Joint Policy Statement

Royal Mail post boxes are a cherished feature of the British street furniture scene, and are acknowledged as such by a Joint Policy Statement co-signed by Royal Mail; the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; Historic England (and its sister organisations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales); The Postal Museum; and the Letter Box Study Group.

The JPS is founded on the principle that post boxes make a significant contribution to the character and appearance of the areas in which they are located.

This policy follows the recommendation set out in Power of Place: The future of the historic environment (English Heritage 2000) that wherever possible historic buildings and structures should be retained by agreement with their owners rather than relying solely on statutory designation and this advice is endorsed in A Force for Our Future (DCMS 2001).

Key Dates


1852 – Antony Trollope erects first free-standing post box in Jersey, Channel Islands.

1853: pillar box experiment extended to the mainland with the first box appearing in Carlisle.

1857 – first wall boxes appear

1859 – Britain begins to adopt a national standard pillar box style

1866 – Hexagonal Penfold pillar boxes – designed by JW Penfold – arrive

1896 – first pole-mounted lamp boxes are introduced

1930 – 1938 blue Air Mail-only boxes make a temporary appearance

1968 – Government Minister John Stonehouse cuts tape on rectangular Type F pillar boxes, designed by David Mellor (no not that one!)

1980 – Capless Type K pillar boxes, designed by Tony Gibb, are brought in

Present Day – Royal Mail erects stainless steel pillar and lamp boxes

Key Facts

Past expansion of the letter box estate has often coincided with periods of house building.

Many specimens date from the late 1920s and early 1930s; and from after the Second World War.

Numerous post boxes were erected in the later Victorian and Edwardian periods, from c1890 to 1914.

The most common type of box currently in use is a lamp or pole mounted small box from the current reign of Elizabeth II. They were deployed from 1952 onwards.

According to Letter Box Study Group records, there are around 35,000 of these, from an overall UK total of around 115,500.

Since this common variety of post box has a back part made of sheet steel, they are affectionately known to post box enthusiasts as a ‘Tin Lizzies.’

There are around 21,000 of the most common types of pillar box dating from the current reign.

There are around 5200 of the most common narrow-diameter Type B pillar box dating from the 1936-1952 reign of the Queen’s father, George VI.

There are almost 10,000 of the common Type B pillar boxes from the reign of George V.

The most common type of all wall mounted boxes date from the reign of Queen Victoria. There are nearly 2900 of these.


Miniature post boxes date back to early tin can money boxes, from crested china through to scale ones used on model railway layouts.

Some originate from Europe, China and the USA but the British red pillar box remains the most popular type to appear in miniature, some so detailed that permission has to be obtained from the Royal Mail to produce them.

Miniature memorabilia come in the form of badges, magnets, toothpaste or pen holders and bookends. They are now in metal, wood, plastic, resin, card and pottery. If you want to know more about this subject the Letter Box Study Group has a dedicated column in its quarterly newsletter.


The letter box is depicted on hundreds of philatelic items. Material available includes definitive and commemorative stamps, items of postal history, postal stationery, postmarks, booklets, and miniature sheets.

It is possible for a keen collector to make albums covering the entire history and development of the post box. It is also possible to specialise in a single aspect of this theme – perhaps boxes from Australasia, pillar boxes of the world or the impact of the letter box on the development of social letter writing., dedicated to stamp collecting websites and is run by Linns Stamp News of USA, is a good place to start a search.


Fifty London Ornate boxes were made in 1857, mainly for use in London. The result of a collaboration between the Post Office and the Government’s Department of Science and Art, the boxes were decorated with mouldings of animal heads and festoons of flowers. A porcelain compass tile was set in the top of the cap, which had the aperture cut into one face. It was followed by a cheaper economy version which omitted the decoration.


  • Name: London Ornate Pillar Box
  • Manufacturer: Smith & Hawkes
  • Introduced: 1857
  • Construction: cast iron
  • LBSG type number: PB0200
  • Total in LBSG records: 5