Category Archives: Tourist Attractions

Tourist attractions of London

Exploring the history of 55 Broadway with Hidden London

55 Broadway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Visit 55 Broadway on a London Transport Museum Hidden London tour

Tube train monitoring dials in the lobby

If you’re interested in London history, architecture or its transport network, then check out a Hidden London tour from the London Transport Museum. Run for limited periods, I’ve previously visited the disused Aldywch tube station and the former World War II shelter underneath Clapham South tube station and found them fascinating. Although the Hidden London group offers visits to other disused platforms and tube stations, my last booking with them saw me remaining above ground. The tour lasts 90 minutes and covered many of the 14 floors of the building.

55 Broadway in St James was London’s first skyscraper because of the way it was built. Standing tall at 53 metres (175ft), the Grade I listed office block is an impressive piece of art deco architecture in Portland stone. The structure was originally built in 1927-1929 to a design by English architect Charles Holden (1875-1960). As well as 55 Broadway, Holden was also responsible for the University of London’s Senate House, Bristol Central Library and many tube stations, such as Acton Town, Balham, Clapham Common and Leicester Square, among others. 55 Broadway was briefly the tallest office block in London, before it was surpassed by Holden’s Senate House in the mid 1930s. It was originally constructed as the headquarters for the Underground Electric Railways Company of London Limited (UERL), on top of St James’s tube station.

The pink ceiling of the Executive Office

55 Broadway corridor © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Walnut panelled doors and travertine marble on every landing

The structure is rather unique for London buildings due to its cruciform shape, with 55 Broadway getting narrower the higher the storey, stepping up to a clock tower. This shape allows plenty of light in throughout the building. The radical new style of building, plus the risqué sculptures on the façade of the building led to some controversy at the time. American-British sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) created a pair of matching sculptures on the north-east and south-east façades, entitled ‘Day and Night’. Some objected to the nudity of the figures, in particular the length of the male appendage on ‘Day’. To appease his critics, Sir Jacob agreed to shave 1.5 inches off the young male’s member. On the pediment above the sixth floor features eight figurative reliefs that represent ‘the four winds’, made by six different sculptors, including Henry Moore. Read the rest of this entry

What’s on in London this Halloween and Day of the Dead 2019

Find out what museum events, fairs, club nights, film screenings and other Halloween activities are on this October and November.

Pumpkins Halloween © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019Get ready for the scariest season of the year! As well as Halloween, there has been a rise in popularity of Day of the Dead festivities from Mexico.

This year, Halloween comes after the half-term holidays, so plenty of London attractions are kick-starting their spooky events early. If you’re a parent, there’s plenty of Halloween events on during the daytime and early evening.

Here’s Metro Girl’s guide to the best daytime and nighttime – for both children or adults – Halloween and Day of the Dead activities on in the capital this October and early November.

For a guide to what else is on in London this October, click here

Daytime jitters

  • 27 September – 10 November : Dark Arts @ Warner Bros Studio Tour

Dark Arts returns to the Harry Potter experience for the Halloween season. The Great Hall is full of 100 floating pumpkins, while the table features a Halloween feast on red apples, pumpkins and cauldrons of lollipops. Watch a live duel between the Death Eaters. Tickets: Adults £45, Children £37. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, Hertfordshire, WD25 7LR. Nearest station: Watford (then a shuttle bus to studios). For more information, visit the Warner Bros Studio Tour website.

  • 1 – 31 October : The Home of Halloween @ London Dungeon

One of London’s most ghoulish destinations offers a Halloween experience. Meet some of London’s most notorious characters such as Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd, The Plague Doctor and The Torturer, watch an exclusive Halloween show and enjoy the rides. Tickets: Adults £30, Children £24. London Dungeon, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7PB. Nearest station: Waterloo or Embankment. For more information and booking, visit the London Dungeon website.

  • 19 – 27 October : Halloween @ London Zoo

A week of fiendish fun at London Zoo, featuring Grim Keeper tours, creepy crafts, spooky animals and more. Open 10am-5pm. Activities are free with entry to zoo. Entrance tickets: Adults £27.00, Child £17.55 (cheaper online). London Zoo, Regent’s Park, Marylebone, NW1 4RY. Nearest station: Regent’s Park or Camden Town. For booking, visit the ZSL website.

