Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
at Waterloo; this, however, is Edwardian.
Before the advent of the boxes, letters were collected by bellmen, who, like the lamp-
lighters, muffin, and piemen, were once a familiar sight in the streets of London. The bell-
men carried portable letter-boxes, and people posted a letter and at the same time pressed
a coin into the bellman's hand. An ingenious scheme, I fancy, this giving to a letter-box
the means of locomotion. In 1856 came the fantastic boxes designed by the Science and
Art Department; these were heavily encrusted with ribands, classical leaves, and national
emblems. They were overdone exactly as, in inverse ratio, modern boxes are underdone.
Here and there in London are the survivors of the nineteenth-century round-headed boxes
with a rosette top and bottom - there is one in St George's Square, Pimlico - and one or
two freak designs appeared in London in the earlier years, but failed to win acceptance.
With the 1860s, however, the finest box of all emerged, and most of the Victorian letter-
boxes of London are of this kind - the Penfold type of 1865, designed by J.H. Penfold.
The Wellington Place box is of this sort, and there are others in the East End, in York Gate,
Regent's Park, in Camden Town and Kensington High Street, and elsewhere in London.
Unfortunately, the Post Office, which preserves as many as possible in use, has no com-
plete list, but others remain in various parts of the country as this design was adopted as
a general standard. Penfold's design is preserved in the Post Office archives, the box be-
ing topped by a crown, a device which was finally modified by the acorn-like finial. The
Penfold boxes are hexagonal on plan, and have a refinement and distinction which makes
them a joy to see. It is hard to understand why the Post Office ever replaced them by the
types in use today, of which the later nineteenth-century box in South Lambeth Road is an
early example. Or why, for that matter, the Penfold boxes cannot be reintroduced, to add
pleasure to our rapidly deteriorating townscapes. The 1865 boxes were cast by Cochrane,
Grove & Company of Dudley. In going through the voluminous files of correspondence
in the Post Office archives, I was interested to find an invoice sent by the foundry to 'Mr
Trollope, surveyor for Northern District, Ireland', written in a flowery hand and pricing
their boxes at £7 18s. 3d. It is not generally the policy of the Post Office to interfere with
them, and, in fact, in a few places, when the question of a replacement has arisen, the pub-
lic has shown itself strongly in favour of preservation, so there are grounds for hoping
these boxes will continue to decorate the London pavements.
I have said that London is not well supplied with decorative ironwork, but there is, of
course, the delightful Albert Suspension Bridge, a choice example of Victoriana, and in
the City, the Leadenhall Market. Part of the market can be seen in the illustration of its
public house, in Chapter 8, and it is worth visiting as a complete period piece. In fact,
all the London markets ought to be included in the itinerary of those seeking the unusual
qualities of London: Billingsgate where the fishy smell has sunk into the very pavements,
Covent Garden in the early morning, a scene of apparently inextricable confusion, or the
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