David Chandler explains the origins of the humble postbox, and why some are more significant than others
Wherever you live or work in Enfield, pay a visit to your nearest postbox and take a proper look at it. Do you know the history of ‘your’ postbox? Where it was made? Whether it is rare or unusual?
To help, let’s take a whistle-stop tour of the history of the humble postbox. There are more than 115,000 boxes in the UK, including pillar boxes, lamp boxes, wall boxes and many other different types and designs. In fact, there have been more than 800 variations across the years.
The first letter box was introduced in Jersey in 1852. Mainland Britain soon followed, with Carlisle erecting a box in 1853. The first cylindrical pillar box (the design we’re most familiar with today) appeared in 1879. Boxes usually carry the cipher of the reigning monarch – a monogram with their initials and title – and our present queen, Elizabeth II, is shown as EIIR.
So what examples of postal heritage can be seen around Enfield? Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth II boxes are the most common, with lots of pillar boxes, wall boxes and lamp boxes to spot. The previous monarch was George VI and the borough has a number of pillar boxes from his reign. These were produced between 1936 and 1952.
As we go further back, we find a real rarity. Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 after just eleven months on the throne, so very few boxes were produced in that time. There are two surviving examples in Southgate out of a total of 130 in the whole UK, in Bramley Road and Dennis Parade; both of these are really special.
George V was monarch from 1910-1936, a period when Enfield was rapidly expanding, so it’s not surprising that there are lots from this period. George V boxes do not show a Roman numeral, just the initials GR.
Boxes for Edward VII (1901-1910) can also be found in Enfield and there is a fine example at the junction of Gordon Hill and Lavender Hill. Post a letter here and imagine all the correspondence it has handled for over a century!
Enfield also has some boxes from the late Victorian period, including a pillar from the 1880s in Park Avenue, near Village Road, and a wall box at Forty Hill, made by WT Allen & Co of London.
There’s an even older box not far away, and a rather unusual one too. In Holtwhites Hill, near Drapers Road, you will find an ‘anonymous’ box. Between 1879 and 1887 boxes did not carry a royal cipher – no-one knows exactly why – so this Victorian box dates from that period. It was made by Handyside of Derby (on many boxes, you will find the maker’s name at the base).
Another unusual box is outside Coleman’s Parade in Southbury Road. It dates from the reign of George V, but you will notice it has been painted gold. In 2012, Royal Mail honoured each Olympic and Paralympic gold medal winner from ‘Team GB’ with a gold box in their home town. If you visit the box, you will see it bears a plaque, to commemorate the medal won by Charlotte Dujardin for dressage. Next to the gold box is a modern ‘business box’ for franked mail pouches and parcels.
Now you have an idea of some of the different types, you can identify your local boxes and see how many variations you can spot around the borough yourself. Happy hunting!
Learn more about UK postboxes via the Letter Box Study Group: