Kinds of Letter Box

The following types of letter box can be found on British streets. Click to display pictures of a particular type.

Found in built-up areas, especially outside Post Offices

Usually installed in a convenient wall where a large pillar box is not required. Only the front of the box is visible.

Small box found in large numbers in rural areas. Sometimes attached to a lamp post (hence the name), on a metal pole or installed in a wall, as per a wall box. Pedestal boxes are included here.


The following ciphers can be found on British letter boxes. Click on the image to display examples of that cipher or here to display a gallery of all of the cipher images.

Queen Victoria - 1901

Queen Victoria – 1901

King Edward VII 1901 – 1910

King Edward VII 1901 – 1910

King George V 1910 – 1936

King George V 1910 – 1936

King Edward VIII 1936

King Edward VIII 1936

King George VI 1936 – 1952

King George VI 1936 – 1952

Queen Elizabeth II 1952-

Queen Elizabeth II 1952-


The British post box is usually red. Accidents of history mean some retain the green colour of early post box history. There are a few blue Airmail boxes erected in the 1930s. There are also 110 gold boxes, painted to celebrate the 2012 British Olympic and Paralympic champions.

Disused boxes are usually painted black. Privately owned boxes are found in a variety of colours, including white and brown. Boxes in the walls of local Post Offices are often made of local materials and may be bronze, brown or silver. Guernsey Post boxes are blue. Republic of Ireland uses various shades of green.

Most pillar boxes are cylindrical though some are rectangular, oval and hexagonal. Oval boxes with two apertures are often found in towns and cities where there is large demand for mail. Hexagonal boxes were installed during the 1860s and 1870s and one can be seen in the LBSG logo. This type of letter box is a favourite of many members and was produced in around 20 variations, including a replica casting of 1988.

The majority of post boxes are cast iron. However, sheet steel has been used, and is used in new boxes, although it has proved vulnerable to weathering in the past. Wood was used particularly at smaller local Post Offices. So-called ‘Ludlow’ boxes use enamel for a part of its facade. Concrete has also been used and recently, plastic boxes have been erected for siting indoors in shopping centres, airports and other similar locations.


Although the main interest of the Letter Box Study Group is in the history and development of the British post box, some members chose to study boxes overseas.

The Group’s photo archives include many slides and photographs of overseas boxes and examples from most countries in the world are now held. Many boxes studied are a legacy of the British Empire. Some early-design British boxes are found in India, Pakistan, and New Zealand, for instance.

Some countries are well covered. Australia has been visited by many members over the years resulting in photos of the vast variety of styles and their uses. We have good records from Portugal, which was of particular interest to one member, most countries in Europe and Hong Kong. One member photographed every box in use in Hong Kong in the years leading up to the handover of the colony to China. This has resulted in a set of about 900 photographs, together with details of every location.

This collection of photos of overseas boxes gives an excellent overall view of the standard of the various postal services and the care and maintenance of their post boxes. It also shows the preferences for different colours as one travels around the world, from the most common red or yellow to the greens of Ireland and China, blue of Vatican City and the various degrees of rust of some of the more remote areas. There are cast iron boxes, sheet metal ones, those made of concrete and others of wood.


This shape of the Type B pillar box can be traced back as far as 1879. Since then the basic design has remained unchanged, other than an increase in the height of the door to include the aperture in 1904, and various increases in the width of the posting aperture through the years as envelope sizes increased. The box illustrated carries the cipher of King George VI, and dates from the start of his reign.


  • Name: Type B Pillar Box
  • Manufacturer: Carron Company
  • Introduced: 1937
  • Construction: cast iron
  • Height: 64 inches
  • Circumference: 48 inches
  • LBSG type number: PB1035
  • Total in LBSG records: 3,250

A-Z of Letter Boxes

W = Walker, Bernard P

Walker’s name makes a brief appearance in the history of letter boxes when he took over the Eagle Foundry in Birmingham from Smith and Hawkes. His name as BERND P WALKER is found on large size wall boxes cast from 1874-1879. It also appears on medium size and small size wall boxes. In 1879 the name was changed to B P WALKER on all three sizes of wall box—but as they were made for just a single year are very scarce.

A = Airmail

To promote the new air mail postal services then available, in 1930 a number of letter boxes were painted blue and equipped with enamel AIR MAIL signage. In 1933 a special Type B (small) Air Mail pillar box was cast. It had a double collection times plate to incorporate air mail information. The scheme was short lived, ending in 1938; later many former or ex-Air Mail boxes were re-used on the street as ordinary pillar boxes.

