I have just been reading "The Letter Box", which is a history of the Post office Pillar and Wall Boxes by Jean Young Farrugia, published in 1969. Not surprisingly, it has a chapter on the first introduction of the roadside pillar boxes in Jersey which goes into some detail. Here's a few notes on that, gleaned from the book.
It was Rowland Hill's reform with the "penny post" in Britain that brought about a rapid expansion in the number of letters being sent. But letter receiving houses - the fore-runner of today's sub-post office - were few and far between, and members of the public began to suggest the new Continental use of posting boxes at the roadside.
But action was only taken after Anthony Trollope who was sent to the Channel Islands in 1851 to make recommendations on how to improve the service. There was certainly need for improvement as the Post History website makes clear:
"There had been many complaints from the islanders regarding the delay to their mail and the efficiency of the clerks charged with sorting the mail for delivery on Jersey quickly came under Trollope's scrutiny, he was scathing in his assessment of their work. They were advised that if a great improvement in their work did not take place then they may be discharged. Each of the five letter carriers was receiving 8/- per week for an average walk of between 30 and 40 miles. If the amount of mail delivered was particularly large following the arrival of a packet boat, they could not complete their delivery on the same day and a reply via the same packet was impossible."
So part of Trollope's original scheme was re-organisation of factors like sorting and speed of delivery (using horses!) to speed matters up:
"Trollope's proposals originally centred on keeping the same number of delivery staff but pre-sorting correspondence at the head office and then despatching it to rural offices where each messenger would collect it. As part of the revision, horses were provided to the five letter carriers, the workforce was increased to eight and the walks sub-divided. Unfortunately this also meant a reduction in their pay to 7/- per week."
But in addition, in writing to his superior, George Cresswell, the Surveyor for the Western District of England, about the reorganisation he was implementing in Jersey, Trollope also wrote this report which was to have a far reaching outcome:
"There is at present no receiving office in St. Helier, and persons living in the distant parts of the town have to send nearly a mile to the principal office. I believe that a plan has obtained in France of fitting up letter boxes in posts fixed at the road side, and it may perhaps be thought advisable to try the operation of their system in St. Helier - postage stamps are sold in every street, and therefore all that is wanted is a safe receptacle for letters, which shall be cleared on the morning of the despatch of the London Mails, and at such times as may be requisite. Iron posts suited for the purpose may be erected at the corners of streets in such situations as may be desirable, or probably it may be found more serviceable to fix iron letter boxes about 5 feet from the ground, wherever permanently built walls, fit for the purpose, can be found, and I think that the public may safely be invited to use such boxes for depositing their letters."
John Tilley of Postal Headquarters in London suggested this would be a "good opportunity to try the system" and Cresswell said that ". no better opportunity of trying the experiment of 'roadside' letter boxes could be selected" Within a month the Postmaster-General had given his consent to the trial of four boxes. Almost at once, Trollope asked for permission to erect three similar boxes in the town of St. Peter Port, Guernsey, and this, also, was agreed to.
Farrugia's history supplies some of the background on how the boxes came about:
"Seven months later, in July 1852, Creswell informed London that he had `conferred with the Constable of St. Heliers, in whose province such matters properly fall', and that he had put himself `into communication with very intelligent parties as to a good form for this new mode of collecting the correspondence of the public, the result being the enclosed sketch and estimate which appear likely to answer the purpose extremely well. 4 will be required at Jersey and 3 at Guernsey and if the plan should be approved, I would ask authority to give an order for the whole number to Mr. John Vaudin, whose terms appear to me to be very reasonable'. The Postmaster General agreed that Vaudin should be directed to supply the seven pedestals and boxes."
"Unfortunately, no trace of the sketch referred to by Creswell can be traced in the archives of the General Post Office, but local legend has it that Vaudin was a blacksmith and that the boxes were cast at Le Feuvre's foundry in Bath Street, St. Helier. "
In October 1852, the Chronique de Jersey informed its readers that "Workmen are engaged in placing in various parts of the town certain granite blocks to serve as bases for the cast-iron pillars which are about to be erected to receive letters. The work is under the direction of Mr. Watson, one of the highly placed officers of the General Post Office, who has come to Jersey for the purpose of setting in order certain matters relative to the postal service"
Six days later, the Jersey Times noted: "The cut granite Pedestals for the cast-metal receivers for letters, as assistant post offices, are now being put down in various parts of the town and suburbs. Those already set are at the top of Midvale Road at the junction with Campbell Terrace; at David Place, corner of Wellington Street; at Colomberie, corner of St. Clement's main road; others are being placed at Quatre Bras and Cheapside. These, when completed (and it is high time that completed they should be), will be a great benefit to those of the public who reside at some distance from the General Post Office".
In November 1852, the Postmaster of St. Helier informed the public that on 23 November 1852, roadside letter boxes would be opened in the following locations:
David Place, Nearly opposite the Rectory.
New Street, In front of Mr. Fry's, Painter and Glazier.
Cheapside, Top of the Parade."
St. Clement's Road, Corner of Plaisance.
Unfortunately there is no sketch of the design of these boxes, but the Jersey Times of 26th November 1852 did give an eye witness report of the appearance of the newly installed pillar boxes:
"The Post Office Receivers are now erected and in full use, and a very great convenience they are to the public. They are made of cast-metal, are about four feet high and are sexagonal. On three of the sides, near the top, are the Royal Arms; on two sides the words Post Office; on the other the words Letter-Box; with a protected receiver. A sliding cover allows the collector to unlock the receiver and remove its contents. They are painted red and fitted in solid granite blocks two feet deep and raised four inches from the ground."
The Guernsey boxes were also being erected, despite a small amount of dissent over the sites selected by the Postmaster General, and an additional box was also approved at the expense of the Post Office. An allowance of one shilling and two pence a week was granted to two of the town's letter carriers as payment for clearing the boxes.
Farrugia's history tells us of changes that were made to improve the boxes:
"In June 1853, just four months after the extension of the scheme to Guernsey, another of Creswell's Clerks submitted an on-the-spot report from Jersey in which he stated that the box `standing at the head of Bath Street was too small", and that, with the view of having the box replaced by a larger one', he had `been to Mr. Vaudin's Foundry and seen the models he used in casting the former Pillars'. He enclosed a letter from Mr. Vaudin in which Vaudin described a way of casting a large box from his original model, or pattern,"
Creswell's Clerk went on to report that Vaudin had said that "should any more Pillars of the larger size be required ... the extra cost of each above the former price ... would be comparatively trifling, and that he would still be able to furnish ones of the old dimensions at the former cost, as the models, etc.,would, after the alteration, be applicable for casting either description of Pillar".
Vaudin continued: "The Pillars now have six 8 inch sides at regular angles, and the model for casting them in two parts'. He ended his report with the suggestion that the 'halves of the model should be placed 8 inches apart by the addition of two 8 inch sides, so that the proposed Pillar would be eightsided, though not an exact octagon, but it would look nearly, if not quite, as well as though it were".
We have some pretty exact measurements here, and while Jersey does not have any of the original Vaudin prototypes, Farrugia thinks it almost certain that Guernsey still does - one in Union Street, and one which was transferred from Hauteville to the Guernsey Museum in Candy Gardens in 1953.
Trollope was pleased of the success of the pillar boxes, and wrote as follows:
"Short as is the experience I have had of the working of these Boxes I feel assured that their introduction in England would be followed by most beneficial results but there they must be
introduced liberally and energetically, and with fitting modification as to size and make..."
And so, in 1853, the scheme was extended to the mainland. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Letter Box, Joan Young Farrigia, 1969
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