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Postboxes of the Isle of Wight

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The Isle of Wight Postal Museum by Bluebottle

Postboxes have been upstanding pillars of every British Community in a very literal sense for over 150 years. These loyal red and black devices allow anyone from the most rural communities to the heart of a busy city centre to send letters, small parcels and postcards to anywhere in the world. Every Christmas, people post pictures of robins on postboxes or thatched rural villages covered in white, with only the red of the postbox shining through. Postboxes have come to symbolise the centre of a caring community, a simpler time when everyone knew all their neighbours and stayed in contact through the use of postboxes.

Introduced in 1852 during the reign of Queen Victoria, over 117,000 postboxes are in use in Britain, and British postboxes can be found in use worldwide throughout countries that were part of Victoria's Empire1. The Isle of Wight is no exception.

Isle of Wight Postbox Locations

According to the Post Office, the Isle of Wight has 361 postboxes still in daily use2. These can be found in the following postal districts:

  • PO30 – Newport – 70 Postboxes
  • PO31 – Cowes – 38
  • PO32 – East Cowes – 17
  • PO33 – Ryde – 53
  • PO34 – Seaview – 9
  • PO35 –  Bembridge – 12
  • PO36 – Sandown – 46
  • PO37 – Shanklin – 22
  • PO38 – Ventnor – 54
  • PO39 – Totland – 10
  • PO40 – Freshwater – 14
  • PO41 – Yarmouth – 16

Types Of Postbox

There are three basic types of postbox:

  • Pillar box
    The standard type of postbox, these are usually iron cylindrical pillars five feet four inches tall, red with a black base. Since 1910 there have been five standard sizes used on the Island, although many variations do exist.

    • Type A – The standard wide size, a cylinder 1ft 7¼in wide. An example of twin EIIR A size pillars can be found at Ryde Post Office in Union Street.
    • Type B – A slimmer size, 1ft 3¼in wide.
    • Type G – unusual double rectangular iron boxes dating from 1974. One aperture would be for local Isle of Wight post, the other slot for post heading to the mainland and abroad, although the post is no longer separated in this way. There are plans to remove these double-boxes.
    • Type K – Cylindrical post-modern pillar box design without a cap. These were made between 1980-2000, replacing the Type B. These can be found in pairs outside the Post Offices in East Cowes, Sandown and Shanklin.
    • Fibre-glass postbox – in addition to the five types of iron pillar boxes, these can be found inside some of the Island's supermarkets.

  • Lamp box
    A smaller box, two feet tall or less. These were designed to be able to be attached to lampposts, telegraph poles or other convenient fixed points, although they are often mounted on their own stand. As pillar boxes are expensive to make, these supplement the pillar box network in the Island's quieter areas where a full pillar box would not be needed. Early lamp boxes have an arched roof, however since the Second World War in the reign of King George VI they have had a simplified design with a flat top, although the most modern design, nicknamed the Bantam, is quite curvy. A typical lamp box can be seen in Yaverland.

  • Wall box
    These are larger than lamp boxes3 (though not as tall as a pillar box) and usually built into a wall near a road. They are found in the Island's rural areas where streetlights and telegraph poles are less frequent, although a pair of large wall boxes can be seen outside the old Newport Post Office in the Island's capital. Wall boxes were made between 1857-1980.

    • Ludlow box
      A Ludlow box is a rare type of wall box normally made out of wood with an iron door, often but not always made by Ludlow & Son of Birmingham, usually found at small post offices. Anyone opening a sub-post office without a postbox had to pay to have a postbox installed themselves; wooden boxes were much cheaper than their iron equivalent. As many sub-post offices have closed, few remain in service nationwide. Although there were two in active service on the Island at the start of the 21st Century at Medina and Hunnyhill Post Offices, both have now been removed. The Hunnyhill Ludlow box is now in the Isle of Wight Postal Museum.

Despite these categories, around 700 different types of postbox have been used in Britain: 380 different pillar boxes, 80 different lamp boxes, 160 types of wall boxes and 66 Ludlow boxes. Postboxes were created by many different manufacturers and have evolved over time. This means that postboxes which, at first glance, appear to be identical, often have many subtle differences that are not apparent to the untrained eye.

Eras of Postbox

Postboxes date from six distinct eras, identifiable by the Royal cypher and crown proudly displayed on the front of the box. The Royal cypher is in Latin and consists of the monarch's initial, Roman numerals indicating which king or queen with that name they are, and R, standing for Regina for queens Victoria and Elizabeth II, or Rex for kings Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI. Each monarch's cypher has the initials in a different font and typeface.

