Monday, 5 August 2013

George Town's heritage postboxes

This story was posted originally on this blog on 15 August 2012 which makes it almost exactly one year ago. Since then, I have uncovered one more cylindrical postbox on Penang island. I deem this new find to be significant enough for me to bring my original story up-to-date. So here goes, an update on George Town's heritage postboxes.

--- UPDATE ---
After I had posted a story here about the Royal Mail in Great Britain painting some of their postboxes gold in honour of their athletes at the London Olympics, I remembered that about five years ago, I had written in passing here about one old postbox in George Town, Penang.

It struck me that there are actually several cylindrical pillar postboxes on the island, remnants of our long colonial past. Frankly, I find them quite awesome from the heritage point of view. Regardless that George Town is now a UNESCO world heritage city, it is imperative that these postboxes must be preserved as markers of our remarkable history and culture. So where are these old red postboxes, almost all of which still bear the royal cyphers of the old British monarchs?

It was during the time of Queen Victoria that the cylindrical postboxes were first designed and installed in Britain. Penang being part of the Straits Settlements then, it was only natural that these postboxes would also be used here eventually. However, I have been unable to find any documentation from the Internet when the first such postboxes were introduced into Penang or British Malaya. 

This one above, bearing the VR royal cypher of Victoria, in the banking sector of Beach Street, George Town, must be one of the earliest postboxes around. This prominent postbox is quite well known to both residents and visitors alike. At the base of the pillar is the name of the manufacturer, Andrew Handyside & Co Ltd.

Interestingly, the only other similar Victorian postbox is located not in the city but up at Penang Hill. I took the above photograph in July 2007, never thinking that it would come in useful five years later but here it is. I can just barely make out the Handyside name on the base. As the letter slot is sealed, it is quite obvious that this postbox is just for display. Visitors will have to walk quite a distance from the upper hill railway station in order to find it, but it is there by the roadside. I understand that this postbox used to sit near the fire brigade station in Beach Street. In 2005, Pos Malaysia presented it to the Penang Hill Residents' Association.

Back in the city, I found this postbox which bore the EVIIR royal cypher of Edward VII who succeeded Victoria to the British throne in 1901. This is also quite a well-known sight, being located outside the Customs building (originally the Federated Malay States Railway Station building) in China Street Ghaut. This is the same one that I had mentioned in this blog five years ago. It is curious to note that the postbox looks fat and squat not from design but because its base is buried deep in the ground. When roadworks raised the road level, nobody dug up the postbox to reposition it higher. Worse, when the pavement was added later, the authorities must have thought it more convenient to build the pavement around the postbox. Definitely, a short-cut solution. So who was the manufacturer of this postbox? It's impossible to know without digging it up. (When I was still working at Ban Hin Lee Bank, I used to pass by this postbox almost everyday during the 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, there was no pavement yet and the postbox just stood there by the side of the road.)

After Edward VII came George V who had ascended to the British throne in 1910. I could find only two cylindrical postboxes that bore his GR royal cypher. The first one (above) is located along Upper Penang Road, directly across from the E&O Hotel. The Handyside name appears on the base. The second postbox (below) is found along Residency Road, just outside the gate into the Penang General Hospital's compound. As the base is also buried deep in the ground, there is no way of knowing its manufacturer.

Edward VIII was British monarch for only a few months in 1936 before he abdicated and there doesn't seem to be any postbox in George Town that bore his EVIIIR royal cypher. I've been reading that even in Britain, it is quite difficult to find an Edward VIII cylindrical postbox.

I also discovered two cylindrical postboxes along Ayer Itam Road. The first one, shown above, is located outside the Post Office building and the second one, below, can be found directly opposite from the Kampung Bharu market.

I was surprised not to find any royal cypher on the door of either postbox. Could it be that some over-zealous person or persons had filed away all the marks after 1957, or were they ordered without any royal cypher in the first place? In any case, what interested me was that the postboxes were supplied by a different manufacturer, Carron Company.

The last cylindrical postbox that I know of was ordered for Penang possibly during the time of George VI. Here it is above, located along MacAlister Road, and just across the road from the Madras Lane junction. Accordingly, it bore the GVIR royal cypher. This postbox was supplied by yet another manufacturer, McDowall Steven & Co Ltd, as could be seen from their name on the base.

I haven't been able to locate other cylindrical postboxes in Penang, including any that bore the EIIR royal cypher of Elizabeth II. Maybe these are all that can be found on the island but it won't stop me from searching further.

Incidentally, I did locate a unique standalone rectangular postbox at the junction of Dato Kramat Road and Siam Road that bore the GR royal cypher. Initially, I was puzzled over this design because it was unlike any of the heritage postboxes that I've seen in Penang. But having thought it over, I now believe that this was just a plain wall postbox encased in a rectangular concrete structure. When the pavement was raised up later, the base of the postbox became buried in the ground too. Maybe for this one, it was really impossible to reposition. I will always remember shoving my letters through the slot in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

1 comment:

Ruff Isa said...

Hi SSQuah,

Im Ruff from Central Market Kuala Lumpur. We are quiet interested with this entry. Because we are trying to find some history about our post box at Central Market. I would like to send you the picture of our post box for you look at. Who knows maybe you can help.

I can be reached anytime via email. Looking forward to hear from you soon.

Thank you