Friday, February 11, 2011

Great Malvern, Worcestershire


Pillar of the community

I’m always on the lookout for interesting street furniture (although I’m not sure I like the term) – horse troughs, drinking fountains, benches, bollards, and pillar boxes. Maybe they’re not quite buildings, but many early pillar boxes are certainly miniature works of architecture, none more so than the kind, now very rare, that are actually made in the form of a pillar.

The idea of making post boxes in the form of fluted Doric columns seems to have begun in 1856, just three years after Britain’s first post box was installed. At this time there was no single standard design, and post-box pioneers were trying out different ideas. The Doric boxes were cast at Smith and Hawk’s Eagle Foundry in Birmingham, and were apparently designed by an architect called Edge. The first kind was in the form of a fluted column topped by a substantial bell-shaped dome on which was a large crown; the whole thing was about 8 feet tall. None of these monsters survive on our streets, but a few of the smaller models with the shallow domed top, like my example from a street in Malvern, can still be found. And very satisfying it is too, with its cast lettering, fluted body, and solid moulded base.

People who know about these things will have noticed one more unusual feature of this particular Victorian pillar box. It has a horizontal letter slot, like most modern post boxes but unlike most of the surviving Doric boxes, which have vertical slots. So the design of this box looks both back and forward, as well as making a cheering red splash on this quiet, rubble-walled street corner.

22 comments:

Edith Hope said...

Dear Philip, This is a most splendid example of a pillar box. Lipstick red and beautifully maintained. Certainly elegant enough to grace the streets of genteel Malvern!

The Vintage Knitter said...

What a thing of beauty to have on a street corner! I like to keep an eye open for post boxes too, noticing what reign they were erected in and their design. I haven't seen many for a while that have the oval 'Post Office' sign on top of the box - just the remains of the bracket.

Here's a thought - what if those early post box designers had eschewed those classical elements and went for gothic instead?!

Vinogirl said...

I love old post boxes. Used to have a VR (wall mounted) one at the top of the lane where I grew up. It was replaced in the 80s with an ER...now even the wall has gone!
More post boxes please.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Edith and Vinogirl: Glad you like this lovely red post box. I'll look out for another to post soon!

VK: It's interesting, your point about the lack of Gothic post boxes. Jonathan Glancey, in his useful little book Pillar Boxes, also makes this point, and speculates that it may be because, to the Victorians, letter-writing was associated with education, and education for them meant above all the Latin and Greek Classics. I'm sure there's some truth in this, although the Victorians built schools in both Gothic and Classical styles.

Hels said...

I am so glad they kept experimenting with the designs during the early years of post boxes. I have seen red, green and blue; in walls and free standing; square and round; topped and plain.

The fluted column was lovely... I have no problem with that. But topped with the bell-shaped dome on which was a large crown - that was too tall and out of balance, I think.

What survives now - in situ or in museums?

Anonymous said...

Cast iron castings were used a lot on buildings back then. I wonder if they adapted an existing column mold to make the pillar boxes? It would explain the existence of an 8 foot tall pillar box.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: None of the eight-foot boxes survives in situ. There may be one in Britain's Postal Museum collection, but I think most of their boxes are in store.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Anonymous: My guess is that the mould was made specially for the post box - when you subtract the dome and crown you have a rather squat column that would not have fitted in on most buildings. The reason the whole box was so tall was probably to make it highly visible - and remember, back in the 1850s there was no standard size or shape for a pillar box: people would not have been so surprised at its size as we are, used to our ubiquitous shorter boxes.

Peter Ashley said...

This is a superb example, thankyou. Still to photograph for the Unmitigated Collection is one with an Edward VIII cipher. A few were made and erected before he chucked in the crown.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: The Edward VIII boxes are rare, but there used to be one in Barnes, SW London. I expect it's still there.

Vinogirl said...

Wow...having just seen the King's Speech, I now want to see the Edward VIII post box, please (Philip or Peter)!

Anonymous said...

Photos of many Edward VIII postboxes can be seen at http://www.geograph.org.uk/search.php. Type something like 'Edward VIII' in the search box.

tcg said...

This site is a joy to browse through. Here's a question for anyone who'd like to field it. My husband will be teaching a course in Hitchcock's films this summer, and I'm wondering if there is a big house somewhere near London that the class could have a day out to tour, in order to give a feel for Hitchcock's Hollywood version of 'Manderley.' I know the actual house, Menabilly, that inspired du Maurier, isn't open to the public, and is too far from London in any case. Any and all ideas welcome, and thanks for a wonderful resource.

worm said...

we have two of these each end of the high street in Warwick, but I think with the vertical slot if memory serves

aw said...

Worm is correct. The Warwick boxes have vertical slits. I have both on my website. According to the book on letter boxes I consulted the Warwick ones date from 1856 so they have done good service. Framlingham, Suffolk has a couple of letter boxes of the same date but a different manufacturer and style. I think my favourite is the Penfold and there are seveal examples in Cheltenham.

Incidentally, my reference claims over a hundred letter boxes carrying Edward VIII cypher were produced, most of them still in use.

Jon Dudley said...

Bright Red and upright...what could be better.

I feel a sequel to the ubiquitous 'The King's Speech' and it's all to do with Mrs Simpson, her husband and his pillar boxes. Not that there's any symbolism in that.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you all for your comments. Interesting to read how many Edward VIII boxes there are. I suppose a lot of suburban housing had been built in that period and new boxes were needed for new streets.

I remember the Warwick boxes - I think the ones with vertical slits are slightly less rare than the horizontal type as seen in Malvern, but only slightly so.

TCG: Maybe your husband should consider one of the National Trust houses in Surrey - not that far from London and interesting. E.g. Polesden Lacy is redolent of the Edwardian era, not too long before du Maurier's time.

tcg said...

Thank you, will do.

The Cloth Shed said...

Just found your blog...Great Malvern, Worcestershire caught my eye as I used to live there as a child.
Now living in beautiful Northumberland with our grand castles and country houses, I'm sure you are familiar with them.
Julie x

Philip Wilkinson said...

Julie: Thanks for your comment. Hope you continue to enjoy the buildings – which are mostly southern at the moment, although I hope to get up to the North to revisit some of those wonderful castles and houses some time.

Dorothy Hall said...

Having talked about Edward VIII post boxes what about post offices Chester le Street Co Durham has the Edward VIII cypher in one of the windows and was opened in 1936 how many more are there - local legend says 5

Thanks

Dorothy

Philip Wilkinson said...

Dorothy: I'm sorry to say I don't know the answer to this question. Many Post Offices were built in the 1930s, so I'd guess that a few Edward VIII ones exist, but I've no idea how many.