Thursday, June 16, 2022

Rousham, Oxfordshire


Dashing for the post

I always make a point of looking at old post boxes. The post (‘snail mail’) has always been a major part of my life. Before email (and its precursor, the fax) I was always always popping round the corner to the local post box, or dashing to the post office to get some urgent missive or piece of text dispatched. So it was not unusual that I paused by this wall box close to the big house at Rousham. A Victorian box, I thought. Nothing unusual about that – there are quite a few of these wall boxes, well over one hundred years old and bearing the ‘VR’ monogram of Queen Victoria, still in use, often in remote locations. But then I looked a little closer and saw that this one was a slightly different design from those I’ve seen before. It’s quite tall in relation to its width and instead of the Queen’s monogram being right at the top, it’s further down, beneath the inscription ‘Post Office’ (at the very top, just about visible) and ‘Letter box’ (just below the slot). In addition, the words ‘Cleared at’ appear below the monogram, acting as a heading to the label below, which gives the times at which the box is emptied. A further touch: the box is topped with a triangular pediment – most wall boxes are simple rectangles.

All this is so much fine detail, which is not interesting to everyone (are you still reading?). But it reminds us that many different designs of post boxes were produced and that preserving such valuable and useful bits of street furniture isn’t simply a matter of counting (‘We have n-hundred Victorian boxes, does it matter if we lose one?’); it’s about checking the details, and making sure we don’t unknowingly let go of something unusual or unique. Looking at images of similar ones online, this one may be a National Standard No 2 Small Wallbox* design, which goes back to about 1859.

Hanging on to this kind of thing is also about respecting the histories of the people and firms that made them. Cast into the metal at the bottom of this box is a manufacturer’s name. Alas I can’t make it out, because it’s encrusted with layers of paint, but the final word is ‘Birmingham’, so that’s where the makers were based. Names associated with this kind of box include the Eagle Foundry and Smith & Hawkes, both of Birmingham. Next time I go to Rousham, I must look again at the name on this box, armed with these names, and see if one of them fits.

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* The very name suggests that it’s one of numerous different designs of large and small wallboxes in use alongside a further variety of free-standing pillar boxes.

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