  • Victoria
    Cypher: VR
    Crown: Imperial State Crown on wall boxes. Many pillar boxes do not have a crown, others have the Royal Coat of Arms, a cypher or are anonymous
    Date: 1850s-1901

  • Edward VII
    Cypher: EVIIR4
    Crown: Early examples of wall box have Imperial State Crown, most Tudor Crown (semi-circular arch)
    Date: 1901-10

  • George V5
    Cypher: GR
    Crown: Tudor Crown
    Date: 1910-36

  • Edward VIII
    Cypher: EVIIIR
    Crown: Tudor Crown
    Date: 1936

  • George VI
    Cypher: GVIR
    Crown: Tudor Crown
    Date: 1936-52

  • Elizabeth II
    Cypher: EIIR
    Crown: St Edward's Crown (dimpled shape arch)6
    Date: 1952-present

Some early postboxes did not contain the royal cypher. These, known as Anonymous boxes, include some built before the first introduction of a standard design in 1859 and pillar boxes constructed 1879-92.

Pillar Postbox Parts

  • Cap
    The top of a pillar postbox is the cap, designed to shield the aperture from the elements, especially rain. Some postbox caps have a POD, 'Post Office Direction' sign, pointing in the direction of the nearest post office.

  • Aperture
    Also known as the 'mouth', this is the slot through which postcards and letters are posted.

  • Indicator Tablet
    Above the aperture is located this number, telling the time or day of next collection.

  • Collection Plate
    This is a notice that gives details of collection times and often the location of other postboxes with later last collection times.

  • Crown and Royal Cypher
    Located on the door below the indicator tablet, these identify who was on the throne at the time of the postbox's construction. Many postboxes have 'Post Office' inscribed beneath the royal cypher. Postboxes built since 1994 are inscribed with 'Royal Mail' instead7.

  • Door
    The locked door on the front contains the aperture, indicator tablet, collection plate, crown and royal cypher.

  • Base
    Usually painted black, the name of the box's manufacturer is often found printed on the base. The base is buried below ground to improve security and stability.

  • Carcass
    The main body of the box that the door is attached to below the cap. Inside is a chute to help the postman collect post into his sack.

  • Pouch Box
    Often attached to the side of the pillar box, these are used by the postman to store mail for onward delivery etc. These were intended to replace Post Offices.

Wall and lamp boxes are similar in having a main body or carcass and a door containing aperture, indicator tablet, collection plate, crown and cypher.

The Oldest Isle of Wight Postbox

The oldest postbox to see service on the Isle of Wight is sadly no longer on the Island, but is part of the British Postal Museum & Archive collection and normally based at their museum in Debden, Essex. Built in 1854 and originally intended to be destined for Southampton, it was positioned outside Ventnor Town railway station8 instead, until the railway closed in 1966.

Despite being positioned on the Isle of Wight, it is known as an Early Mainland pillar box. This is because the first postboxes in Britain appeared in the Channel Islands, with Jersey receiving five in November 1852, Guernsey having four in early 1853 and the first postbox appearing on the mainland later in 1853. At this time regional postal districts were responsible for the collection of mail within their areas and the Isle of Wight was within the south-west region, the first British region outside the Channel Islands to introduce postboxes. Before 1861 each region had its own unique postbox design9.

This postbox from the Isle of Wight is therefore one of the very oldest surviving postboxes in the UK, either the third, fourth or fifth oldest postbox in the British Isles. It post-dates two surviving original Channel Island postboxes10 and is one of only three11 surviving postboxes of its kind. One of these, at Barnes Cross, Dorset, is known to have been one of the last of their postboxes built and is the oldest postbox still in service in its original location in Britain. The other is in the Haverfordwest town museum, dating from 1857, and is the oldest postbox in Wales.

The postbox was made by John M Butt & Co in Gloucester, it is octagonal and made out of iron. The postbox is painted green; red was not introduced as the standard postbox colour until 1874, when it was realised that in fog or mist green postboxes were difficult to see. As an early postbox, the aperture is unusually vertical rather than horizontal. It is shorter and fatter than standard pillar boxes today, only 4ft 7in tall, 1ft 8in diameter. Other distinguishing features include a small, pointed cap, and Victoria's cypher is written in a different font than is prevalent on later postboxes.

More information about this postbox can be seen on the British Postal Museum & Archive website. When contacted about this postbox, the British Postal Museum & Archive replied:

OB1994.2212 is a VR Early Mainland Pillar Box that was previously erected at Ventnor Railway Station. It was not manufactured on the Isle of Wight, but was sent to that place for use. This dates from 1854. Currently on display at Rathbone Place. A very nice object indeed.

