Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The early post

This 1863 Liverpool Special pillar box* at Liverpool's Albert Dock is the survivor of seven that were originally made for the city. It dates to a time when the idea of a standard post box (indeed the idea of a post box tout court) was still quite new. The variety of different designs made since the first boxes appeared in the early 1850s led the Post Office to introduce a standard design – a cylindrical box with a horizontal slot – in 1859. But not everyone liked it and Liverpool's authorities went for their own design. What's now called the Liverpool Special, topped with a crown, was the result.

I've posted this striking box today because the Royal Mail and Historic England† have just announced a new agreement to ensure the protection and preservation of the country's post boxes – there are 115,300 of them – in their existing locations. This comes at a time when postal services are much used (all those packages containing items bought on the internet, all that junk mail), but when the old-fashioned letter post is in decline thanks to the prevalence of email. I'm pleased this initiative is being taken: readers who return regularly to this blog with know of my liking for old boxes – pillar boxes, lamp boxes, Ludlows, and the rest. Let's all resolve to post some letters, so that they're actually used.

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*The image of the Liverpool Special box is from a photograph by Steve Knight.

†Historic England is the public body that looks after England's 'historic environment'.


Billy Blue Eyes said...

I like it, shame there are not more around

Hels said...

My absolutely favourite author (Anthony Trollope) worked in the post office and it was him who recommended and designed the first letter box. Probably people had tried them before Trollope, but certainly his contribution was in 1854, in the Channel Islands. Not long after, his design was spread to London and other places. I am not sure I would have liked Trollope's sage green and a ball on top; your red Liverpool example is much more familiar.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I am always writing letters, partly for the pleasure of posting them in the little post box at the end of our street. There is something satisfying about hearing them flop into their position to begin their journey to their destination. Much more therapeutic than sending an e-mail.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Yes. Trollope was the pioneer of public letter boxes. We owe the concept to him, I think, although the designs of the boxes have evolved, and are different in different places around the world.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: The synthesized 'whoosh' that my Mac produces when I press 'send' and an email departs on its way is perhaps an attempt at an equivalent for the flop of the letter as it falls into the box. But it's no substitute: the sound a letter makes can vary quite a bit, depending on its weight and how full the box is. An example of the unpredictability of the real world.

bazza said...

I happy that the existing boxes will be preserved. There is a lovely octagonal 'Penfold' pillar box from 1869 in Walthamstow Village. It's not in use but is Grade II listed.
However, the Liverpool example is a thing of beauty (and nostalgia).
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Philip Wilkinson said...

Glad that Walthamstow still has its Penfold. The octagonal boxes are very elegant in my opinion. Cheltenham, not far from where I live, has eight of the twenty Penfolds that survive on England's streets. I really MUST photograph them.