  • 19 – 27 October : Spooky Cats @ the London Museum of Water & Steam

Listen to a cat story every weekday at 11am, make your own cat craft, explore our Splash Cat trail, find the Museum’s hidden cats. Children in cat costumes enter for free. Tickets: Adults £12.50, Children £5.50. London Museum of Water & Steam, Kew Bridge Road, Brentford, TW8 0EF. Nearest station: Kew Bridge. For more information, visit the London Museum of Water & Steam website.

  • 19 – 27 October : Halloween @ Battersea Power Station

A host of Halloween family activities are taking place over the half-term holidays, including Halloween scavenger hunt, eerie ear-making workship, pumpkin carving, Wicked Witches and Wizard Worshop. Dates and times vary for each activity. Free. Battersea Power Station, 188 Kirtling Street, Nine Elms, SW8 5BN. Nearest station: Battersea Park or Queenstown Road Battersea. For more information, visit the Battersea Power Station website.

  • 19 October – 3 November : Ascarium @ London Aquarium

A Halloween experience at Sea Life London with the Sea Witch asking visitors to help unlock her treasure chest. Tickets start from £21 (online), £26 (on the day). Sea Life London Aquarium, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, South Bank, SE1 7PB. Nearest station: Waterloo. For more information, visit the Sea Life website.

  • 19 – 23 October : Pumpkin Carving @ Morden Hall Park

Carve your own pumpkin at the National Trust grounds and property of Morden Hall Park. Children must be supervised by an adult. 11am-4pm. Small pumpkin £4, medium pumpkin £5. Stableyard, Morden Hall Park, Morden Hall Road, Morden, SM4 5JD. Nearest station: Morden or Phipps Bridge (Tramlink). For more information and opening times, visit the National Trust website.

  • 22 October : Family Day: Halloween @ Benjamin Franklin House

A spooky family day with spooky 18th century stories told by Polly Hewson and gruesome games and crafts for 5-11 year olds. 4pm-5.30pm. Free, but advanced booking recommend. Benjamin Franklin House, 36 Craven Street, Westminster, WC2N 5NG. Nearest stations: Charing Cross or Embankment. For more information, visit the Benjamin Franklin House website.

  • 23 – 31 October : Spooky Storytime @ London Eye

Families will love the Halloween experience on the London Eye. Enjoy fast-track entry and step into a capsule for a 30-minute rotation while listening to spooky stories and leave with a Hotel Chocolat goodie bag. Tickets: £35 (adult and child combi). London Eye, Jubilee Gardens, South Bank, SE1 7PB. Nearest station: Waterloo, Westminster or Embankment. For tickets, visit the London Eye website.

  • 24 October – 1 November : Spooktacular Kids Tour

Let your children see the sights of a capital with a 45 minute bus tour of the capital with live guided commentary for chidren. Departs at 4pm. Tickets: Adults £15, Children (5-15) £8. For more information and departure points, visit the Original Tour website.

  • 26 – 27 October : Horniman Halloween Fair

A Halloween fair for the whole family, featuring creepy crawlies, Halloween trail, spooky storytelling, arts and crafts stalls, and food stalls. 10.30am-4.30pm. Free. Horniman Museum & Gardens, 100 London Road, Forest Hill, SE23 3PQ. Nearest station: Forest Hill. For more information, visit the Horniman Museum website.

  • 26 October – 3 November : Halloween @ Ham House

Scare yourself silly on a family ghost tour of the 17th century house, which is said to have 15 different ghosts. Ages 7+. Tours from 6pm. Tickets: Adults £15, Children £15. Ham House & Gardens, Ham Street, Ham, TW10 7RS. Nearest station: Richmond Station. For more information, visit the National Trust website.

  • 28 October – 3 November : Halloween @ Backyard Cinema

Travel through the Winter Night Garden to watch one of your favourite Halloween films at Backyard Cinema’s new permanent home in Wandsworth. Films include Beetlejuice, Scream, Shaun of the Dead, Hocus Pocus, Casper, The Witches and more. Matinees and evening screenings. Full bar and street food stalls available. Tickets: Adults £18.99, Children £9.50. Capital Studios, 13 Wandsworth Plain, Wandsworth, SW18 1ET. Nearest station: Wandsworth Town. For booking, visit the Backyard Cinema website.


Things that go bump in the night

  • 26 September – 10 November : Journey to the Underworld

An immersive, theatrical dining experience on a luxury train carriage on a journey to the Underworld. Featuring a four-course meal and interactions with characters. Time slots vary. Tickets: £57-£60. Pedley Street Station, Arch 63, Pedley Street, Bethnal Green, E1 5BW. Nearest station: Bethnal Green. For more information and tickets, visit the Funincular Productions website.

