The Prickly Issue of the Scottish Pillar Box

Now for something that everyone has had the occasion to use at some time or other in their lives. Nothing less than the humble pillar box.

You could be forgiven for thinking that there’s not much exciting about a post box? The most exciting thing you could do with one is to post a letter through its eager aperture, waiting to devour its daily ration of letters and small packets. You would be forgiven for thinking that, wouldn’t you? Of course you would be incredibly wrong. In fact it has something of an explosive history.

Introduced here in the UK in 1853 by Anthony Trollope, then a humble employee of the Post Office, following a successful trial in the Channel Islands.  It had a shaky beginning. Early models leaked rainwater and soaked the contents within. Gradually it evolved into a watertight reliable receptacle and spread throughout the country.

Many of the early examples had been replaced but were kept in store in lieu of being displayed in a museum somewhere. Then the fireworks began. The yard that they were being stored in took a direct hit from the Luftwaffe during the Blitz and the precious cast ironware, rendered asunder was lost forever.

Then in the early 1950’s after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth new post boxes were ordered. Some were made in London and many were to be produced in Scotland at The Lion Foundry in Kirkintilloch and by the Carron Company near Falkirk.

Despite the fact that patterns were made and many people would have been involved in the design and manufacture of these latest pillar boxes no one seems to have picked up on a flaw that would spark anger and unrest among the more fervent nationalist Scots. The cypher of the new Queen Elizabeth proudly displayed on the front of the boxes bore the legend EIIR just as they did wherever they were placed throughout Her Majesty’s realm. Proudly that is until some began to be the victims of vandal attacks and even home made explosive devices.

In Inch, a part of Edinburgh, following the installation of a gleaming new red post box, the box was daubed with tar, subject to attacks with a hammer before being blown to pieces, within three months. Such was the fervour of opposition felt in Scotland that a lawsuit was brought against the Lord Advocate in Scotland. The case was that of MacCormick v Lord Advocate. This case claimed that Queen Elizabeth had no right to use the term Elizabeth the Second within the confines of Scotland as she was indeed the first Queen Elizabeth that Scotland had had and as such contravened the terms of the 1707 Act of Union.

It certainly is true that The Queen is in fact the first Queen Elizabeth of not only Scotland, but the United Kingdom and Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The result of the case was that the Queen as a matter of the Royal Prerogative can call herself whatever Her Majesty pleases. However, it was decided to move the offending boxes elsewhere and replace them with new ones bearing the Crown of Scotland and omitting reference to the monarch.

The Type C large pillar box first introduced in 1899, has spread throughout what was the British Empire and can still be found doing its work as far away as Hong Kong.

Pillar Box


Ray Coggin is both a qualified Taxi Guide and a qualified City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights tours and themed tours) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here or sign up to be kept informed of upcoming events and tours here.