At time of writing, this postbox is the pride of the Royal Mail display at the Royal Mail's premiere London office, Rathbone Place.

The Second Oldest Isle of Wight Postbox

In 1857 the first wall boxes were introduced in Britain. These were postboxes designed to be recessed into a wall, for use in rural areas without pavements or street lamps. The first type of wall box was the First National Standard, made by Smith & Hawkes Ltd between 1857-9. Only ten of these boxes survive, however one dating from 1857 is in the wall of former Westmont School building, Carisbrooke Road, Newport, in almost exactly its original position. This makes it one of the oldest surviving wall boxes in the country, with only one in Oxford dating from the same year. This wall box was to be demolished but was preserved by a campaign spearheaded by the local postbox enthusiast who runs the Isle of Wight Postal Museum, as reported in the local newspaper.

Locations of Rare Postboxes in Active Service on the Island

On the Island there are numerous Edward VII, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II wall, lamp and pillar boxes, however there are also some unusual delights, including the historic Victorian postboxes and rare Edward VIII pillar boxes.

Victorian Postboxes

There are 28 Victorian postboxes still in active service on the Island. Sadly no lamp boxes remain, however there are a number of pillar boxes and wall boxes, including the one dating from 1857.

Victorian Pillar Boxes:

  • The oldest pillar box still in use on the Island is a Type B Anonymous box of circa 1881. This is located at Bonchurch Shute, near Ventnor.
  • Appropriately, there is a Victorian pillar box within the grounds of Osborne House13, East Cowes14. This is the sole Type A Victorian postbox on the Island. Osborne House itself is located just a short bike ride north of the Isle of Wight Postal Museum.
  • There are two Victorian pillar boxes in Newport. One is in St Thomas' Square, near St Thomas Minster, adjacent to no 14.
  • There are three Victorian Type B pillar boxes in Ventnor, one of which is on Ventnor High Street on the pavement near the Central Car Park.
  • One is located outside the supermarket on Shooters Hill in Cowes.
  • There is also one Type B VR box in Ryde.

Victorian Wall Boxes:

There are no large A size VR wall boxes on the Island, however there are three B size wall boxes, 11 small early wall boxes, including the First Standard wall box of 1857, and five later type C wall boxes.

  • There is a B size VR wall box is Star Street, Ryde.
  • A second B size is at Station Road, Yarmouth.
  • The third B size is in the wall of West Billingham barn, adjacent to Berry Shute Road.
  • There is an early VR wall box in the rear wall of Dairy Cottage, Godshill Road, Whitwell.
  • One is in the wall of The Hermitage, Cliff Road, Totland. The Isle of Wight Coastal Path passes this box.
  • One is built into the boundary wall of Lower Hunnyhill Farmhouse, Brighstone.
  • One is located on the corner of Queen's Road and Mornington Road, Cowes.
  • One is located in Newtown.
  • One is located in Gatcombe.
  • There are two in Newport.
  • There is one in Ningwood.
  • One early small VR wall box is in Chillerton.
  • Later VR type C wall boxes can be seen in Ventnor, where there are two.
  • One can be seen in Newchurch.
  • One can be seen in Totland.
  • One is in the boundary wall of Old School Court, on the corner of St John's Road and Appuldurcumbe Road, Wroxall.

Edward VIII Postboxes:

King Edward VIII is the rarest monarch to find on a postbox. As Edward abdicated and was never crowned, only 161 pillar boxes were made during his reign. Many of these were vandalised following Edward's abdication or had their door replaced with a door containing the cypher of a less contentious monarch. The Isle of Wight is exceptional in having two Edward VIII pillar boxes still in active service.

  • Edward VIII pillar postbox, corner of Melville Street and Royal Crescent, Sandown.
  • Edward VIII pillar postbox, Green Lane, Shanklin.

Air Mail Boxes

Three former Air Mail Type B postboxes survive on the Island. Between 1930 and 1938 post to be sent abroad was to be posted in special postboxes, coloured Air Force Blue, with 139 Air Mail Boxes set up in London, 174 elsewhere. These boxes were Type B pillar boxes and had an 'Air Mail' label and special double collection-plates on the door, informing users how often Royal Mail delivered to countries around the world and what the costs were. Before the outbreak of war Air Mail boxes were withdrawn, with air mail posted in ordinary postboxes. The Air Mail boxes themselves were painted red, had their double collection-plates replaced with single ones and the 'Air Mail' labels removed, with only marks on their doors showing where these were and the interior containing traces of the original blue paint. Three of these boxes can be found on the Island, two in Binstead and one in Apse Heath.

