Assassins & Postboxes

Going_Postal

I had two great obsessions as a child: Star Trek and Victorian England. I think some of that carried over to my adulthood love of all things postal, particularly British postal history.

I was lucky enough to see a Olympic gold postbox in Cardiff, a Victorian era wall box in Oxford, and even the very last remaining Liverpool Special!

A photo posted by Raven S. (@ravensilvers) on

I also play a lot of video games, so I was excited when I found out that Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was set in Victorian London. When I fired up the game, I was blown away by how beautiful it is. London of 1868 Syndicate is absolutely gorgeous.

I was delighted to come across an in-game postbox! I couldn’t help but stop to look. And I discovered how weird it can be when your two hobbies cross paths, because there was something that didn’t seem right…

A postbox in 1868 London

A postbox in 1868 London

So I pulled out my favourite history book of letter boxes, Old Letter Boxes by Martin Robinson (WorldCat), now sadly out of print. It’s a great micro-history of UK postboxes; I can’t recommend it highly enough, because the evolution and types of postboxes are much more interesting than one might imagine.

While Wikipedia’s entry on pillar boxes is pretty interesting too, it lacks the charm and earnest interest of the book.

Lo and behold, I was right that this was an anachronistic postbox! The box in the game is the 1872 Penfolds model where the aperture (slot to insert letters) was moved.

A bit more about the Penfolds boxes, per Robinson:

Probably the most familiar and best loved of Victorian pillar boxes are those known as Penfolds, which were made between 1866 and 1879. They are named after their designed, the architect J.W. Penfold.

[…] The third type was brought about in 1872 by the complaint that letters could be trapped inside the top of the box, so the aperture was lowered to change places with the coat of arms below. Only four examples of this type still exist.

An 1868 postbox would have looked like this. Note that the aperture is right at the top:

Photo from MorgueFile

Photo: MorgueFile

Given their comparative rarity, however, I’m willing to forgive the Ubisoft team for their anachronistic postboxes.

However, things got really hinky in another part of the game. (Spoilers beyond the cut!) Later on, you can unlock a secret area: World War I London. It’s a small map but dense with buildings, so it took me a while before I found my first postbox.

And immediately I saw the problem.

Can you spot the problem?

Can you?

The answer: it bears the wrong royal cypher!

The cypher is a stylised monogram of the reigning monarch; during WWI, that would have been King George V. Pictured above is the stylised “VR” of Queen Victoria, which looks almost like a K because of all the fancy swirls.

I went around London and I found four postboxes; all had the “VR” royal cypher instead of the “GR” that would have been the correct cypher of the time.

You can actually see the “GR” cypher on this Hong Kong postbox:

HKMailbox.JPG
HKMailbox” by Matthew hk.
Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s awfully pendantic, but I’ll admit that it bothers me. Turns out I can suspend belief for a lot of things, but not inaccurate postboxes, heh.

I’m no expert, of course; it’s just a little weird andwonderful how the streams can cross. Who’d have known that my strange little interest in UK postal history would ever intersect with a thoroughly modern video game? I think it’s pretty neat :)

1 comment to Assassins & Postboxes

  • Si

    That’s a great spot. Additionally, the royal cyphers in the WW1 sequence in the Tower of London above sentry boxes are incorrect. Well for the time; “EIIR”!!

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