Monday 5 July 2010

Trollope, the post office and blue letterboxes

When Britain's penny post became popular, a new issue arose: taking letters to the post office was not always convenient. (The Channel Islands had an even worse problem: letters had to be taken not to a posting office but to the mail steamer, whose arrival time depended upon the tide.) How could it be made easier for people to post their letters?

Various European countries including France were already using letter boxes, so Anthony Trollope suggested that they might be tried here. (Yes, Trollope the novelist -at the time, he was a Surveyor's Clerk at the Post Office.)

The earliest pillar boxes appeared in the Channel Islands in 1852. Jersey got them first, but Guernsey wasn't far behind: three were erected there in early 1853. The experiment was successful enough for similar boxes to be introduced in England later that year.

One of those original boxes still survives in use on Union Street, St Peter Port. This hexagonal Guernsey postbox is the oldest still in use in the British Isles.

It is also unusual for its colour: other Guernsey postboxes are not red but blue.


Anonymous said...

There's a blue box in Windsor with a sign on it saying it was the first of its kind and blue signified airmail.

Hels said...

I knew about the Trollope connection to the post boxes, even before I read all of his novels. After all, a bloke has to have a regular day job and cannot always rely on writing to pay the mortgage :)

But I have never seen a picture of that hexagonal Guernsey postbox. Trollope, you rock!

CarolineLD said...

Anon, yes, on the mainland blue was for airmail. I've never actually seen one of the airmail boxes on the street (they were only in use for a few years so are pretty rare), maybe I should visit Windsor! There's a good article about conservation of one of the boxes here.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks for these unusual post boxes, Caroline, which I'd not seen before, never having been to the Channel Islands. I've been thinking about post boxes too, as you can see from the latest post on English Buildings.

CarolineLD said...

Hels, Philip, I'm glad you liked these. And Philip, that is an amazing postbox!

yasmine said...

there is one near porthtowan in cornwall.