To Orwell Today,
I am an occasional reader of your website and happened, to-day [July 24, 2012], on the piece "VISITING ORWELL'S ANIMAL FARM" dated Friday, August 13, 2004. In the second paragraph of which you write:
Orwell's house is next door to the left (unseen) and the Village Hall is to the right (unseen). Notice the old red mail box where Orwell would have "posted" his letters. It hasn't been replaced since King George VI of Orwell's day died. It still says "G-R" which means "George's Reign" (as in George ORWELL I say) instead of "E-R" for "Elizabeth's Reign".
This is incorrect. The letters GR on a British postbox denote that it was made (cast in metal) during the reign of King George - George Rex -- and the letters ER denote in a similar way, Elizabeth Regina or Edward Rex. One would need to also read the number (in Latin numerals) to differentiate which king or queen was referred to.
As the penny post - and post boxes - were introduced during the reign of Queen Victoria the possible ciphers would be: VR (Queen Victoria, reigned until 1901), ER VII (King Edward Vii, 1901-1910), GR V (King George V, 1910-1936), GR VI (King George VI, 1936-1952) and ER II (Queen Elizabeth II, 1952 to the present). There is a vague, theoretical possibility that there exists somewhere a box with ER VIII, which would have been Edward Viii, but he abdicated before being crowned in 1936 so was never actually a reigning monarch.
Because old postboxes are only very occasionally repositioned and almost never replaced you are correct in assuming that the postbox in Wallington is probably the very same one that George Orwell used between 1936, when he arrived at 'The Stores', shortly before marrying Eileen in the Wallington church, and 1940, after which he seldom visited Wallington before surrendering the lease in (I think) 1947.
Thanks doubleplus much for pointing out the mistake I made in thinking that the initials "GR" meant "George's Reign" whereas in fact it means "George Rex" (which is Latin for King, as in Oedipus Rex etc).
Thanks also for the brief history of how the English postboxes came to be and that the initials denote who was King or Queen when the metal for a particular box was cast.
Another mistake I made was to say that the GR postbox in front of Orwell's house stands for George VI when in fact it would probably have been -- as you point out -- George V, who was King for 25 years, until his death in January 1936.
Orwell moved to Wallington in April 1936 during the eleven-month reign of King Edward VIII who abdicated in December 1936, handing the throne to his younger brother who became King George VI (father of present-day Queen Elizabeth - ER).
While I was in Wallington visiting Orwell's little house and Manor Farm -- which he renamed ANIMAL FARM -- I bought some postcards in St Mary's church where Orwell married Eileen in June 1936.
Then, before leaving Wallington, I sat down in the bus shelter and wrote out the cards so I could mail them from Orwell's mailbox. I even sent one to myself, from "George":
By the time I got back to Canada, the postcard from Orwell had arrived -- which was a very exciting event. I've scanned it, above, to share with ORWELL TODAY readers.
In subsequent years I sent snail-mail to the present owners of Orwell's house in Wallington -- ie copies of the HOMAGE TO ORWELL and PILGRIMAGE TO ORWELL booklets I'd compiled, and we exchanged Christmas cards one year:
I mailed the wintry-scene card (scanned above) to the owners of Orwell's Wallington house because it looks so much like it -- and they mailed me the wintry-scene card (also scanned above) because it looks like Orwell's Wallington church. We discovered we support the same charity -- the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, ie the house was mouthpainted by K Kyriacou and the church was mouthpainted by Jolanta Borek.
You speculate that there probably isn't a postbox with King Edward's initials -- ER VIII -- because he was Rex for so short a period -- but it sure would be a treasure-find to discover one somewhere -- I wonder if anyone ever will. It would be exciting, too, to come across a postbox from Queen Victoria's reign -- no doubt there are still some postboxes with "VR" in Jolly Old England.
Speaking of postboxes and King Edward VIII, I have a roundabout connection to him through my maternal grandfather having to do with the Royal Mail. On January 1st, 1935, my grandfather received an OBE -- the Order of the British Empire -- for delivering the Royal Mail in Canada's north -- by dogsled -- on the longest and toughest route in Canada. It was signed by both King George, during his Silver Jubilee year, and Prince Edward one year before he became King on January 20, 1936 (exactly twenty-five years before JFK became President on January 20, 1961).
Below is a scan of my grandfather's OBE, with his medal attached:
GEORGE THE FIFTH by the Grace of God of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India and Sovereign of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire to Our trusty and well beloved Louis Bourassa Esquire.
Greeting. Whereas We have thought fit to nominate and appoint you to be a Member of the Civil Division of Our said Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. We do by these presents grant unto you the Dignity of a Member of Our said Order and hereby authorise you to have hold and enjoy the said Dignity and Rank of a Member of Our aforesaid Order together with all and singular the privileges thereunto belonging or appertaining.
Given at Our Court at Saint James under Our Sign Manual and the Seal of Our said Order, this First day of January 1935 in the Twenty fifth year of Our Reign.
By the Sovereign's Command
Grant of the dignity of
a Member of the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire
to Louis Bourassa, Esq.
My grandfather died (at age 46 from a massive heart attack), on the trail delivering the Royal Mail, in May 1935, four months after receiving the OBE.
I've compared Edward's signature -- as seen on my grandfather's OBE -- to his signature when he was King, and they are the same, as can be seen on his letter of Abdication signing away the throne:
I, Edward the Eighth, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Emperor of India, do hereby declare My irrevocable determination to renounce the Throne for Myself and for My descendants, and My desire that effect should be given to this Instrument of Abdication immediately.
In token whereof I have hereunto set My hand this tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty six, in the presence of the witnesses whose signatures are subscribed.
SIGNED AT FORT BELVEDERE
IN THE PRESENCE OF
Albert, Henry, George
Now that I've got you on the line -- so to speak -- I wonder if you could explain what the letters "RI" after George's signature and the letter "P" after Edward's signature stand for on the OBE and what the letters "RI" after Edward's signature on the Instrument of Abdication stand for? I've often wanted to know.
I love the fact that the signature of THE PEOPLE'S GOOD KING EDWARD is on my grandfather's OBE.
All the best,
...conversation continues at EDWARD VIII STAMPS/POSTBOX/ABDICATION
KING EDWARD ABDICATION A CONSPIRACY
SIGNED COPY OF 1984 ANYONE? (...When "1984" first came out in 1949, and Orwell was lying in his hospital bed, there came a message from Buckingham Palace that all the bookstores were sold out but that the Queen was requesting a copy, so Orwell had one put aside and a man in a top hat in a Royal car came to pick it up...)
POSTCARD FROM ORWELL'S JURA
1984 A GIFT FIT FOR A QUEEN (The president of Mexico received one of the more unusual gifts given by the Queen during an incoming state visit today - a copy of the classic dystopian novel 1984...)
VISITING ORWELL'S WEDDING CHURCH
VISITING ORWELL'S ANIMAL FARM
VISITING ORWELL'S WALLINGTON HOUSE
ANCESTRAL BOOKENDS TO ORWELL
TRIBUTE TO LOUIS BOURASSA, OBE
HOMAGE TO ORWELL & PILGRIMAGE TO ORWELL
ORWELL'S ANIMAL FARM
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