The bright red postbox: an English icon.

Rare Victorian Postbox, Museum of Lincolnshire Life, Lincoln

Photo by Brian from Lincoln, via Wikimedia Commons

This rare early Victorian example has eight sides and a vertical slot for posting a letter for later collection and transport. All Victorian post boxes displayed the letters VR, for Victoria Regina, and a Crown, for this was, after all, the Royal Mail.

Royal Mail
Begun in 1561 under Henry VIII, the Royal Mail was vital for communication in 19th Century England. Letters zinged across the country, first by Royal Mail Coach (the first one driving between London and Bristol in the late 18th century) then from the 1830s by mail train.

Price of postage
Members of Parliament had, in the 17th century, granted themselves the right to send and receive letters free of charge. Everyone else in Victorian times sent their letters via the Penny Post. An MP’s signature on the front of a letter was highly prized. Forgery was punished by transportation for seven years.

An Independent Woman
In my Victorian romance, An Independent Woman, the heroine Philomena is ordered by the noble Lord Thatcham to send a letter to her (imaginary) uncle in Bristol. At least his rank means she need not pay the postage for her deception!

The Post Office
Philomena visits the village post office, a centre of gossip on the Thatcham Hall estates. My own maiden aunts, Victorian ladies born in the late 19th Century, kept their post office in the pretty Cotswold village of Sibford Gower. They weighed letters using tiny brass weights, and kept a little pot containing a damp sponge on the counter, for moistening postage stamps.

Life in the Post Office
The delightful semi-autobiographical novel, Lark Rise To Candleford by Flora Thompson, records her life in the Cotswolds and a post-mistress’s tasks in the early 20th century.