Today Wickwar is delighted to announce that it has delivered the first Red Box to King Charles as a gift. For over 200 years, WickWar has supplied the UK Monarchy with the famous Red Despatch Box together with over 3,000 government ministers Boxes.
About King Charles
King Charles acceded to the throne of England and its commonwealth realm on 8 September 2022. His Majesty was born to Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on 14 November 1948.
At age three, his grandfather, King George VII, passed away, and his mother became the sovereign rendering the infant Charles as heir apparent. Later on, he was installed as Prince of Wales in 1958 and fully invested in 1969.
After completing his secondary education, the King earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Cambridge. With his degree in the bag, the King served Britain in the Army and Navy from 1971 - 1976.
He got married to Princess Diana in 1981, and the union begat two children who now stand at the hem of the crown. Prince William was born in 1982, and the younger Prince Harry in 1984. After a series of ill-fated turns in the union, the couple finally divorced in 1996, and Charles married Camilla Bowles in 2005.
Prior to his ascension, the King performed several duties on behalf of the royal family with incredible amounts of engagements at home and abroad. His mother was the longest-serving monarch for 70 years, and Charles became the longest-serving heir apparent during this time. Aged 73, King Charles III became the oldest British monarch to ascend the throne.
History of the Despatch Box
Despatch boxes were first used in seventeenth-century Britain to transport parliamentary documents to the House of Commons. The King and his subjects in the government use the boxes to transport sensitive documents securely.
Many of the daily business conducted in the parliament involves these despatch boxes, such as delivering addresses, swearing-in of officials, and more. However, these despatch boxes are now more than objects for conducting official business and have assumed an iconic status in the UK.
In fact, many popular ministers and officials have their own boxes made. Some of these boxes have been sold at auctions, including that of Margaret Thatcher & Winston Churchill. Outgoing presidents of the United States have also received commemorative red boxes as a token of the relationship between both countries.
Likewise, the monarchy also uses a particular red box to conduct business. For example, the Late Queen Elizabeth II owned a personal red box for receiving important documents.
The front door of Number 11 will always be associated with the countless Budget Day photocalls when the Chancellor holds up the red Budget box containing his speech before he makes his way to the House of Commons.
Every Chancellor of the Exchequer holds up the budget box to the press in Downing Street as a custom of presenting the new year's budget. Then, the Chancellor gives his speech in the parliament. Wickwar & Co made a budget box for William Ewart Gladstone's first budget in 1863, which remained in use for 150 years!
Wickwar & Co is responsible for producing government despatch boxes, many of which are red boxes for the monarchs. The Gladstone boxes were made by Wickwar & co for William Ewart Gladstone.
Like the Gladstone box, other boxes were made by Wickwar for prominent figures in British history. For example, the company manufactured Winston Churchill's despatch box, which later sold at a Sotheby's Auction for 25 times the estimated price(£158,500) in 2014.
An unlikely hero in the fable of Wickwar & Co. is John Snow. Like his namesake in the world-popular Game of Thrones, John led the charge against a damning cholera outbreak that threatened Soho bookbinders in 1854 that claimed 127 lives within three days.
Unfortunately, Wickwar lost two of its own: William Wickwar and John Wickwar merely days apart. However, after analysis of William's death, John Snow made an important discovery of Cholera's water-borne nature. This motivated efforts to shut down the infected water supply and permanently curb the disease.
Since the 1860s, the Budget box has almost invariably been known as the Gladstone box, now displayed in the lobby of HM Treasury. The use of the Gladstone box became one of several Budget Day traditions (another is that only the Chancellor is allowed to drink alcohol in the House of Commons – and only during his Budget speech). The box was manufactured by John Cowie, an employee of Wickwar & co. in the 1860s.
Other funky occurrences have happened, like George Ward-Hunt opening the box to find he left his speech at home in 1868. James Callaghan used a new box during his time as Chancellor in the 1970s, but the frail Gladstone box was later restored to duty once more.
Thereafter, Gordon Brown commissioned a new box for his use between 1997 and 2007. However, the Gladstone box returned to action until it was finally restored in 2011. George Osborne became the last of 51 chancellors to use the legendary artifact. The National Archives has commissioned a new budget box since March 2011.
Making of the box
The Red box is manufactured by Wickwar & co based on the original Wickwar design. Each box is usually completed within three days and weighs about 2-3 kilograms. The materials used in manufacturing the box are:
- Austrian Pine
- Dovetail corners
- Ram skin leather
- Vegetable Tanned
- Bramah lock
Austrian Pine is used to construct the box's framework, which is later wrapped in leather. Furthermore, the box undergoes curing and staining before applying a bespoke print.
Upon completion, the box is lettered with the title of the owner and box recipient. Moreover, the details of the recipient of the box are given precedence. The reigning monarch's arms are also embellished in gold print on the box.
Interestingly, the boxes are finished with a lead lining to ensure it sinks when thrown overboard to avoid capture and falling into the wrong hands. The hinge handle is positioned opposite the lock so that the lock faces the recipient, who wields authority over the contents of the red box.
Bramah Lock is London's oldest lock company dating as far back as 1784. The company's premium quality locks have been reliably employed in the red boxes by Wickwar & co. since time immemorial.
A Bramah lock guarantees a distinct quality and remains a premium choice for resistance to tampering. More than enough, the lock's reputation has transcended into classical literature through the works of Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, and other greats.
Founded in 1773 , by Joseph & William Wickwar , Wickwar started as a luxury paper mill outside Newbury . In 1786 HMSO was founded and Joseph Wickwar won the contract to supply paper to Parliament .
In 1788 Joseph partnered with Joseph Bramah to produce luxury Despatch boxes for Royalty & Government and went on to produce in excess of 5,000 boxes and became the premier supplier of the Iconic red box .
The simple design of the famous Gladstone Box continues today & Wickwar manufacturers around 100 boxes per year using traditional skills & tools from its workshop in London .