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The Joys of Retirement:

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

History Hunting

As we get older there really is no need for life to become boring. It maybe that there is far less activity involved brought about by the various ailments of ageing, but that doesn’t mean that the brain has to be inactive. The little exercise in trivia that I am about to share will leave your mind either totally numb or wholly invigorated, depending which side of the trivia division you favour.

It all began with the simple operation of posting a letter. I stopped to do just that at the post box on the New Barnstaple Road near the junction with Crofts Lea Park and noticed the letters VR (Victoria Regina) at the top indicating that this box was over 120 years old. Curiosity got the better of me and further research showed that post boxes had been around since the 1850’s. It wa even more surprising that so many are still in operation, indicating the quality of manufacture back in the day.

I thought that it would be interesting to discover just how many Victorian boxes there were still in existence in the area and to make the research reasonable I decided on an area within an hour’s drive of my home town. I am not saying there aren’t any others in Ilfracombe, but common sense dictated that they are more likely to be found in the areas where little or no structural changes or developments have been made in the past 150 years – the rural villages and hamlets.

Possibly one of the oldest can be found at East Buckland set into a lovely old stone wall on the cross roads and just down the road in the village of Charles is a very similar one in a similar setting.

Not far from those two, at the Stags Head Cross near Castle Hill, Filleigh is a box of the same style, which prompts the question were these all installed around the same time?

Bypassing South Molton and moving out into the sticks in an easterly direction, there were two excellent finds at Mariansleigh and Romansleigh.

Crossing the main A361 to the north to the old Molland Railway Station, the next find was nestled nicely in the wall of The Blackcock Inn. A short drive then on to the little hamlet of Bottreaux Mill produced yet more bounty, followed by a call to the deep valley village of Heasley Mill on the way home.

By studying the Royal Mail Post Box map, Google Maps and Google Earth it is possible to seek out the best chance of a find and, with that information in hand, the next trip took me to Loxhore Church for a lovely example set in an old stone wall of a shed at the entrance to the Old Rectory.

This was followed by a short run through to the next village – Shirwell. There, sitting under an old capping stone on the front garden wall of a private house is a well preserved example of the subject of this expedition, periodically partially covered by natural vegetation.

My next find was not that easy – to find, I mean. It meant travelling south east from Shirwell across the River Yeo and just north of Goodleigh in the little hamlet of Northleigh. There, just past the entrance to the Goodleigh Recreation Ground, is a detached house and our box is set in a purpose built brick pillar at the end of the property - easily missed.

The next outing began by taking the middle road from Ilfracombe to Barnstaple through the village of Prixford and there set in what appears to be a very old slate capped Victorian garden wall is another well-preserved box.

I spent very little effort in scouring the streets of Barnstaple, because with the amount of redevelopment over the past century, the likelihood of any remaining Victorian structures would be minimal. Having said that; no doubt I have missed one somewhere. On to the lovely little village of Lake and there in the wall of a picturesque cottage called The Cobbles, is a very old example looking as pristine as the day it was fitted.

Travelling due south from Lake through the village of Tawstock, the next find was at Harracott, although this one is strangely placed in the wall of a shed of a single property halfway between the village itself and the village hall. This one was in a very poor condition aesthetically, but looked structurally sound – a prime candidate for renovation.

The last find on this outing was in the village of Huntshaw off the B3232 road from Barnstaple to Torrington, next to the car park of the St Mary Magdalene Church and set very close to a window in the wall of the lovely Church Cottage. I get the feeling that it may be possible for the occupants of that cottage to open the window and post a letter without leaving the property, and I also wonder which was fitted first, the post box or the window. Dropping down from there to the Torridge Valley, I came across my final find for the day nestling amongst the greenery of someone's garden wall.

The next trip was an easterly one towards Lynton and Lynmouth, which produced an interesting find at Lynbridge – interesting in that it has obviously been rebuilt into a relatively modern brick structure in the driveway of an old stone cottage.

Crossing the border into Somerset but still within my self-imposed limits of the one hour drive from home, I was rewarded with a find at Bossington, near Porlock – yet another example of an old box being tastefully rebuilt in a modern pillar. Due south from there is the village of Luccombe where a much earlier example is set in the wall of what appears to be a very old thatched cottage. My next stop was at Luckwell Bridge, near Exford to take a picture of one that I had always known about; being that it is on my regular route to Taunton.

There is a whole area to the south of Barnstaple along the Taw valley and to the south west towards Bude and Holsworthy that I have not investigated yet – this should provide a few days out this summer and, if fruitful could provide another article for the autumn. In the meantime, I hope that this very poor quality picture of a VR box at Bucks Mills, near Clovelly will whet the appetite until I can get back there to take a better one.

©Pat Jennings 2023


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