diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 09, 2015

As Queen Elizabeth overtakes her great-great grandmother to become the UK's longest reigning monarch, I thought I'd head to the other end of the scale and investigate her uncle instead. Edward VIII was king for only 326 days, the shortest reign of any monarch since Lady Jane Grey, not even long enough to make it onto our coinage. But he did get to appear on our pillar boxes, 161 of them all told, scattered the length and breadth of the country. And a fair proportion of that total are in London, which means you might well be able to track one down.

My research suggests that there are about two dozen Edward VIII pillar boxes in the capital. I've based this information in part on an excellent (but out-of-date) webpage listing reputed locations nationwide, but more importantly on a Flickr group which contains hundreds of photos of individual boxes. Many appear more than once, and all have geotags which might or might not be accurate, and therefore all require some verification. So this map I've put together comes with a huge pinch of salt, and will not be pinpoint accurate, and might include boxes that have been removed or perhaps never even existed. Indeed the only central London location I thought I'd discovered, which was in Lincoln's Inn Fields, turned out to have a EIIR box and nothing more (unless I was looking in the wrong place, that is).

I considered attempting to track all the boxes down, and make a proper feature of it, but there are too many of them too well spread in too unexciting corners of the capital. Visiting five took long enough, so I really don't fancy ticking off the complete list from Hadley Wood to Woodmansterne and Twickenham to Foots Cray. Some apparent clusters exist in northwest and southeast London, notably around Beckenham, Bellingham and Bromley, which were presumably growing fast in 1936 and in need of a new local box. But instead I headed east to locate one box each in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Redbridge, and two in Barking and Dagenham.

The Highway, Wapping E1 [map] [2 photos]

The closest Edward VIII pillar box to central London is in Wapping on The Highway, the main road east from the Tower of London (which eventually becomes the Limehouse Link). It's a historic road, as signalled by the glories of St George-in-the-East (one of the capital's six Hawksmoor churches), but more typically characterised by modern development. The site we're looking for is opposite the Texaco garage, close to the top of Artichoke Hill, a brief steep descent to the edge of Tobacco Dock. Several former brick warehouses hereabouts have been transformed into desirable apartments, while others have been knocked down and replaced by more basic flats... a fate about to befall News International's former Wapping HQ. Eddie's postbox is up on the main road, outside a building that looks like it might once have been a sub post office, but is now a Domino's Pizza. Attempting to take photos of the pillar box results in querulous stares from staff inside the building, particularly if you hang around, perhaps wondering when you're coming inside for your £4.99 Lunchtime Special. As well as a rare kingly logo, the box also supports a fully labelled 50p Book of Stamps dispenser, which I'm sorry to report is Out of Use.

The Grove, Stratford E15 [map] [2 photos]

Two things make this box stand out. First it's somewhere busy, located in a busy shopping street just off the Stratford one-way system. None of the shops up The Grove are big names, this is more a Chinese takeaway, nailbar and recruitment office type of street, but many people browse and stroll this way on their way towards Maryland station. And secondly someone's painted it gold. Not the entire box, although Stratford does have a gilt memorial to the 2012 Games outside the main Post Office on the Broadway. In this case only the royal crest is gold, helping this exceptionally rare specimen to stand out, although unfortunately some of the paint on the R has chipped off. When I turned up to take a photo some local shopkeeper had dumped a bag of rubbish directly in front of the base, which somewhat diminished the upmarket effect, but at least they hadn't filled it so much that the key logo was obscured.

The Green, Wanstead E11 [map] [2 photos]

Can it be a coincidence that all three Edward VIII pillar boxes thus far have been located on streets starting with the word "The"? Well yes it can, but here we are on The Green at the heart of villagey Wanstead. The grassy expanse in question is George Green, which may look serene but is in fact a rural illusion concealing the A12 trunk road underneath. A cut and cover tunnel was driven through in the 1990s, one particular sweet chestnut tree the focus of major civil protest, and the green relaid as a rootless lid over the top. The pillar box stands by the main crossroads, opposite the George pub, and almost adjacent to a telephone box if you're ever looking for a double red icon photo location. More to the point it's almost immediately outside the front of Wanstead station, making this one of the very easiest Edward VIII pillar boxes to visit. If you've never seen one in the flesh before, take the Central line to Zone 4, sorted.

North Street, Barking IG11 [map] [2 photos]

I suspect most residents of Barking have never noticed they have a rare pillar box in their town centre. I use the term 'centre' somewhat loosely, although it's not far out, indeed located only a few yards off the ring road. North Street used to be a major thoroughfare, shadowing the River Roding past historic Barking Abbey, but now peters out in a mundane housing estate blocked off by the railway. Local MP Margaret Hodge's constituency HQ is very close by, as is The Jolly Fisherman, a pleasantly ordinary tavern where white van men sup ale, play darts and watch Sky Sports. I'd guess the pub's one of only three buildings hereabouts which would have existed in 1936 when the pillar box was installed, the remainder having long been bombed or demolished out of existence and replaced by council flats. It's not the best maintained box either, beset by peeling paint and with the hint of rust at the heart of Edward's R, beside a patch of trellised lawn and a lonely bus stop.

Ripple Road, Barking IG11 [map] [2 photos]

Yes, Barking has two Edward VIII pillar boxes, although this one's over a mile distant from the previous, on the main road heading out towards Dagenham. Most of Ripple Road is lined by commercial premises, but here near Upney the surroundings are more residential with some of the borough's trademark interwar housing abutting the street. The large ex council house on the corner of Blake Avenue has a weathered wooden fence and a caravan in the garden, but also a pristine hedge, which the owner was busy pruning when I turned up. This made it extremely difficult to walk up to the pillar box beneath his hedgetrimmers without looking like a complete stalker, but thankfully a neighbour turned up for a chat at the garden gate and I was able to sneak my shot. In the most innocuous of locations, where you'd never think to look, an abdicated monarch's brief legacy lives on.

I don't intend to seek out the other 20-ish Edward VIII pillar boxes I think our capital contains. But if you live near one of the markers on my map I'd be obliged if you could tell me whether the box really exists, and whether I've got the location right. It'd be great to have a definitive, verified list... a tribute our current monarch, by means of her longevity, will never enjoy.

Update: Thanks for your confirmations! On the map, red pins now show confirmed boxes, and maroon pins are yet to be checked.

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