On the wall

IT IS ODD how seeing a mundane object can stimulate less than mundane thoughts. Embedded into a wall in Salcombe (Devon), I saw an official post box for depositing mail. At first, I took little notice of it. Then, when I saw it a second time, I noticed that its red-painted front bears the letters “GR”. This refers to a King George. Because the first letter boxes were installed in the reign of Queen Victoria, the GR on the letter box in Salcombe must refer either to George V (reigned 1910-1936) or George VI (reigned 1936-1952) because the other King Georges all preceded Victoria.

Possibly the GR on the box in Salcombe refers to George V because he was the first George to follow Victoria, in whose reign the boxes bore the letters “VR” (Victoria Regina). Even though Edward VII was the first monarch to follow Victoria, boxes installed in his reign include the Roman numeral VII. Likewise, in the case of other monarchs who followed Victoria, their initials on post boxes include numerals identifying which king or queen they denoted (i.e., E VII R, G VI R and E II R). Not having ever looked out for it before, I am not sure whether any post boxes installed during the reign of George V bear the logo G V R or, as I saw in Salcombe, simply GR. A rapid search of the Internet revealed that most George V post boxes illustrated on websites dealing with post boxes bear the letters GR, as was the case with the example I noticed in Salcombe.

I suppose that when Charles or his son William come to the throne, letter boxes, if they still exist in the age of electronic mail, will bear the logos “C III R” and “W V R” respectively, rather than “CR” and “WR”. Why the V (meaning ‘5’) was not included on the post boxes issued during the reign of George V but the VII (meaning ‘7’) appears on those installed during his predecessor’s reign is not clear to me.

A pair of post boxes

WHILE WALKING IN CAMBRIDGE, I spotted a pair of pillar boxes. At first sight they looked identical but soon I realised that they were not. One had a wider orifice for inserting letters than the other. The wider one bears the ‘logo’ of Queen Elizabeth II and its neighbour with the narrower slit bears the logo of the Queen’s father, King George VI. Apart from these differences, there were much the same.

The two pillar boxes I saw in Cambridge are not particularly old. The first post box on the British mainland was placed in Carlisle in 1853. The idea of using such receptacles for collecting mail is connected with the author Anthony Trollope (1815-1882). An informative website (https://www.postalmuseum.org/collections/highlights/letter-boxes/#) related:

“Anthony Trollope, now more famed as a novelist, was, in the 1850s working as a Surveyor’s Clerk for the Post Office. Part of his duties involved him travelling to Europe where it is probable that he saw road-side letter boxes in use in France and Belgium.He proposed the introduction of such boxes to Britain and a trial on the Channel Islands was approved. Four cast-iron pillar boxes were installed on the island of Jersey and came into use on 23 November 1852. In 1853 the trial was extended to neighbouring Guernsey. None of the first boxes used on Jersey survive. It is possible that one still in use on Guernsey together with another in our collection, originally sited in Guernsey, date from the 1853 extension to the trial.”

Before the introduction of pillar boxes:

“… there was [sic] principally two ways of posting a letter. Senders would either have to take the letter in person to a Receiving House (effectively an early Post Office) or would have to await the Bellman. The Bellman wore a uniform and walked the streets collecting letters from the public, ringing a bell to attract attention.”

Well, all that history is news to me and I might not have bothered to find out about it had I not seen the father and daughter pillar boxes standing side=by-side in Cambridge’s Market Square.

A pillar box

In Britain, posting boxes for letters and small packages are sometimes referred to as ‘pillar boxes’

While visiting the town of Warwick, famous for its castle, we spotted a letter box that is truly a pillar box.

This post-box (pillar box) is shaped like a classical pillar. It was made in cast-ron in 1856 and is one of two of this design in the town of Warwick. They are still in use.

In the post

white and blue cardboard box

 

As a young boy in the early 1960s, I loved receiving mail. My parents were sent far more letters and packages than me and I was envious of them. With the experience of age, I guess I should not have been jealous of them because many of their mail items must have contained undesirable material such as bills, tax demands, and official notices.  As I received only a very few things from the post man, I took action to increase the amount of mail I received.