Switch up your Halloween routine and mark Day of the Dead

  • 8 October – 2 November : London Horror Festival

Festival of live horror performance including cabaret, film screenings, Zombie weekends, midnight performances and a short horror play competition. Ticket prices vary. Most events take place at the Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, Islington, EC1V 4NJ. Nearest station: Angel; or Pleasance, Carpenters Mews, North Road, Islington, N7 9EF. Nearest station: Caledonian Road. For more information, visit the London Horror Festival website.

  • 18 October : Halloween Late @ London Dungeon

After-hours fun for adults-only, featuring a darker experience and drinks. Over 18s only. Arrival from 7pm-9pm. Tickets: £29. London Dungeon, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7PB. Nearest station: Waterloo or Embankment. For more information and booking, visit the London Dungeon website. For Metro Girl’s review of the London Dungeon, click here.

  • 19 October : Festival of the Dead

Mexican-style festival comes to Limehouse. Expect full pageantry, giant skull processions, acrobats, dancers, decorative art, amazing costumes, confetti, CO2, light shows, live music and DJs. 9pm-2am. Tickets: £29.59. Troxy, 490 Commercial Road, Limehouse, E1 0HX. Nearest station: Limehouse. For more information, visit the Troxy website. Read the rest of this entry

Olafur Eliasson – In Real Life review: An interactive, sensory journey through colours and tricks

Your Uncertain Shadow by Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern

One of the most popular art exhibitions in London this year has been Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern. His ‘In Real Life’ exhibition invites visitors to interact with and change their environments. I previously saw his giant sun for his Weather Project installation in the Tate’s Turbine Hall 16 years ago and really loved it. I had seen clips of what to expected on Instagram so went along to pay a visit to In Real Life last month.

His series of installations allow you to become more aware of your senses and the space around you. Some were playful and entertaining, while others were confusing or even headache-inducing. Many used reflections, shadows and light to change your perception of your reality. One of the first pieces you come across is ‘Moss Wall’ – a huge wall of Icelandic reindeer moss which invites you to reach out and touch.

We moved on to ‘Beauty’ – an indoor rain room with light trickery creating flickers of rainbow colours with the water appearing to ‘dance’ in front of you. A similar sensation came from ‘Your Spiral View’ – a moving installation which allows people to walk through a giant kaleidoscope with mirrors bouncing the light off as it rotates.

Your Blind Passenger

One of the most popular pieces was ‘Your Uncertain Shadow’, a colourful projection of shadows allowing you to see multiple versions of yourself. I thought it was a clever and fun piece, although at times the room was so busy the colourful shadows weren’t as fluid as you would hope. Read the rest of this entry

William Shakespeare’s London: Guide to The Bard’s former homes and haunts

Find out where William Shakespeare used to spend his time during his two decades in London.

Shakespeare Jimmy C mural © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

William Shakespeare mural by Jimmy C on Bankside

Although he was born, died and spent a lot of his life in Stratford-upon-Avon, actor, playwright and poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616) found fame – and fortune – on the London stage. Over 400 years after The Bard’s death, his life and works continue to fascinate and entertain people around the world. Although many of Shakespeare’s former homes and haunts in Warwickshire are in good condition, it’s rather more difficult to find his London hotspots. Fires, plagues, war and redevelopment over the centuries have changed the fabric of the City of London and Bankside and left little of Shakespearean sights. However, fans of the great literary legend can make a pilgrimage to some Shakespearean landmarks, with some buildings still in existence or plaques marking his presence.

What was William Shakespeare’s life like in London?

Born in 1564, Shakespeare moved to the capital in his twenties. It’s been difficult to pinpoint exactly when he headed for the big city, as historians have referred to 1585 and 1592 as Shakespeare’s “lost years” due to lack of records. However, it’s certain that he was a married man and a father-of-three by the time he sought fame and fortune in the capital. He was definitely working in London by 1592 when he was mentioned by a rival dramatist Robert Greene.

Shakespeare lived in London for around two decades, but split his time between the city and Stratford-upon-Avon, where his wife Anne (1556-1623) remained bringing up their children. Soon after arriving in London, he began his career as an actor and playwright, with records showing his plays were being performed by 1592. He started acting with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later becoming the King’s Men, and became part owner of several theatres, including The Globe. He turned his attention from plays to poetry when theatres were closed during the plague outbreak of 1593. He remained in London for another 20 years or so, eventually retiring to Stratford in 1613, three years before he died.

