The first post box installed in an England town was in Carlisle in 1853 – the spot is now marked by a replica Victorian box. The oldest still functioning in England are the pair in Framlingham in Suffolk. This pair were founded by Andrew Handyside & Co of Derby in 1856. There is one in Plymouth (listed), cast 1853-59 for the Royal Naval Hospital but probably cast by one of the Post Office contractors.
(The first post boxes in the British Isles were installed in the Channel Islands in 1853, and one of those in Guernsey is still functioning. A later example of an early batch cast by Butt in Gloucester (1853-9) still stands at Barnes Cross, near Sherborne (listed) but no longer functions. At the village of Horsley, Derbyshire, there is a stone post box, which was in use from 1869 to 1887.)
There are two fluted 1856 type PB1/8 pillar boxes, still functioning in Warwick, one at each gate; and another in Birkenhead. A taller fluted design exists in Eton (listed), Christchurch (listed) and Malvern.
Original examples of the first national standard post box, launched in 1859, in still standing in Brighton, Bristol, London, Newport (Isle of Wight), Stoke and Worthing (as well as the villages of Congresbury in Somerset, and Hambledon in Hampshire; and in Aberdeen).
The most famous Victorian boxes are those designed by John Penfold, distinguished by their hexagonal construction and crowned with Acanthus buds. They came in three sizes and altogether there were nine different types. They became very widespread. The most survivors are in London (including Hampstead) and Cheltenham, where there are eight still standing (all listed). Other examples can be found in Buxton (listed), Cambridge, Dorchester (listed), Ilkley, Rochester and Shrewsbury (and the village of Budby, Nottinghamshire).
In 1989, about a hundred replicas were made and installed in historic centres all over the country, with several in London including at Tower Bridge, and others spotted in Basingstoke, Bedford, Carlisle, Dorchester, Durham, Gloucester, Harrow, Haslemere, Ipswich, Lincoln, Liverpool, Luton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Norwich, Ramsbottom, Sheffield, Stafford, Tetbury, Tring, Tunbridge Wells, Weston-super-Mare, Windsor and Worcester.
In the busy city of Liverpool, even the largest standard boxes could not provide the capacity and security required, so a special design was commissioned from the foundry of Cochrane, Grove & Co of Dudley. Known as “Liverpool Specials”, two survive in situ from a batch of six. Cochrane would subsequently go on to be the foundry that made all the Penfold boxes from 1866-1879.
From 1879, pillar boxes returned to a cylindrical shape, early ones being ‘anonymous’, and not including the ‘VR’ cipher. Examples exist in Buxton, Chester and Liverpool.
From 1885 until 1965, Ludlow wall boxes were installed, built into stone pillars or the walls of buildings. They were nearly all made by the company of James Ludlow & Son of Birmingham, whose name they took. Victorian examples have been spotted by English Towns contributors in Alnwick, Bury St Edmunds, Matlock, Oxford, Wells, Wincanton and Winchester (and the village of Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorkshire).
New post box designs were ordered in 1887 for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. For the first time there was a lamp-post mounted letter box for use in London squares, but which soon established themselves in rural areas, where the greater expense of a Ludlow wall box was not justified.
For the big cities, a double-aperture oval-shaped pillar (designated Type C) was introduced, partly to increase capacity and certainly in London, to allow mail to be pre-sorted by region, normally with apertures marked separately for “London” and “Country”.
The new pillar box design saw out the reign and remained little changed until 1905, when the basic design was refined. Victorian examples have been spotted in Beverley (listed), Bury St Edmunds, Chester, Hull (listed) and Oxford.
Fewer than a hundred Edward VIII boxes survive. One in Christchurch is listed.