Oxford post boxes: brief history of the post box

Pillar box in Park Town


When Rowland Hill first introduced the Penny Post in 1840, his idea of using boxes to collect letters was not adopted, and people had to take their letters to their nearest post office.

Twelve years later, in November 1852, the novelist Anthony Trollope (who had been sent on special Post Office duties to the Channel Islands) introduced the French-style pillar box to Jersey. The next year the idea spread to mainland Britain, with England’s first pillar box erected at Botchergate in Carlisle in 1853.

From 1859 a single style of pillar box was adopted for the whole country and in 1866 J.W. Penfold was commissioned to design the new standard pillar box that is still known by his name today. This hexagonal box, produced in three sizes by Cochrane, Grove & Co of Dudley, was the first box to be painted red.

Roadside wall boxes first appeared in 1857 as a cheaper alternative to pillar boxes, especially in rural districts. The first wall boxes were manufactured by Smith & Hawkes, and many had narrow posting apertures which had to be widened in subsequent years.


Stephanie Jenkins, 2013