Wednesday, 3 July 2013

When did I first fall for Pillar Box red?

Daughter-who-loves-food has asked me to do some more reminiscences so that things which have happened to me and the family and things that matter to me don’t get forgotten in years to come.  Daft though it may sound I decided to start with my love of pillar boxes.

I must have been quite young when I first fell for pillar boxes because I remember how excited I was at the age of about five or six to be given a Post Office.  Sadly my parents weren’t in a position to buy me a real life Post Office but the one I got pleased me no end.  I think it was a Berwick one.

It had a pillar box like this one  

 and a telephone box which may have been like this.

 There were also some scales (these scales are more modern ones) but I can’t recall what else.  

We had a pillar box at the end of our road to be allowed to post things into it – by things I mean letters and packets, of course.  And if one arrived at the moment when it was being unlocked and emptied so much the better. It meant one could have a word with the postman and see his van.

I think it was the standard pillar box red colour that gave me my abiding liking for that colour and made me support Liverpool Football Club over their blue-clad rivals, Everton.  

And amongst the ‘carmines’ and ‘scarlet lakes’ there was usually a ‘pillar box red’ in the little boxes of watercolour paints that we used.

And, of course, in those days our telephone boxes were the same Post Office red.  

 Surprisingly perhaps I didn’t start photographing pillar boxes (and other boxes into which one mails such as lamp post boxes and wall post-boxes) until the 1980s.   

But they do appear on a number of earlier shots as the little spot of red one was advised to try to capture in a landscape or cityscape to give a focal point. In the absence of a pillar box a person in a red cagoule or jumper was, and remains, a good idea.

Somewhere around the 1980s  I joined the Pillar Box Society and discovered I wasn’t the only nutcase who collected photos of these boxes.  I also found out that some folk were so engrossed with their hobby that they were concerned with the individual manufacturers of boxes and other small inconsequentials of no interest to me.

Around 1990 I had a weekend away on my own to photograph half a dozen boxes I didn’t have pictures of and also to do some seeking of books in that the wonderful town of Hay-on-Wye where I knew they boxes were to be found along with a plethora of second-hand bookshops.  It was a most enjoyable weekend, not only giving me some space from family (which we all need on occasion) but also allowing me to satisfy that hunting instinct.

I’m still happy to ask Partner-who-loves-tea or GB to stop the car and let me out to photograph a type of box I haven’t seen before – there aren’t that many so it doesn’t happen too often.  The most recent were the boxes painted gold to celebrate the Olympic Gold Medal of a local resident – one box for each gold medal.  P-w-l-t and I hunted down a few.  

 It’s good to have a partner who accommodates one’s foibles.  Especially as the first one we sought was in a little village buried in the countryside, miles from anywhere.

Nowadays, of course, pillar boxes are the impoortant repository for my postcards and letters to friends and fellow postcrossers. 

Pillar boxes represent one and a half centuries of history and remain today so important in my life.  What more could one ask from a chunk of cast-iron on the side of the road?


  1. It didn't strike me until I've read through your narration of how red pillar boxes can be such an obsession.On hindsight it's a noble thing to do. Even the Post Office may be counting its days. The courier service and e-mail are taking chunks off what the post office used to do.
    In no time we would only have pics from your members to remind us of the pillar box or even of the post office itself. Keep at it John!


  2. Well this post rung bells with me - I think I had that very same Post Office set as a child and it gave me hours of pleasure (sad eh?).

    We have a Victorian postbox on our old forge wall by the road but (so) sadly someone stole the front of it (before we moved here). I will post a pic of what remains for you when it stops raining!

  3. This set me thinking. I never had a Post Office but did have a John Bull printing set. Covered in ink I was and high as a kite on the fumes. I can still remember the smell.

  4. Now I know how much you love these pillar boxes, I will start taking a few photos of those on the island and send to you for your collection. All are British-issued as you may already know but hopefully some will be different to what you are accustomed to.
    By the way, having these foibles as you call them is what makes us all interesting.

  5. I really don't have anything in my life to equate to your post boxes CJ. Sad really.

  6. I found the red boxes fascinating when I was in the UK last September, and when I looked at my photos was surprised at the number of mail boxes I'd photographed. I particularly liked the ones embedded in the stone walls.

  7. I love them too and have one sitting on my desk. American ones have more or less disappeared, can't remember the last time I saw one.

  8. Truly fascinating, John! In Germany, the post office colour was (and is) yellow. We do not have pillar-shaped post boxes the way they look in England, but angular ones; they are rather ugly, but serve their purpose.
    My late husband taught business English to adults, and one of his students was fascinated with the history of mail service in Germany. I remember him asking my husband to help with the translation of a talk about the Thurn & Taxis family (some aristocrats you have probably never heard about) who were the first to establish a nation-wide regular postal service.

  9. Oh, and I forgot to say that, as a child, I absolutely LOVED the "Kinderpost" sets that were on sale in toy shops. I never owned one myself, though. Somehow my parents and grandparents rather gave me Lego, Barbies and other toys.

  10. Your red pillarboxes in England are very loveable :) I always found them more interesting in shape and colour than our Swedish yellow "boxes" for the same purpose.

  11. Good to see you posting again. We really missed you the month you were away.

    Love your essay on post boxes. I've always loved British post boxes too. I fell in love with them on my first trip to Britain, when my long-suffering brother-in-law patiently stopped to allow me to take photos of several off-the-beaten-track ones, tucked into brick walls and hedges. I couldn't help but wonder if the postman remembered where they were, and remembered to collect the mail regularly.

    I also have a lovely little red pillar box of my own, which was given to me by a dear friend. It hangs on my key chain and makes me smile each time I see it. No matter what the weather, it always brightens my day.


  12. As a lover of red..I do think the boxes are beautiful and you have a fun hobby that leads you to "villages buried in the countryside" and that has to be an adventure in itself! The gold ones are a nice tribute..but I like the red better! I hope you receive many fun things in the pillar box in part of the world. We're celebrating July 4th here in the States...but then I thought it might be rude to say anything about that to an English sorry..but have a wonderful weekend! I also hope you're feeling better.

  13. Wonderful post! I absolutely love vintage. In Montreal we still have many telephone booths! There is actually only one (that I know of for sure) that looks exactly like the British one in one of your photos...and that one is in the Town of Mount Royal. The rest are blue and white and since I have been hearing from many people around the globe that pay phones are more rare today than in the past, everytime I see one in Montreal I take a photo of it (and there are still so many). Great post, thank you so much for sharing.

  14. You have a serious knack for story telling! I wish I had it...:)
    Really like the idea behind gold postboxes!

  15. Lovely pillar boxes. We have nothing like that here; that I know of.

  16. There is definitely something right about post boxes and pillar boxes being bright red. Hadn't thought about it before but other colours aren't nearly so reassuring and important!

  17. Have not seen a green pillar box either. Gosh memories of pillar box money boxes.


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