Square Boxes

There are two double Type G square pillar boxes on the Island, outside Newport Guildhall and opposite Shanklin Theatre. There are also, unusually, two single type G pillars together at the bottom of St James Street Newport near the bus station. The Type G were introduced in 1974 to replace the 1968 Type F steel square boxes, which wore badly, however locally as well as nationally the square postboxes were not popular and labelled 'ugly'. The Isle of Wight Post Office Advisory Committee was flooded with complaints about these boxes, particularly the one in Newport, so much so that on 14 January, 1983, it was announced that they had looked into removing the Newport box. However, discovering it would cost £500 to move, they allowed these boxes to remain. When interviewed at the time by the Isle of Wight County Press, Island head postmaster Mr King said:

It was a complete surprise there was hostility to an inoffensive, smart letter box. We thought we would get a pat on the back for what we had done.

Sadly at time of writing, plans to remove these boxes have again been announced.

Former Postboxes

In the past there have been many other charming and picturesque postboxes on the Island that are sadly no longer with us. There used to be a 'Father and Daughter' pair of pillar boxes (George VI and Elizabeth II) outside Bembridge15 Post Office on the corner of Queen's Road and Foreland Road. Although both of these postboxes are common, having this combination next to each other rather than a Type C double postbox is highly unusual. Originally one was for local post, the other for mainland and abroad. Sadly when the post office closed, these boxes were removed.

A VR wall box used to be set into the western wall of the Fountain Inn, near the Red Jet ferry terminal, Cowes. This is now part of the Isle of Wight Postal Museum collection.

Last Post – The Isle of Wight Postal Museum

Curiously, although collecting stamps is a fairly common hobby, collecting postboxes is more unusual. This may be related to the fact that pillar boxes weigh up to a ton, which is rather more than the average stamp. Fortunately since 2003 there has been an Isle of Wight Postal Museum, one of the world's largest private collections of postboxes and the largest private postbox collection in the UK, with over 200 postboxes from Britain and Ireland on display.

The Isle of Wight Postal Museum is a private collection rather than a museum, open by appointment only. Despite being located off the A3054, one of the Island's busiest roads and a short distance from the site of the Isle of Wight Festival since 2002, the collection is idyllically located in a rural field next to a small copse, and so rare red squirrels can be seen frequently frolicking among the red pillar boxes16, and buzzards circle overhead. Many of the smaller lamp and wall boxes are contained within a purpose-built museum building, a comfortable chalet on site.

Pillar Boxes

Outside the museum are the pillar boxes, many of which are arranged in a U-shape, showing the natural progression and evolution of the pillar box from the first national design to its modern incarnation.

The first pillar box was introduced in 1852 in the Channel Islands. Between 1852 and 1859 pillar boxes began to be installed in different postal regions of Britain, with the boxes unique to each local postal region. One noticeable change over the last 160 years is the size of the aperture. In Victoria's reign letters were much smaller than today. Paper was quite expensive and so paper sizes were smaller17. Letters then were written on paper about the size of a postcard.

  • First National Standard - 1861
    In 1859 a single cylindrical and capped postbox design was adopted for use throughout Britain, known as the First National Standard. This was based on an ornate Grecian-decorated design by London's Committee for Science & Art in 1857, but simplified. The example in the Postal Museum dates from 1861 and is anonymous, without crown or Royal Cypher. Originally these were painted green as it was feared that postboxes would be unpopular and it was hoped a colour like green would make them unobtrusive. However postboxes were an instant, popular success, with the unobtrusive green colour their major downfall; they were difficult to spot, especially during London's pea-souper fogs.

  • Penfold - 1866-79
    After the First National Standard box, a new postbox was designed by architect John W Penfold. This elegant design was hexagonal and has a cap decorated with acanthus leaves, and is considered to be the most attractive postbox design18. Penfold boxes came in three sizes and five different types, with 12 different Penfold designs in existence today. The problems with the Penfold design were that it was expensive to produce, the corners were structural weak points, and it was harder to manoeuvre than the First National Standard as, unlike cylindrical designs, it was impossible to roll Penfolds along the ground to where they were required, and instead had to be carried. The museum contains two original and one replica Penfold. Penfolds were the first postboxes to be originally painted red, after 1874. They decorated with Victoria's Cypher and Royal Coat of Arms

  • Anonymous - 1879-87
    In 1879 postbox designs returned to cylindrical designs, which were cheaper, stronger and more easily transportable than hexagonal pillars. This was essentially the same design as used today, coming in two versions, a large Type A and a thinner Type B, however they were made without the Royal Cypher or crown. The earliest Anonymous boxes' aperture, in which the post is inserted, was immediately below the cap, dissecting a decorative beading line. In these boxes, known as High Aperture Anonymous boxes, post was often caught and trapped, and so a second version, known as the Low Aperture Anonymous box, was made from 1883 onwards. Both a High Aperture and Low Aperture Box are on display.

