Prior to the introduction of letter boxes there were two ways of posting a letter. Either letters were taken in person to a Receiving House (an early Post Office) or collected by the Bellman. The Bellman wore a uniform and walked the streets collecting letters from the public, ringing a bell to attract attention.
After a trial on the Channel Islands letter boxes were installed in 1852 and began appearing on the British mainland from 1853. There was no standard pattern of box which resulted in many different styles of pillar boxes. In 1857 cheaper, smaller capacity boxes for smaller towns and more rural areas, wall-mounted boxes were introduced.
Early postal records for Harston are scarce but Kelly’s Directory (an early version of ‘Yellow Pages’ for 1864 states that the box at the Post Office closes at 10.50am on Sundays and 6.30pm on other days. This was almost certainly some form of box within the Post Office which the postmaster could physically close at the appointed times. The first mention of other boxes in Kelly’s appears in the 1916 edition which states that the Vicarage Gate box is cleared at 12.55 and 6.00pm daily and the High Street box is cleared at 9.00am and 6.50pm daily and 10.50am on Sunday.
The oldest box remaining in the village is the one in the Vicarage gate post (photo 1 & 2). This has the Queen Victoria insignia and in spite of years of over-painting the name of the manufacturer – WT Allen & Co, London – can just be made out at the bottom of the box. This company gained the contract for manufacturing letter boxes in 1886 so Harston’s box must have been placed there between 1886-1901.
The next oldest box is no longer in use and takes a bit of finding. It is set into the front wall of the Post Office but hidden by the display stands in front of it (photo 3 & 4). This has the George VI insignia so was place here after summer 1937 (although George VI’s accession was 1936, the GPO had doors left over from George V with no Roman numerals on them, so they were used!).
With the development of housing along London Road in the late 1930s, another George VI box was placed at the junction of London Road and Queens Close which is still in use (photo 5). As Queens Close developed in the 1950s, an Elizabeth II box was placed at the junction of Queens Close and Meadow Way (photo 6) and another one placed on the A10 north of London Road (photo 7). This one has since been removed.
The box at the Post Office was replaced by a non-cast iron version (photo 8).