I know it’s a very familiar sight on London’s streets, but there is still no item of street furniture more pleasing than a good old-fashioned London Red Telephone Box.
And for London Taxi drivers, who constantly patrol the streets of the capital, the red telephone box is the absolute epitome of Britishness and a calm and an enduring reminder of London’s permanence.
But do you know your K2’s from your K6’s? No, thought not. Well then read on!
The red telephone box’s place in history came about in 1926 when the Post Office decided that London should have a mass-produced telephone box for public use. A competition was held to find a suitable design and the winning entry was from a young architect called Giles Gilbert Scott (who went on later to design the Battersea Power Station, now the Tate Modern, amongst other things).
The much-loved K2 was born (short for Kiosk 2 in case you’re wondering). Some 1700 were installed over the next 9 years, mostly in London. The K1 design by the way, was rejected.
The only problem was the K2 was quite expensive to produce and because of the design, daylight was limited – occasionally leading to petty vandalism and some not-so-wholesome goings on inside – so further designs were sought, resulting in the K3, K4 and K5. None of these came up to scratch so in 1935, to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V, Gilbert Scott came up with a modification of his original K2 design – you guessed it – the K6.
The K6 was essentially a smaller and more streamlined version of the K2 and could be produced at a considerably cheaper cost. It’s the phone box we mostly see on London streets.
Then a great calamity nearly happened in 1981. The Post Office rebranded themselves as British Telecom (BT) and announced that all London telephone boxes would be painted in their new corporate colours – yellow. Ugh! Luckily, the British Public rose as one in protest and the iconic poppy red was retained.
BT then announced that it was going to remove the classic telephone boxes which enraged many local communities. So, in 2009 BT came up with a ‘Adopt a Kiosk’ scheme where for the payment of just £1, they would remove the equipment and allow local councils to use the Kiosk for whatever they wanted. Some were used for book exchanges and art galleries, this one in Borough Market a more practical use!
To protect the iconic phone boxes from further attack, they were then given listed Grade II status, which protects them from being arbitrarily removed. Unfortunately, no provision has been made for looking after them, and although there are well meaning volunteer groups that try and keep them clean, many telephone boxes across the capital sadly look a bit dilapidated.
And by the way, if you see black telephone boxes on your travels around London, don’t fear, they haven’t been taken over by the Dark Lord Voldemort. It merely means you can access WIFI there!
INTERESTING FACT: Do you know why the original K2 boxes were made so tall? So that Gentlemen could enter and make a call, without taking their hats off!
The full set – K2, K6 and a London Post Box. Ahhh…