L = Lamp box

Lamp boxes were first introduced in 1896; a small letter box designed to be attached to lamp posts in locations such as London’s affluent squares and crescents to allow late-evening posting of correspondence. Being cheap to provide they soon became the box of choice for many rural areas where the volume of posting did not justify the expense of a pillar or wall box.

K = Keys

Postmen carry a large bunch of keys, as each lock on a pillar box, wall box or lamp box is unique. The vast majority of the locks fitted to letter boxes were produced by Chubb. The five-lever locks are slam closed rather than dead bolt. In many cases the key will have small oval or round brass tag attached to it by a ring, onto which the individual box number is stamped as an aid to identification.

N = Next collection

The words NEXT COLLECTION can be found cast on many types of boxes alongside a holder for a tablet, which the postman was expected to change each collection to indicate when the box was last emptied and when the next clearance was due. It was first introduced on Type A and B pillar boxes and the large size wall boxes in 1905.

G = Grissell

Grissell is the shorthand name of the firm H & M D Grissell of the Regent’s Canal Iron Works, Eagle-wharf Road, Hoxton. They cast six rectangular boxes with pyramidical roofs surmounted by an iron ball that were opened to the public in April 1855—the first letter boxes in London. They were situated in Fleet Street, the Strand, Pall Mall, Piccadilly and Rutland Gate.

X = ex-Airmail

After the Air Mail pillar box campaign of 1930-1938, the blue-painted boxes were recovered from the streets. The special double collection times plate holder was removed and replaced by a chunky single holder, the enamel Air Mail aperture flag was also removed (or painted over) and these boxes were then re-used as “ordinary” boxes. Not infrequently flaking red paint can reveal a peep of underlying blue—a sure sign of an ex-Air Mail box.

C = Cole

The firm of Edward Cole manufactured wooden-carcass, steel-fronted, enamel plated boxes for use at Post Offices from premises at 34 Albion Street, Birmingham from around 1886. By 1900 the same premises were being used by James Ludlow to manufacture very similar boxes, and these continued to be made, with minor changes in design and different monarchs’ ciphers until 1952. “Ludlow” has become the generic name for these attractive boxes.

R = Royal Mail

The ROYAL MAIL legend first appeared on letter boxes in the early 1990s; prior to this letter boxes had the words POST OFFICE cast onto them. The change was prompted by the separation of Post Office Counters Limited and Royal Mail as independent companies, part of the unpicking of the old Post Office/Royal Mail Group ahead of the privatisation of Royal Mail plc in 2013.

N = Nigerian

An unofficial name given to cheap cast iron Type B (small) pillar boxes produced by the Carron Company around 1979/80 and intended for the export market. The body of the box was cast in one piece, including the cap (which bears no fluting). At a time of supply shortage some “Nigerian” boxes were installed in the UK. The maker’s name on the rear gives Carron’s location as SCOTLAND rather than STIRLINGSHIRE.

G = Giant Fluted box

Three Giant Fluted boxes were cast in 1856, and due to a “misunderstanding” over dimensions the Smith & Hawkes boxes stood an imposing eight feet tall and cost many times the intended price. The magnificently impressive boxes had a steeply-domed roof topped with a crown resting on a tasselled cushion. Of the three cast, one only survives today.

V = Vandyke

Vandyke Engineering of Harlow in Essex were the manufacturers of the Type F box, introduced in 1968. These rectangular boxes were constructed of sheet steel. At the time sheet steel was seen as a “modern” material, as opposed to “old fashioned” cast iron. Both single and twin boxes with a shared roof were produced. They proved unequal to the task on the streets, succumbing to rust damage caused by weather and the attention of dogs.

P = Post Brenhinol

Royal Mail in the Welsh language. This inscription can be found cast on to Bantam boxes and the large Meter boxes provided for business use, it is also seen on Garage boxes and Supermarket boxes. Since 1952 the sensitivities of the Scots have been recognised by replacing the EIIR cipher on letter boxes with the Scottish Crown for boxes erected in that country, but it wasn’t until c.2002 that boxes specially intended for the principality were produced.

O = One hundred and fifteen thousand five hundred

This is the estimated total number of working Royal Mail letter boxes in the UK. The LBSG has detailed records of more than 97% of this 115,500 total. The records are stored in the LBSG Directory, which is constantly updated as Members report the details of their sightings and surveys.

