post cards?

This post card from our collection was never delivered, perhaps the rather upset writer of the card received their trotters just before feeling the need to send it!

Tripe but but no trotters - an everyday postcard from the 1890s.(2010-0426/27)

Tripe but but no trotters – an everyday postcard from the 1890s.(2010-0426/27)

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday 6th April at the museum store!

Pillar Box Perfection is a free event taking place at The British Postal Museum Store, Essex, on 6 April 2013. See our website for more information and travel advice.

BPMA Collections Out and About

Current work at the BPMA is focussed around plans for our New Centre at Calthorpe House and especially for the design of a permanent exhibition space in which to show the many different objects in our collection. This will support and expand on the work we already do through our accredited museum at the Museum of the Post Office in the Community and our travelling exhibitions. Another aspect of our work however, is our loans to other museums as far apart as Cornwall and Scotland to name but a few.

The collections of the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth consist of a range of objects from boats to art as well as extensive archives that help tell the maritime heritage of Cornwall. An important part of this is a display on The Falmouth Packet Service, 1789-1851 which is where the objects from the BPMA can be found: two Flintlock Pistols issued to help protect the ships and the mail they carried, and two Maritime handstamps, one for the Falmouth Packet Service itself and the other for postage paid at St Ives port for a Ship Letter. These objects help tell the story of how Falmouth became a central hub of communication for over 150 years. They sit alongside objects from the museum’s own collection such as a mail bag from HM Packet Ship Crane and letters sent via Packet Ships.

Flintlock pistol on display at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth.

Flintlock pistol on display at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth.

Objects loaned from the BPMA can also be seen at the opposite end of the country. The Riverside Museum in Glasgow is Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel, which opened in 2011 after a major development project. The museum includes many innovative ways of interpreting transport collections such as a ‘car wall’ and a suspended bicycle velodrome display. Amongst the displays is one on the role of the Telegram Messenger boy.

The focus of the display is a motorcycle used by messengers on delivery. It was the thought of riding one of these that often encouraged boys to join the Post Office. However, the role of the Telegram Messenger involved far more than just this, as is explored via a series of touch-screens where visitors can play a game to see who can deliver their telegrams most efficiently. Next to this is a manikin dressed in a Telegram Messenger boy’s uniform complete with waterproof leggings, motorcycle goggles, helmet and gloves all from BPMA’s collection as well as the standard issue jacket and pouch.

These objects provide a wider context to the display of a vehicle, helping to bring the object and the stories connected with it to life. Indeed, the display has provoked the memories of many visitors, just like those Jim has shared with us in previous blogs.

Telegram messengers display at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow.

Telegram messengers display at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow.

Finally, from 30 January an F type pillar box from the BPMA collection will be on display at the Design Museum, London as part of their Extraordinary Stories exhibition.

Elizabeth II Type F Twin Pillar Box (OB1994-50i)

Elizabeth II Type F Twin Pillar Box (OB1994-50i)

The F type pillar box was a revolutionary design by the industrial architect David Mellor. It was developed in response to a request from the London Postal Region for a box with three apertures. One way of providing this facility was by utilising a ‘square’ shape so that boxes could be used in modular format, either as single, double or triple units. In the event, following eight years of trial and failure, a three-apertured variant never did get used. However from 205 boxes constructed, some 200 boxes were put into use across the country in both single and double format. The failure to produce a durable protective finish to the sheet steel panels (themselves a radical departure from the usual cast iron traditionally utilised) meant that the boxes promptly rotted, particularly the bases.

None of the boxes survive in use in the street today (the last to be removed was in the late 1980s) but a handful survive in museum and private collections. The design was not entirely dispensed with; the cast iron G type pillar box leans heavily upon Mellor’s design, many of the G type boxes continue to provide excellent service today.

BPMA holds examples of both single and double units in its collection, also another solo box partially stripped to allow the special ‘easy clear’ internal mail mechanism developed by Post Office Engineers to be seen. The single box can be seen as part of the exhibition at the Design Museum until January 2014. The other examples can be seen at events and tours taking place at the Museum Store. They will be a particular focus during the Pillar Box Perfection event taking place at the store on Saturday 6th April 2013.

By lending objects to other museums the BPMA increases access to its own physical collection and conveys the important human story of communication that is shared by everyone.

