The more observant members of the public may have noticed the appearance of two new items of street furniture in Alcester this year - both erected by the Royal Mail. Pillar boxes, wall boxes and lamp boxes, in their traditional red livery, have been a part of everyday life for over a hundred years and many of those still in use today are over century old
In Britain the first pillar boxes were erected in Jersey in 1852. The driving force behind this trial was Anthony TroIlope, the novellist, who was employed at this time by the Post Office as a Surveyors Clerk. he had seen roadside boxes in use in France and thought that they would be an asset to the Post Office. His idea was not entirely new, since it had also been suggestedd by Rowland Hill in 1840, but not pursued. ln 1853 the first first pillar box on the 'mainland was erected at Botchergate, Carlisle. Duringthe next four years each District Sturveyor chose his own design and manufacturer of pillar boxes. In the Midlands in 1856 Beaufort, surveyor of the Birmingham District, commissioned the Birmingham company Smith & Nawkes to produce a pillar box in the shape of a doric column with fluted sides. Examples of this type of box can still be seen in Banbury, Warwick (2), Malvern (3) and Solihull.
|It was agreed that from 1859 a single
style of pillar box would be introduced for the whole country and in 1866 J.W. Penfold was
commissioned to design a new standard pillar box, which is known today is known by his
name These hexagonal boxes were produced in three sizes by Cocchrane, Grove & Co of
Dudley. Only one of the large size boxes still stands, at Spernal Ash, although currently
not in use. Nine of the small size boxes can be seen around Cheltenham.
All of the pillar boxes in the Alcester district are of the reigns of George V, George VI or Elizabeth II. There are no Edward VIII pillar boxes or wall boxes in Warwickshire, although there are still examples to be seen in Birmingham, Coventry and Worcester: the most recent pillar box is the dual aperture box erected outside Alcester Post Office in February 1996.
Roadside wall boxes first appeared in 1857 as a cheaper alternative to pillar boxes, especially in rural districts. These first boxes were manufactured by Smith & Hawkes. This foundary, under different owners, suppled wall boxes until 1881. Alcester and district has two boxes from this period: one at Oversley Green and one in Exhall village. The contract then passed to W.T. Allen of the Sherwood Foundry, Mansfield, who continued to manufacture wall boxes until the '60's, with a break of only five years.
Pillar box, Spernal Ash
The Alcester area has two other Victorian wall boxes in Temple Grafton and in Priory Road, Alcester. Following the death of Queen Victona, the Royal Cypher on post boxes changed to EVIIR in a flowing script, except on the smallest wall boxes which displayed EVIIR in plain capitals. Our only exaniple of the period is at Wood Bevington.
Minor changes in design have been made over the years, but essentially today's wall boxes are little different to those of the 1930's. However, in the 1950's there was much complaint about the small posting apertures of the smaller wall boxes. As a result, most of these boxes of Victoria, Edward VII and George V were modified and received a wider slot.
Lamp boxes were first used in 1897, based on the U.S.A's pattern and were intended to be used where there was not a convenient wall or where the volume of postings did not justify a wall box. By the 1960's there were over 20,000 in use attached to lamp posts, telegraph poles or on their own free standing pedestal. A GeorgeV lamp box can be seen in Temple Grafton and a George VI box in Great Alne. Many different EIIR lamp boxes can be seen in the area
The other new pillar box erected in Alcester this year is in Tything Road, among the factories. This is a special purpose box only for franked business mail and intended for the use of businesses which do not have a private collection or for late mail which misses the normal collection, since the boxes final collection is 6.30 pm.
It is interesting to speculate whether in the age of faxes, the Internet and electronic mail if these latest additions to Alcester's scenery will still be in use in one hundred years time
Summer 1996 index