Guide to William Shakespeare’s London landmarks

  • The Crosse Keys

Today, the Crosse Keys is a Wetherspoons pub in a former Victorian bank. However, the pub takes its name from the former Crosse Keys Inn, which stood near the site in the late 16th century. Shakespeare’s troupe, the Chamberlain’s Men, performed for audiences of up to 500 people in the cobbled courtyard of the Inn on a regular basis in the early 1590s. The original Crosse Keys was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, with its replacement burning down in 1734.

– The Crosse Keys, 9 Gracechurch Street, City of London, EC3V 0DR. Nearest station: Bank.

  • St Helen’s Parish

By 1596, Shakespeare was living in the parish of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, while his family back in Stratford had moved into the recently bought New Place. The exact address is not known, but it is believed he was living near Leadenhall Street and St Mary Avenue. The Bard is listed as failing to pay 5 shillings on £5 worth of taxable goods in November 1597. Living locally, it was likely he worshipped at St Helen’s Bishopgate church and is commemorated inside with a stained glass window of his image.

– St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Great St Helen’s, EC3A 6AT. Nearest station: Liverpool Street.

New Inn Broadway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Romeo and Juliet mural on the site of The Theatre

  • The Theatre

After the Plague led to plays being banned from the City of London, theatre troupes like Shakespeare and co started to move to just outside the jurisdiction of the City. The Theatre was built in 1576 on the site of the former Holywell Priory by actor and theatre impresario James Burbage – a colleague of Shakespeare at the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. By 1594, the group started performing The Bard’s plays exclusively and it soon became the leading acting company in London. Romeo & Juliet was believed to have been performed at The Theatre for the first time, with the tragedy estimated to have been written around 1591-95. However, The Theatre was dismantled in 1598, with some of its materials being used to build The Globe, after the company fell out with the land’s owner Giles Allen. Archaeologists discovered remains of the theatre in 2008. A building to house offices and a permanent exhibition about The Theatre is currently being constructed on site. Today, a mural of Romeo & Juliet commemorates Shakespeare’s spell in Shoreditch.

– New Inn Broadway, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PZ. Nearest stations: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street.

Read the rest of this entry

Frieze Sculpture 2019: Step into Regent’s Park outdoor gallery of contemporary art

Explore 125 years of Tower Bridge with special after-hours talks this autumn

Learn about the history, people and architecture of a London landmark at special late-night openings of Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge being constructed ©City of London, London Metropolitan Archives

Tower Bridge being constructed in 1893
© City of London, London Metropolitan Archives

Tower Bridge is one of London’s most iconic sights. Instantly recognisable the world over, the bascule and suspension bridge is one of the most photographed landmarks in the capital. To mark the bridge’s 125th anniversary, there will be a series after-hour talks for Londonphiles.

Kicking off in September and running until December 2019, each session will invite experts to share their knowledge and skills in a specially-curated event which explores the history of Tower Bridge. Each experience will last an hour and take place in the new Learning Space, high up in the South Tower. Film, food and art are among the themes explored over the talks.

Listings

  • Thursday 5 September : Illuminated River Project

The Illuminated River Project is a London wide public art commission that will transform the capital at night, lighting up 15 bridges across the River Thames. Once complete, the project will be the longest public art project in the world. Join Director Sarah Gaventa and Project Architect Chris Waite at the Bridge to explore the ambitious decade-long public art project and how Tower Bridge will shine in its role.

  • Thursday 12 September : Sir Horace Jones and the Architecture of Tower Bridge

Dr Jennifer Freeman, architectural historian and writer, and a specialist in ‘at risk’ conservation buildings will guide guests through the extraordinary life of Tower Bridge architect Sir Horace Jones. A specialist on the man behind a number of London’s most iconic buildings, including Smithfield Market and Billingsgate Market, Jennifer will not only explore Jones’ legacy and his innovations as a designer and planner, but the architectural marvel Tower Bridge remains as to this day.

  • Thursday 17 October : Tower Bridge Eats – Cooking and Dining with the Denizens of Tower Bridge in 1894

Don your kitchen whites and test your taste buds to explore the past century through an exclusive tasting talk with food historian Dr Annie Gray. Foodies will be taken on a whistle-stop tour of 125 years of gastronomic history at Tower Bridge.

