Pillar-Box bombings 1974

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Post Office Pillar Box Bombings
Part of The Troubles
Location Several places around London
Date 25 & 27 November 1974
25 November = 5.50pm & 6.00pm & 6.50pm
27 November = 8.30pm & 8.50pm (GMT)
Target British Postal service
Attack type
Time bomb
Weapons gelignite bomb, "come on bomb"
Deaths 0
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrator Provisional IRA
Suspected perpetrators
The Provisional IRA's Balcombe Street Gang

On 25 November and 27 November 1974 a London-based Provisional IRA unit placed several bombs in pillar-boxes and one in a hedge behind a pillar post office box. This was a new tactic used by the IRA in England, although a similar tactic had been used in Northern Ireland during The Troubles several times previously. In total 40 people were injured from five explosions.[1]


The IRA began their bombing campaign of England in early 1973 when they bombed the Old Bailey courthouse, the seat of justice in Britain, they used a car bomb to attack it which injured over 200 people, caused extensive damage and one person died from a heart attack.[2]

1974 was to be the IRA's most deadly year in mainland Britain with close to 50 people being killed and with around 500 being injured. The year started with the M62 coach bombing a military coach which had soldiers and their families on it. Nine soldiers were killed and three civilians with just under 40 being injured, many seriously.[3][4]

The Provisional IRA's Balcombe Street Gang (nicknamed that because they were caught at the Balcombe Street siege in late 1975) had been bombing targets in and around the London area since October 1974 including, the Guildford pub bombings on 5 October and the Woolwich pub bombing on 7 November. Seven people were killed from these two bombings alone (5 British military personnel & 2 civilians) and almost 100 people were injured.[5][6]

On 21 November the Birmingham pub bombings occurred killing 21 and injuring close to 200. The Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974 (PTA 1974) was passed through parliament quickly to give the police special powers in dealing with the IRA and similar groups. The powers gave the police powers to hold people in custody for up to seven days without charge.[7] There was a strong desire to respond to what was perceived as "the greatest threat [to the country] since the end of the Second World War." Six men who were wrongly convicted of the bombings was a group known the Birmingham Six who spent 17 years in English jails until their convictions were overturned in 1991. The PTA 1974 was also used to convict other innocent people like Judith Ward of the M62 coach bombing and it was also used to convict the eleven members of the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven of the Guildford bombings. All these convictions were also overturned in the late 1980s/early 1990s.[8][9]


The IRA Balcombe Active Service Unit decided to send a message of defiance to the government over the PTA and to show that the IRA was very much still operational in England.

  • 25 November

On 25 November 1974 the Provisional IRA exploded bombs inside pillar boxes in various places around London. They made three small gelignite laden bombs with pocket watch timing devices, they were small enough to fit through a standard slot on a post box. The first bomb outside King's Cross London went off at 5:50 pm that injured two people, just ten minutes later a second bomb went off outside Piccadilly Circus at 6:00 pm, this was the most deadly bomb as it injured 16 people, and the last one outside Victoria Station London went off at 6:50 pm that injured another 2 people that brought the total injured to 20 for the day.

  • 27 November

Just two days later, on 27 November, the IRA London unit struck again when there was a double bomb attack at Tite Street, Chelsea, London. The first bomb was small & designed to lure security services at the scene then a much larger bomb went off 20 minutes later injuring 20 people including an explosives officer, six policemen and two ambulancemen. (The tactic of the 'come-on' bomb was one which the IRA used on many occasions in The Northern Ireland) [10]


In total 40 people were injured over the two days of bombing. After the Guildford Four were released in 1989, the PTA 1974 act was replaced by new anti-terror legislation.

The Act was also ineffective in stopping bombings in England, & the IRA's London active service unit was not caught until December 1975 over a year since the act had been passed & dozens of bombings had occurred since. Once the members of Balcombe Street gang were in custody they admitted to the bombings straight away without the need to hold them for seven days.[11][12]

See also


  • CAIN project
  • Sixth Form Law


  1. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/chron/ch74.htm#Nov
  2. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/cgi-bin/dyndeaths.pl?querytype=date&day=8&month=03&year=1973
  3. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/cgi-bin/dyndeaths.pl?querytype=date&day=4&month=02&year=1974
  4. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/chron/ch74.htm#Feb
  5. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/cgi-bin/dyndeaths.pl?querytype=date&day=8&month=03&year=1973
  6. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/cgi-bin/dyndeaths.pl?querytype=date&day=7&month=11&year=1974
  7. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/chron/ch74.htm#291174
  8. ^ http://sixthformlaw.info/01_modules/other_material/law_and_justice/4_miscarriages.htm
  9. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/hmso/pta1974.htm
  10. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/chron/ch74.htm#Nov
  11. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/chron/ch75.htm#Dec
  12. ^ The Road To Balcombe Street", Dr. Steven Moysey, Haworth (2007)
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