Local HistoryMiscellaneous

The parish Letter Boxes and their history

Letter boxes something we see all over the world in all shapes, sizes and colours. But what about the ones within the parish of St. Mary Bourne. This article is going to look at the letter boxes found today in the parish and their age. Other sources where appropriate will also be used to tell the history of letter boxes within the parish. So to get started lets look at where we will find them now and also in the past on the map below.

The current and known old locations of letter boxes within the parish

Starting at the beginning we know that Stoke & Swampton were the first locations in the parish to have letter boxes, and we can tell from trade directories the first mention of them is in 1878. As they are not mentioned in the 1875 Post Office Directory it is reasonable to assume they would have been installed between 1875 and 1878.

The is a WALL LETTER BOX at Stoke, cleared at 5.30 p.m. (Sundays 10 a.m.), and another at Swampton, cleared at 5 p.m. winter and 6 p.m. summer (Sundays 10 a.m.).
1878 White’s Directory of Hampshire

Sadly today neither of these original letter boxes have survived and have been replaced with newer letter boxes. The letter box at Stoke is also in a different location today as can be seen on the map below.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight XVI.6. Revised: 1894, Published: 1895
National Library of Scotland Maps (https://maps.nls.uk/) re-used under CC-BY licence

Within the blue circle you can see the letters ‘LB’ this stands for Letter Box which means at the time this map was issued the letter box was located at this location. The green circle on this map shows the Post Office which later came to Stoke, and the red dot is the location of the current letter box.

So before we look at the parish letter boxes, how do we know when they came to the parish? Well first up we need to look at the Royal Cyphers found on them. For more information on this check out the Postal Museums blog article “Royal Cyphers on Letter Boxes“. Each monarch had their own cypher and letter boxes during their reign had these on them with the exception what are called ‘anonymous boxes’ which were pillar boxes made between 1879 & 1887. The ‘anonymous boxes’ would normally have had the VR cypher for Queen Victoria. It is the VR cypher that we would have expected to see at both Stoke & Swampton had the original letter boxes survived.

STOKE

So Stoke as previously mentioned got it’s first letter box between 1875 and 1878 which was clearly stated as being a wall letter box as is the current one. You can see the current letter box at Stoke below and it bears the cypher of George V who reigned between 1910 and 1936. However because of the size of the crown on this box we are able to date this to 1910-1930. We can do this because in the last 6 years of the reign of George V the crown and cypher were noticeably larger. Now we know that the original box was most likely in Stoke until at least 1910 and was replaced by this box in a new location by 1930.

Stoke wall letter box

SWAMPTON

This next letter box is a ‘lamp style’ box meaning it’s attached to a post. The cypher this time is for Elizabeth II meaning that it dates from 1952-2022 however due the the branding of ‘POST OFFICE’ we can narrow this down to 1952-1994 as all boxes produced after 1994 are branded ‘ROYAL MAIL’. It is likely that the earliest letter box at Stoke was a wall box as lamp boxes did not come about until 1896. Whether this box replaced the earlier box installed between 1875 and 1878 I do not know, but as many Victorian boxes survive today it is highly likely it did as they are not replaced unless necessary.

Swampton lamp letter box

BINLEY

Using old trade directories it is possible to establish that the third letter box in the parish was install at Binley between 1903 and 1907.

Wall letter box, Binley, cleared 9.10 a.m. & 5.30 p.m. week days only.
1907 Kelly’s Directory of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight

The original letter box was located near the Reading Room (red circle on the map) today it is located a bit further up the road where the green circle is. As the Kelly’s directory states it was a wall letter box it is likely that it was in the wall of the Reading Room before being replaced by a different box further up the road.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight XVI.3 Revised: 1909, Published: 1910
National Library of Scotland Maps (https://maps.nls.uk/) re-used under CC-BY licence

There have been at least two lamp letter boxes since the original wall letter box was replaced at Binley, the photo I found on Geograph by Ian Folland from 2007 shows an Elizabeth II lamp box that dates to 1952-2007, and the photo I took myself this year shows another Elizabeth II lamp box with ROYAL MAIL branding (previously described above) which must have been installed after the earlier photo was taken in 2007.

LOWER LINK

The Hampshire Chronicle , 21 Nov 1908 available at FindMyPast.co.uk

The newspaper article above is very helpful in ascertaining dates for our next letter box. We can see from this that the local M.P. Captain Faber presented a petition to the Postmaster-General for increased facilities for posting letters in the parish of St. Mary Bourne. He asked for a new letter box at Lower Link and this was granted. This letter box today is the oldest within the parish and can be found in the wall of the Bourne Valley Inn (then The Railway Inn)

Bourne Valley Inn wall letter box

You can see on this wall letter box the cypher of Edward VII who reigned between 1901 and 1910, however because of the newspaper article the date of installation can be narrowed down considerably. As it’s not clear from the article if the box had been installed yet we have to date this to between the end of 1908 and 1910.

EGBURY & WADWICK

Hants & Berks Gazette, 23 Apr 1910 available at FindMyPast.co.uk

We can see from the newspaper article from 1910 above that Captain Faber is on the case again to get another letter box this time in Egbury, he succeeded but it appears not immediately as there is no mention of one there in the 1911 Kelly’s directory.

Wall Letter Box, Egbury, cleared 8.15 a.m. & 5.10 p.m. week days only.
Wall Letter Box, Warwick, cleared 5.35 p.m. week days only.
1915 Kelly’s Directory of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight

The Egbury letter box is the original George V wall letter box which we can date to 1911-1915. The Wadwick letter box is one that I am unsure of, we know from trade directories that there was one installed in Wadwick between 1911-1915 which would mean it would bear the George V cypher. However, the box that is currently there today firstly looks like it should have been a lamp box and secondly the cypher is much larger than on the other George V boxes in the parish. So this letter box is definitely an old one but whether the original or not is unknown. Also of note with this box is the ‘LETTERS ONLY’ branding something that is not found on any others in the parish.

St. Mary Bourne village

In the wall of the current Post Office which dates from 2001 is a George V wall letter box, this one has a small crown so again dates to 1910-1930. Where this box was before it was placed in the wall of the new Post Office is unknown, I have not found ‘LB’ in the village on any available map online, nor on a copy of a 1976 map I have from the archives.

St Mary Bourne Post Office wall letter box

The Wyke’s

Middle Wyke & Upper Wyke also have lamp letter boxes, both of these are Elizabeth II and date to 1952-1994. I have no further information on these as trade directories had stopped reporting the locations of letter boxes by 1923.

It’s clear from looking at the history of letter boxes in the parish and the gradual increase in the number of them that that more and more people were sending letters. By the turn of the 20th Century there had been a huge increase in the number of people who could now read and write plus the photographic postcard was very popular as we’ve seen here before by the number of old postcard images that have been shared. In fact St. Mary Bourne had it’s own photographer Alfred Cook whose photographs appear on the earliest post cards of the parish. Unlike today the post was a fast, reliable & cheap service, the population relied on it as it was many years before telephones were in every house and the telegraph was for urgent message or emergencies only.

If you can help answer any of the unresolved mysteries of the parish letter boxes please do let me know. The most recent being why did Binley get a new box between 2007 & 2024, what happened to the old one?

Further information about letter boxes is available at The Letter Box Study Group, I’m not a member as this was a one off task for me and a complete beginner when it comes to letter boxes but it was interesting to look at and I am still disappointed I didn’t find a Victorian one!


References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_box
Robinson, M. (2000). Old Letter Boxes. Oxford: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
Trade Directories from Ancestry, University of Leicester, Hampshire Archives, Andover Library & The Genealogist

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