The distinctive red letter box on Manse Road. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
The distinctive red letter box on Manse Road. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

Bermuda’s distinctive red pillar boxes stand proud like a monument holding back the hands of time.

They are a reminder of a bygone era that has almost been forgotten.

Some of the traditional letter boxes that dot the island today date back to the 1870s and a time when the simple letter played a vital role for islanders to communicate with the outside world. 

But with the advent of telephones and then computers a completely new means of instant communication has developed.

And with this new wave of technology the old fashioned pass time of letter writing has become a dying trade. But despite the changing times 46 letter boxes still stand within Bermuda’s 21-square miles.

Of these 21 are pillar letter boxes and 25 are wall-mounted letter boxes.

It is now just over 130 years since the first three pillar boxes were installed at Wellington Street in St George’s, near the Ferry Road Receiving Office and at Clarence Hill near Admiralty House in Pembroke.

And it is a remarkable feat that the old red pillar boxes have withstood the test of time. Andrew Bermingham, President of the Bermuda Historical Society told the Bermuda Sun: “They are dotted all over Bermuda on the highways and byways.

“The red post boxes are remnants of the age of the picture postcard, steam ship travel, the Talbot Brothers, the old railway, and Furness Withy. 

They are the iconic British pillar boxes, or post boxes, which stand testament to a more tranquil and sedate age.

“You see them everywhere whether it is Ord Road, St. David’s, Pitts Bay, North Shore. 

“Most stand forlorn and forgotten yet paradoxically they are still very visible.

 “It would be great if one of Bermuda’s photographers would shoot an end-to-end series of all the pillar boxes, whether free standing or those inserted into walls.

“Long may they remain.”

Early years

The use of pillar letter boxes in Bermuda was first proposed in 1879 by postal inspector Percy V. Turner.

Mr Turner had come from England the previous year to help reorganize the Bermuda Postal System and help prepare a new Post Office Act. 

In 1880 the Colonial Postmaster Aubrey G. Butterfield obtained “with considerable difficulty sufficient funds through the Legislature to purchase twelve pillar letter boxes”. 

Postal historian, Horst Augustinovic, said: “Bermuda’s postal history is very unique given Bermuda’s isolation and the postal service was a vital link to the outside world.

“In the early years all the mail was obviously bought in by ship and then distributed to receiving houses which either general stores or private homes.

“In the late 1870s there was a total review of the postal system and this was when pillar boxes were first advocated.

“Some of the original Victorian pillar boxes that were brought in still remain to this day like the one on St John’s Road in Pembroke.

“While the original pillar letter boxes had no markings of any kind, others show the Royal Cipher of King George V; King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. They represent a fascinating era in Bermuda’s history.” n