The ‘London Shoes’ blog this week focused on a topic that has been on my ‘To Do List’ for some time now – but one that I was a little bit self-conscious of doing, for fear of it making me look like the Nerdiest Nerd of Geeksville.
However, when researching the subject I was surprised at how interesting the topic actually turned out to be, especially in terms of London’s history – as the subject matter relates to a particular ‘street fixture’ we all pass by every day and most probably use quite frequently – and just simply take for granted.
So – my quest this week absolutely mullered me 60+Oyster ‘Free Travel’ Card, jumping on and off tube trains, and then traipsing along miles of streets, in search of London’s most historically significant……..“Pillar/Post Boxes”
Before highlighting the more unusual Pillar Boxes across the ‘Smoke’, it might be helpful to set the scene on the historic milestone events that took place in the lead up to the eventual arrival and standardisation of Pillar Boxes throughout the British Isles.
- Historic records show that a ‘postal service’ of sorts, dates right back to the reign of Henry VIII, as he actually created a “Master of the Posts” position for his Court.
- In 1635 King Charles I made a sort of postal service available to the public, where coach houses would accept deliveries of any packaging for forward transmission to the end of any coach route– all costs were paid out by the recipient of any mail.
- In 1660 King Charles II established the very first ‘General Post Office’ – and by 1784 the first official ‘Mail Coach’ was put into service, running between Bristol and London.
- By 1830 there were ‘Mail Trains’ running between Liverpool and Manchester.
- In 1837 a Rowland Hill invented and launched the very first adhesive ‘stamp’ – an invention that he was knighted for – and the entire postal service was finally standardised throughout the UK.
- In 1840 the first formal and nationally recognised ‘postage stamp’ the “Penny Black” – was launched.
- In 1852 the very first ‘Pillar Box’ was launched (in Jersey), followed by London’s very first pillar box which was formally launched in 1855.
That brief overview leads nicely in line with my search to track down what I believe to be 10 of London’s most intriguing, unusual and historically significant Pillar/Post Boxes still in situ on the City’s streets:-
St. Martin-le-Grand – EC2:
In 1866 a hexagonal shaped Post Box designed by an architect & surveyor by the name of John Penfold – was the very first standardised public post box to be erected in London – this became commonly known as the ‘Penfold Box’ – was it green in colour, and displayed the Royal cipher of Queen Victoria – “VR” which stands for “Victoria Regina”. A replica of that original design stands proudly in the street of St. Martin-le-Grand, near St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Cornwall Gardens – Knightsbridge:
Between 1866 & 1879 the design of the ‘Penfold Box’ was elaborated slightly – and from 1874, was ‘red’ in colour, and displays Queen Victoria’s Royal cipher.
Rutland Gate – Knightsbridge:
In the latter decades of the 1800’s the hexagonal design made way for a cylindrical ‘pillar’ shaped device with a ‘cap’ on top – designed by a post office employee named Anthony Trollope.
These early cylindrical boxes had no royal cipher and are known as ‘Anonymous’ boxes. This omission was corrected from 1887 when the words POST OFFICE were also placed either side of the ‘slot’.
It was said at the time that these ‘Pillar Boxes’ gave people the freedom of private correspondence – which especially benefited young women, who were now able for the first time to send letters, without being subjected to a trip to a Post Office.
To be fair, the design of future post boxes hasn’t really changed much since then.
Royal Hospital Rd – Chelsea:
Here stands a unique Victorian pillar box, believed to be the only one of its kind in Britain. The box built into the railings of the Royal Hospital – and it has “2” slots so that the ageing Chelsea Pensioners don’t have to leave the grounds of the hospital to post a letter.
Lombard Street – EC1:
In Lombard Street stands a 1889 Victorian ‘double aperture’ (e.g. 2 x slots) Trollope designed pillar box – One of many still in situ and use throughout the City.
Burlington Street Courtyard – Piccadilly:
At the entrance to The Royal Academy of Arts complex, stands an unusual, but beautifully designed ‘wooden’ post box from the Victorian era – installed at a time when an actual Post Office was located at this site.
Grey’s Inn Road – EC2:
Stands an extremely unique double slot post box displaying the royal cipher of King Edward V11 – “ER” which stands for Edward ‘Rex’ – the Latin male equivalent of ‘Regina’.
What makes this box so unique and unusual is that it has 2 different royal ciphers displayed on it – VR & ER. The simplest explanation for this is probably the ‘door’ to the original “ER” box became damaged, and was replaced with an available “VR” door that fitted.
Swedenborg Gardens – Shadwell-E1:
Here stands an extremely rare box, and it is believed that there may only be a handful still standing in the UK.
This post box displays the royal cipher of King Edward VIII – who was only on the throne for a total of 11 months before he abdicated his position to marry the love of his life Mrs. Wallace Simpson.
Tothill Street – Westminster:
In 2012 a number of existing pillar/post boxes were re-painted ‘Gold’ to celebrate Team GB’s success in the London Olympic Games.
Prince Consort Street – Knightsbridge:
At this location, more or less opposite the Royal Albert Hall, there is a 1978 design which moved away from the Victorian ‘pillar’ shape – to a shape that was deemed to be more ‘modern’ – There are still quite a few of these design of post boxes still around and in use today.
Through the day, there were another 6 historic Pillar/Post Boxes that I located – but I feel that the above represent the most historically interesting or influential ones.
So – after a tiring day exploring many nooks & crannies of London – my London Shoes were in need of the customary ‘cheeky’ liquid refreshment, but more importantly I was also in desperate need to ‘spend-a-penny’ – So I promptly sought out the nearest pub to where I was at that time, which happened to be the “Sir John Hawkshaw” – a small Wetherspoons pub located within the concourse of Cannon Street Station. (the pub is named after the man who designed the original Cannon Street Station way back in 1866).
So I ordered myself a ‘cheeky’ lager and a packet of cheese & onion – and asked where the toilets were – only to find out that, out of all the pubs in the ‘smoke’, I had gone and chosen the only one not to have a bloody khazi.!!!!
So therefore I had to leave me ‘cheeky one’ and packet of crisps up at the bar – exit the pub building, and head off towards the public loo on the stations main concourse – that just typifies the sort of things that happen to me. Anyway, when I eventually returned to the pub, I was pleased to see that my beer and crisps were still there up at the bar-and untouched – so all’s well that ends well, and I ended the day enjoying a nice little ‘dinky-donks’.
Weirdly, the outcome of this particular activity is that I will probably never look at a post-box in the same way again.