W = Wall boxes

Wall boxes were introduced in 1857. Pillar boxes (introduced in 1852) had proved to be reliable and popular, everyone wanted their own local post box, but pillar boxes were expensive to produce. For other than city and town locations a cheaper way of providing remote collection facilities was needed and the obvious answer lay in providing a cast iron box that could be installed into an existing wall where such a location conveniently existed.

T = Telephone Kiosk 4

The TK4—sometimes nicknamed the Vermillion Giant—was a design based on Giles Gilbert Scott’s TK3 but also incorporating a GR-ciphered letter box and two stamp vending machines in its rear side. 50 were made in 1927. In practice they proved difficult to site, with access needed all around the box and the mechanical noise of the svm’s in use disturbed telephone users.

D = Derby Castings

The firm of Andrew Handyside was one of the earliest to cast pillar boxes, and went on to hold many GPO contracts; the company went into liquidation around 1930 and a new firm, Derby Castings emerged in 1931. They cast some wall boxes and lamp boxes between 1931 and 1933. The 50 Type D and 75 Type E pillar boxes (large and small oval boxes incorporating a stamp vending machine) were also cast by Derby Castings.

J = Joint Policy Statement

A document produced by English Heritage and Royal Mail in 2002 which sought to provide a policy for the retention and conservation of all Royal Mail postboxes. It recognised that the “vast majority [of postboxes] make a very significant contribution to the character and appearance of the area in which they are located”. In 2015, English Heritage and Royal Mail, in consultation with the BPMA and the LBSG are seeking to renew and strengthen the policy.

Y = Year of casting

The year of casting first appeared on the large and small First National Standard boxes. The year is cast after the Cochrane & Co maker’s name—and dates from 1859 to 1866 can be found. The next boxes with a date were Type A pillar boxes cast by the Hillsyde Foundry, which can be found dated 1991 to 1995, except 1994. Machan Engineering’s Type C boxes have been year-dated from 1993 onwards.

Z = Zoos

London Zoo has a pillar box painted in zebra stripes for visitors to use to make donations. Chessington Zoo has one in tiger stripes. Many former Post Office/Royal Mail letter boxes have found their way into private hands, or are now preserved in museums, or displayed by other organisations. If they were once official postal boxes the LBSG records them all. The LBSG Directory, available to Members, records every genuine box, in use, in private hands, or abroad.

O = Oval

Oval shaped pillar boxes have been a feature of three different designs of pillar box. The large dual aperture Type C boxes designed to separate mail at the time of posting; and also the Type D and Type E boxes, made in 1931, which had a single aperture at one end and a stamp vending machine at the other.

R = Romec

Romec was launched as a facilities management company in 2000 having been spun out of the Royal Mail Group’s facilities and engineering division. It is still 51% owned by Royal Mail. Romec is responsible for the upkeep of Royal Mail’s letter box estate. It also manufactures the Business boxes for meter mail, assembles the Bantam boxes and has recently launched a stainless steel lamp box now appearing in large numbers.

Q = Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria’s royal cipher appeared on all the Penfold boxes and when a mould was taken from one of them to produce replica-Penfold boxes the VR cipher was part of the design. Royal Mail had to seek special permission from the Lord Chamberlain to be able to use boxes bearing the VR cipher in Elizabeth II’s reign.

S = Suttie & Co

Suttie & Company of Greenock produced a very distinctive pillar box in 1856-1857. It had a “stove-like” appearance and was topped by an impressive cast crown. They were commissioned for use in Scotland. A single museum-held Scottish example survives in the UK today, but a handful of Suttie boxes still in postal use can be found in India and Pakistan, relics of Empire.

P = Penfold

Architect J W Penfold was responsible for designing the handsome hexagonal pillar boxes that are known by his name. These boxes were cast between 1866 and 1879. With a cap surrounded by balls, featuring stylised acanthus leaves and topped with an acanthus bud finial, these are among the best loved Victorian letter boxes. There were various minor design changes during the life of the Penfold design, and these, together with the different sizes made, results in thirteen variants.

L = Liverpool Special

The Controller of the Liverpool District did not like the First National Standard pillar boxes introduced in 1859 and campaigned hard for a box for Liverpool of his own design, completely at odds with the idea of a National Standard box. Eventually he was permitted to order six boxes for his city incorporating his design ideas. The Liverpool Specials were basically modified Standard boxes but were surmounted by an impressive crown.

F = Fluted box

The first Fluted boxes, a pillar box design loosely based on a Doric column and cast by Smith & Hawkes of the Eagle Foundry, Birmingham, appeared in 1856 and had a vertical aperture. In 1857 the design was changed to provide a horizontal aperture. Fifteen Fluted boxes, including both types, are known to have survived in the UK.