  • VR Boxes - 1887-1901
    From 1887 Queen Victoria's cypher, VR, was added to the front of the pillar boxes. In 1899 the Type A and Type B boxes were joined by the Type C, an oval-shaped double postbox, with two apertures. Slightly shorter than Type A and B boxes, being 5ft 3in tall, 2ft 10½in wide and 1ft 10¼in deep. Examples of all three types are on display.

  • EVIIR - 1901-10
    On the death of Queen Victoria her son Albert became King Edward VII19 and postboxes continued in a similar style, with a flamboyant EVIIR cypher and adorned by the Tudor Crown, but with a wider aperture than the Victorian postboxes. From 1904 in order to completely eliminate the problem of envelopes sticking at the top of the box, the aperture became part of the door and so jams could easily be rectified, and the bases were made smaller to save on material. Still coming in Types A, B and C, this design remains in use today. There are examples of all types from this period in the museum.

  • GR - 1910-36
    George V inherited the throne in 1910 and his reign continued the designs of his father, examples of Types A, B and C are in the collection. Since George V the manufacturer's names are recorded on the back of the base rather than the front.

  • Type D - 1932
    One innovation during the reign of George V was the addition of stamp-vending machines to the sides of postboxes in 1932. Two sizes of postbox with this were produced, known as Types D and E20. A useful idea, sadly in practice these were vandalised and so were not continued. A remarkably intact Type D can be found at the museum.

  • Airmail Box - 1930-8
    Between 1930 and 1938 post to be sent abroad was to be posted in special Air Mail postboxes, coloured Air Force Blue. These Type B pillar boxes had an 'Air Mail' label and special double collection-plates on the door, informing users how often Royal Mail delivered to countries around the world and what the costs were. Before the outbreak of war Air Mail boxes were withdrawn, with only three other examples in their original condition. One is outside Windsor Castle, one is at Bruce Castle Museum, while another, though painted red, survives on the street outside the Art Deco Shoreham Airport. A postbox from the era has been painted blue outside the Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester. The example at the Isle of Wight Postal Museum is restored to its full former blue glory, complete with double-collection plate.

  • Wartime Coloured Box - 1939
    Also at the museum is a George V Type B pillar box in 1939 Blackout colours. As all lights at night would be hidden in Britain so attacking German planes had no lights with which to identify or target cities, in order to prevent pedestrians and motorists accidentally colliding with postboxes these were painted in white and black stripes to enable them to stand out in the dark. The top of the postbox has also been painted yellowish green. This recreates the gas-detecting paint that changed colour in the event of a German gas attack from yellowy-green to pinky-red, warning civilians of the need to put on their gasmasks.

  • EVIIIR - 1936
    On the death of George V it was expected that his son Edward VIII would be crowned, and production of pillar boxes bearing his cypher commenced, with approximately 150 constructed. However Edward VIII abdicated in favour of his brother. Two Type B EVIIIR pillar boxes are included in the museum's collection, one of which is topped with a POD and is immaculately painted.

  • GVIR – 1936-52
    George VI pillar boxes are included in the collection.

  • Type F – 1968
    In 1968 Royal Mail introduced a new, square galvanised steel postbox, known as the Type F. Two hundred were made and although cheaper to make than cast iron boxes, these rusted very badly very quickly, especially when the boxes were frequented by dogs. These have all been removed from service, and now only exist in private collections such as at the museum. They were, however, the first boxes to have a dial rather than collection tablets.

  • Type G – 1974
    In 1974 Royal Mail replaced the steel square postboxes with an iron equivalent, known as the Type G. Although they did not rust they proved incredibly unpopular and are considered ugly, with Royal Mail petitioned to return to the more aesthetic circular design. The museum holds both single and double versions of the Type G.

  • Type K – 1980-2000
    In 1979 Royal Mail designed a cylindrical cast-iron post-modern pillar box design without a cap. These were made between 1980-2000, replacing the Type B. There are several in the museum, including one with a hook on top to allow it to be easily hoisted in position. One of them is blue, the colour of the Guernsey Post21. Others include a Post Office Direction sign and, unusually, a Scottish Type K mounted by a rocking horse.

