Pillar boxes

The pillar box was introduced to Britain in 1854 in the Channel Islands on the recommendation of Anthony Trollope. Originally painted sage green, it was not until 1874 that they were painted the familiar red.

Trollope is credited with the introduction of the pillar box to Britain. The idea had been considered before, but Trollope’s report on postal services in the Channel Islands included a recommendation to try pillar boxes out in St Helier, Jersey and was approved. Pillar boxes were introduced to the Channel Islands in 1854 and a year later in mainland Britain. London got its first pillar boxes in 1855, there were initially only five; Fleet Street, The Strand, Pall Mall, Picadilly and Rutland Gate (Kensington). They were rectangular, sage green and with a large ball on top. It was not until 1874 that they were painted the familiar red. Pillar boxes gave people the freedom of private correspondence. Young women particularly were able for the first time to send letters freely, without being subject to a trip to a Post Office. Not all people liked or trusted the iron stumps. Aunt Stanbury in He Knew He Was Right was extremely distrustful of any modern innovation, pillar boxes included.

Miss Stanbury carried her letter all the way to the chief post-office in the city, having no faith whatever in those little subsidiary receiving houses which are established in different parts of the city. As for the iron pillar boxes which had been erected of late years for the receipt of letters, one of which–a most hateful thing to her–stood almost close to her own hall door, she had not the faintest belief that any letter put into one of them would ever reach its destination.  She could not understand why people should not walk with their letters to a respectable post-office instead of chucking them into an iron stump as she called it out in the middle of the street with nobody to look after it. Positive orders had been given that no letter from her house should ever be put into the iron post.

For more information on the history of the postbox and postal services in Britain, visit The British Postal Museum & Archive website