H = Hillsyde

The Hillsyde Foundry of Newcastle-under-Lyme won a contract to cast Type A (large) pillar boxes in 1991, the first time they had received work from Royal Mail. Their boxes are distinguished by having the maker’s name cast onto the red body of the box, at the rear, rather than on the black base. Their boxes are also dated, with dates from 1991 to 1995 (except 1994) known.

M = Meadow Foundry

The Meadow Foundry of Mansfield, Nottingham, cast EIIR Type C (oval, dual aperture) boxes, beginning in 1964. The maker’s name is prominently cast on the front of their boxes. Four different manufacturers produced Type C boxes in this period, Meadow’s are the only ones which do not have the wording NEXT COLLECTION cast alongside the tablet holders. Meadow ceased to supply boxes in the early 1980s.

M = McDowall, Steven & Co

First based at the Milton Iron Works in Glasgow and later at the Lauriston Iron Works, Falkirk, this company has cast pillar boxes, wall boxes and lamp boxes under various contracts from 1904 until well into Elizabeth II’s reign. Earlier boxes bear the location LONDON & GLASGOW, with later boxes bearing LONDON & FALKIRK; the date of the move, occurring during George V’s reign, is not known for certain.

K = Type K

The modernist Type K box was designed by Tony Gibbs and was intended to be the pillar box of the future. A cylindrical design without a separate cap, installation began in 1980. Five different foundries cast versions of the Type K. In service the hinges of the door proved prone to failure. No more were produced after 2001. And the “pillar box of the future” ceased to be made.

U = ucph

The Universal Collection Plate Holder made its first appearance on lamp boxes dating from 1980. It was a substantial holder for the collection times information plate and the next collection tablet, square in section and sturdy in service. Ucph’s have also been widely used as replacement holders on many wall boxes and retro-fitted to lamp boxes.

Z = Zinc

Three prototype zinc wall boxes were produced by Messrs. Phensaul Brothers of Plymouth in 1857 at the request of George Creswell, Surveyor of the Western District of England. They seem to have been put into experimental service in three villages near Plymouth, but were found to be unsuitable. Unfortunately no likeness nor description of a Phensaul zinc box has yet been found.

V = Vaudin, John

John Vaudin is supposed to have been a blacksmith who worked at the Le Feuvre foundry in Bath Street, St Helier, on Jersey. It was Mr John Vaudin who received an order, in 1852, from George Creswell, Surveyor of the Western District, and Anthony Trollope’s senior, for seven pillar boxes, four for St. Helier, Jersey and three for St. Peter Port, Guernsey. The first UK pillar boxes.

U = Upshoot

The upshoot refers to the bottom part of the posting aperture that projects internally into the box. Some early boxes had a downshoot and posted mail dropped straight into the body. This was changed to an upshoot design, where mail had to be pushed up before dropping into the box; this was thought to offer better security.

S = Smith & Hawkes

The company Smith & Hawkes was one of the earliest contractors for manufacturing letter boxes. The Fluted boxes of 1856 were cast at their Eagle Foundry in Broad Street, Birmingham. Wall boxes from 1857-1874 were also Smith & Hawkes products and bear their name cast onto the box below the door.

X = X-ray

X-ray crystallography is a fundamental tool for examining the structure of materials including, especially, metals and alloys. All Bantam boxes are cast with a test nodule included in the mould; these nodules are then subjected to metallurgical testing to prove the structure of the spheroidal graphite grade of cast iron.

H = Handyside

The firm of Andrew Handyside of Derby, whose foundry was the Britannia Works, were contractors for early pillar boxes, from 1855, and held various contracts for pillar boxes, wall boxes and lamp boxes until the Company ceased to exist in 1931 when it became Derby Castings Ltd. That company only survived until 1933.

E = Edward VIII

During the brief reign of Edward VIII, before his abdication in 1936, it is reported that a total of 271 letter boxes were made. After the abdication, wall boxes that bore his royal cipher had their doors replaced with ones bearing the cipher of George VI, but the doors on pillar boxes, for some reason, were left alone and can be found on the streets today. Enamel plates on Ludlow boxes were changed, but one box, in Suffolk, was overlooked.

C = Carron Company

One of the major suppliers of letter boxes during the twentieth century. From the Mungal Foundry, near Falkirk, Stirlingshire they cast pillar boxes (from 1922), wall boxes (from 1952) and lamp boxes (from 1969 to 1982). The ironworks were first established in 1759 and played an important part in the Industrial Revolution as well as becoming famous for its naval cannons: the company became insolvent in 1982 after 223 years casting iron.

