Pillar Letter Box

Hardy Street, Nelson

  • Pillar Letter Box.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Rebecca O'Brien. Date: 3/02/2003.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Rebecca O'Brien. Date: 3/02/2003.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 5116 Date Entered 28th June 1990

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Nelson City

Region

Nelson Region

Legal description

Legal Road.

Location description

Located in front of the Hardy Street Girls' School (Former) at 319 Hardy Street, Nelson, and located within the Albion Square Historic Area which is bounded on the north and south side by Hardy Street and Bridge Street, Nelson.

Summaryopen/close

The following text was prepared as part of an upgrade project and was completed 28 Feb 2003.

The Pillar Letterbox in Nelson was one of the first cast-iron, public letterboxes in use in New Zealand and is the oldest remaining on its original site.

In 1862 it became compulsory to use stamps to prepay the cost of delivering letters within New Zealand. Before then, all letters were taken to the counter of the local post office to be marked by the clerk with the correct postage costs. The use of stamps meant it was no longer necessary to take letters to the post office and in 1863 the Colonial Secretary William Fox (1812-1893) campaigned for the provision of public letterboxes. By the end of the following year the Postmaster-General, Thomas Bannatyne Gillies (1828-1889), was able to report that iron pillar boxes were in use in New Zealand's principal towns. Two iron letterboxes were ordered from Sydney for the Nelson Province in January 1864. Arriving in April that year, one was installed at the port and the other, the Pillar Letterbox, was placed outside the Hardy Street Girls' School (321 Hardy Street) near the cottage used by the postmaster of Nelson, B. Walmsley.

The Pillar Letterbox was made by Bubb & Son in their Victoria foundry in Sydney. The company had won the tender to manufacture iron letterboxes for the Postmaster General of New South Wales in 1855. Post office employee T. W. Levinge designed the cast-iron letterboxes made by the company. They were 1.8 metres (5.9 feet) high, circular in plan, and featured an ornate top decorated with acanthus leaf mouldings. Based on those in use in Belgium and Paris, the Australian letterboxes were considered to have a more elegant appearance than those in London. The letterboxes exported to New Zealand between 1864 and 1878 matched their Australian counterparts with just two exceptions. In Australia, each letterbox was bronzed and had three vertical slots near the top of the pillar to allow people on horseback to post their letters without dismounting. Those sent to New Zealand were painted red and, while they bore the vestiges of the three slots used in Australia, letters were posted through two horizontal openings on each side of the box in traditional British fashion.

From 1879 the Levinge style letterbox was replaced by a New Zealand-made, hexagonal version based on British letterboxes designed by architect J. W. Penfold. These cast-iron, British style letterboxes remained standard issue until the early 1950s, when the New Zealand Post Office Association began a campaign to replace them all with hutch-like wooden letter boxes mounted on posts. Considered unsanitary, leaky, and difficult to clear, most cast-iron letter boxes were sold to museums and private collectors or turned into scrap metal. The Hardy Street Pillar Letterbox in Nelson was one of just a handful to survive this campaign and the only one in New Zealand still located on its original site. Other than the addition of a padlock, it remains the same as it was in 1864 and continues to be used daily by the Nelson public.

The Pillar Letterbox in Nelson has great national significance as one of the first letterboxes used in New Zealand. As the only letterbox of its kind remaining in use on its original site, it is a unique symbol of important developments in the history of New Zealand's postal service, marking the transition to the modern, standardised prepaid mail system. The letterbox is architecturally interesting for its unique blend of British and Australian characteristics.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Hardy Street pillar letter box is New Zealand's oldest public letter box. It is still on its original site and still in daily use.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

ARCHITECTURAL QUALITY:

The bright red colouring and bold Victorian styling, particularly the acanthus mouldings, give considerable visual appeal to the letter box.

The circular design was earlier than the more common octagonal type of pillar letter box and the Hardy Street example is valuable in illustrating this variation in design.

TOWNSCAPE/LANDMARK VALUE:

The letter box is a well-known piece of street furniture but not a landmark.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Bubb & Son

Bubb and Son was established as a Sydney-based iron- and brass-founding business in 1856. Emerging from an enterprise created by Robert Watts Bubb (1805-91), it was run in partnership with his son, John Robert Bubb (1832-1900), until 1867, and by the latter under a variety of guises until 1889.

Robert Watts Bubb was born in Avening, Gloucestershire, England. Evidently a French polisher by trade, he emigrated to Australia in 1839. By 1843-4, R. W. Bubb had become a Sydney-based agent and auctioneer, and also subsequently manufactured ‘colonial tweed’ in a short-lived venture at Bathurst. In 1852, he moved into the iron- and brass-founding industry with business partner Erasmus Temperley, taking over the Victoria Foundry in Sussex Street, Sydney. Following Temperley’s death in 1855, R. W. Bubb further acquired the Newtown Brass and Iron Foundry.

