25 February 2017

Cornwall: Matters philatelic

I say ‘matters philatelic’ though, in truth, this post is not about stamps but rather about the objects into which we place our stamped articles in order to have them collected and whisked away to their destinations, i.e. the various types of post and pillar boxes I spotted in Cornwall – and one phone box, for good measure, for no good reason other than the fact that I liked it. So, jumping right in ...

This first box dates from the reign of George V, so would have been installed some time between 1910 and 1936. Though George V’s post and pillar boxes only used the initials GR, they can be distinguished from the later George VI’s by the mere fact that they don’t show a regnal number. This box is slotted into the front wall of the Post Office at St Mawes but it appears to be front opening so mail collection would presumably be by a P.O. van driver rather than by local Post Office staff.

Sadly, this wall box in Porthscatho is now out of service, and the interior of the building to which it is attached is empty. A little googling resulted in the information that the quay-side Post Office at Porthscatho was closed and the services re-assigned to a local shop in early 2015, despite a significant protest by the local community. This box also dates from George V’s era but is a different design to the one in St Mawes: the king’s initials are placed lower on the box and are more prominent.

Next up is this typical example of a George V pillar box that I found just uphill from the old harbour at Newquay. As I have written previously, 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, of course, as the kings and queens have changed, so have the royal initials on the front of the boxes. 

These boxes are made of cast-iron so, as long as they’re given a regular coat of paint, they will last a long time, as this box bears witness.

This lamp box (those designed to be fitted to lamp posts or on their own free-standing pedestal) takes the prize as the newest box I’ve ever seen. It looked like it had never been used. 

To be honest, the box looked very incongruous as it was located in Mevagissey, one of Cornwall’s gorgeous historic fishing villages, where I would have expected to see much older boxes being preserved and used.

However, I may have found a clue to why this new box is there: I found photos online (from the St Austell Voice, issue 545, dated 28 September 2016) showing contractors illegally removing a post box from the Grade-II listed former Post Office building (illegal as they did not having planning consent to do this) and a story about the catastrophe on another website

Perhaps this modern lamp box is the replacement. A sad tale indeed!

My last two boxes were found in the historic village of Tintagel. No, they don’t date from the time of King Arthur, but not only is there a very nice George VI wall box (at right; note the king’s regnal number subtly placed between his scripted initials, which is how you know this is George the sixth not the fifth), there is also a wall box dating from the reign of Queen Victoria (above), not something you see very often these days. 

This looks to be one of the earliest wall box designs as it doesn’t have a pediment to prevent rain entering the mail slot (an early design flaw), though it does have that rather odd-looking rectangular attachment along the top (perhaps a modern-day modification). As you may be able to read, the box can only be used during the summer months.

But wait, there’s more. Not only is this a wonderful VR wall box, this box is set into the wall of Tintagel’s Old Post Office, a building that is now owned and administered by the National Trust

As you can probably tell from that wavy roof line, this building is old: it is believed to date from the 14th century, beginning life as a humble farmhouse and gradually being added to over the centuries to become a manor house. One room of the house was used as the village post office from around the 1870s and summertime visitors can still see that room, with its old post office equipment. Obviously, that’s yet another reason for me to return to Tintagel.

And last but not least, a fun addition to this post – a charming old phone box I saw in St Ives. I couldn’t see if it was still functioning but I liked the addition off the hanging plant, clock and flag.

Quite recently I read in a newspaper article (The Telegraph, 3 January 2016) that ‘even in a country (England) famous for its eccentric past-times, photographing and cataloguing post boxes is the most niche and inexplicable of all hobbies’. Obviously, I cannot possibly agree but what do you think?

13 February 2017

Cornwall: Miscellaneous memorabilia

Mevagissey mermaid
Hanging on a wall in Mevagissey, above the most fascinating shop I saw in Cornwall, was this beautiful creature. I assume she’s a mermaid and, from the rear attachments, she would appear to have been a ship’s figurehead. Such figureheads adorned the prows of most ships from the 1500s right through to the mid 1800s and, though initially carved in wood, they were later made in lighter materials to reduce their weight, which could have a negative impact on how well a ship sailed.

Mermaids, of course, go back much earlier than the 1500s. In Ancient Greek mythology they were the sirens who seduced sailors, luring them to a watery grave, though there is a parallel alternative myth, reported by Pliny the Elder, that nude or semi-nude women could calm stormy seas. This more positive belief seems eventually to have prevailed as the mid nineteenth century saw bare-breasted mermaids appear once more as ships’ figureheads, and I assume that may well be when this Mevagissey mermaid dates from.

Mevagissey: male figurehead
Mevagissey was also home to another figurehead, firmly fixed to the first storey of an old building overlooking the harbour from Middle Wharf. This figurehead looks to be carved from wood and is male, from his more formal attire, perhaps a ship’s captain.

There is a small maritime museum in Mevagissey though, unfortunately, it was closed the day of our visit. I tried emailing their curator to ask for information on both these figureheads but got no response so, unless a chance reader can provide more information, the history of this chap must remain a mystery until I next visit Mevagissey.

Police station lamp in St Ives
And now for something completely different, as the various types of lights, lamps and lanterns that can be seen in streets, hanging off buildings, highlighting the entrances to public houses are other features that often capture my attention.

I noticed this old lamp hanging out the front of the Police Station in downtown St Ives. It shows the coat of arms of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, who are responsible for policing in the southern English counties of Cornwall and Devon. Though I haven’t been able to determine how old the lamp is, I can tell you that the motto on the coat of arms is In Auxilium Omnium, which translates as ‘To the assistance of everybody’. Rather surprisingly, each district police force in Britain seems to have its own local motto – I’d have thought there’d be one for the whole nation.

Light in Tintagel
And my final piece of fascinating-to-me-but-probably-weird-to-most-people group of miscellaneous memorabilia from my Christmas holiday in Cornwall is this object discovered in Tintagel, the town forever associated in most people’s minds with the legendary King Arthur.

As we all know, Arthur had a band of knights who were his right-hand men in all kinds of tricky situations so I assume the maker of this light stand had in mind the knights in armour during the design process – I think he might have confused his time periods though, as I’m not sure Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table would have worn this type of armour. Still, it’s a fun piece and it certainly brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘night light’!