I used to scour newspapers and magazines for forms that when filled in and sent off, led to holiday brochures being sent to me free of charge. I received booklets extolling the virtues of holiday resorts like the Norfolk Broads and seaside towns all over the UK. Also, I wrote to the town halls of every London Borough to ask them to send me their official handbooks, which they did.

Once, my parents received a colourful package from the Readers Digest. They gave it to me to enjoy. It contained beautiful pictures extracted from a world atlas they were trying to sell. There was also a piece of paper with two stickers on it. One said ‘no thanks’ and the other ‘yes please’. I stuck the latter onto a pre-paid reply form and posted it. Some weeks later, a beautiful world atlas was delivered to our home. My parents were not too thrilled by its arrival, but saw its value and sent a cheque to pay for it.

Some months later, more publicity material arrived from the Readers Digest. This time it advertised a three volume encyclopaedia of gardening. It looked irresistibly wonderful, even to a non-gardening youngster like me. Without consulting my parents, I sent off the ‘yes please’ sticker. After some delay, a huge parcel was delivered to our home. I unwrapped it. It contained the three beautifully illustrated hardback volumes of the gardening encyclopaedia and a fine wooden case to contain it. My parents were not at all pleased. They re-wrapped the lovely encyclopaedia and at great expense posted it back to the Readers Digest. From then on, they made certain that no more post from the Readers Digest reached me before first having been torn up.

The best coupon I ever filled in was to a Roman Catholic organisation. The coupon promised to send me twenty one booklets about Roman Catholicism. They arrived at weekly intervals, providing me with at least one package a week for 21 weeks. I never read any of them because for me it was the thrill of receiving post that I enjoyed rather than what was in the post.

Even though a lot of the mail I receive from the post man/woman is unexciting, I still get a thrilling sense of expectation when letters and packages addressed to me arrive in our letter box.

 

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Postage stamps in Albania

TIRANA Skand Sq with House of Culture and mosque

 

Recently, I read a blog (Click here) written by an Australian, who has visited North Korea twice. On one of his trips, he visited a museum or exhibition of postage stamps, many of which depict important leaders of the country. Given that it is against the law to deface pictures of these people, he wondered how careful postal officials would have to be when they cancel the stamps with the rubber stamps used for franking. One false move and the great leder’s face might become defaced. In that case, the postal official would risk punishment. This story reminded me of something that I observed in an Albanian post office when I was visting Albania in 1984. In those days, Albania was even more isolated from the outside world than North Korea and it was governed by a stern, repressive regime led by the dictator Enver Hoxha.

This excerpt from my book  Albania on my Mind describes what I saw:

I wrapped my books into a number of parcels, addressed them, and then began leaving the hotel to visit Tirana’s main post office. The Australian, who was travelling with us, spotted me in the lobby and asked me what I was doing. When I told him, he askedwhether he could accompany me to the post office, as he,working as he did for the Australian postal service, was curious to see how things were done by the Albanian post…

… The clerk behind the counter in the Tirana post office offered no objection to the way that I had packed my parcels. He weighed them and then gave me numerous stamps to stick on them. I stuck them on and returned the parcels one by one. The clerk examined each of them to make sure that I had stuck the right combination of stamps on each packet.

Suddenly, he stopped, looked up at me, then at the parcel, before pointing at one of the stamps. In my haste, I had stuck it on upside down. He tore the stamp off the
parcel, and then replaced it the right way up, pointing at the portrait on it whilst saying:
Enver Hoxha.”
The Australian, who was watching this with wide-open eyes,
turned to me and said:
You know, it’s completely illegal to remove stamps from postage. It’s against all international postal rules.”

I did not know what to say, but admired the respect that even a humble postage stamp could inspire in one of Enver’s subjects.”

 

ALBANIA ON MY MIND 

is available

on Amazon by clicking   HERE

Picture shows Skanderbeg Square in Tirana, Albania, in 1984