- Emma Harper, Curator (Move Planning)
- Julian Stray, Curator

From Pillar to Post: GPO London Walking tour

From Pillar to Post is a London walking tour centred on the history of the GPO (General Post Office), specifically its early presence and impact in central London. It is a brilliant way to spend a weekend morning, discovering the fascinating history hidden within London’s streets. The two hour tour starts in Farringdon and ends in Bank, uncovering along the way the rich postal heritage of London’s roads and buildings, interwoven with the City’s wider history.

The tour began outside the old Metropolitan Railway Parcels office at Farringdon station. Like today, there was no monopoly on the parcel post and you could pay many different companies to deliver your parcel for you. The various disparate railway companies provided a regular, well honed parcel service, if a little complicated and expensive when utilising more than one company at a time. In an endeavour to create a nationwide service the GPO commenced its own Parcels Post in 1883. They initially made a loss having overestimated the number of parcels that would be delivered.

The Metropolitan Railway Parcels Office is still part of Farringdon station.

The Metropolitan Railway Parcels Office is still part of Farringdon station.

The telephone kiosks introduced by the GPO are well illustrated in Smithfield meat market, with an eye-catching row of the iconic K2 and K6 red kiosks. Both were designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (later Sir). Sir Gilbert Scott also designed Battersea power station and Bankside Power station, now Tate Modern. The K2 kiosk is almost certainly based on the tomb of Sir John Soane, the celebrated architect. Sir John Soane’s tomb is one of only two grade one listed tombs in London – the other tomb is that of Karl Marx.

K2 and K6 telephone kiosks in Smithfield's Market.

K2 and K6 telephone kiosks in Smithfield’s Market.

Next stop on the tour was St Bart’s Hospital, West Smithfield, where we passed an old and inconspicuous wall box. Companies would often have their own wall box for their mail that they would then pay the GPO to collect from. The large ‘A’ sized example at Bart’s not only incorporates two peculiar angled apertures, but also a door situated outside the hospital so that may can be collected even if the gates are shut.

Wall box front, St Barts Hospital.

Wall box front, St Barts Hospital.

We then came across the four huge buildings that formerly made up a GPO empire. The King Edward building, former GPO headquarters and previously a home to the National Postal Museum, is now owned by Merrill Lynch. A hint of its former GPO importance is indicated by a sculpture in the wall of the building depicting a Caduceus; a Staff with two entwined snakes, belonging to Mercury/ Hermes, messenger to the Gods. Around the corner stands the statue of a hero of the GPO, Rowland Hill – the creator of the Uniform Penny Post. This is known to most as that which gave us the 1d black postage stamp, the first in the World, helping to open the postal service to all.

Statue of Rowland Hill.

Statue of Rowland Hill.

The tour continued on the other side of the road with a walk through Postman’s Park, adjacent to another former GPO Head office – GPO North. The park has a rich history of its own but it was so called because of its proximity to the former GPO buildings and the popularity of the park with GPO workers resting there between duties. In the park is also sited a memorial established by the painter George Frederick Watts. This consists of a series of plaques that commemorate those often unheralded elsewhere, who had performed heroic deeds (some of whom were children) and all of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice. As you exit the park be sure to notice the bench dedicated to ‘the Central Telegraph Office female staff who helped keep communications open during two world wars’.

We then passed close by St Paul’s station, previously called simply Post Office. Opened in 1900, this station was named Post Office because of its close proximity to the number of large, important and impressive GPO buildings in that area. At the time, another station nearby was known as St Paul’s, and has since been renamed Blackfriars.

The guide continued with stories of the days when the mail was carried by mail coaches across the country, revolutionising mail delivery and the speed at which it travelled and could be received. John Palmer, a theatre owner from Bath, conducted a successful trial run of a mail coach travelling from Bath to London in 13 hours (with the usual time taken being nearly triple this). From then on the time gained by delivering mail by mail coaches was clear and postal delivery was revolutionised. Many of the mail coaches set off from London along the Great Roads from The General Post Office. Just prior to the First World War this office was pulled down to widespread public outcry. Already proving too small for the increase in mail volume, it had earlier proved popular as a gathering point for the public who would assemble to observe the spectacle of the departing mail coaches. Smaller mail vans were hazardous to the unwary; Charles Dickens recorded the death of a pedestrian under the wheels of a galloping mail van in a neighbouring street in Little Dorritt.

