Victorian Letter Boxes

This page explains the history of the Victorian post box and highlights the characteristics of the different categories of each type of box.  Clicking on a category description displays all the boxes we have seen in that category.  Much of the information has been gleaned from the Letter Box Study Group and a book called The Letter Box by Jean Farrugia published in 1969; however, the photographs are taken by us or our friends and family.

Our family likes to find post boxes from the Victorian era (1837 - 1901) and we are building up a series of photographs of each box we find.  Some of the boxes are attributed to friends and other blog readers who have joined in the fun.  If you find a VR box please take a picture of the box, a picture of the white collection plate on the front, and a picture of the surrounding area including the box.  Can you also include the location of the box or the coordinates.

Please click here to see our a list of our boxes arranged geographically.  You can then drill down further to see individual boxes.

Or click here to see the boxes seen by each member of our family and by friends who have sent their sightings into us.


The first wall boxes, produced in 1857 by Smith & Hawkes were known as Trial boxes and can be recognised as they had a central door and no hood or pediment.  Wall boxes were introduced as cheaper alternatives to pillar boxes and enabled post to be collected from settlements where the cost of installing a pillar box could not be justified because of the lower volume of mail.  

Trial box at the Old Post Office in Tintagel

Please click the link to see examples of the 1857 - Trial Box


The Trial box was replaced by the Improved Trial box in 1858, again made by Smith & Hawkes.    These still had a central door but with a pediment (the arched top) and a narrow hood to help meet the issues of rainwater ingress.  Here's one we found at South Leigh near Witney in Oxfordshire which, coincidentally, is where Karen went to secondary school.

Please click the link to see examples of the 1858 - Improved Trial Box


1859 Box no. 1

The next version had the crown and cipher moved to the pediment but we have yet to find one of these so there is no picture.  Again, Smith & Hawkes were the manufacturer.


1859 Box no. 2

The next improvement was to move the door higher so postmen could reach up and dislodge letters that had got caught higher up.  At the same time the crown and cipher were moved from the pediment to below the posting slot.  These were still made by Smith & Hawkes and this is one of our finds in Upper Pollicot near Wendover.

Please click the link to see examples of the 
1859 Box no. 2


1860 Improved Box no. 2

A further improvement was to enlarge the hood to prevent driving rain from entering the box.  Still made by Smith & Hawkes and this is one we found at Hurstbourne Priors near Basingstoke in need of some love and attention.

Please click the link to see examples of the 
1860 Improved Box no. 2



The next change was to move the door to the bottom which meant the crown and cipher had to move to the top. The pediment was also removed and for the first time, a door pull was introduced so that the key was not used for the function thus weakening the lock.  The door was moved as there had been complaints that letters weren't being cleared if they got stuck at the bottom of the sack unseen.  Smith & Hawkes were the manufacturer still and two sizes were made: small size in line with all the previous versions and a new larger size.

Large size on platform 1 of Tunbridge Wells railway station

Small size on the old Country Stores outlet in Tomlow, Warwickshire

Click on a category to see all our examples in that category:

     1861-1871 Small
     1861-1871 Large


As post became more popular the small boxes became impractical so the larger size became the standard and two further sizes were introduced, known respectively as sizes A, B & C.  These boxes were manufactured for ten years and the main physical external difference between the 1861-1870 version was moving the collection plate lower onto the door rather than at the top of the box.

Internally, the letter slide was changed from a downshoot to an upshoot thus ensuring rain finding its way to the opening would not run down inside the box.  The largest size were also cast without a crown and cipher for some unknown reason.  As well as Smith & Hawkes, boxes were made by BP Walker and Eagle Range.

Size A (largest) - this one in the city walls on Upper Bridge Street in Chester

Size B (medium), this one from Thoralby in North Yorkshire was manufactured by BP Walker

Size C (smallest), this one at Midgham near Newbury was made by Eagle Range

Click on a category to see all our examples in that category:

     1871-1880 Large
     1871-1880 Medium
     1871-1880 Small


The final range of Victorian wall boxes were made in the three sizes still but all had larger doors.  These were all made by a new manufacturer, WT Allen of London who, incidentally, made wall boxes up to 1965.

A size A taken with Karen to show the size.  This one is at Seal Chart near Sevenoaks in Kent.

A size B (medium) taken on St Margarets Road in Oxford

Size C (smallest) - this one is at Pangbourne railway station near Reading in Berkshire

Click on a category to see all our examples in that category:

     1881-1901 Large
     1881-1901 Medium
     1881-1901 Small

1950-1960 Aperture Modification

During the 1950s and 1960s some of the 1881-1901 Small boxes had their aperture modified to take larger letters and the hood on these apertures didn't have the words 'POST OFFICE' cast on them.  They are not aesthetically pleasing as can be seen in this picture that compares a box with modification with one that hasn't been modified.

Left: Modified aperture.  Right: Aperture as originally cast

Click here to see the Modified Aperture boxes that we have seen.


Pillar boxes were introduced in 1852 but there was no standard design; each district commissioned their own designers and manufacturers.  This state of affairs existed until 1866 when a national approach was adopted.

1852-1866 Early Boxes

These were known as the Early boxes and these are two of the designs we have been lucky enough to see.