John Robert Bubb joined his father as a partner in the firm in January 1856, after which the business was known as Bubb and Son. Early in the same year, the firm manufactured Australia’s first cast iron pillar boxes, which were erected in Sydney. Other early contracts included railings and columns for the Sydney Exchange (demolished 1964), and cast iron sewers for King and Hunter Streets, Sydney. From 1861, Bubb and Son also produced large-sized pillar boxes for posting newspapers, commissioned by the New South Wales government; and between 1864 and 1878 exported pillar letter receivers to New Zealand. By 1865, the firm’s premises are said to have expanded fourfold, carrying out orders for the engineering trade and producing ‘every description of ironwork used in house-building.’

R. W. Bubb retired in 1867, with J. R. Bubb continuing the Victoria Foundry business alone or with other partners until 1889. Commissions undertaken by J. R. Bubb included waiting rooms for the North Shore Ferry Company at Circular Quay, Sydney. In addition to his business activities, J. R. Bubb was a significant figure in the development of the Sydney suburb of Burwood, petitioning for its creation as a municipality in 1873 and briefly becoming its mayor six years later. He was also a secretary of the New South Wales Cremation Society.

R. W. Bubb died at Forest Lodge in 1891, and J. R. Bubb in Sydney in 1900.

Source: List Entry Report for Thames Pillar Boxes, List No. 9791, 16 May 2017

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

DESCRIPTION:

Late in 1863 the Colonial Secretary advocated the provision of Post Office letter boxes. Two arrived in Nelson in April 1864 on the steamer "Auckland" from Sydney. One was to be placed at the port and the other at the rear of the Provincial Council Chambers. This one, in Hardy Street, is in its original position and is still in daily use. The other seems to have been shifted several times and is now at the Provincial Museum at Isle Park, disused.

There were fourteen pillar letter boxes of the circular design in use in 1868 and twenty-five by 1878, when the design was changed to the octagonal type. Only four of the circular design remain in use - the Hardy Street example and three in Thames. The Thames boxes were installed about 1871 and only one of these is on its original site.

There were 98 octagonal boxes made between 1879 and 1909, in Christchurch, and only a few of these are still in use. During the 1950s the Post Office made an effort to replace all remaining iron pillar boxes with wooden ones. Many found their way to museums or private collectors but very few survive as working facilities, as opposed to historical curiosity pieces.

Physical Description

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

ARCHITECT/ENGINEER/DESIGNER:

Unknown

Manufactured at Bubb & Son, Victoria Foundry, Sydney

ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION:

The Pillar Letter Box is circular in plan and stands 1.8 metres tall. It has a plinth 600mm in diameter with a simplified acanthus moulding on the upper surface. The body of the letter box is cylindrical, punctuated with cirque mouldings. On the lower body is the door to the mail receptacle with hinges on the vertical edge. It bares the name of the manufacturer.

The words "POST OFFICE LETTER BOX" are boldly raised around the circumference at the mid height of the pillar, above the door. The two receiving slots are on opposite sides at the top of the shaft.

The ornate top section has an ogee profile and bold acanthus mouldings repeated four times around the circumference with a bud moulding at the apex. This top section overhangs the receiving slots, providing weather protection. The letter box is painted the standard red colour used by the former New Zealand Post Office.

This circular design used in Great Britain during the 1850s-1860s was known as the "Levinge" type pillar box.

MODIFICATIONS:

A modern padlock has been fitted to the door. Otherwise unmodified

Notable Features

Vestiges of the three slots used in Australian post office boxes near the top of the structure, and the age of the letterbox.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1864 -

Modification
1990 -
Alteration to locking system on the door

Construction Details

Constructed from cast iron

Completion Date

28th February 2003

Report Written By

Rebecca O'Brien

Information Sources

Alexander Turnbull Library

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

R.M. Startup, New Zealand Iron Pillar Boxes - Notes

Farrugia, 1969

Farrugia, Jean Young, The Letter Box: A history of the post office pillar and wall boxes, Sussex, Centaur, 1969

Robinson, 1964

Howard Robinson, A History of the Post Office in New Zealand, RE Owen, Government Printer, Wellington, 1964

Startup, 1975

R. Startup, Through Gorge and Valley: A History of the Postal District of Nelson from 1842, Masterton, 1975

Colonist

The Colonist

7 April 1864, 27 October 1864

Nelson Historical Society Journal

Nelson Historical Society Journal

November 1980, vol.3, no.6, pp.4-10

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.