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Exclusive: Why this Special One is just part of the furniture

Mystery surrounds pillar of Liverpool life on 150th birthday

Published on January 23rd 2013.

Exclusive: Why this Special One is just part of the furniture

IT is distinctive, it is unique - and to some enthusiasts it's a national treasure.

This letter box has seen two world wars, has survived the Blitz and has been the custodion of millions of precious letters in its hardworking lifetime.

It is the only remaining, still-working "Liverpool Special". It stands in the city’s Albert Dock – and this month marks its 150th birthday.

A Liverpool Special is a rarity and stands out even beside other relatively rare Victorian pillar boxes. 

Liverpool Special Pillar BoxLiverpool Special Pillar Box: Pic by Larry Sidorczuk

Only seven were ever made. A couple are preserved in museums. But this unsung hero of Liverpool life, down at the Atlantic Pavillion, is the single Liverpool Special to endured the turmoil of the last one and a half centuries in full working order. 

Yet it is still something of a mystery.

Where in Liverpool?Where in Liverpool?Now, to mark the anniversary – and in pursuit of its mission to map and measure Britain’s red breasted beauties – The Letter Box Study Group (for it is they) wants to gather stats and stories about the Liverpool Specials:  the wheres, whens, whys and whos. 

Andrew Young, LBSG chairman, said: “We know a fair amount about the Liverpool Specials but I am sure there is much more to record. For instance, though we know that the first Liverpool Special was erected in January 1863, we do not know the precise date. I do hope we can find that out.”

The group is after historically significant material – pictures, letters, voice recordings, videos – from any and all ages for its archive. Other contributions – "civic, romantic, artistic or wacky-tastic" it says  –  will be eligible for inclusion in a mini-exhibition which, if enough material is forthcoming – will take place in the autumn. 

There are those who get very excited about letterboxes.

8332390523_5Acfc50b89_MLime Street Special,
date unknown

In Jean Farrugia’s 1969 survey of letter boxes – a book with foreword written by labour stalwart Tony Benn no less – Liverpool Specials were listed as gracing the junctions of Sheil Road and Huntley Road; Breck Road and Everton Road; and Church Road and Edge Lane. Farrugia also says that the first of seven Liverpool Specials was erected at St George’s Hall.

But there are gaps in the records. Today’s sole surviving Albert Dock box is – probably – the one relocated from Sheil Road in 1987, they say, when the riverside area was redeveloped.

Can you identify the locations of the other three Liverpool Specials? Do you have photographs or stories?


The origins of the Liverpool Special design can be traced back to the actions of an un-named postmaster.

Farrugia writes that the city’s mid-Victorian Postmaster, was: “dissatisfied”.

He argued that boxes designed for the nation as a whole were “not adequate to cope with the heavy postings experienced in Liverpool where (unlike London) the posting of newspapers as well as letters was permitted.”

8332261271_3C26b9e9d2_BThe Albert Dock Liverpool Special
on Sheil Road in 1984
Farrugia quotes the Liverpool Postmaster complaining that when the doors of new-fangled letter boxes were opened “it invariably attracts a large crowd to the Pillar to the great inconvenience of the collector.” She writes: “Numerous reports were also received from the public, and the Liverpool Constabulary, about boxes being filled to overflowing.”

Eventually,” Farrugia reports, “early in 1862, after a long battle with London, he was allowed to prepare his own design for a box which would meet all local requirements.” It was, for example, the first type of box to have a wire basket inside to collect the mail.

Young says: “I am intrigued by the fact that Liverpool allowed newspapers to be posted in the boxes, when that was not permitted in London. Why was that? I do hope this review leads us to this, and many other answers to hanging questions regarding letter box heritage in the north west of England.”

Are there other bits of information about North West post boxes that should be preserved for “post-erity” by the Letter Box Study Group? Email media@lbsg.org and keep them posted.


Crowning glory

8332261505_20Ed39b23b_BRestored to its true colours at Albert Dock

TO the untrained eye, the Liverpool Special is similar to many of Britain’s other 116,000 letter boxes. On closer inspection, it can be seen that it wears a chunkily cast crown on top of its ‘head’ that sets it apart from the 350 other relatively easily recognisable styles of UK letter box.  

 Arthur Reeder, owner-curator of the Isle Of Wight Postal Museum. said: “These boxes were based on the large first standard pillar boxes with a couple of notable additions. The most notable being the large crown on the top. They also sported the legend Post Office within some finely decorated bands.

Where and when in LiverpoolWhere and when in Liverpool?"There were differences in that the original – I think  – had slightly different bands.” 

Mr Reeder,  one of the country’s leading letter box experts, said: “Three survive as far as I know, and one is still in use. The crown was not cast with the cap but was bolted on.”

Box 1049678, a PB1005/2, (to give the Albert Dock Liverpool Special its official LSBG classification numbers) was cast by the Cochrane & Co foundry of Dudley.

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Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on January 24th 2013.
AnonymousJanuary 28th 2013.

See the Echo have lifted this today.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Nogsy lidJanuary 28th 2013.

Wouldn't know. Never read it

camboJanuary 28th 2013.

Nor me

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