An early box on Dog Kennel Lane in Solihull

An early box in Montpelier, Brighton

Click here to see our 1852-1866 Early Boxes

1866-1878 Penfolds 

After many variations of the Early boxes it was agreed that a single style of pillar box would be introduced for the whole country and in 1866 J.W. Penfold was commissioned to design a new standard pillar box.  The final design was hexagonal in shape built by Cochrane, Grove of Dudley and many can still be seen in towns around the country.  

There were many different variations of Penfolds, eg. whether they had upshoots or downshoots, where the crown and cipher were positioned, whether the apertures were hooded or bevelled etc.  At the highest category we have grouped ours as follows (click on a category to see all our boxes in that category):

     1866-1872 High aperture
     1872-1878 Low aperture

High aperture boxes had the aperture above the two rings whereas low apertures were placed between the two rings.  Also, the size relates to the diameter of the box not the height.

A small Penfold with a low aperture in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Click on one of the following to see our boxes in that categhory:


Replica Penfolds

Penfolds were so distinctive that replicas were also made and installed from 1988 onwards.  These are based on the large Penfold with a high aperture and are made by Machan Engineering in Stirling, Scotland.

A replica Penfold on The Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Click here to see our Replica Penfolds

1879-1887 Anonymous pillar boxes

The traditional round pillar box was launched in 1879, manufactured by Andrew Handyside of London and Derby.  For some reason the boxes didn't have a cipher for the first eight years and these are known as Anonymous boxes.  The first boxes were tall boxes known as High Anonymous because they had a high aperture like this example from Worthing in West Sussex:

  Note the lack of cipher and the high aperture in the top ring

The later Anonymous boxes had a lower aperture, between the rings, and were known as Low Anonymous boxes like this example from:

Note the low aperture (between the rings) and the lack of cipher

Click on a category to see all our examples in that category:

     1879-1883 High Anonymous
     1883-1887 Low Anonymous

1887-1901 Later pillar boxes

All the later pillar boxes  had a VR cipher and were manufactured by Andrew Handyside of London and Derby and fall into two broad categories, round and oval.   There were several variations within the overall design of the round boxes but none are major enough for us to feel they warrant separating out, hence we have grouped them all together.  Where possible though we have used the variation (e.g. position of door lock) in order to provide a more accurate date of manufacture.

The oval boxes were much larger and had two apertures which were used for different purposes.  Originally they were used to differentiate between local (or London) post and country post.  More recently they have been used to differentiate between inland and overseas or between first and second class.

A pristine looking round box in Harrogate, North Yorkshire

An oval box in the City of London: left aperture for first class and abroad and the right for second class

Click on a category to see all our examples.

     1887-1901 Round
     1899-1901 Oval


Lamp boxes weren't introduced until 1896 so consequently Victorian examples are few and far between.  In fact, because they were easily stolen (especially in recent times), many have been removed to museums.  The ones that are left tend to be built into walls where they are safer.  By the way, these are really my favourite type of box.

Lamp boxes were used where there was not a convenient wall or where the volume of postings did not justify a wall box.  All Victorian lamp boxes were cast by Andrew Handyside of Derby and London.  The first lamp boxes cast had the word 'LETTERS' above the hood and the later ones had 'LETTERS ONLY' .

Earliest box (left) is from Botolphs Bridge in Kent, the other from High Bentham in North Yorkshire

Click on a category to see all our examples.

     1896-1897 LETTERS
     1897-1901 LETTERS ONLY



These boxes were introduced in 1880 primarily for post offices and initially designed by a Mr Cole.  They were known as Cole boxes for a while but a Mr Ludlow designed the majority in the twentieth century and they are now known as Ludlow boxes.   They were a form of wall box but were built so they could be opened and emptied from the rear, in other words within the post office itself.  They were generally built by local carpenters to fit the dimensions of the pane/s of glass they replaced in the windows of post offices.  They were often made of hardwood and were nearly always fitted with an enamel plate indicating that it was a letter box.  Due to the local variations there are too many to list so the link below will take you to all the Ludlow boxes we have seen.

There were Ludlow-type boxes manufactured locally before the introduction of the standardised boxes in 1880 and these are included in our lists too.

Ludlow built into Alfold (Surrey) post office wall - the frame is clearly constructed of wood


All boxes that are in use have a collection plate detailing things like the times of last collection each day and the nearest box if you've missed the last post.  They also include the box number which is the unique code assigned to each box by the Royal Mail.  These numbers begin with the postcode district followed by a number varying from one to four digits in length.

Box number RG8 62 on a wall box on the up platform of Pangbourne station


As with almost anything that is collectable these days there are of course fake VR boxes.  Some are clearly fakes and openly sold as such but sometimes people are fooled by sellers on the likes of eBay saying they are the genuine article.  We do come across some fakes and they can be found by clicking the link.

Fake VR Boxes


Click here to see VR boxes that are no longer in use but remain in situ as they are listed objects.



Click here to see those boxes that are particularly interesting for one reason or another.



Please click here to see our a list of our boxes arranged geographically.  You can then drill down further to see individual boxes.

Or click here to see the boxes seen by each member of our family and by friends who have sent their sightings into us.

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