The tour also touched on the Post Office Underground Railway that runs underneath some of the areas traversed on the tour. Work on the Railway began prior to the First World War, and was then halted due to the War – with the underground tunnels used to store artworks from museums and galleries such as the National Gallery. The railway opened in 1927. It was used to transport mail using driverless trains, underneath London, to the mainline stations which provided access across the country. Built partially to avoid the traffic congestion overhead, some might argue that little has changed in London today. However, with the closure of most of the large sorting and distribution offices, routing of mail outside London and cessation of use of the London railway termini for mail purposes meant that the requirement for a bespoke underground railway, by now renamed Mail Rail, was no more.

By the time of Mail Rail, the transport revolution had been going for many years with the GPO availing themselves of the opportunities available. Mail was first carried on overland trains in 1830. Again the innovation of the GPO is evident; mail carried by trains was instituted soon after experimentation with the railways and train travel first began.

We came across quite a few pillar boxes on our journey around London. The well known novelist, Anthony Trollope, is credited with the introduction of the first British pillar box, when working as a Surveyors Clerk for the GPO. The pillar box was trialled in the Channel Islands in 1852 and similar boxes were introduced to the streets of the UK mainland by 1853. The first pillar boxes appeared in London in 1855 though no examples of these survive today. Possibly one of the most popular of all the pillar boxes is the Penfold, the only pillar box named after its designer and famously used as the name of Dangermouse’s sidekick.

Towards the end of our tour we came across Post Office Court EC3 near to where the former Lloyds coffee house is situated. Lloyds coffee house provided the shipping news and therefore was very popular with those travelling overseas. Some of the many Coffee Houses in the area acted as Letter Receiving Houses for a burgeoning postal service, though there were many accusations of improper payments and favouritism.

Post Office Court EC3 street sign.

Post Office Court EC3 street sign.

The tour ends outside the National Exchange and the imposing Bank of England, by Bank station. Here stands a First World War memorial that also commemorates the role of the London Regiment, City of London Battalions and the 8th Battalion (Post Office Rifles), providing a fitting and sombre end to the tour.

War Memorial outside the Bank of England.

War Memorial outside the Bank of England.

I would very much recommend the walking tour for its fascinating overview of the City’s streets, buildings and secret histories. I have only touched on some of the subjects and sights experienced. A subsequent visit to our museum store in Debden is a great way to complement the tour and see the actual objects that are part of this rich tapestry of postal history.

The walking tours are run in conjunction with the BPMA, and led by Cityguides. The next tour is on Saturday 26 January at 11am. There’s no need to book, just turn up on the day. For more information please see our website.

- Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Welcome to 2013

This year will be an exciting year at The British Postal Museum & Archive. While many staff are working hard to develop our new museum and archive others are continuing to organise events and exhibitions.

Talks

The first of our talks takes place next month and features Chris West, author of First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps. In his talk Chris will discuss the book and go in depth on some of the stories. Last year Chris wrote a blog for us about how he came to write his book, and you can buy a copy from our online shop or purchase one at the event.

In March Oliver Carter-Wakefield of Kings College London will speak on Illness and Absence in the Victorian Post Office. Consumption, necrosis and mental derangement were just some of the reasons Victorian postmen called in sick – and they weren’t always skiving!

Postal Mischief with David Bramwell.

Postal Mischief with David Bramwell.

In April David Bramwell will present a slide-show talk on how the postal system was used for the purposes of mischief making, and in June BPMA Curator Emma Harper will explore a less weird but just as wonderful use of the Royal Mail when she explores the culture of letter writing in 19th and 20th Centuries.

Tickets for all our talks are only £3.00 (or £2.50 concession) and can be booked online.

Tours

Our ever popular tours will be held throughout 2013. Bookings are now open for three tours of the Royal Mail Archive and six tours of our Museum Collection. These guided tours are led by our archivists and curators, who will give you a rare behind the scenes look at our collections storage facilities and an insight in to what they care for. Book now for these tours as they sell out quickly!

Walking tours of postal London run once a month and are operated by our partners Cityguides. Tours start at Farringdon Station and end at Bank, taking you in to the City of London which was once the heartland of the British Post Office. There is no need to book for these tours – just turn up on the day. See our website for details.

See the sights of postal London on our walking tours.

See the sights of postal London on our walking tours.

Special Events

The Museum Store, where we are house our full of collection of pillar boxes and vehicles, will play host to two special events this year. The first, Pillar Box Perfection, taking place on 6 April, will offer a range of activities for all ages based around the iconic pillar box. The second, Museums at Night at the Museum Store, is part of an initiative taking place in May in which museums stay open in the evening. We’ll tell you more about this event nearer to the time. Both of these special events are free of charge.

