Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The Pleasure of an Accidental Find

There's no greater pleasure than happening upon a lovely old postbox. That was my recent experience on a trip to Dublin's former Royal (later Collins) Barracks, now the National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts and History (website here).

Entrance to the former Royal (Collins) Barracks, Dublin

The Royal Barracks was built from 1701 by Thomas de Burgh, Surveyor General to Queen Anne. de Burgh is also responsible Trinity College's library building, which houses Trinity's famous 'Long Room' reading room (current home to the Book of Kells). Aside from Dublin's Royal Hospital Kilmainham (now housing the Irish Museum of Modern Art), the Barracks is actually Dublin's oldest public building. The complex consists of a number of buildings, the finest of which are the large, elegant, neo-classical blocks which surround the vast parade square:

The Parade Square, former Royal (Collins) Barracks, Dublin

Just off the Parade Sq - directly through the main entrance to the block on the left of the Parade Sq as one enters - I was delighted to find an example of Ireland's (and indeed, the British Isles') oldest pillar boxes, one of only a small number of surviving 'Ashworth' pillar boxes:

Irish Ashworth Pillar Box, former Royal (Collins) Barracks, Dublin

The Ashworth was the first standardised Royal Mail pillar box, and was designed by the House of Lords Committee for Science and Arts in 1857. The original 1857 design was ornate, but unfortunately - in rather a large oversight - did not include an aperture! This meant that the boxes had to modified locally to accept letters. The Ashworth pictured above is a simplified version of the original design, which would date it to roughly 1858-9 (in 1859 a new design was introduced). The box is painted in what was then the standard colour, bronzed green. This was intended to make the boxes relatively unobtrusive, but was later changed to red when they were found to be *too* unobtrusive, and not sufficiently visible. The box is tall and elegant, and unlike later designs, does not include a Royal Cypher; instead, it is topped by a Royal Crown picked out in gold. Notice also that unlike later boxes, the rather awkwardly-placed letter aperture is vertical and not horizontal. It's also very small: definitely not big enough for parcels! It's great to see that the box is out of the weather, relatively freshly painted and in good condition - although it could do with a dust! 

I was unaware that the box was there when I went with my family to visit the former Barracks, and chancing upon it made my visit all the more pleasurable. If you find yourself in Dublin any time soon, then hop on the Luas to the Museum stop and check it out!