By Ruth Penney
Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 6 (1997)
Most of us probably take for granted the red letter boxes in our streets but they come in all shapes and sizes and the W4 postal district boasts some quite rare examples.
The Postal System began in 1852. The first box was located in Guernsey as an experiment. It proved successful. The oldest box still in use in the UK is in Dorset and dates from 1854-6. There are three types of letter box: pillar boxes, wall boxes and lamp boxes. Each box bears the cipher of a monarch. There are still many Victorian and Edwardian boxes around and a few bearing the cipher of Edward VIII.
The first boxes were octagonal in shape, with the Fluted Pillar Box an early design. A few of these still exist and there are examples in Eton, Warwick and Malvern. Between 1866 and 1879, a hexagonal shaped box was produced, known as the Penfold (after the surname of its designer). These boxes are very attractive, having leaves and acorn decoration on the top, often gilded. There is a Penfold in W4. It is on the junction of The Orchard and Bedford Road, north of South Parade.
After 1879 the design of boxes changed from the Penfold to the standard cylindrical shape we know so well. But something strange occurred when the first cylindrical boxes were produced: due to an oversight by the manufacturer, the lettering and the Royal Cipher were omitted! This meant that for eight years all new pillar boxes were plain. These Victorian boxes are known as “Anonymous”! There are two examples of Anonymous boxes in W4, one on the corner of Antrobus Road and Bollo Lane; the other in Chiswick Mall.In the W4 postal district there are 63 three pillar boxes, seven wall boxes but no lamp boxes. Thirteen of the boxes date from the reign of Queen Victoria, twelve from Edward VII, twenty-three George V, three George VI and nine from Elizabeth II.
The oldest of W4’s seven wall boxes is the Victorian box at the entrance to Turnham Green Station. Of the others, four are Edward VII, one George V, one Elizabeth II. Among these are two very rare examples. The first, the box on Chiswick High Road near Cranbrook Road, which has a large Edward VII scroll cipher on the door. This is, in fact, a freestanding Wall Box. The other, the box on the corner of Heathfield Terrace and Heathfield Gardens. Look at the top of the box for the cipher. It should show Edward VII, but the VII is missing! This is one of only two such models in the country (the other being in Hawkhurst, Kent).
So, there is more to letter boxes than meets the eye, I hope I have aroused your interest enough to look around yourself. You never know, it might inspire you to write more letters!