History of Letterboxing

After learning of the history, the term Letterboxing makes a bit more sense. Picture yourself circa 1845 England. You are a dandy, Victorian chap named James Perrott and you place a bottle and your calling card in an obscure and difficult to find location at the Cranmere Pool in Dartmoor, England.

Now, in your most stuffy British accent you say, “Mums, shall we take a stroll upon the moor and perhaps letterbox?” “Brilliant idea James! Indeed we shall.” Yes, yes, the term Letterboxing is quite fitting. Other Englishmen who were lucky enough to hike to the destination and find the bottle also left their calling cards.

Later in 1888 the bottle was replaced by a tin, and then in 1905 the tin was upgraded to an zinc box with a log book inside. On July 22, 1907, a brilliant bloke named John H. Strother introduced the concept of rubberstamps to letterboxing. In his logbook, he wrote: “Reached the pool at 7.10pm, misty day with cool breeze, and would suggest that a rubber stamp, something like the post office stamps for postmarking letters or rubber stamp for putting the address at the top of a piece of notepaper be provided and kept here. If this were done it would be proof that cards posted had really come from Cranmere.”

It took 122 years before a collection of fifteen letterboxes could be found in Dartmoor. In 1976 Letterboxing got its big break. Tom Gant created a guide map that showed where all 15 letterboxes could be found. Thousands of more letterboxes started to pop up in Dartmoor and Letterboxing became a popular hobby, at least in England.

What’s fun sometimes gets out of hand though. The same is true about letterboxing. People started tearing about historic sites and littering nature with paint to mark the location of the hidden boxes. Dartmoor National Park threatened to remove most of the letterboxes however a hero named Godfrey Swinscow, aka “God”, came to the rescue. He convinced officials not to remove the letterboxes and instead adopted a code of conduct.

It was not until 1998 when Smithsonian magazine covered Letterboxing in Darmoor that Americans started getting involved. After learning about how much fun letterboxing was across the pond and despite it’s stuffy sounding name, Americans started planting letterboxes of their own.

Join me this weekend at the studio and we can partake in the adventure. And we’ll also practice our stuffy sounding British accents. “Quite right!”

2 thoughts on “History of Letterboxing”

  • Quite. As an English…ahem…gent myself, I invite you to look at my Dartmoor Letterboxing blog. Its really rather good, though I say so myself: http://www.who-is-the-challenger.blogspot.com

    Cranmere Pool letterbox is now highlighted on maps and maintained using taxpayers money. It is a destination for many thousands of walkers annually. Which is impressive since it is more than 3 miles from any road.

    Charles “Oliver Twist” Dickens visited the letterbox, as have members of the British Royal family.

    • How very honored I am to have an English Gentleman comment…I’m really quite giddy. (Don’t tell Mister Wonderful but I do have a thing for most anyone sporting an English accent.) Then again, he already knows since I’m usually the one blubbering on when watching Masterpiece Theatre.

      How wonderful that letterboxes are maintained by taxpayers money and are treasured just like a park. Your country sure makes a lot of sense to me. And I am indeed warmed by the thought that Royals as well as other English dignitaries have enjoyed looking for letterboxes. My mind wonders what stamps they have used in the log book? Or do they simply sign in? Oh, to visit Dartmoor would be a treat!

      Thanks for the comment and I’m enjoying your blog. Your pictures and writing are beautiful!

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