Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Letter Box graveyeard and other posty stories

In The Woolwich Drill Hall circa 1965
Now one of the places I wish I had visited back in 1965 was the old Woolwich Drill Hall in the company of my friend Jean because there I would have seen a pretty impressive collection of old Victorian pillar boxes.

I suppose we take the pillar box like the telephone kiosk for granted and only really begin noticing them as they disappear from our streets.

And as you would expect here there is a rich and fascinating history, which is best told by Jean.

Victorian Letter Box
“In 1963 the Post Office began to replace all the single-aperture posting boxes in Central London with double-aperture ones.  

Concerned about the loss of so many Victorian examples, which were now being sold for their scrap metal value, I persuaded the manager of the SE London Postal District to send all those he recovered to the former Drill Hall in Woolwich, where I could try to identify the rarest examples and find them a Good Home.   

This he did, and I spent many Saturdays there in the task selecting boxes of all types for donation to a suitable museum. 

As I was in the early stages of researching the history of the many different kinds of Victorian letter boxes (which was to lead to my book The Letter Box, published in 1969), this gave me a unique opportunity to examine at close quarters and in one place the great variety in size and design. 

One of these recovered boxes was donated to The Eltham Society, which then (in 1965) had hopes of opening a small museum of local history in the Orangery. 

The first of many, 1952 Whitehall
Today, I am still looking after this 'Penfold' pillar box (named after its designer, J W Penfold, and dating from the 1860s) in my garden.

One of the replaced pillar boxes (of which all trace was sadly lost ) was England's first pillar box of the present Queen’s reign - erected in Whitehall, near the Horseguards' Parade in November 1952. 

Scotland's first pillar box of the present reign was unveiled at the Inch Housing Estate, Edinburgh, on 28 November. 

Within 36 hours it had been daubed with tar and, after a few more such incidents, it was blown-up by a home-made bomb.  Why?  

This was because it bore not only the legend Post Office and the crown of St Edward but also the E11R cypher, which was offensive to Scots as there had been no previous Scottish monarch of that name and, even worse, England's Elizabeth 1 was responsible for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scotland. 

A little bit of Scotland in Yorkshire
Early in 1953, the Secretary of State for Scotland proposed that future posting boxes and mail vans intended for use in Scotland should bear no cypher at all. 

His suggestion was taken up by the Post Office and, henceforth, these bore only the legend Post Office and the Scottish Crown. 

One of these Scottish post boxes was inadvertently sent to Keighley in Yorkshire- but this went unnoticed by the locals!

Many years later Royal Mail, in order to meet the demand for period letter boxes in special locations, commissioned facsimile 'Penfolds' for places such as Chislehurst in Kent.”

Story and research by Jean Gammons, November 2013

Source; The Letter Box – a history of Post Office Pillar and Wall boxes by Jean Young Farrugia-(Centaur Press 1969).  Further information can be obtained from the Letter Box Study Group

Pictures from the collection of Jean Gammons

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