On this day in 1587

Queen Mary executed while wearing Guernsey stockings

Mary, Queen of Scots, wore Guernsey stockings for her beheading. She was executed on 8 February 1587, and the socks themselves didn’t only use wool from Guernsey, but were knitted on the island, too.

She had been convicted in October the previous year of plotting the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I, and imprisoned. Elizabeth desperately wanted not to execute Mary. The two were related, after all, and Mary had many supporters, who might rise up if she was killed. She could have been seen as a martyr for the Scottish cause, and her religion.

However, the longer she kept her in prison, the more serious the issue grew. Mary was passing coded messages out of the prison which, unknown to her and her messengers, were being intercepted. The code itself wasn’t particularly strong, and her messages were leaking out.

Finally, unable to come up with any suitable alternative, Elizabeth had no choice but to order Mary’s death. She signed the death warrant on 1st February – one week before she was executed at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamtonshire.

Execution outfit

Executions – particularly royal ones – often attracted a crowd, and it seems that Mary had dressed to impress. Aside from the stockings, she wore a black bodice, and crimson-brown petticoat and sleeves.

These, along with the stockings, were burnt after the execution. So, too, was a wig, that no-one had known she was wearing. It only became apparent when the executioner picked up her head by the hair and it fell away, leaving the wig in his hand. Mary didn’t have the full head of ginger hair that everyone thought, but actually short grey hair.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Mary had been wearing Guernsey stockings upon her execution, as contemporary reports suggest that both she and Elizabeth had worn Guernsey knitwear during their lifetime. Elizabeth’s were embroidered with silk, as befitting her position.


On this day in 1853

Guernsey gets its first postbox

Guernsey’s very first postbox, in Union Street, St Peter Port, remains in use to this day. It’s the only one on the island never to have been painted blue since its installation in 1853, by which point Guernsey Post Office was already 60 years old.

The Channel Islands were something of a proving ground for the concept of post boxes. Credit for their introduction must go to the author Anthony Trollope, who was a post office surveyor at the time. He had seen “a letter receiving pillar” in use during a trip to France and was keen to introduce something similar to Britain.

Time and tide

Postbox in GuernseyThe Channel Islands had a peculiar problem where post was concerned. Various dispatch points around the island would take letters and pass them to the mail ships for transport to the mainland. The trouble was, with the ships relying on the tide and weather, the collection time would be different every day. Nobody could quite be sure whether they’d missed the cut-off.

The pillar box seemed to be the ideal solution. Once installed, the public could use it to deposit their letters whenever was convenient. They’d then be collected as a batch and sent on whichever boat left next, whenever that should be.

The first boxes were made and installed on Jersey in November 1852. Further boxes were cast there and shipped to Guernsey for installation in February 1853. They proved to be such a success that they were subsequently rolled out across the British Isles and beyond.

The world’s oldest postbox

Although Guernsey wasn’t the first place to use a post box, it does have the oldest post box still in use – and to have been used continuously since its installation – in the world. Every other postbox on the planet has been replaced or removed at some interim point.

Another of Guernsey’s original pillar boxes had been relocated to the British Postal Museum in London.

Postbox sign


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Other events that happened in February

Mail ship wrecked on Black Rock 1st
Oil rig stranded at Grandes Rocques
Birth of Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann 2nd
Death of Sir Charles Hayward 3rd
St Martin’s parish church consecrated 4th
Guernsey suffers its worst storm in 35 years 5th
Guernsey watchmaker helps Stone of Scone manhunt 6th
Guernsey Language Commission formed 7th
Queen Mary executed while wearing Guernsey stockings 8th
Guernsey gets its first postbox
Guernsey Society celebrates its 70th anniversary 9th
Guernsey’s last execution didn’t go according to plan 10th
The last issue of GUNS was distributed 11th
Alderney gets its first full-time radio station 12th
Guernsey’s last duel 13th
Specsavers’ Mary Perkins was born 14th
Blue Islands takes to the skies
Guernsey gets its own flag 15th
Birth of concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houedard 16th
HMS Guernsey launched in Aberdeen 17th
Guernsey’s first Methodist minister arrives 18th
Aurigny Air Services founded 19th
Guernsey Railway Company runs its first services 20th
The Channel Islands were cut off from the outside world 21st
St Sampson was ordained a bishop 22nd
Death of Thomas Fiott de Havilland 23rd
Murder inquiry ends with suicide 24th
Death of occupation resister Marie Ozanne 25th
Guernsey’s first banker dies 26th
Release of Reverend Harry Samuel 27th
Plans for St Sampson power station approved 28th
Second World War bomb detonated 29th