Wait a minute, Mr Post­man

The jolly red Bri­tish let­ter­box–it’s not a post­box, mind you–bright­ens many a snowy Christ­mas scene and can still be seen in town and coun­try. But is it doomed to the same fate as the tele­phone box? An­drew Martin hopes not

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden -

IT does get a bit tire­some when you read, for the 19th time, that we’re the most bor­ing so­ci­ety in Bri­tain, but we wear our anoraks with pride,’ con­cedes Robert Cole of the Let­ter Box Study Group (LBSG). ‘Yes, we have a reg­is­ter of let­ter­boxes—they’re lov­able things. Cas­tles are lov­able things and ev­ery­body would think it very strange if there was no reg­is­ter of cas­tles.’ Well, quite.

Now that Robert comes to men­tion it, the red-iron let­ter­box—never post­box, ap­par­ently—is as much a part of the Bri­tish land­scape as any cas­tle, but does any­one give it much thought, once their en­ve­lope has passed through the smil­ing red mouth? Judg­ing by the framed pho­to­graph on his study desk, where one would ex­pect to see a wife and chil­dren, of a let­ter­box, it seems safe to say yes—the LBSG does.

Be­fore set­ting off from Robert’s large Vic­to­rian house in Brock­ley, Lon­don Se4—where the en­gag­ing fi­nan­cial jour­nal­ist en­joys fam­ily life, in­ci­den­tally, al­though his wife has ‘no in­ter­est what­so­ever’ in let­ter­boxes—he briefs me on the afore­men­tioned reg­is­ter. Since its foun­da­tion in 1976, the LBSG has ac­cu­mu­lated a Reg­is­ter of Box Types, in which it iden­ti­fies each of the 800 types of box oc­cur­ring among the 115,000 that ex­ist in Bri­tain. To take one of the sim­pler en­tries, PB1038/1 refers to a ‘Cylin­dri­cal pil­lar box; type B; EIIR crown and cipher; 8in aper­ture; “POST OF­FICE” be­low cipher’. This reg­is­ter cross cor­re­sponds with the Let­ter Box Di­rec­tory, which shows the ac­tual lo­ca­tions of the boxes.

We also dis­cuss a few coun­try­side ex­am­ples—i re­call see­ing one set into the wall out­side Gad’s Hill Place in Higham, Kent, the last res­i­dence of Charles Dick­ens. Robert was, un­sur­pris­ingly, fa­mil­iar with it. He tells me that wall boxes such as this are one of the three main types, the oth­ers be­ing lamp boxes (at­tached to tele­graph poles or lamp posts) and pil­lar boxes (the cylin­dri­cal ones in the streets). The Gad’s Hill Place one ‘dates prob­a­bly from 1859 and was specif­i­cally re­quested by Dick­ens, who wrote a lot of letters and pre­vi­ously had to walk a mile and a half to post them,’ Robert ex­plains.

He then coun­ters with an­other wall box that has par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested him, at Rous Lench, near Eve­sham, Worces­ter­shire: set in a tim­ber frame be­neath a steeply pitched, tiled roof. ‘It’s bizarre, like a shrine or a ly­ch­gate,’ he en­thuses. ‘It was con­structed in the 1870s, with spe­cial per­mis­sion from the Post Of­fice, by the land­lord, who was also the lo­cal vicar, the Rev W. K. W. Chafy.’ The rea­son, pos­si­bly, was that there was no con­ve­nient wall to re­ceive the box, but Robert is mys­ti­fied by the ex­u­ber­ance of the de­sign.

As we fi­nally step out of the house, I note that Robert’s own front door is painted let­ter­box red, which he calls ‘holly-berry red’, but were let­ter­boxes al­ways this vi­brant hue?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.