Definitions

poppy red

Red telephone box

The red telephone box, a public telephone kiosk designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, is a familiar sight on the streets of the United Kingdom, Malta and Gibraltar, and despite a reduction in their numbers in recent years, red boxes can still be seen in many places. The rainy British climate necessitates protection of callers from the elements. The colour red was chosen to make them easy to spot.

Design history

The first standard public telephone kiosk introduced by the United Kingdom Post Office was produced in concrete in 1920 and was designated K1 (Kiosk No.1). This design was not of the same family as the familiar red telephone boxes.

The red telephone box was the result of a competition in 1924 to design a kiosk that would be acceptable to the London Metropolitan Boroughs which had hitherto resisted the Post Office's effort to erect K1 kiosks on their streets.

The Royal Fine Art Commission was instrumental in the choice of the British standard kiosk. Because of widespread dissatisfaction with the GPO's design, the Metropolitan Boroughs Joint Standing Committee organised a competition for a superior one in 1923, but the results were disappointing. The Birmingham Civic Society then produced a design of its own — in reinforced concrete — but it was informed by the Director of Telephones that the design produced by the Office of the Engineer-in-Chief was preferred; as the Architects’ Journal commented, 'no one with any knowledge of design could feel anything but indignation with the pattern that seems to satisfy the official mind.' The Birmingham Civic Society did not give up and, with additional pressure from the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Town Planning Institute and the Royal Academy, the Postmaster General was forced to think again; and the result was that the RFAC organised a limited competition.

The organisers invited entries from three respected architects and, along with the designs from the Post Office and from The Birmingham Civic Society, the Fine Arts Commission judged the competition and selected the design submitted by Giles Gilbert Scott. The invitation had come at the time when Scott had been made a trustee of Sir John Soane's Museum — his design for the competition was in the classical style, but topped with a dome reminiscent of Soane's self-designed mausoleum in St Pancras' Old Churchyard, London. (The original wooden prototypes of the entries were later put into public service at under-cover sites around London. That of Scott's design is the only one known to survive and is still where it was placed all those years ago, in the entrance arch to the Royal Academy.)

The Post Office chose to make Scott's winning design in cast iron (Scott had suggested mild steel) and to paint it red (Scott had suggested silver, with a "greeny-blue" interior) and, with other minor changes of detail, it was brought into service as the Kiosk No.2 or K2. From 1926 K2 was deployed in and around London and the K1 continued to be erected elsewhere.

K3, introduced in 1929, again by Gilbert Scott was similar to K2 but was constructed from concrete and intended for nationwide use. Cheaper than the K2, it was still significantly more costly than the K1 and so that remained the choice for low-revenue sites. The standard colour scheme for both the K1 and the K3 was cream, with red glazing bars.

K4 (designed by the Post Office Engineering Department in 1927) incorporated a post box and machines for buying postage stamps on the exterior. Only 50 kiosks of this design were built.

K5 was a plywood construction introduced in 1934 and designed to be assembled and dismantled and used at exhibitions.

K6

In 1935 K6 was designed to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V. K6 was the first red telephone kiosk to be used extensively outside of London and many thousands were deployed in virtually every town and city, replacing most of the existing kiosks and establishing thousands of new sites. It has become a British icon, although it was not universally loved at the start. The red colour caused particular local difficulties and there were many requests for less visible colours. The red that is now much loved was then anything but, and the Post Office was forced into allowing a less strident grey with red glazing bars scheme for areas of natural and architectural beauty. Ironically, some of these areas that have preserved their telephone boxes have now painted them red.

Number of red telephone boxes

The K6 was the most prolific kiosk in the UK and its growth, from 1935, can be seen from the BT archives:

  • 1925 - 1,000 (K1 Only)
  • 1930 - 8,000 (K2 & K3 added)
  • 1935 - 19,000 (K6 introduced)
  • 1940 - 35,000
  • 1950 - 44,000
  • 1960 - 65,000
  • 1970 - 70,000 (K8 introduced in 1968)
  • 1980 - 73,000

Crown

In 1952 the new Queen decided to depart from the practice of using the purely symbolic 'Tudor Crown' as the symbol of her government, and instead use a representation of the actual crown generally used for British coronations, the St Edward's Crown. This new symbol therefore began to appear on the fascias of K6 kiosks. In Scotland, the Post Office opted to use a representation of the actual Crown of Scotland, in line with the new practice for other parts of the Government.

