Village post boxes at the hearts of communities need protection

From left, Susan Malt, Krystyna Stroulger, Philip Stroulger, Simon Brock and Adam Flack with the hol

From left, Susan Malt, Krystyna Stroulger, Philip Stroulger, Simon Brock and Adam Flack with the hole left in the wall at the village of Hoe, where its post box was sited before its theft. Picture: Matthew Usher

There are many fine features which bring to life the English rural landscape. Some are natural, while others are man-made and have been added to the fabric of the countryside and village life over decades, even centuries.

Hoe's post box before its theft. Picture: Matthew Usher

Hoe's post box before its theft. Picture: Matthew Usher - Credit: supplied

We enjoy the hedgerows that provide a haven for wildlife, or the streams that meander across quiet parts of Norfolk.

Thatched cottages, ancient bridges, traditional pubs, churches, mills and railway embankments are all dominant features which are quintessentially English and enhance our rural counties.

Yet it is those smaller items, often unnoticed that 'accessorise' these larger structures, and add tone, colour and history to this wider environment.

Some, such as red telephone boxes, have disappeared from many communities, though are still thankfully visible in Norfolk villages. While they may not provide the essential communication service and facility they may have done three or four decades ago, they are still an important adornment to the village panorama, adding a splash of red to the natural hues.

And with them are our beloved pillar boxes.

Some are tall and sturdy, cylindrical beasts on the corners of interchanges, while others are bolted to posts at strategic points in a village or town ready to receive letters and cards.

Most Read

Indicative of the place they hold in the hearts of the nation was the widespread approval of the brilliant decision by the Royal Mail to paint post boxes gold in the home towns of athletes who clinched gold medals at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Additionally, there are those which have character, in the way they are set into walls of red brick or housed in unusual or intriguing locations.

Our post boxes are true landmarks and their history is imprinted on them – those from the last six decades emblazoned with the letters ER, to indicate they were erected during the reign of our present monarch Elizabeth II.

Others still have GR for the Queen's father and predecessor George VI, and there are those of a previous ER, for Edward Rex that date from the early days of the 1900s and Edward VII.

Then, there are those that are truly intriguing with the letters VR shaped within the solid iron of the post box.

Dating from the reign of Queen Victoria, these are treasures of the village landscape and sadly – as the village of Hoe near Dereham discovered recently – of unhealthy interest to thieves.

Their village post box, dating from Victoria's reign, was ripped from a wall and stolen earlier this month.

Older than any of the village's residents, it was regularly used by most as it had been for generations.

Who can imagine what secrets it had conveyed – letters of pride and love to troops in the trenches of the First World War, or even across oceans to Africa in the Boer War; important messages across the globe; cheques paid in pounds, shillings and pence; job applications; birthday cards; and simple letters to friends and relatives.

Described as a 'real little gem' by residents in Hoe, it was old and full of character, but had seemingly been stolen to order by thieves who knew what they were looking for.

No doubt now, it is in some private collection hidden away from view, snatched out of public service, and set to be replaced by a modern reproduction that will hold little of the character and sentiment of the original.

Other boxes may be stolen for scrap value.

Rural England has long been a target for opportunist thieves, those who think lead-laden church roofs are fair game and that stripping the metal from medieval churches to sell for a few pounds is acceptable.

The theft of red post boxes is an extension of that, a desecration of the rural village landscape, and it is estimated that nationally more than 100 traditional post boxes are stolen every year.

Other communities in the region have been targeted in the past – Denton and St Peter South Elmham near Bungay have had post boxes hacked out of brick pillars in isolated spots within the last two years or so; the one in Denton was Victorian while St Peter South Elmham's was installed during the reign of Edward VII.

So, is it possible to stop these thefts?

Modern technology has a role and the Royal Mail is fighting back with electronic tagging of post boxes; if you can microchip a dog or cat and trace their whereabouts, then hopefully you can do the same with a post box.

That may even help snare those who are ultimately responsible for these crimes against communities – the unscrupulous collectors who buy these rare items, village landmarks that should never be hidden away in illicit private collections but instead continue to stand bright, vivid and red at the heart of the communities they have served for decades.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter