DEEP in rural Dorset stands a postbox that is the oldest in regular use in England.
Each year the pillar box at Barnes Cross in Holwell, near Sherborne, attracts visitors fascinated by post office history.
And Dorset’s own postal history is the subject of a revealing article in the Dorset Year Book 2012, published by the Society of Dorset Men.
Dorset’s Postal History, by Tony Cross, tells of how the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 prompted the Post Office surveyor and famous novelist Anthony Trollope to come up with an idea of roadside posting boxes to meet the increased demand for postal facilities.
After a trial in Jersey, the first on the mainland was in Carlisle in 1853 and the Barnes Cross box was established soon after.
Octagonal and five feet high, the letter slot is vertical and has a hinged flap.
Since then, the design of post boxes has changed a few times over the passing decades.
Another very early example is a fluted postbox at the corner of the entrance to Mudeford Quay that dates back to 1856 – the oldest box in the immediate area around the Bournemouth conurbation.
In Bournemouth itself, it was reported in the Echo many years ago, the first letterbox was wall mounted, one that stood at the corner of Bath Road and was used by politicians William Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli and actor Henry Irvine when visiting the then infant town.
Bournemouth, as well as Dorchester, has a hexagonal box, known as a Penfold box after the architect who designed them. They date back to the 1870s.
One can be found in Bournemouth at Meyrick Road at the junction with Gervis Road.
“Smaller villages, points out Mr Cross, did not need big boxes and wall letter boxes appeared in 1857.
(The Poole Herald series, 121 years later, carried a photograph showing how a wall box in West Lulworth was too high for a youngster to reach.) Pillar boxes bear the initials of the sovereign reigning at the time of their installation.
“The Post Office began installing boxes for King Edward VIII in the months following the death of his father and before the abdication and there are a couple of examples in Parkstone,” writes Mr Cross.
One can be found on Lilliput Road in Poole.
(Back in 1978, a rumpus broke out in Highcliffe when the old post box was replaced by a bigger one that did not have the royal monogram bearing the characters EIIR.
The new one was believed to be the only one in the country at the time that bore no resemblance to the traditional circular red box.
Although Tony Cross’s article in the year book focuses on Dorset’s postal heritage, cross the border into Hampshire and you can find another interesting box.
A rare Victorian pillar box still stands in Milford on Sea that is the oldest in the county.
Manufactured between 1856-7 by a Birmingham firm, it has the vertical fluting and a vertical posting slot. From its design it is easy to see why they were given the name “pillar boxes”.
The Dorset Year Book for 2012 contains 47 articles, reports and poems, ranging from Paul Atterbury’s article on the Dorsets on the Somme to a poem called On Bindon Hill in June by Devina Symes.
It is edited by Peter Pitman, of 34 Easton Street, Portland, DT5 1BT firstname.lastname@example.org) and costs £6.