  • Type A – 2007
    In 1994 the words 'Post Office' were removed from postboxes and replaced with 'Royal Mail'. This was part of the government's unfulfilled plans for privatisation, with Royal Mail and the Post Office becoming separate, though related, companies. 'Royal Mail' now is the company that delivers parcels and letters, while the 'Post Office' is the nationwide network of shops and branches offering postal and other services. Comparing the collection's most recent box, bought new in 2007, with earlier boxes shows how the design has changed little since 1905, with the exception of the gradual widening of the posting aperture.

Wall Boxes

Pillar boxes were made to serve cities and towns, however rural areas needed postboxes also. In 1857 the Western District again lead the way by introducing wall boxes, which could be installed in areas without pavements to place a pillar box on, at a quarter of the cost of a pillar box. Although none of the earliest wall boxes survive, in 1858 wall boxes were being made nationwide. There are many wall boxes on display in the Isle of Wight Postal Museum showing how wall boxes evolved when they were made between 1857 and 1980.

The earliest surviving wall box is the First Standard design, which is rectangular with 'Post Office' written above the aperture, letter box, the VR Cypher and Imperial State Crown below and 'Cleared at' above the collection tablet and door. One is in the collection, as is an example of the modified First Standard wall box with a pointed pediment top and hood over the aperture inscribed with 'Post Office'. These were designed to reduce rainwater entering the box.

In 1860 the box design was again modified to the Second Standard. These came in two sizes and have a higher door containing the crown, cypher and 'Cleared at', and often has a prominent hood and pediment. The museum has examples on display.

In 1861 the wall box design was again improved, with the boxes becoming wider. For the first time the cypher and crown are on the top of the box and the door has a door pull to allow it to be easily opened. In 1871 a third, larger size joined the two existing sizes of wall box, with the new size A capable of holding more letters than pillar boxes, and the other two sizes labelled B and C. In common with the Victorian pillar boxes, the wall boxes of the era had very small posting apertures. Between 1959-65 many Victorian wall boxes had their apertures enlarged and a new, larger posting aperture casting placed over the previous hole. There are examples of both modified and original small aperture wall boxes available to compare.

After Queen Victoria's death in 1901, her eldest son became King Edward VII. Initial wall boxes followed very closely with the reign of Victoria, with his ER cypher in a similar font, omitting the VII and containing the Imperial State Crown rather than Tudor Crown. Wall boxes made after late 1901 had the same pattern as the pillar boxes, with the crown above the aperture and the royal cypher below it. The aperture was contained within the door for the first time from 1904, at the same time as with pillar boxes, again to reduce jams.

In the reign of George V some wall boxes were built to be installed in post offices, containing a rear door in addition to the door in the front. Several different manufacturers made wall boxes at this time. From 1930 wall boxes had a much larger cypher and crown on the top of the wall box. Few Edward VIII wall boxes were made, and from the reign of George VI only the larger two sizes were made. From 1957 all wall box apertures were increased to 10in wide. That was the last major change to wall box design, which continued through Elizabeth II's reign until 1980 when it was decided to no longer install wall boxes.

The Isle of Wight Postal Museum contains almost a full set of the large wall boxes, missing only one from the reign of King George VI22.

There are several unusual Irish wall boxes in the collection. There is one Type A which has had its royal cypher removed and instead is inscribed with P&T23, the Irish Harp and the SE24 logo. There is a Type C VR with the SE logo and harp as well as an EVIIR with a more modern PT logo.

Ludlow Boxes

Post offices often had slots in which letters could be posted even before the invention of the pillar box. Before 1895 any boxes at post offices had to be paid for by the shop's owner. They often asked local carpenters or craftsman to make a box, and so many unique examples existed. From 1885 until 1965 letter boxes for post offices were made by James Ludlow of Birmingham, the company which has given their name to these types of boxes although other companies, including Eagle Range & Foundry, were involved in their manufacture. After late 1952 the enamel plate was no longer manufactured, and it is rare to see an Elizabeth II box with a plate. As sub-post offices have closed in recent times, Ludlow boxes are the least likely to still be in use. It is the Ludlow boxes and similar other wooden boxes that the museum's proprietor is most interested in.

Among the very rarest postboxes in the museum are the Ludlow boxes. These are usually made of wood, with a cast-iron front and an enamel plate around the aperture identifying that this is a letter box, as well as crown and cypher. The museum contains a unique survivor, a Ludlow-type Victorian box with the coat of arms rather than crown and its original narrow aperture, an early Edward VII with an ER cypher and the coat of arms, a collection of different types of GR boxes, one of only two surviving Edward VIII Ludlow boxes25 and a couple of GVIR boxes, one of which has had the 'G' converted from an E of an EVIIIR box.

