Featuring quotes from ‘The Secret Garden,’ it was unveiled on Princess Street as part of World Book Day
It may have been unveiled yesterday as part of World Book Day, but Manchester’s new special edition post box is also an apt celebration today, on International Women’s Day.
Commemorating Frances Hodgson Burnett, it’s one of four post boxes commissioned by Royal Mail honouring some of the UK’s most prominent children’s authors; also including David Walliams, Judith Kerr and C.S. Lewis.
Born in Cheetham Hall, Burnett (1849-1924) is best known for her children’s novels Little Lord Fauntleroy, A Little Princess and The Secret Garden - the latter considered a classic of English literature and the subject of several TV and film adaptations. Partly written during visits to Salford’s Buile Hill Park, it’s a testament to family bonds, childhood adventure and the healing power of nature.
Despite an initially comfortable upbringing, Burnett herself had a turbulent childhood; her father died when she was just a toddler, leaving her mother to move (along with her five children) and live with relatives in Salford’s Islington Square, adjacent to an area whose poverty and overcrowding ‘defied description.’ Burnett increasingly lost herself her stories and so began her lifelong love of literature.
Following the Lancashire cotton famine, the family moved to live with Burnett’s uncle in Tennessee, where she started writing commercially and eventually married their neighbour; after which she lived between England and Washington DC and endured debt, depression, the death of her first son and two divorces. However, her writing ultimately proved a great success and she lived her later life in relative luxury.
Alongside Elizabeth Gaskell, Burnett is considered one of Manchester’s most prominent classical female authors. But, while Gaskell’s former home is now a museum of the author - best known as the author of Cranford and North and South, and the biographer of her friend Charlotte Brontë - Burnett’s legacy isn’t as well known; making the post box a welcome reminder, here in her birthplace of Manchester. Inscribed with quotes from The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, it was unveiled by Lord Mayor of Manchester, Cllr June Hitchen, and can be found on Princess Street.
Like many cities, most of Manchester’s commemorative public monuments reflect a tradition of favouring men’s achievements above women’s; something that was highlighted recently in the WoManchester campaign to erect a statue of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst in St Peter’s Square (aside from Queen Victoria and Enriqueta Rylands, all its other statues are male). Although temporary, therefore, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s post box is a welcome step towards this year’s International Women’s Day theme of ‘balance for better.’ Now that’s something to write home about.
After more ways to celebrate International Women’s Day? There’s still time to catch some events on our IWD roundup: from the HOME Weekender to Woman on Fire, a dynamic solo play by Certain Curtain Theatre.