Mail truck, St. Ives

My recent visit to the United Kingdom would not have been complete without checking out the Royal Mail. Picturesque letterboxes led me to believe that a sweet, old-fashioned post office would be just around the corner, but that turned out not to be the case.

The post office in St. Ives (Cambridgeshire) is co-located in the back of WHSmith, which is, in this location, a news and sundry store. One can purchase any one of three daily newspapers, a bottle of water, an umbrella, a Cadbury’s (now owned by Hershey) chocolate bar and various other snacks and small items, then pick up stamps or mail a letter at the post office.

The Royal Mail has roots dating back as early as 1516, and served as the model for early mail deliveries in the American colonies. However, unlike the United States Postal Service, the Royal Mail Group is no longer a government agency. Letter delivery and parcel delivery fall under two separate divisions of Royal Mail Ltd, Royal Mail (letters) and Parcelforce (parcels).

Post Office Ltd, once a subsidiary of Royal Mail, became independent in 2012, but is authorized to issue stamps and handle letters and parcels for Royal Mail. The St. Ives Post Office appears to be one of 70 former Crown Post Offices that were sold to WHSmith, the British bookstore chain, first established in 1792. It serves as the official delivery center for Royal Mail.

Letter slot and stamp machine on street
Post Office co-located with WHSmith

Royal Mail is open for business six days a week, and promises delivery of first class letters within the UK in one business day. Delivery times for international, non-European mail is promised in five to seven working days. However, post cards I mailed home first class, airmail, took a bit longer, arriving approximately 12 days from the day I mailed them.

While the post office might not have been all that I had imagined, the letterboxes, or pillars, did not disappoint. Tall, red and stately, they could not have been more charmingly British. Three card shops in the small town of St. Ives was another heartening development. If people buy cards and boxed notes, they must send mail.

Letterbox pillar, St. Ives

Also charming are the traditional red telephone booths, prominent not only in St. Ives but also in Cambridge and London. Unlike their American counterparts, these booths come with real, working phones, which I often saw in use in Cambridge.

The stamps that I bought, both local as well as international, featured the same image of the Queen. However, the Royal Mail offers a variety of stamp images available for purchase, either through the website or at a Post Office. This is the fourth year of a five-year series of stamps commemorating the First World War.  Stamps featuring ten classic toys were issued on Aug. 22; others include Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit; contemporary architecture; windmills and watermills; British songbirds; Windsor Castle; butterflies; bees; David Bowie, and more.

Telefones, St. Ives

Spending but a half-day in London was not nearly enough time to see the sights I wanted to see or to visit museums and libraries. A must-do for my next visit is the recently opened (July 2017) Postal Museum. Mail Rail is one of the attractions, a tour on an underground train. Mail Rail was used to deliver mail for longer than 75 years. This feature of the Postal Museum is scheduled to open on Sept. 4, 2017.

The Discovery Room houses the historical documents of the museum. Documents, photos, stamps, postal history items, and other archival materials, a reference library and more are open to researchers and the public in general. The museum also offers programs for students of all ages as well as teacher resources, and a postal play area for young children.

If you are planning a trip to the United Kingdom, buy some stamps, visit the Postal Museum, and mail home some cards!  Your friends will appreciate it.


Postal Museum (UK)

Royal Mail

Wikipedia.      Post Office Ltd.

Wikipedia.      Royal Mail

Wikipedia.      WHSmith




This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. How interesting that phone booths are more commonly used in the United Kingdom. Are there fewer cell phones? I rarely if ever see phone booths in the USA and can’t remember the last time I saw one being used.

  2. A lot of the phone booths are being removed due to more using mobile phones. However, many rural locations have very poor mobile phone coverage (some people think they can rely on, for example, Google Maps on their phone in the hills and mountains…). With the British Telecom payphones, payment is taken when a call is answered but I wonder if an unanswered call still counts for the telephone being used.

    The red iconic phone boxes are also in danger – many have been taken away and replaced with not-so-beautiful booths.

    Some booths still remain even though the telephone has been removed. They can be used as mini-libraries, or community information points…

    There is a Facebook group and Twitter account (@postboxcollect) wanting to collect pictures of all the posting boxes in the United Kingdom. There is a list of posting boxes available and each postbox should have a code (usually bottom left hand corner of the information notice).

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