Lamp Boxes

The last type of postbox to develop, these were first made in 1896, inspired in part by small American Drop Boxes. These retained the American small size and domed appearance, but the posting aperture was on the narrow side. These were designed to be easily attached to lampposts, stood on their own stands, or even embedded in walls, and although it had been intended to place them in dense urban areas, they soon found their niche in rural parts of the country.

The earliest lamp boxes in 1896 were inscribed on top with 'Letters' and the Royal Cypher on the box's door, a rare early example from Ireland is in the museum. These were followed by lamp boxes inscribed with 'Letters Only', three Victorian and three Edwardian examples of this design are in the museum. As with other postboxes, Edwardian lamp boxes made before 1904 have an 'open cypher' rather than the curlier cypher used later in Edward VII's reign.

The lamp box's evolution during the reign of George V is well represented, as different designs were tried, with the Tudor Crown appearing on early designs, a much larger GR cypher was used from 1930 and in 1935 the box was redesigned. The arched roof was replaced with a flatter, layered dome, the top of the box now contained the GR cypher rather than 'Letters Only', allowing a larger collection plate to be on the door, complete with door pull.

In 1940 lamp boxes were again redesigned to become squarer and simpler to manufacture in order to aid the war effort. Instead of an arched or domed roof, they would slope gradually towards the back. Lamp boxes would also be larger with a bigger posting aperture. These changes were introduced in 1949 as postbox manufacture was not a priority during wartime. Examples from the reign of George VI are on display, as are several from the reign of Elizabeth II, including Scottish and Guernsey postboxes. Although superficially these look identical, many had different manufacturers and have numerous variances, especially with regard to the design of the door's hinges.

In the 1990s Royal Mail experimented with even newer designs, including the Type M pedestal box, one of which is on display. Essentially a free-standing box on its own stand, these were developed out of Pouch Boxes by Machan, a private manufacturer, however Royal Mail developed their own, curvier version instead. Nicknamed the 'Bantam', as their shape resembled the petrol tanks of Royal Mail's BSA Bantam motorbikes, these were first introduced in 1999 and are still manufactured today.

Bracket Boxes and Miscellany

The first postbox acquired for the Isle of Wight Postal Museum's collection was a bracket box. This is a special type of postbox developed by 1883 used at railway stations, on packet boats and government offices. These were wooden boxes with a semi-circular roof with a brass plate surrounding the aperture. The owner of the museum was, and still is, a railway enthusiast who visited Rhyl station on the day when the bracket box there was being thrown away, and was able to rescue it from almost certain destruction.

There is another bracket box in the collection, and postboxes from all around the world. Additionally there are private letter boxes. Private boxes are letter boxes located on private property, such as a hotel or factory, and provided the box meets certain Post Office specifications, Royal Mail will collect post from the box for a fee. Once common for hotels to have their own private postboxes, as the fee has increased, hotels have discontinued paying for post office collection and these private postboxes are either destroyed or collected by postbox enthusiasts. Other boxes in the collection include:

  • Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital
    Another private box.

  • Franked mail box
    A squat rectangular box often with a hatch rather than an aperture for already franked letters.

  • Hong Kong box
    A very similar design to the standard Type B box, with a lower aperture covered by a very large hood to prevent monsoon weather entering the box and damaging the post within.

  • Heinz box
    Shaped resembling a large can of baked beans, this pillar box was a private box outside the Heinz factory for use by Heinz employees.

  • CLC LNER & LMS Box
    A unique box from Trafford Park Sidings in Manchester, the exact details of which are unknown. It dates from at least the early 1920s, but is more likely older. The box is inscribed with CLC, the Cheshire Lines Committee, a railway company between 1862-192326, yet also contains two other name plates. One is entitled LNER, the London & North Eastern Railway, (1923-48), with traces of ?S?L, probably MS&L (Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway which existed 1847-97) beneath. The other is inscribed LMS, London Midland & Scottish Railway (1923-48) with traces of MR, presumably Midland Railway (1844-1923) beneath. It is believed that this was for internal railway post, with two boxes for incoming mail (LNER and LMS respectively) and a bottom box for outgoing mail.

The museum is well worth a visit for anyone with a passing interest in the subject. The collection's owner is a charming, enthusiastic host with an easy-going passion for his subject which he communicates effectively with visitors gracing his home. He is happy to discuss the advantages and disadvantages that such a collection creates, in particular the problem of open apertures being popular with queen wasps and the need to ensure that no wasps' nests are established within his collection.

