24 February 2016

Pillar boxes, post boxes

Do you still post letters?

According to statistics published by the British Postal Museum, the number of letters posted via Royal Mail increased from 5,579,000,000 in the 1920/21 financial year to 16,649,000,000 in 2009/10 but, when you consider the massive population increase over the same period (44,082,000 at the 1921 Census, increasing to 63,182,000 at the 2011 Census), that’s not exactly good news for Royal Mail.

An Edward VII box in Albany Road, in Cardiff
Their stats also show that numbers have been dropping annually since they peaked at 20,196,000,000 in 2004/5 – as their report states: ‘Volumes … were boosted for twenty years by the impact of the revolution in information technology – until a flight of social and transactional correspondence to the internet triggered the precipitate decline starting in 2006’.   

Though the Uniform Penny Post began in Britain in 1840, it wasn’t until 1853 that the first roadside letter boxes were introduced after Anthony Trollope, then a Surveyor’s Clerk with the Post Office, later a famous novelist, saw them in use in France and Belgium. Though early boxes were painted green to merge with the landscape, it seems that colour also made them difficult to see, so pillar box red was invented and remains the colour of choice for today’s boxes.

Pillar box design was initially quite random but was standardised from 1859, though there have been many modifications to the basic design over the years. And, as the kings and queens have changed, so have the royal initials on the front of the boxes.

Of course, you don’t always have to post your letters in a pillar box as there are also wall and lamp boxes to chose from. No new wall boxes have been made since the 1980s as they, and their walls, were proving too expensive to maintain, but lamp boxes (those designed to be fitted to lamp posts or on their own free-standing pedestal) are just as popular as ever, and can frequently be seen in towns and in the countryside throughout the British Isles.

Like the bright red telephone box, pillar boxes and post boxes are truly iconic symbols of Britain, and I’d hate to see these design classics disappear. So, do me a favour and post a letter today!

All these boxes date from the reign of Queen Victoria

Above is the standard George V pillar box design, and below is a variation, complete with italicised initials on the front

Various designs of Elizabeth II pillar boxes

A lamp box in the middle of nowhere in the English countryside

20 February 2016

Cardiff: A celebration of tiles

My last two posts have been about the beautiful entrances to some of Cardiff’s magnificent old houses: ‘Welcoming Doors’ focused on the doors and the overall appearance of the doorways, and ‘Up the Garden Path’ looked more closely at the often intricately patterned tile paths leading up to the house entrances. Before I leave this subject, I want to delight your eyes with a look at some of the stunning tiles that decorate the house porches.

Unless the houses have been poorly maintained, which, sadly, is the case in many of Cardiff’s inner-city streets, or an ignorant owner has removed or, worse, painted them over, these gorgeous tiles can still be found throughout the city’s older suburbs.

The designs vary tremendously. Some feature a single pattern running the full height of the porch, others cover the full height but have a different pattern top and bottom. In some porches, the tiles have only been laid on the lower half, with the top halves painted or bricked.

In some streets, every house has the same design and the same colour-way, in others they have the same design but display variations in tile colours. And the designs themselves vary enormously, from simple geometric patterns to elaborate floral displays.

These tiles were perhaps an attempt by early 20th-century architects to brighten up what are otherwise quite monotonous rows of bland and featureless houses. And they provide a glowing testament to the skills of contemporary tile designers and makers. Feast your eyes on these beauties!

Remember, you can click on the photos to see them full screen.

There are similarities from one house to the next. The tiles on the right line the entrance to the house where I'm renting a flat.

The fan design is a popular one, and can be seen in many colour variations.

Variations in colour-ways at left and right, and the same flowers at the top in the centre photo.

At right, I've enlarged the image to show the detail in the tiles.

At right and left, the same tiles are used in the bottom panels but with different tiles in the top panels.

Houses in the same street, featuring the same designs.

08 February 2016

Cardiff: Up the garden path

In my last post Cardiff: Welcoming doors praising the beautiful entranceways of many of Cardiff’s old Edwardian and Victorian houses, I touched on the pavements or garden paths leading up to the front doors of these houses but only included one photograph. As their designs are so lovely, I thought I would share more images of these colourful geometric beauties.

Many of these tiles and designs originated from the factory of J. C. Edwards & Co of Ruabon, a town in North Wales famous for its clay and terracotta ware. Tessellated designs like these were a favourite of the Romans and, as well as the large pictorial mosaics the Romans are renowned for, their villas and palaces also contained corridors of more basic, geometric tessellated tiling. I can’t help but wonder if J. C. Edwards and his design team were influenced by such ancient buildings.

Of course, J. C. Edwards wasn’t the only tile designer and manufacturer working in the Victorian era, and Cardiff had its own highly esteemed companies making similar porch, floor and pavement tiles. One such was Gibbons, Hinton & Co of Brierley Hill, whose beautiful designs can be seen in many of Cardiff’s older suburbs, particularly in Maindy, north of Bute Park.

Even these curving black-and-white designs are works of art

Many of the garden path designs imitate the designs used for the flooring inside the magnificent old Victorian and Edwardian houses. Unfortunately, I can’t investigate those quite as easily as I can photograph people’s pathways but if you are interested in the interior tiles, or you have tiling that needs maintenance and restoration, the Building Conservation website has an excellent article about geometric and encaustic tiles.  

These paths have the same basic inner square pattern but the outer design has been adapted to fit the location

The designs of these beautiful pavements are highly adaptable and could easily be used as the template for a quilt, a tapestry or a rug. So, in order to share my images with fellow crafters and designers, I have uploaded them to a board on Pinterest, and I will continue to update that board as I find and photograph more of them. I would love to see what talented craftspeople are able to create using these timeless designs so please do contact me if you are inspired to produce something wonderful of your own.

Two different lengths of the same design