I am not a great fan of the phone box. They did not feature much in my life, even in the days when they were an essential part of most people’s lives. This was because I was in the very fortunate position of belonging to a family that already had a phone. This black Bakelite instrument stood silently in the hall of our bungalow, but when it sprang into life the bell made a dominating noise that you could not ignore. This was not a phone dedicated to our own use, but a so-called party line. This meant that the connection was shared with another subscriber, and sometimes you could not use the it because the other user was on the phone.
The other reason the phone box did not feature in my childhood experience is that there was not one anywhere near our house. Quite how far I cannot now tell you, but the nearest box must have been about a mile away. There was undoubtedly a phone box in our village somewhere, but it is an extended settlement and we lived right on the edge of it. As a consequence of there being no local phone box, those of our neighbours who needed to use the phone in an emergency tended to borrow ours.
The iconic phone box was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and was introduced in 1926. It differed in several respects from Scott’s original intention. The K2 telephone kiosk is cast in iron, rather than being fabricated from mild steel as he had proposed; also his plan was to have them painted silver. The door closes automatically and protects you from the elements. A rudimentary ash tray was provided to allow you somewhere to place your cigarette while speaking into the receiver. The original telephone kiosk had been made in 1920 out of concrete, and there have been several other designs since.
The one we all regard as the archetypal ‘red box’ is the K2. The same design appears elsewhere in the world; Irish phone boxes are the same pattern but are painted green of course, and have a harp instead of the Royal Crown at the top. The phone boxes in Malta and Gibraltar are painted red, as are the ones in Bermuda, but in the latter country it is so hot that being shut in would be claustrophobic and they do not have doors. The phone boxes on the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands used to be red until the 1960s; then the local postal services was run by the GPO, but since these have been transferred to these various island authorities they have been painted green, yellow or blue. In Jersey they have since assuming control of their Post Office kiosk been painted yellow are are of a different design..
There have been many attempts to find new uses for phone booths since the almost universal availability of mobile phones made them all but redundant. Unfortunately their perfect suitability for the purpose of housing a phone makes them unsuitable for anything else. They have been converted to defibrillator centres, solar powered mobile phone chargers and mini-libraries, but none of these uses seem to fit the space. What sort of library can you fit in phone box ? To use a defibrillator you need to be a trained first aider at the very least, and what are the chances of one of them, a patient and a phone box all meeting up when required? The mobile phone charger seems the best option, but the experiment has now ceased. As I said, I have never been a great fan of the phone box, and if they were all removed I would not be greatly distressed. At least they would not appear as Grade 2 listed buildings all across the country, in a sorry state of repair, derelict, rusty, growing moss and phone-less.