English Heritage And Royal Mail To Preserve Red Letter Boxes

By Richard Moss | 03 October 2002
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by the roadside or on the village green, the red letter box is a sight familiar to millions

Left: by the roadside or on the village green, the red letter box is a sight familiar to millions. © Royal Mail

English Heritage and Royal Mail have announced a joint initiative to preserve the UK's classic red letter boxes.

The project is planned to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the very first letter box, which appeared in St Helier, Jersey in November 1852.

a rural letter box from 1935.

Right: a rural letter box from 1935. © Royal Mail

"Traditional red letter boxes are a classic icon of British design and inextricably linked to our national image," said Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman of English Heritage.

"We have joined forces with Royal Mail to safeguard our letter boxes for future generations to enjoy."

the preservation process - inspecting a letter box aperture.

Left: the preservation process - inspecting a letter box aperture. © Royal Mail

The UK boasts approximately 115,000 letter boxes dotted around villages, towns and cities, 198 of which are already listed. Under the plan, all of them will be retained and conserved.

Practical guidance is to be given to all Royal Mail area managers and local authority conservation and highways staff on the fine art of letter box conservation.

the first Edward VII letter boxes are installed.

Right: the first Edward VII letter boxes are installed. © Royal Mail

"Red letter boxes are an important part of our heritage - as British as bus stops and Belisha beacons," said Arts Minister Tessa Blackstone. Some may add to that list the much loved and missed red telephone boxes largely scrapped in the 1980's.

Dr. Simon Penn, director of the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, which houses the National Telephone Kiosk collection, welcomed the announcement.

"Traditional red letter boxes are a classic icon of British design..." said Sir Neil Cossons.

Left: "Traditional red letter boxes are a classic icon of British design..." said Sir Neil Cossons. © Royal Mail

"It's well worth doing. The success of our collection has shown there's a great public awareness of the need to save some of these things," said Dr Penn.

"They are not only part of national heritage, but human heritage. They mean far more than merely making a phone call or posting a letter."

posting air mail in the 1930s.

Right: posting air mail in the 1930s. © Royal Mail

Originally painted green, the now famous red was introduced for better visibility in 1874. During the Second World War the tops of some boxes were painted with gas detection paint, while their plinths were painted white to aid movement on unlit wartime streets.

To mark the occasion Royal Mail is also issuing a special first day cover, 'Pillar to Post', featuring five historic letter boxes from around the country.

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