While completing this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge with the theme of photographing everyday things taken locally, I chose ‘V for Victorian Pillar Box’ and with fingers crossed went in search of the perfect contender. As we live in Leytonstone in East London which is mainly Victorian-built it seemed a reasonably achievable task to set myself.
As it happened I found one relatively easily, but until I particularly started looking I realised I’d never really paid attention to the different Royal Ciphers on the pillar box doors before. In Scotland where I come from, all pillar boxes I’ve ever seen have the Scottish crown on them, regardless of when they were made, so being able to chart the history of pillar boxes through Royal Ciphers really captured my imagination.
Scottish Pillar Box
I was intrigued, and so began my self-appointed quest to find an example of each successive monarch’s insignia on local pillar boxes all within a reasonable walking distance from home, from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth through King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII and King George VI. And suddenly I have become a pillar box nerd, checking out every one I see…
Victoria Regina (1837-1901)
Apparently the very first post boxes to appear on our streets (from 1853 onwards) were a variety of shapes and colours, all with a VR cipher on them but as far as I can see none of these are to be found around Leytonstone. However, I suppose as many of the houses around here weren’t built until the 1880s, it’s possible they simply weren’t needed much before then.
The earliest example of a round red Victorian pillar box I found is actually only about 100 yards from our flat, and is one of the so-called anonymous boxes that were cast in 1879. This was apparently a mistake, as a new standard design of pillar box had been drawn up with a blank door plate to accommodate whichever monarch was to be on the throne, and the manufacturer, misunderstanding the instruction, simply cast all the boxes with blank doors – oops!
The mistake was eventually rectified and the later round Victorian pillar boxes from 1892-1901 again have the delicate VR intertwined, like the one I used for my A-Z Challenge
Edward VII Rex (1901-1910)
This old pillar box on Leytonstone High Road clearly shows the EVIIR of Edward VII – it doesn’t seem to have been painted very often which actually helps – over the years lots of coats of thick paint tend to mean lost definition of the underlying design.
George V Rex (1910-1936)
This lovely rotund example on Leytonstone High Road with its very solid GR (but no V, for some reason?) originally sold stamps, too.
Edward VIII Rex (1936)
Although Edward VIII was never actually crowned – he abdicated the throne in order to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson after only 11 months as King – there are still some pillar boxes surviving with his insignia and I found this one just outside Wanstead tube station.
George VI Rex (1936-1952)
Apparently George VI has an entwined GVIR in a cursive script – I’m imagining something that looks rather similar to that of Edward VII – but so far any locally-situated ‘curly George’ pillar boxes have eluded me… I’ll keep looking, though, and will report back with an update as and when I find one.
Elizabeth II Regina (1952-present)
This early EIIR box also has an oval-shaped sign-holder on top – not sure what the original sign would have said, though.
So there we have it, a very short history of Royal Mail red pillar boxes courtesy of examples found locally in Leytonstone and Wanstead in East London (apart from the Scottish insignia, which was taken in Inverness).
And as all these Royal Ciphers are set into the pillar box doors, I thought they might make for a novel Thursday Doors post, too! 🙂