When the postal museum was visited, he informed the researcher that he was preparing for a visit from a school party from Leicestershire and that he has regularly given talks about the subject not only to school parties, but also to radio and television companies including CBBC, the World Service and as far away as Australia. However he confessed that his proudest moment was on getting the Letter Box Study Group Newsletter accepted as the Guest Publication on the BBC topical news quiz Have I Got News For You.

1British postboxes can be found in numerous countries, including Australia, Greece, Cayman Island, Cyprus, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Kuwait, Majorca, Malaysia, Malta, Morocco, New Zealand, former Palestine, Singapore, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe. The style has influenced several other countries' postboxes, including Portugal and Thailand.2Figure per a database compiled in September 2009 following a Freedom of Information request.3Type A are 3ft 11in by 1ft 8in wide, 1ft 7in deep. Type B are smaller, 2ft 9in tall, 1ft 1¾in wide and 1ft 1in deep.4Postboxes made 1901-4 have an 'open' cypher; in boxes made 1904-10 the cypher is far curlier.5The second-most common postbox, many of which can be found across the Island.6In Scotland, Elizabeth II postboxes are marked simply with the Crown of Scotland (flattish arch). As Queen Elizabeth I did not rule Scotland, Elizabeth II is the first queen called Elizabeth to rule Scotland. The first postboxes marked with EIIR in Scotland were subject to a minor campaign of vandalism in protest, and so were replaced by postboxes without Elizabeth's cypher. However one of the first Scottish postboxes, set up outside Stirling Post Office, was immediately vandalised and graffitied with EIIR. Curiously vandalism had not accompanied the introduction of the Edward VII postboxes; Edward VII was the tenth king of England and first king of Britain (including Scotland) named Edward.7In 1994 as part of the government's unfulfilled plans for privatisation, Royal Mail and the Post Office became separate, though related, companies. 'Royal Mail' is now the company that delivers parcels and letters, while the 'Post Office' is the nationwide network of shops and branches offering postal and other services.8Not to be confused with Ventnor West railway station.9The North of England and Ireland followed making postboxes soon after with square boxes in 1853, only one of their postboxes survives, in the National Museum of Ireland. London introduced postboxes in 1855 and in 1856 the Eastern, Scottish, Birmingham and Southern districts began making their own postboxes.10One is still in Guernsey and one is in the British Postal Museum & Archive.11There is also a similar postbox inside the former Britannia Royal Naval Hospital in Plymouth. This is a copy of the Butt box design, and so is likely to be younger than the Isle of Wight box.12The pillar box's catalogue number.13Osborne House was Queen Victoria's favourite residence. She died there in 1901.14Outside the Osborne House lodge can be found a King Edward VII postbox.15Nearby on Bembridge High Street is a Grade II Listed K1 Telephone Box, one of the oldest telephone boxes in Britain, made in 1921.16Indeed the red squirrels are almost as famous as the Postal Museum, with one hitting the national news for stealing a can of beer and taking it up a tree.17The A size paper scale was not standardised in Britain until 1959.18In the cartoon Danger Mouse, in which the hero lives in a postbox, there is a sidekick named Penfold after this design.19The tenth king of England called Edward after Edward the Elder (899-924), Edward the Martyr (975-8), Edward the Confessor (1042-66), Edward I Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots (1272-1307), Edward II of Caernarfon (1307-27), Edward III of Windsor (1327-77), Edward IV (1461-70, 1471-83), Edward V (1483), and Edward VI (1547-53).20Visually similar, the easiest way to tell the difference is whether 'Post Office' is written on a single line or in two below the cypher on the back. Large Type D boxes have 'Post Office' written in one line, smaller type E boxes have 'Post' and 'Office' on separate lines.21On 1 October, 1969, Guernsey Post replaced Royal Mail as Guernsey's postal provider. To emphasise this, postboxes on Guernsey are painted blue with the exception of the oldest surviving postbox, which is an unusual plum colour.22One, however, is nearby outside the Isle of Wight Steam Railway's Havenstreet Station.23The Department of Posts & Telegraphs which was responsible for the Irish postal service as well as telecommunications between 1924-84, when it was split in two and the postal responsibility was assumed by An Post.24Saorstat Eireann or Irish Free State, inscribed on postboxes between 1922-4.25The other is in Bawdsey, Suffolk.26The Cheshire Lines was originally formed by a joint committee of the Great Northern Railway and Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln Railway. The Midland Railway later joined, the three companies having equal shares.

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