14 November 2020

In search of more Victorian
and Edwardian post boxes
from pre-independence days

A Victorian post box near Creeves, Co Limerick … created a discussion about surviving pre-independence post boxes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week, I initiated an unexpected conversation on Instagram and Facebook when I posed a photograph of a Victorian red post box near Kilbradren, close to Creeves and Rathkeale in west Co Limerick.

Some people wanted to know whether it was genuine, others suggested it was a plastic replica, while a number of people wanted to know how many Victorian post boxes have survived in Co Limerick and other parts of Ireland.

For about ten years or so, I have occasionally taken photographs of old post boxes and pillar boxes that predate the formation of the Irish Free State and a separate Irish postal service in 1922.

They are spread throughout the country, from Co Mayo to Co Wexford, and from Co Louth to Co Wexford. When I last posted about these fast-disappearing post boxes on 18 August 2017, I included a collection of photographs of 47 pre-independence post boxes in 11 counties throughout the Republic of Ireland.

I have not gone in search of them with any purpose or method, so my collection of is representative at any time only of places I have visited in recent years, and of how alert I was on any particular day.

Since that first posting, I have come across another 15 similar post boxes, spread across the island in different places.

Most of these post boxes and pillar boxes are embellished with royal monograms. The simpler boxes, inserted into walls, have plain ‘VR’ initials with crown insignias, while the stand-alone tubular pillar boxes often have a monogram with the ‘VR’ (Queen Victoria) or ‘EVIIR’ (Edward VII) initials in a cursive flourish, but despite the decorative approach have no crowns.

The initials became more elaborate in their calligraphic flourishes during the reign of Edward VII, but they returned to more simple fonts in the reign of George V, reflecting not only the harsh times of World War I and the War of Independence but also the design and development of new typefaces for typography and printing that emphasised clarity and legibility.

The green post box, in various shapes and sizes, is a familiar sight on city streets and country roads throughout Ireland. But all the post boxes illustrated in this evening’s posting and my earlier posting three years ago were originally painted in Post Office Red, and the embossed crowns were painted in gold, as may have been the lettering.

The post box was introduced over 160 years ago by the novelist, Anthony Trollope, who worked for the Post Office in Ireland for several years. He wanted to make it easier for people to post their letters and make it unnecessary for them to have to wait for a post office to open.

The first boxes appeared on the streets of cities such as Dublin, Belfast and Cork about 165 years ago and they were introduced to other towns and villages from the 19th century on. The big pillar boxes were soon joined by smaller boxes that fitted into walls and later by lamp boxes that were cheaper to make and could be attached to lamp and telegraph poles.

The first letter boxes were put in place in 1855, when five boxes were erected in Belfast, Ballymena and Dublin. The first Dublin box was rectangular in shape and is now on display in the National Museum in Kildare Street, Dublin.

Pillar boxes had been placed in many Irish cities by early 1857. The Post Office went on to put wall boxes in place throughout the island, and the cylindrical boxes were introduced in March 1879. A new design was introduced in 1887, incorporating the royal cypher on the door and the words ‘Post Office’ on the collar below the rim of the roof.

Most of the early pillar boxes were painted dark bronze green throughout the United Kingdom. But in 1874 the Post Office decided to make pillar boxes more obvious by painting them a striking royal red. All the boxes illustrated here and in my posting three years ago were originally painted in red. However, after Independence the Irish Post Office changed their colour to green.

A number of these old post boxes remain in use today and they are an elegant feature in many towns and suburbs. But many are neglected, left to rust, blocked up. In some cases the royal insignia has been wilfully razed or filed away, or an additional monogram with the initials ‘SÉ’ has been added, representing Saorstát Éireann, the Irish Free State, the official name of the state for 15 years from 6 December 1922 until 29 December 1937.

There was a genuine concern among many of the people commenting on my photograph earlier this week that post boxes with royal monograms might be targets for the vandalism of over-zealous self-proclaimed republicans or, on the other hand, of thieves targeting antiquities.

The 15 post boxes and pillar boxes in this evening’s posting date from the reigns of Queen Victoria and Edward VII, and were seen in counties Clare, Cork, Limerick, Kerry, Tipperary and Wicklow, They are an important element in the street architecture of Ireland, and it would be a shame if they were lost because of neglect, wanton abandon, or vandalism.

The reign of Queen Victoria:

These ten post boxes date from 1887 to 1901:

Bray, Co Wicklow (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Buttevant, Co Cork (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Cahir, Co Tipperary (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Castleconnell, Co Limerick (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Charleville, Co Cork (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Cobh, Co Cork (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Cobh, Co Cork (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Kilmallock, Co Limerick (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Nicker, near Pallasgreen, Co Limerick (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Thurles, Co Tipperary (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The reign of Edward VII (1910-1910):

These five date from the reign of Edward VII (1910-1910):

Castleconnell, Co Limerick (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Killarney, Co Kerry (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Mallow Street, Limerick (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2017)

North Circular Road, Limerick … note the addition of the ‘SÉ’ monogram, representing Saorstát Éireann, the Irish Free State (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2017)


Ian v. Uden said...

Lovely set of photos Patrick, are you a member of the Letter Box Study Group?
Details at www.LBSG.org

Unknown said...

The red box is definitely a reproduction.
Ireland has many very interesting boxes to look out for. See if you can find one with the SE for the Irish Free State? They are works of art

Anonymous said...

There's also one near Old Youghal Road in Cork City


Anonymous said...

Taylor’s Hill, Galway City

John said...

There is one in Donaghmede in the Northside of Dublin. It's unusual as the estate was only built in 1970.