However people wishing to send letters had to take them to the nearest letter receiving office, which could be miles away. A growth in use of the postal service after 1840 led to the need for many more convenient locations where stamped letters could be deposited. The novelist Anthony Trollope, who worked for the General Post Office, saw roadside post boxes in France. He trialled the use of locked cast-iron pillar boxes with regular collection times on Jersey in 1852 and they were introduced to mainland Britain in 1853.
Some of the early post boxes were hexagonal in shape but a wide variety of designs were used. Boxes inserted into walls were introduced in 1857. In 1859 an improved cylindrical shape pillar box, with its posting aperture located beneath a cap to protect it from rainwater, was introduced for standard use. By 1859 the colour for post boxes was standardised as dark green but this colour made them difficult for people to find them. The standard colour was changed to bright red in 1874, although it was another decade before all the post boxes were repainted red.
Lamp post boxes were introduced in 1896. These were designed to be attached to lampposts but they were also attached to telegraph poles, set on their own posts or set into walls.
Around 800 different designs for post boxes have been used so far and new designs are still being produced.
Post boxes usually have the insignia of the monarch reigning at the time of placement. 60% of UK post boxes currently in use have EIIR for Queen Elizabeth II or a Scottish crown on them, 15% have the insignia of King George V and the remainder in descending order are from the reigns of George VI, Victoria, Edward VII and Edward VIII. There are only 171 from the very short reign of Edward VIII in 1936 but one of these is located on the junction of Kenn Road with St Michael’s Avenue in Clevedon.
Rare Edward VIII pillar box in Clevedon
Replica Victorian Penfold pillar box on Weston-super-Mare Seafront
George VI wall box, High Street, Stogumber
Queen Victoria wall box on the western outskirts of North Petherton
Gold pillar box, Trull, Taunton
To celebrate British competitors' gold medal winning performances at the London Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 Royal Mail painted a post box in each of the gold medal winners' home towns. The only gold post box in Somerset is located outside Trull Post Office on Church Road, Trull. It commemorates the gold medal won by paralympian Deborah Criddle in the Team Dressage event. She also won silver medals in the Individual and Freestyle events, all with the horse LJT Akilles.
Royal Mail painted 110 post boxes gold across the UK and a list of their locations can be found on this website: http://www.goldpostboxes.com/ In November 2012 Royal Mail announced that the gold post boxes would remain gold permanently.
Queen Victoria Wallbox, Howleigh near Blagdon Hill
Queen Victoria Wallbox, Ash Priors
Queen Victoria Pillar Box, New Street, Wells
Edward VII wallbox at Churchstanton
George V pillar box, St Augustine's Street, Taunton
Of course, the other purpose of pillar boxes is to provide something for dogs to urinate up, which is clearly what had happened here shortly before my visit!
George V wall box at the Old Post Office, Stawell