Exhibitions

Visitors to the Royal Mail Archive in London can still see our Diamond Jubilee display of stamps from the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. We also have a permanent exhibition, The Museum of the Post Office in the Community, at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shorpshire. The Museum is located above a recreated Victorian post office – a fascinating place to visit in itself – and is free to visit as part of your entry to Blists Hill.

Part of our much-loved collection of General Post Office posters from the 1930s-1960s will go on display at the Great Western Hospital, Swindon in March. This is part of the Paintings in Hospitals scheme, and the public may visit the exhibition in the Hospital’s designated display area during their opening hours.

Please pack parcels very carefully, poster by Tom Eckersley - this will be on display as part of Designs on Delivery.

Please pack parcels very carefully, poster by Tom Eckersley – this will be on display as part of Designs on Delivery.

Also on tour is our exhibition Last Post: Remembering the First World War, which can be seen at the Museum of Army Flying, Hampshire from March and at Aysgarth Station Heritage Site, North Yorkshire in May. The exhibition looks at the role of the Post Office during the Great War.

Visit our website for full details of our programme of events and exhibitions.

‘Well adapted for the purpose…’

In November 1840 Rowland Hill proposed an experiment whereby letter boxes would be erected throughout London and other towns. He felt that this would “add greatly to the public convenience”, however little came of his proposal beyond the use of sacks and baskets being placed at letter receiving houses and main railway stations.

Following Postal Reform there was an explosion in the use of the Post Office. The volume of letters rose as did the complaints of a populace starved of an efficient system of collecting letters now prepaid by the sender. The 1850s was a decade where the Rural Letter Post System underwent radical change. It was Rowland Hills’s wish that the free delivery of letters be extended to all villages and hamlets where it could be justified. Post Office Surveyors were instructed that any place that received 100 letters each day should be awarded a delivery. However the revision did not proceed as fast as Headquarters wished and one particularly resourceful and efficient Surveyor’s Clerk, Anthony Trollope, was given the job of speeding things up in several districts.

In 1851, Trollope was heavily involved with his review of the postal services of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, and the six southern Welsh counties, as well as the Channel Islands. In November 1851 Trollope was sent to the Channel Islands to make recommendations on how to improve their postal service. His reports were then assessed by his superior George Creswell, the Surveyor for the Western District of England and passed to postal headquarters in London.

There had been many complaints from the islanders regarding the delay to their mail and the efficiency of the clerks charged with sorting the mail for delivery on Jersey quickly came under Trollope’s scrutiny, he was scathing in his assessment of their work. They were advised that if a great improvement in their work did not take place then they may be discharged. Each of the five letter carriers was receiving 8/- per week for an average walk of between 30 and 40 miles. If the amount of mail delivered was particularly large following the arrival of a packet boat, they could not complete their delivery on the same day and a reply via the same packet was impossible. Trollope’s proposals originally centred on keeping the same number of delivery staff but pre-sorting correspondence at the head office and then despatching it to rural offices where each messenger would collect it. As part of the revision, horses were provided to the five letter carriers, the workforce was increased to eight and the walks sub-divided. Unfortunately this also meant a reduction in their pay to 7/- per week.

However, it was another of Trollope’s proposals to his superior Creswell that is of particular interest to anyone with an interest in street furniture:

There is at present no receiving office in St. Helier, and persons living in the distant parts of the town have to send nearly a mile to the principal office. I believe that a plan has obtained in France of fitting up letter boxes in posts fixed at the road side, and it may perhaps be thought advisable to try the operation of their system in St. Helier – postage stamps are sold in every street, and therefore all that is wanted is a safe receptacle for letters, which shall be cleared on the morning of the despatch of the London Mails, and at such times as may be requisite. Iron posts suited for the purpose may be erected at the corners of streets in such situations as may be desirable, or probably it may be found more serviceable to fix iron letter boxes about 5 feet from the ground, wherever permanently built walls, fit for the purpose, can be found, and I think that the public may safely be invited to use such boxes for depositing their letters.

