Wait a Minute, (Mr Postman) – a blog about Post and the Post Office
This is one of the topics that was always going to make it, one of the first contenders for a reserved number in my complicated list. It’s basically about those boxes we find everywhere – all painted what we call ‘pillar-box red!’
Christmas is nearly upon us and I couldn’t resist a shot of this card to start this blog.
I suppose I will have to say something about the Post Office for those of you not quite as old as me. The Post Office used to mean the GPO, (General Post Office) which used to be a government ministry. It provided the only way to send letters but it also controlled the only telephone system and what there was then in the way of television (and it was also the usual way to pay for gas, electricity etc. or receive state pensions or lots of other things.) Of course in those days telephones and television were much more primitive than what we know today. But the pillar boxes and public telephones boxes were sturdily built and they are still with us.
Victorian Pillar Boxes
The GPO started in 1660 but it was not until 1840 that we had prepaid postage and postage stamps. Before then it was the recipient who paid, not the sender.
The first pillar boxes date from around 1850 and the earliest Victorian ones were green. In the 1870s the hexagonal design emerged and red became the standard colour. (I am sure you will know that we have Robins on Christmas cards because Victorian postmen wore red uniforms. Perhaps this is why pillar boxes are red.)
As for nearly all of my pictures for this blog, these two come from the streets of Cheltenham. The positioning of the Crown, Royal Cipher and ‘POST OFFICE’ are not standardized and you will notice that only one of these has the coat of arms below the letter slit.
In 1879 the cylindrical design replaced the hexagon. From then onwards boxes always carried the royal cipher and the words POST OFFICE. There were two sizes, both the same height – ‘A’ (slightly larger) and ‘B.’
I have been lucky enough to find most of the different pillar boxes and the main thing to look for is the Royal Cipher. The hardest to find was Edward VII (1901-10). This one was covered in moss and looked old.
I did find a much newer looking one on a trip to Oxford.
After Edward we had George V (1910-36), George VI (1936-52) and Queen Elizabeth II. [I wasn’t expecting to find Edward VIII!]
I couldn’t quite catch this last one open as it was being emptied.
Since the 1980s we have a more modern design and the words POST OFFICE have become ROYAL MAIL.
This one, inside the huge local Waitrose supermarket, is made of plastic.
Larger oval Type ‘C’ boxes, with slots for town and country post, date from the turn of the Twentieth Century.
We also have rectangular Type ‘G’ boxes.
You normally only find these larger ones outside where there used to be main Post Offices.
The next one is quite modern, for franked mail only.
I have never quite worked out how and why they can distinguish between stamped and franked mail but the distinction was there long ago even before postcodes.
There have always been roadside wall boxes. From 1885 to 1965 they were used particularly for sub-post offices.
(You may not understand the term sub-post office. There were Post Offices, which did nothing but Post Office business and there were smaller sub-post offices, sharing their premises usually with a shop. Now most of them have disappeared and those that remain are nearly all sub-post offices.)
Now wall boxes are seen mostly in countryside towns and villages. This one is at Newnham-on-Severn.
I was intrigued to find the next one low down in a wall in the countryside near Stow-on-the-Wold. I photographed it without knowing what it was.
It’s an earlier Victorian model used until 1904 and this is clearly an Edward VII post box. It is no longer red so I presume that it is now just used privately. I note that you can now buy old post boxes or replicas in various colours so maybe this was never active where is now located.
The Lantern type is quite rare nowadays but I see this one often on my trips to Slimbridge.
As you can see the notice at the front gives the last collection time. When I was young they always used to list all of the collection times.
During the very successful 2012 London Olympics there was a decision to paint post boxes gold over the country to commemorate local success. We have this pair on Cheltenham High Street. I have to say that it’s more of a light beige colour than what I would call gold but the thought was there.
Alex Gregory from the coxless fours in the Rowing, was born in Cheltenham.
I feel I ought to end the section about post boxes with these two pictures from our main sorting office at Cheltenham. I think of them as new but they must date from the Nineties. They are certainly showing signs of age!
You are, of course, wondering what telephones have to do with letters and the Post Office. Well, when all of our post came under the GPO it must have fairly logical to put the developing technology of telephones under the same organisation. From about 1900 to the Fifties telephones were big chunky black bakelite machines fixed by wire to the walls of houses. They were expensive and unreliable. Calls over about thirty miles were connected manually by an operator so most calls were local.
Not many people had telephones but there were many public telephone kiosks – in towns for the use of the general public and in the countryside for emergency use.
You can see a certain similarity in the style of these with pillar boxes for post. Both were solid metal structures, painted bright red, with the royal crown.
Here is the equipment inside a modern working kiosk.
Things have changed. Since about the eighties and nineties we have mobile phones that do all sorts of things that telephones didn’t do in the fifties. They have developed and become so popular that very few people even use their own landlines. People no longer need public telephones. Public Telephone kiosks have disappeared almost everywhere.
Thousands of them have been removed, either scrapped or sold, although some remain unused as listed buildings! Here is an unused one I spotted in someone’s front garden.
(The pillar box at the front is a little toy model!)
As part of the revolution in telephone technology, the old GPO has disappeared and the telephony bit became BT. Here are some new telephone boxes from BT and the equipment inside it.
The one above is an early BT version. The logo of Mercury disappeared over ten years ago.
Here is a more modern version.
Many of the old red boxes still remaining now have other functions such as housing emergency defibrillator equipment.
Here is one in the town centre that manages to include a cash machine while still retaining its function as a telephone.
At the centre of Cheltenham where the Main Post Office used to be we had ten telephone boxes – a group of four and another group of six. They have recently been taken away, refurbished and replaced roughly where they were but they are no longer public phone boxes.
If you look closely you find that the doors do not open. They have displays making small museum exhibits about Cheltenham.
All of our landlines are connected. You don’t see nearly as many telegraph poles anymore carrying the final lines. I noticed last year these identification signs on them.
I think the poles have been made shorter in some places because these numbers are now lower.
Most of the cables go underground.
There are lots of boxes at the side of the pavement where connections are made. Some are old and some not so old.
In the age of the Internet we have telephony mixed with broadband computer connections and also television.
I was lucky enough last year to get a picture of the inside of one of these boxes for my daily picture blog. My luck continued this year.
Just to complete this dissertation, we still have postmen delivering mail and we still have Post Offices!
Please, Mr Postman is a song from the early Sixties, most famous for versions by the Beatles and the Carpenters. (I can’t do biblical quotes every time.)
Here are some of its words.
(Stop) Oh yes, wait a minute, Mr. Postman;
(Wait) Wait Mr. Postman.
(Please Mr. Postman look and see);
Oh yeah (If there’s a letter in your bag for me,)
Please, please, Mr. Postman (Why’s it takin’ such a long time;)
Oh yeah (For me to hear from that boy [/girl] of mine.)
It sounds better when it’s sung.
Apart from Wikipedia special mention for this blog must be made to PULP – Paul’s Unofficial Letterbox Pages, which I have used to identify the various letter box types.