Anybody who follows me and my adventures will have discovered that I quite like post boxes. In fact, I really love them! Once you start looking at them, you notice different styles, sizes and makers; it becomes a fun challenge trying to date them. Imagine my delight when I found myself on a surprise day out to a museum with post boxes galore! This is the Colne Valley Postal History Museum in the heart of East Anglia.
The museum began its life as private collection. The collector, Steve, realised the importance and potential of what he had and opened the doors to visitors. And I am so glad that he did!
What is in the museum?
Amazingly, this private collection is the second-largest in the UK. It has over 165 ex-British Post Office and Overseas Postal Administration letter boxes. It is also home to 25 Stamp Vending Machines, documents, bicycles, uniforms and other associated artefacts. And it is not just postal memorabilia in the collection. The Museum is also houses the National AA Village Signs collection, comprising more than 60 of these iconic round village name signs from across the UK. It is simply the largest display of these signs anywhere. There truly are post boxes galore in this local museum!
How do I visit
The Colne Valley Postal History Museum hosts regular open days each year. These are typically on Heritage Open Days in September and another day in May. Other visits can be arranged by getting in touch via the website. The museum is in Steve’s garden, sheds and garage – it has clearly taken over his life! He is also a wealth of information. The guided tour he gives is in-depth and fascinating. You could point at anything in the collection and he could tell you its date, manufacturer and something interesting about it. Which is saying something because he has at least one of every type of postbox ever made! It truly rivals the Postal Museum in London for a visitor experience.
If you are reading this during COVID-19 lockdown times then visiting the museum will be impossible for some time! But Steve has helpfully curated some online tours of the museum. They can be found on his You Tube channel and are superb.
My favourite bits
Other than Steve himself, I have a couple of favourites items in the from the museum.
- Edward VIII post box – Only about 200 postboxes were made in the reign of Edward VIII. (He was the one that abdicated and was never actually crowned). I have never seen one ‘in the wild’ before and must make a point of doing so!
- Stamp vending machine – Little vending machines for stamps used to be common. They were stuck on the side of some pillar boxes and seem to me to be a handier way of buying a stamp for a letter. In this museum I was able to get all hands on and interactive and print one out. I still have it today!
- Hong Kong postbox – Hong Kong used to be a colonial British country. Amazingly, the Royal Mail covered this country! It had the same style postbox but a completely different cypher. There are no longer any postboxes in colonial countries
- The ones of wrong dimensions – There were a batch of wall mounted post boxes that were made in the wrong dimensions. These are wider than they are deep and I think this makes it practically difficult to post larger letters??
Things to look out for when looking at a post box
If you are interested in starting a strange hobby like I have, and don’t mind your friends looking at you in a strange way when you run over to do a photoshoot with a postbox, then follow these top tips!
- Look at the cypher. This is the initial and number on the front of the post box that indicates which monarch was ruling when it was installed. The rarest are the Edward VIII ones but by far the most beautiful are Edward VII.
- Also pay attention to ones that have been painted a different colour. These are de-commissioned. They are usually in the side of a building like a pub or village shop and are still there because they are hard to remove. But they cannot be used because they are broken, the key is lost or access to the property is no longer permitted.
- Look at the manufacturer. This is usually a name toward the bottom of the post box. There weren’t that many of them.
- Look out for special post boxes. Some of them are listed here.
- Have a goal. Mine is to find an Edward VIII. It keeps me interested!
The future of street furniture
Curator, collector and general font of knowledge Steve, was an inspiration on this visit. His passion for the collection was infectious and I am so pleased that there are people like him in the world, to help historic artefacts survive. Old street furniture in general does not get the attention it deserves. Think of the more modern K7 and KX100 telephone boxes. These have all but disappeared from our streets whereas the classic red K2 is revered. Should some be lost because of our modern tastes? I do not think so, and it makes me very sad.
To support these important pieces of our modern history consider donating to the Colne Valley Postal History Museum, joining the Letterbox Study Group or donating to a worthy cause. And if you see a postbox which needs attention to let the Royal Mail know. They are generally very good at looking after their postboxes and keep old ones in use where possible.
One final note… is there a name for someone who is obsessed with postboxes?
Thanks for reading, do comment I would love to hear from you. Especially if you have any interesting hobbies, an interesting post box near you or suggestions for future posts. I must also give a hearty shout-out to Graham White who surprised me with the outing and took some of the photos.
Bye for now! x