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

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