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Forum topic: New owners not looking after the family silver

New owners not looking after the family silver

Basil Clarke

14 Nov 2023 18:37 #7006

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In 1985 newspapers reported that former prime minister Harold "Supermac" Macmillan had complained that the Thatcher government's policy of privatising national assets amounted to "selling off the family silver". It later turned out that his words had been misconstrued and he wasn't actually opposed to privatisation, he was just commenting on the country's financial situation at the time and likening it to the way that families are forced to make economies when times are hard:

"First of all the Georgian silver goes. And then all that nice furniture that used to be in the salon. Then the Canalettos go."

I'm sure that in these hard times we've all had to come to terms with selling off our old masters or even having to pay off the chauffeur.

However, despite what Macmillan thought of privatisation, many of us do think that privatising some of the country's precious shared assets did amount to "selling off the family silver". And, interestingly, recent opinion polls show strong support - including from Conservative supporters - for renationalising the water industry, railways, electricity and gas etc.

But even people who support privatisation must surely be dismayed by the failure of the new owners of our national assets to care for them properly.

Let's pass over the case of the water industry, which literally stinks, and focus on something closer to home and up our street. Pillar boxes.

The invention of the modern postal system is something that we Brits can be rightly proud of, and the pillar box is not only an essential component but also a design classic, while the streets of Edwardian suburbs like Palmers Green are ornamented by the presence of pillar boxes from the same era, which until recent years we could also be proud of.

Perhaps not just belonging to the "family silver", but, in view of the Royal insignia and depiction of a crown that they all carry, perhaps we could think of them as belonging to our "crown jewels"?



But how can we be proud of our pillar boxes when so many of them in such a desolate state, not having been painted and cared for for many years, since the Royal Mail went the way of the Canalettos?

The photographs are of an Edwardian pillar box in Park Avenue, Palmers Green, which has been disgracefully neglected. And there are many more such examples around London and probably everywhere else in the UK.

Perhaps the "Royal Mail" is hard up and can't afford to polish its family silver?

Well, earlier this year Sky News reported that:

The CEO of Royal Mail is facing questions over his half-a-million-pound salary and £140,000 bonus - despite the worsening state of the service and workers striking over pay and conditions.

In a hearing with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) committee, Royal Mail boss Simon Thompson was grilled by MPs over his annual salary of £540,000 - which is more than 23 times the £25,700-a-year average postal worker's salary.

Nick Read, the chief executive of Royal Mail, also confirmed his yearly salary is £415,000 and he got a £400,000 bonus last year, after Labour MP Darren Jones said some postmasters were paying themselves below the minimum wage and "struggling to make ends meet".


Personally, I'd rather the money was spent on better wages for postal workers and on maintaining pillar boxes. But I guess that we should be pleased if it means that Mr Thompson and Mr Read are able to hang on to their Canalettos.

(The photographs make the pillar box look smarter than it actually is.)

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New owners not looking after the family silver

Roger Blows

16 Nov 2023 09:53 #7009

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Yes - these woefully neglected items of street furniture somehow symbolise the state of the nation. Corporate power and arrogance, the decay of established institutions and the dreaded impact of information technology et al. Some of our scabby local pillar boxes - there’s a particularly gruesome example in Caversham Avenue - look as though they might topple over on to you or transmit a nasty disease as you shove your letter into the slot - probably are seriously underused. Hands up, those who have posted a snail mail item in the last week. I had an exchange recently with Royal Mail who soothingly assured me that there’s a rolling 5-year programme of maintenance and repainting…….so that’s all right then, innit?



Pillar box in Caversham Avenue



Pillar box in Lodge Drive - obviously, a smarter youngster (George VI?), but missing something vital...

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New owners not looking after the family silver

Neil Littman

23 Nov 2023 09:02 #7017

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Hi, Thanks for the post.  A bit of trivia, I think that Enfield has more surviving Edward VIII postboxes than anywhere else in the UK. About seven or eight in total. There were only about 100 of them because he only reigned for a year and they could have replaced them but chose not to.

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