  • Thursday 7 November : An Illustrated Construction of Tower Bridge

From the fanciful to the downright farcical, explore some of the alternative river crossing designs presented to the City of London’s special committee in 1876. Tom Furber, Engagement and Learning Officer with the London Metropolitan Archive offers a fascinating insight into some of the weird and whacky designs submitted for the design competition, as well as the ground-breaking construction of Tower Bridge.

  • Thursday 5 December : Tower Bridge & the Thames on Film

This illustrated talk by British Film Institute curator Simon McCallum will give a flavour of the BFI National Archive’s unparalleled collection of film and TV about London, with a particular focus on life along the Thames. Drawing on a rich array of newsreel footage, documentaries and home movies, this archive tour will include glimpses of the majestic Bridge itself across the past century. These films are part of the Britain on Film initiative, with thousands of newly digitised titles from the BFI and partner archives around the UK now free to explore on BFI Player. Simon’s talk will be complemented by a screening of the classic 1959 film The Boy on The Bridge, made possible by the estate of Director Kevin McClory.

(Please note this event will finish later due to the film screening).

  • Talks will take place in the Tower Bridge Learning Space. At Tower Bridge, Tower Bridge Road, SE1 2UP. Nearest stations: Tower Hill, Tower Gateway or London Bridge. All events: arrive at 7pm for a 7.30pm start. Tickets: £20pp (includes a welcome drink and a return ticket to visit Tower Bridge within 12 months). For more information and booking, visit the Tower Bridge website.

For a guide to what else is on in London this October, click here.

For more London history and architecture posts, click here.

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Serpentine Pavilion 2019: Slope down to Junya Ishigami’s rock-y structure

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams review: Go crazy for couture at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Exploring eight decades of Dior and the man himself at this stylish exhibition.

Christian Dior Couture © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Early Dior designs, including the red Ulysse coat (right) from 1952

Without a doubt, Christian Dior is one of the most important designers in women’s fashion. Launching his label in 1947, he transformed ladieswear with the ‘New Look’, among many more stunning designs. I’ve visited several fashion exhibitions in the past, but my ultimate design house to see was Christian Dior. As you may have read, the tickets were a huge hit and sold out immediately, prompting the V&A to extend opening hours. A friend and I managed to get tickets recently to a late Sunday evening opening and ending up spending about three and a half hours in fashion heaven.

The exhibition not only explores the story of the man himself and his path to establishing the worldwide brand, but also follows his successors, including Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and the current creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri. While there is something very ‘Dior’ throughout the company’s fashions, each designer has their own signature look they bring to their label.

The entrance to the exhibition was Parisian-esque with the classic Bar Suit given centre stage

A Gianfranco Ferre Allyson Ensemble from 1990

Designer of Dreams starts with the French designer’s early life, growing up in a wealthy family and residing in Paris and Normandy. A display shows artefacts from the young Dior’s youth and creative beginnings, from running an art gallery to becoming an apprentice to fashion designer Robert Piguet. With Europe recovering from World War II, women were tired and weary of wartime fashion so were ripe for Dior’s ‘New Look’. Establishing his eponoymous fashion label in 1946, he stood out for giving women shape and silhouettes – a contrast to the boxy, plain designs which were synonymous at the time. One of the first designs you see in the exhibition is the iconic ‘New Look’: the Bar Suit and Hat, a silk, wool and taffeta ensemble of a structured jacket and full skirt. Being a fan of Netflix’s The Crown and its fashions, it was great to see the silk, couture gown designed for Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday portrait in 1951.

The initial rooms of Designer of Dreams were focused on Dior’s realm at his label, with gorgeous dress upon gorgeous dress. The lighting and layout was very effective at highlighting the detail and complementing the aesthetic of the fashions. Following the designer’s death at just 52 in 1957, his young protégée Yves Saint Laurent was appointed artistic director at the tender age of 21. While trying to keep that signature Dior look, YSL embraced a more softer and wearable style. However, YSL didn’t stay long at Dior and moved on in 1960 after just six collections. As a result, there is an understandably small amount of YSL creations in the exhibition. Read the rest of this entry

Take a ‘wade’ on the wild side with Creekside Discovery Centre’s low tide walk

Explore the history and nature of Deptford Creek with the Creekside Center

With the current pace of building in the capital and developers looking to seize every last piece of land to build on, London’s wildlife is being squeezed into increasingly smaller environments. As banks of rivers and streams are absorbed into manmade land and structures, many animals and birds are running out of space to build nests, or even shelter during bad weather. While we need more homes in this overcrowded capital, it’s trying to balance fulfilling demand while protecting the wildlife’s habitats that is a real challenge.

