I’ve inherited a phone box from my late father. It stood, between 1935 and around 1983, in the Derbyshire village of South Wingfield where I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. When the Post Office became British Telecom in the early 1980s, lots of the cast iron red phone boxes in the UK were decommissioned and replaced with the more spartan plastic & metal BT booths (coincidentially, Bath is one of the few cities that has maintained a few red phone boxes in public places – there were a few near the railway station very recently, I recall.)
Some of the rural phone boxes were sold off privately by local authorities (in this case Amber Valley Borough Council) in the mid-80s. My parents didn’t want to see the old phone box leave the village, so they decided to buy it. It then stood in their back garden for 25 years. In that time they didn’t do anything with it (ummm… not sure what you would do with a non-functioning phone box…?), so now I find myself owning three-quarters of a ton of 1930s cast iron.
Unsure of what to do, I Googled ‘Red Telephone Box’ and found, er, http://www.redtelephonebox.com/. This is a company, based in Norfolk, called Remember When UK – and restoring red phone boxes is what they do. I got in touch with them and spoke to a chap called Carl, who runs the business. He’s a self-confessed ‘phone box anorak’ who just loves his job, and he told me lots of interesting stuff about the history of the English red phone box. The business restores phone boxes pretty much exclusively – there are, apparently, enough phone boxes, and enough interested customers, to keep the business going – they usually even have a backlog of work.
The classic red phone box is called a K6. They were launched in 1935 to celebrate the silver jubilee of George V, though weren’t produced in large numbers until 1936. This particular one is, according to Carl, a ‘Mark I’ – shown by the casting stamp on the back. It was cast, as were most of them, in a foundry in Glasgow. The design was found all over the UK, but also, interestingly, used in Malta, Bermuda and Gibraltar (i.e parts of the Empire/Commonwealth). I won’t go on much more about the history of the K6 – there’s an excellent Wikipedia page with more detail.
Being more than 700 kilos, and being set in concrete, they take a fair bit of transporting. I’ll start the saga of the restoration – and the dilemma of what to do with the phone box when it’s completed – in a future entry. For now, here’s a photo of a 1930s GPO phone box installer. And you thought the Nokia 3310 was clunky…