Thursday, November 20, 2014

"A Healthy Obsession With Mailboxes" Postboxes of the UK

Have you ever been to the United Kingdom and seen these striking red pillar mailboxes? Do you know the story behind each one? When I was staying in Bangor, Wales, I went on a mission to find each different mailbox in that city. Why you ask? Because each mailbox is unique, and each one represents a different time in the history of the UK. 

My friends were rather puzzled when they caught me taking pictures of every mailbox I found in Bangor. "Why are you taking pictures of mailboxes?" they'd ask, faintly annoyed/fairly assured I was crazy (after 5 weeks of traveling with me, I'm sure they thought I really was crazy!).

I would then proceed to point out exactly why I found each one so fascinating. I'd draw their attention to the elaborate and curvy letters and Roman numerals on their front. "You can tell how old each one is," I'd explain, "by seeing which monarch's name is on it." 

And indeed that's true, each of these upright bright red pillar mailboxes bear the initials, or  royal cypher, of the monarch during whose reign it was cast and installed. During my  week-long visit to Bangor, on the northwest coast of Wales, I found a total of four monarchs represented: Elizabeth II, George (presumably V, due to some internet research), Edward VII, and (most exciting to me) Victoria.

So, depending on which royal cypher is on each mailbox, you could be standing next to an almost 150 year old letter repository. Or you could be standing next to a mailbox that held letters to the boys fighting in WWI or WWII. 

I like to think about all the words and thoughts and hopes and dreams that have landed in these mailboxes and all the history these have witnessed. I could imagine walking past this mailbox (see left) bearing George VI's cipher, eager to hear how the Allies were faring in WWII.  That one is located right outside the post office in Bangor where I bought my stamps to mail my postcards back home. 

However, I was most thrilled to find, on my way to my classes at Bangor University, a visibly old and worn (but still jaunty!) red mailbox bearing the letters "VR" in a regal curly script. Instantly I knew that the "VR" stood for Victoria Regina, and therefore had been cast and put in place during Queen Victoria's reign. If I'm not mistaken, I believe that the "VR" mailboxes are the oldest around, being the first to bear the sovereign's royal cypher. 

After I showed my friends and traveling companions that particular "VR" mailbox and explained to them what it meant, they fully understood my fascination. "Are you serious?" they asked. "So, this mailbox was here when QUEEN VICTORIA was queen?! That is so cool!" (See, once you hear my reasons, I don't sound crazy at all!)

Even more phenomenal is the fact that many of these centuries old mailboxes are still in use today! Each one bears a sign denoting various  pickup times. So you can drop your letters and postcards to family and friends back home in the same mailbox that Queen Victoria's subjects deposited their mail. For some reason that really thrills me...maybe I am crazy after all!

The one at the beginning of this post, the Edward VII-era mailbox, is sadly no longer in commission, having it's pickup times scribbled out. I nearly dropped some postcards to my family in that one before I realized that there would be no more pickups at that location. Imagine my postcards sitting in that mailbox for all time, only being found once the mailbox was dismantled!

Additionally, there are still  new mailboxes going up everyday, bearing the current monarch's royal cypher, "EIIR" for Elizabeth II.  The one in the picture below was inside Morrison's, my favorite place to shop while in Wales. This "EIIR" mailbox is certainly more shiny than the older ones along the streets!

Further, since we were in Wales, the mailbox bore both the official English "Royal Mail" designation as well as the Welsh translation of  "Post Brehnhinol." This added an extra special element to my mailbox scavenger hunt, knowing that this was a feature unique to the Welsh mailboxes. 

So the next time you're in the UK, stop and take a minute to look at the mailboxes. How old are they? Is there an "EIIR" or a "GR" or a "VR"? What kind of history do you think these mailboxes have witnessed?

Have any pictures of these mailboxes yourself from your journeys? Tweet them to me @CalleySoFalley!!! I'd love to see them!

Up Next: I'll figure it out soon!

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