Recently I paid a visit to the Creekside Discovery Center in Deptford, south-east London to join one of their Low Tide Walks. My boyfriend and I were up bright and early on a Sunday (well, by my standards early for a Sunday!) morning to get suited up for our visit to Deptford Creek. We were told to wear old clothes and a hat, with the CDC providing thigh-high waders and a walking stick. The Center itself is a one-storey educational space in a garden full of beautiful, coloured wildflowers. In fact there are over 130 different wildflower species across the site. It was rather amusing to see various memorabilia retrieved from the Creek dotted around like a modern art display, such as shopping trolleys, rollerskates and typewriters. I’m always baffled why someone would find enjoyment by throwing a trolley into a river or creek… perhaps they should get an actual hobby?!

The old lifting bridge, built in the 1830s

The name Deptford comes from ‘deep ford’, with the Creek forming the north end of the River Ravensbourne before it flows into the Thames. We started our two-hour expedition being led down to the Creek by a conservationist Nick. We entered the water – and mud – near the historic lifting bridge. It was originally built in the 1830s for the London and Greenwich Railway, which connected London Bridge with Greenwich, which was incredibly busy at the time due to its naval and royal connections. The railway was the first steam service in the capital and also the first entirely elevated railway. When it came to crossing the Creek, the railway owners realised it was problematic. They couldn’t build a regular fixed crossing as that would have blocked the many ships passing up and down the Creek. Civil engineer George Thomas Landmann (1779-1854) came up with the idea of a lifting bridge, which would allow trains to pass over while in situ, but could be lifted up for passing barges via pulleys, chains and sliding rods with eight men required to operate it. The current bridge you can see today, is a younger replacement, with several bridges replacing the original 1830s one. At time of writing, it’s been out of action for decades and is a listed structure. Read the rest of this entry

A look at London’s post boxes from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II

Victorian post box © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

A Victorian post box in Kensington

The red post box is an iconic piece of British heritage, having been a familiar piece of the streets for nearly 180 years. Despite the public’s fondness of the post box, it isn’t in such demand as it used to be due to the rapidly changing world. The rise of electronic communication and the introduction of rival delivery companies to Royal Mail means the post box isn’t used so widespread as in previous years. A Royal Mail post box is said stand half a mile from over 98% of the UK population. There are around 155,500 post boxes across the UK, with a substantial portion of these situated in London.

Edward VII era post box in Kensington

Of the thousands of post boxes in the capital, some of them are listed. In 2002, the Royal Mail entered into agreements with Historic England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively to retain and conserve all existing post boxes.

When it comes to post boxes, there are two main factors  which distinguish them from each other – their design and the royal cypher. The roadside post box has existed since the reign of Queen Victoria, with every subsequent monarch’s cypher being immortalised on the front. By looking at the cypher, you can date the age of your nearest post box, although admittedly the ballpark for boxes erected during the reigns of Victoria and our current monarch Elizabeth II are rather large! Of course, the shortest reign in recent memory is that of King Edward VIII. The eldest son of King George V only reigned for 326 days, before he abdicated the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Despite his short time as head of state, there are 171 boxes with his cypher, some of which are in London.

Ciphers of British monarchs

VR – Queen Victoria : 1837-1901
ER VII – King Edward VII : 1901-1910
GR – King George V : 1910-1936
ER VIII – King Edward VIII : Jan-Dec 1936
GR VI – King George VI : 1936-1952
EIIR – Queen Elizabeth II : 1952-present.

Walking around London today, a red post box is a frequent piece of street furniture. While the majority are round or oval, there are also hexagonal, wall boxes and other unusual sizes. Most free-standing post boxes feature a cap, which protects rainwater from entering the box and wetting the mail.

Prior to postal reform in 1840, mail was an expensive form of communication. The Uniform Penny Post was introduced, meaning the sender pre-paid the postal costs, rather than the recipient. The same year, the Penny Black adhesive stamp was released. It wasn’t until 12 years later, the first roadside Post Office pillar box was erected in St Helier, Jersey as a trial. In 1853, the first roadside pillar box was established in the mainland United Kingdom in Carlisle. In 1856, Richard Redgrave (1804-1888) from the Department of Science and Art came up with an ornate pillar box design to be used in London and other cities. Today, you can see one of Redgrave’s designs – which were bronze – at the Victoria & Albert Museum. From 1857, some post boxes were built into existing walls. Read the rest of this entry