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A history of the letter box in the UK

Post Boxes around the United Kingdom are a common site these days.  In every town and city you will see these familiar red boxes on most street corners, but what are the origins of the? Surprisingly, these post boxes have a long history to them. There are currently about 115,000 in the UK, that includes Scotland and Wales. And 98% of the UK is within half a mile of a letter box.  In England alone there are over 85,000 letter boxes. Some are even considered as listed buildings.

The post box was brought to the UK in 1840. This was after the Postal Reform which allowed people to purchase postage at an affordable cost. But, usually people had to take their mail to the nearest letter receiving office. It was in 1852 that Anthony Trollope came up with the idea of using a locked cast iron pillar by the roadside where people could post their letters securely. And there would be regular collection times. This started in Jersey and moved over to the mainland United Kingdom in 1853.

The early Victorian post boxes were hexagonal in shape and green in colour. It was in 1874 that the boxes were first painted red.  It would take a further 10 years to paint all the boxes around the country red. It was in 1879 the cylindrical shaped boxes were introduced.  Although many of the post boxes you see in the street are cylindrical, they do come in many shapes and sizes.

As you can see from the picture, this one is in the wall.  Although these types of post boxes aren’t as common as the stand alone ones.  As you can see, you have the EIIR symbol on it, and the times of which the mail will be collected.

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The hexagonal shapes letter boxes were some of the first that were created in Victorian England. But todays letter boxes are the cylindrical shaped ones.  A black letterbox signifies that it is no longer in use, as you can see from the picture below, with a standard letter box nearby.

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By the end of the 19th century, there were over 33,500 letter boxes in the UK. It was in 1972 that the Department of the Environment decided to make a few of the letter boxes listed, which means they cannot be removed or changed in anyway, or without permission at least.  This is especially the case with hexagonal penfold boxes. Listed letter boxes date in the range from 1852-79.

An interesting fact is that in the 2012 Summer Olympics a selected number of the letter boxes were painted gold. Post boxes are something we see every day and take them for granted. But it’s interesting to know the origins of them and the different kinds you can get. The postal system has come a long way over the years, but when you look back at the different kinds of post boxes we’ve had over the years, I find it interesting to look back at the old style post boxes compared to the modern ones you get these days.

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