The history of Stoke Newington's red pillar post boxes
PUBLISHED: 16:54 03 January 2019
Red post boxes can be seen all around London and the rest of the UK.
They are very much part of our streets that, like other types of historical street furniture, we take for granted. They represent the living history of communication, which forms such an important aspect of people’s daily lives, as well as engineering, design and manufacturing. The boxes are not all the same – some are much older than others.
As a Stoke Newington history enthusiast I’m fascinated by historical street furniture, which is why I decided a few weeks ago to survey all the red pillar boxes within the boundaries of the former borough of Stoke Newington. I was keen to see how they spread out over the decades and whether Stoke Newington was home to any that could be described as rare due to age or design. In total I ended up photographing 28 of the boxes.
Determining the age of a pillar box is straightforward. On every one, the Royal Cypher can be seen of the reigning monarch at the time of the installation. It is made up of the first name of the King or Queen together with the letter R which stands for Regina (Queen) or Rex (King).
Those with VR, which stands for Victoria Regina (1837 – 1901) are the oldest, while those with ER II (Elizabeth the 2nd) are the newest. There are only 171 boxes surviving from the short 1936 reign of Edward VIII, though none are in Stoke Newington. There are 10 Victorian boxes, four from the reign of Edward VII, nine from the time of George V, three from George VI’s era and two modern boxes erected since the Queen took to the throne.
Apart from the age of a pillar box, its design is also an important aspect.
Stoke Newington is home to two rare hexagonal “Penfold” pillar boxes, which are Grade II listed. They are named after its designer John Wornham Penfold, and installed between 1866 and 1878.
According to the Letter Box Study Group, which maintains a database of the nation’s 115,500 postboxes, there are only 138 original Penfold pillar boxes nationwide, as well as 82 replicas. Next time you drop a letter down a pillar box, don’t forget to check the Royal Cypher or design. It may be a rare piece of history.