THE BRITISH RED LETTER BOX

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What is the connection between Anthony Trollope and our iconic red post boxes?

We have had The Royal Mail in the UK since around 1516 and for most of its history, it has operated as a public/government service. Our famous, iconic letter boxes are recognised the world over. You seem to see them everywhere; in films, postcards and on greetings cards.

The modern postal system started with the launch of the ‘Penny Post’ in 1840. It soon became a popular way to communicate and must have been the Victorian equivalent of twitter. Around this time the Royal Mail thought of introducing the letter box. Prior to this, the senders would have to take the letter in person to a ‘Receiving House’ and wait for a uniformed Bellman, who walked the streets ringing a bell, collecting letters.

The author Anthony Trollope worked as a clerk for the Post Office in the 1850’s. Whilst travelling in France and Belgium, he admired the road-side letter boxes and was instrumental in introducing them to Britain. The first cast-iron letter boxes were trialled in the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey and proved to be a great success. After that boxes appeared all over Britain in many different sizes and styles and were mostly green to fit in with the surrounding landscape.

The standard, cylindrical letter box was introduced in 1859 with the new red colour, used from 1874. Red has remained the standard colour, apart from special blue ‘Air Mail’ boxes in the 1930’s and of course the very special gold boxes seen around the country now in the home towns of London 2012 Olympic gold medal winners. Letter boxes can be dated by the sign on the front; GR (King George) and ER (the current Queen Elizabeth). They are symbols of a by-gone era and nowadays, with the advent of emails and social media, letter-writing is almost a dying art. Although, who can resist a wonderful handwritten card or letter delivered to your door by good old Postman Pat? I do hope the red iconic pillar boxes remain for generations to come.

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