D = Dual aperture

Dual aperture boxes first appeared in 1899. Large oval boxes designated as Type C, they provided apertures into separate halves of the box. Originally introduced in London to help pre-sort mail into “LONDON and ABROAD” and “COUNTRY” destinations. In the 1960s Type C boxes replaced all the single aperture boxes in central London, sweeping away many early and historic boxes.

Q = Queen Elizabeth

When the first of Queen Elizabeth’s boxes were erected in Scotland, in 1952, some objected to the EIIR cipher, arguing that Scotland had never had an Elizabeth I. Several boxes in Scotland were vandalised. The problem went as far as the prime minister; eventually it was decided that Scottish boxes would bear a Scottish Crown in place of the EIIR cipher.

I = Impact resistant cast iron

The Type K box of 1980 was the first to be cast in impact resistant cast iron, a technology where the presence of spheroidal graphite particles increases the ductility of the iron giving it greater impact and fatigue resistance. In grey cast iron, used prior to the 1980s, graphite is present in flakes rather than spheres and the resulting casting is more brittle and prone to impact shattering. Modern boxes are now cast in ductile cast iron.

B = Bantam

The name was chosen after a competition among Royal Mail employees, to be applied to a small cast-iron box designed by Kenneth Grange and installed mainly in rural locations. The box bears a supposed resemblance to the fuel tank of a GPO Bantam motorcycle as well as being small. They were introduced in 1999; Scots, Welsh and English versions exist.

I = Ireland

Before Irish independence in 1922 the GPO ran the postal service in the whole island of Ireland. An early move by the Irish Free State was to paint all letter boxes green, a very public way of asserting the new administration’s authority. Some boxes also had the Royal cipher and GPO insignia removed, but many pre-1922 boxes survived unscathed in An Post’s emerald livery. The Irish Republic offers rich rewards for the letter box hunter.

E = Escutcheon

Escutcheons are found widely on many types of pillar box and wall box, they were intended to provide protection for the key hole. The collecting postman could turn a disc with two prongs located on the head of the key which would slide a cover over the keyhole, excluding rain and dirt. In practice they were rarely used and frequently got clogged-up when the box was painted.

B = Business box

The official Royal Mail name for large sheet steel and aluminium boxes erected in large numbers on industrial estates and in business parks and districts to receive sealed postal pouches of Meter Mail. The boxes first appeared in 1994. There are a number of minor variants in design. The boxes are manufactured by Romec, the part-owned company that emerged from Royal Mail’s engineering division.

F = Flutes

The name given to the “pie crust” indentations around the cap of pillar boxes; a design feature said to facilitate rainwater run-off. Different foundries have different styles of flutes. Only three types of traditional pillar box do not have fluting; the Type D (large) and Type E (small) oval boxes of 1931 that incorporate a stamp vending machine, and the “Nigerian” Type B boxes of 1979/80, with the cap and body cast as one piece.

T = Trollope

Sir Anthony Trollope had a lengthy career with the Post Office, starting as a humble clerk in 1834. He escaped the tedious work at St Martin’s-le-Grand after seven years by volunteering as a field clerk in Ireland; here his career flourished. It was while he was working as a Surveyor in the Channel Islands that he recommended the erection of pillar boxes the first of which were trialled in St Helier, Jersey, in 1852. He continued to rise in the GPO becoming Surveyor of the Eastern District of England. He left the GPO in 1867, by which time his income from writing far exceeded his postal salary.

J = Jana

Jana Enterprises , Beverley, north Humberside, are manufacturers of products in plastic. In the 1980s they produced polypropylene pillar boxes, as well as wall boxes and pouch boxes. Unfortunately the red colouring in the polypropylene was prone to fading in sunlight, but a number of Jana boxes of various designs can still be found in service, albeit looking rather pink in many cases.

A = Anonymous

Pillar boxes manufactured by Andrew Handyside between 1879 and 1887 omitted the words POST OFFICE and the VR royal cipher, and these boxes are known as Anonymous as a result. When the omissions were pointed out the situation was immediately rectified, but not until Anonymous boxes had been produced for five years.

Y = Yellow

In the early 1980s, when Sunday collections from certain letter boxes was reintroduced the colour yellow was used to mark out Sunday-collection boxes. Sheffield’s boxes had two yellow hoops painted onto the body, Liverpool painted the lids of boxes yellow—but there was no national consistency until circa1998 when newly introduced collection times plates had large yellow squares on those boxes that enjoyed a Sunday clearance.