A Curator Explores....Again: Part 1
Follow Julian, our Senior Curator, as he hikes across the country to find some interesting designs of post boxes. In this first part, he explores the Peddars Way in Norfolk.
In the summer of last year, I wrote about some of the post boxes I had seen while walking the 150 mile London LOOP (London Outer Orbital Path) – have a read Part 1 and Part 2. In April 2017, I completed a tad under 100 miles walking the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail. I was pleased to find a few boxes different to those I last wrote about so would like to take the opportunity to share some of them with you here.
My first three days were spent on the Peddars Way in the Brecks and farmland of Norfolk. This roughly follows the route of a Roman Road northward from the Norfolk/Suffolk border, east of Thetford, to the north Norfolk coast, east of Hunstanton. For more than 150 years, the scattered communities have been provided with an assortment of post boxes, of various shapes, sizes and designs.
Inevitably, I will not have seen most of the post boxes close to my route, but my path went directly past just a few, the first of which was one of the most long-lived designs of the post box. This was a pedestal mounted lamp box at Threxton. Despite looking pristine in a recent coat of paint, this is a pretty old box. The design was first introduced in 1949, but this box was made a little later as it carries the cypher of Queen Elizabeth II. There were a number of manufacturers for the ‘Tinnie Lizzies’; this example was made by Carron. Following a business change in 1994, new examples of these boxes had the words ‘ROYAL MAIL’ instead of ‘POST OFFICE’ cast above the aperture.
Not far from the lamp box above, I came across another piece of Post Office street furniture; except this time it was a telephone kiosk. When the Post Office took over the majority of the telephone network in the early part of the 20th century, it became responsible for the provision of kiosks for the public. The first kiosks they introduced, in 1921, were mostly of concrete construction, but this kiosk at Little Cressingham is a cast-iron design first introduced in 1936. In common with many telephone kiosks today, it no longer has a telephone installed and BT have passed over responsibility for its upkeep to the local council. This K6 kiosk is now being used as a local book exchange.
At North Pickenham, once a Neolithic settlement, I came across one of my favourite designs of post box: the M type ‘Heritage’ box, one of two I came across on this walk. These boxes were designed by Machan Engineering and were introduced in 1995. Production rights remained with the foundry rather than Royal Mail which may explain why they were not continued with. I think this a shame as they are a well-made, robust and reliable pedestal mounted post box. You can see the small hole in the casting above the collection plate. Behind this would have been a dial mechanism that could be rotated to show the time of the next collection thought the window in the front. With ‘once a day’ collections now in force, this is not now required.
Machan had also made the Tinnie Lizzie I encountered three hours later on my walk. You can see that this is a later example than the box at Threxton as it carries the ‘ROYAL MAIL’ designation. There are also other subtle changes in design over the other box, such as the squarer collection plate holder.
My penultimate day on the Peddars Way before reaching the Norfolk Coast saw me visiting the Cluniac priory at Castle Acre. I wonder how many of the thousands of visitors to the 11th century ruins also stop to photograph the large and modern A type pillar box outside Castle Acre convenience stores! Yet another box made by Machan, this is the largest of the cylindrical pillar boxes made and is possibly a little bit of an over provision in this town though the large jutting ten-inch-wide aperture is ideal for the larger type of business mail being produced today.
Further down the Roman Road, beyond Castle Acre, I came across one of the oldest boxes on my route. This was one of the lovely ‘Hovis’ lamp boxes. Based on the first design of British lamp box introduced in 1896, the one I found was manufactured during the reign of George V. There are many sub-types of this design of box; this example has a slightly larger door for example. You can see how the small size and tiny aperture cannot provide the capacity of its larger cousin down the road but is an ideal cheaper alternative in a more isolated location where the amount of mail being posted is far less. Despite being produced in large numbers, these are a threatened box in vulnerable situations, at risk of theft.
At Ringstead I paused to photograph my final post box, on my final day, just before I reached the coast. This was yet another lamp box and revealed a third of the many manufacturers of these boxes- Carronade. Unlike the pillar box and M type seen previously, these lamp boxes have a cast iron front mounted onto a steel body, hence the affectionate misnomer ‘Tinnie Lizzie’.
Much of my walk on the Peddars Way had been quite lonely. I saw no other walkers on the trail. The mostly small size post boxes I came across were a perfect provision for the small number of inhabitants in the isolated villages I passed. Would I come across larger examples of post boxes when I hit the coast and walked through the busier towns dotted along the Norfolk Coast Path?
All will be revealed in part two of this blog post so watch this space!
– Julian Stray (Senior Curator)