Pillar boxes had been in use on the continent for just a few years previous. It is fairly obvious from the surviving correspondence that the use of pillar boxes by the British Post Office was already being considered within the upper echelons of postal headquarters. However, beyond a few wooden boxes or bags hung in railway stations and apertures in windows, the introduction of anything more substantial had not occurred in Britain. Trollope recommended the experimental use of pillar boxes at four sites in St. Helier in Jersey

John Tilley (also Trollope’s brother-in-law) who was to later succeed Rowland Hill as Secretary to the Post Office, stated that their use on Jersey would be a “good opportunity to try the system. Creswell also agreed with Trollope’s proposal, adding that – “… no better opportunity of trying the experiment of ‘roadside’ letter boxes could be selected”. Within the month, the Postmaster General had approved the experimental introduction of the pillar boxes. Trollope immediately followed this up with a request to extend the trial to St. Peter Port on neighbouring Guernsey and another three boxes were approved.

I beg to recommend that similar road side letter boxes may also be trialled at St. Peter Port in that island

Introduction of pillar boxes. (POST 14/35)

Introduction of pillar boxes. (POST 14/35)

In December 1851, Tilley wrote to the Postmaster General regarding Trollope’s findings and proposals in Jersey, he finished his letter:

Mr. Trollope appears to have given much attention to the subject and your Lordship may perhaps think it right to inform him that you are much satisfied with the manner in which it has been treated

The Postmaster General agreed. Certainly, it was Trollope that aside from revising rural posts and pushing for efficiency also had the vision to see the potential for the first use of pillar boxes by the British Post Office and actually recommend and see through their introduction.

In a letter to the Postmaster General, Tilley referred to the proposed pillar boxes as being “well adapted for the purpose”. A local contractor – John Vaudin was engaged in July 1852 to construct the boxes for both Jersey and Guernsey at a cost of £7 each. Trollope’s roadside letter boxes, referred to as ‘assistant post offices’ by the Jersey Times, came into use on 23rd November 1852.

Post Office notice: Letter Boxes, Jersey, 1852.

Post Office notice: Letter Boxes, Jersey, 1852.

The pillar boxes were hexagonal, cast-iron, about four feet high and red in colour (though red as a standardised colour for post boxes was not settled on until 1874). The Royal Arms appeared on three sides, the words ‘Post Office’ on two sides, and on the remaining face, the words ‘Letter Box’ beside the vertical aperture. Boxes were mounted on a granite block, two feet deep and raised four inches from the ground. The boxes were “very favourably received by the public”. One box at the head of Bath Street in St. Helier was found to be too small for the amount of correspondence posted and was resited in Five Oaks, to the North-East of St. Helier. A replacement larger box was authorised in July 1853 but was too large and would have caused too much of an obstruction. Not to be put off, the Post Office simply arranged for a wall to be knocked down and rebuilt to make room for it. In 1853, Creswell was already proposing another eight boxes for rural districts on Jersey.

Trollope also carried out similar revision of the rural posts on Guernsey and Alderney. On 8th February 1853, the boxes on Guernsey opened for business. The authorities in St. Peter Port had been so approving of the new pillar boxes that they had agreed that if the Post Office provided another box then they would meet the cost of construction of another two, making six in total.

1853 Guernsey pillar box, still in use today. (P5856)

1853 Guernsey pillar box, still in use today. (P5856)

Sadly, none of the boxes erected in Jersey in 1852 survive today, however one of those on Guernsey, first erected in 1853, is still receiving mail today. Another of the 1853 boxes originally in use on Guernsey survives in the BPMA collection as does one of the first mainland boxes erected the same year.

Pillar box errected on Guernsey, Channel Islands, 1853. (OB1996.653)

Pillar box errected on Guernsey, Channel Islands, 1853. (OB1996.653)

The first box on mainland Britain was manufactured by Abbott and Company and was erected at Botchergate, Carlisle around September 1853. That box too, has not survived the intervening years. Soon after, approval was given for Trollope’s proposed installation of pillar boxes in Gloucester while he was revising the rural posts there. It appears to be the case that each District Surveyor then became responsible for the establishment of pillar boxes in his district, sourcing not only the manufacturer but also frequently being responsible for the design. A National Standard design of pillar box was approved in 1859 but development in design carries on to this day.

Julian Stray – Curator

Visit our website to read more about the history of Letter Boxes, or go to Flickr to see images of some interesting pillar boxes.

The BPMA Shop is celebrating the 160th anniversary of the pillar box with a special offer on our Pillar Box Postcard set (set of 4 cards, £2.50) and Museum Collection Guide booklet & postcard set (1 guidebook and 1 set of 6 postcards, £7.00) – with images and information of the historic letter boxes from the BPMA Museum Collection. They are available online at www.postalheritage.org.uk/postcards and you can get them with FREE Postage & Packaging until 30 Nov 2012 – just enter the discount code L3TT3RBOX at checkout.