1846 Diary of J.W.Penfold—inventor of the octagonal pillar box

Any Jotters who in their childhood tuned into Danger Mouse, which is about to be revived, must know that his sidekick was called Penfold. It would seem that this character was named after the Victorian architect John Wornham Penfold (1828 - 1909), who is perhaps best known today as the inventor of the octagonal pillar box, several examples of which can still be found in Cheltenham.

But here we have a copy of the Punch Pocket Book for 1846 (discovered many years ago in an antique shop) that once belonged to the future architect and designer, then aged just eighteen, while he was working as a lowly assistant draughtsman in the London office of the renowned architect and illustrator Thomas Talbot Bury (1809 -1877) and his partner Charles Lee (1803 – 1880). At this time Penfold’s duties were various, and included surveying at proposed sites, researching legal documents, studying plans, often of proposed railways, and copying and preparing plans and delivering them with other related material to clients and lawyers. The Diary, also records Penfold’s churchgoing, social life, including visits of friends and relations, dining out, trips to the theatre and concerts, excursions to art galleries and museums, and visits home to his home town of Haslemere. Here  then  is a rare glimpse into the world of a trainee architect in early Victorian London at a time when  the ‘Railway Mania ‘ was raging across England and the metropolis was rapidly expanding.  Not surprisingly, most of the more interesting entries in the Diary illustrate the way in which these developments relate to Penfold’s work. Here are some examples:

Wednesday 14th.Took letter to B. Williams, Waterloo Place & to Humby, Carlton Chambers. Copying Plan of Sewer under Richmond Railway on Mr Leader’s land & Beck’s Bill to W. Clay.

Monday 26th. …went with Sydney to measure across Westminster Bridge road where the south east extension is to cross by Miss Carr’s property. Inking in tracing of South Eastern Extension Ry.

Thursday 19th. Took advertisements to Builder, Times, Herald, Chronicle. Copying plan of Wimbledon Park.

Thursday 2nd….Went down to Grand Junction Water Works to meet Mr Tress. Rowed up the river to Wandsworth with him to look at Richmond Railway crossing the Tram road Basin. Walked to Clapham and came on to London by omnibus …  

Friday 21st.Went into city for sale catalogues.Copying plan of Surrey Iron Railway. Mr Lee went to Bovingdon.

Wednesday 14th. Putting Plan of Land of Copenhagen Estate on Building agreement to Smyth. Tracing R.C. plans. Went to Gloster Square to see if work was going on----all the men knocked off. Miss Collins and Mr & Mrs & Mrs Beckett dined.

Tuesday 27th. Writing specification for new Storey to Houses, corner of North St Wandsworth belonging to parish of W. Went to Parliament St for report of Comms. of Metropolitan Improvements.

Wednesday 4th. Copying schedule for Ponton’s land at Battersea Park. Writing Sir W clay & Blunt’s claim for W & F. Took Earl Spencer’s leases &etc to Frere & Forster’s. Took drawing of Interior of Church to Lawrence, Battersea.

Monday 14th. With Sidney tracing plans of South Western Railway Enlargement & Gt W. Railway plans at Battersea, then went on & surveyed piece of waste ground at back of Mr Herring’s Garden, Battersea Park.

After leaving the practice of Bury and Lee in 1850 Penfold did his articles and in 1854 set up on his own account in the City and subsequently at Westminster. After the death of his father in 1873 he retired to the family home of Court’s Hill in Haslemere, where he occupied much of his time in research into local history. His plans for the famous octagonal pillar box were taken up by the Post Office in1866.


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