Prior to these changes, the Tudor Crown had been used in all parts of the United Kingdom, and the British Empire.

To accommodate the two different Crowns on the K6 kiosks, the fascia sections were henceforth cast with a slot in them, into which a plate bearing the appropriate crown was inserted before the roof section was fitted. (This change happened in 1955 and is a very useful way of dating K6 boxes manufactured thereafter.)

Kiosks installed in Kingston upon Hull were not fitted with a crown as those kiosks were installed by the Hull Corporation, and later by Hull City Council.

Modernisation

In 1959 architect Neville Conder was commissioned to design a new box. The K7 design went no further than the prototype stage. K8 introduced in 1968 was designed by Bruce Martin. It was used primarily for new sites, around 11000 were installed, replacing earlier models only when they needed relocating or had been damaged beyond repair. The K8 retained a red colour scheme, but it was a different shade of red. A slightly brighter 'Poppy Red', this went on to be the standard colour across all kiosks.

Only 12 remain — most having been replaced with the KX100 making the K8 as rare as the K3.

Privatisation

Upon the privatisation of Post Office Telephone's successor, British Telecom (BT), the KX100, a more utilitarian design, began to replace most of the existing boxes. Some 2000 boxes were given listed status and several thousand others were left on low-revenue mostly rural sites but many thousands of recovered K2 and K6 boxes were sold off. Some kiosks have been converted to be used as shower cubicles in private homes. In Kingston upon Thames a number of old K6 boxes have been utilised to form a work of art resembling a row of fallen dominoes. The KX100 PLUS, introduced in 1996 featured a domed roof reminiscent of the familiar K2 and K6. Subsequent designs have departed significantly from the old style red telephone boxes.

Red telephone boxes elsewhere

Several of these distinctive telephone boxes have been installed on the Norman, Oklahoma campus of the University of Oklahoma, where they continue to serve their originally intended function. Elsewhere in the United States, a few have also been installed in downtown Glenview, Illinois. A red telephone box can also be found on the Courthouse Square in Oxford, Mississippi There is also a red telephone box in the student centre of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition, there is a red telephone box outside the town building (town hall/police station/post office) in the tiny mountain town of Rowe, Massachusetts, which is an original installation dating back to when the town of Rowe first got telephone service. A red telephone box is on display at the United Kingdom area of Disney's EPCOT in Orlando, Florida. There are also a few red boxes at the Ellenton Outlet Mall, just off I-75, near Bradenton, Florida. These still have their original STD code cards in place and have working US payphone equipment. There is a Red Pillar box in Westminster Maryland on the corner of West Main Street and Rt. 27 out side of Johanson's Dining House.

Red telephone boxes are also found in villages in Malta and Gozo, showing that the colonial influence is still present. Some of telephone booths are being used as internet kiosks.

Australia and New Zealand each had their own design of red telephone box, and some examples have been preserved in sensitive or historic sites. A brief and colorful campaign was run to "save" the red telephone box in New Zealand by the Wizard of New Zealand.

Telephone booths in Norway were also coloured red, and built to a standard design by architect Georg Fredrik Fasting from 1932.

Kingston upon Hull

Kingston upon Hull was the only area of the UK not under the Post Office monopoly, with telephones being under the control of the Corporation of Hull (city council). In Hull and the surrounding area this meant that the telephone boxes were painted cream and had the crown omitted. The Hull telephone system was subsequently privatised and is now operated by Kingston Communications.

Crown dependencies

The telephone services of the Crown dependencies were split at various times from the GPO.

Guernsey

Guernsey Telecoms painted its kiosks yellow with white window frames, they were repainted in blue when the company was sold to Cable and Wireless in 2002.

Jersey

Jersey Telecom used locally made kiosks, painted in cream and yellow.

Isle of Man

Manx Telecom has left its kiosks in the red colour used by its predecessors British Telecom and the GPO.

Replica telephone boxes

Lightweight replica K6 telephone kiosks are manufactured as flat-packs by commercial vendors and are shipped around the world for installation in such places as bars, restaurants and offices.

See also

References

  • Gavin Stamp — Telephone Boxes (Chatto & Windus, 1989) ISBN 0-7011-3366-X
  • Neil Johannessen — Telephone Boxes (Shire, 1994 — 1st Edn; 1999 — 2nd Edn) ISBN 0-7478-0419-2
  • www.redlondontelephone.com

External links

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